Colin Kaepernick, the Cubs and all the biggest sports moments of 2016

The year 2016 may be remembered by some as the worst year in history, but it will also be remembered as the year of the underdog in sports. Teams defied the odds, ended multi-generational droughts and the act of taking a knee became a major political statement.

Here are the biggest sports stories of the year:

The Chicago Cubs win the World Series

Third baseman Kris Bryant celebrates with shortstop Addison Russell as the Cubs win the World Series.Gene J. Puskar/AP

The Chicago Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908 — the longest drought in sports history, and the subject of years of jokes. But in 2016, the Cubs rode the best record in baseball to the championship, where they overcame a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7 against the Cleveland Indians. 

In what some have called one of the greatest games in MLB history, the Cubs won 8-7 in extra innings to end their historic championship drought and shed the Lovable Losers moniker. Ironically, the Cleveland Indians, whose last World Series win came in 1948, now have the longest championship drought in MLB.

LeBron James brings a title to Cleveland

An emotional LeBron James after the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championshipRonald Martinez/Getty Images

It wasn't all bad for Cleveland in 2016, though. The city, which hadn't seen a pro sports championship of any kind in 52 years, got to celebrate as superstar LeBron James willed the Cavaliers to the team's first ever NBA Championship victory over the Golden State Warriors — a juggernaut that won an NBA record 73 games during the 2015-16 regular season. That should take the sting off the Cleveland Browns' impending winless campaign this year. 

Colin Kaepernick takes a knee for social justice

Colin Kaepernick, #7, kneels during the National Anthem.John Bazemore/AP

Not all the biggest sports moments this year came on the field. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and inequality in the United States. 

"For me, it was something that I couldn't see another 'hashtag Sandra Bland, hashtag Tamir Rice, hashtag Walter Scott, hashtag Eric Garner,' the list goes on and on and on," Kaepernick told ESPN. "At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand and as a people say this isn't right?"

Kaepernick received heavy criticism for his protest, but he set off a wave of similar protests across the NFL and beyond. 

Simone Biles dazzles at Rio Olympics

Simone Biles during the Rio OlympicsClive Brunskill/Getty Images

The United States took home 121 medals at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, including 46 golds, in what was — other than the whole Ryan Lochte fiasco — a pretty great showing by Americans. Michael Phelps won his 23rd gold medal and Katie Ledecky swam her way to four gold medals and a silver in two of the standout performances.

But perhaps the biggest storyline to come out of the 2016 Summer Olympics was the sheer domination of gymnast Simone Biles, who led the "Final Five" with four gold medals and who became one of the most popular athletes in the United States.

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt also made history at the 2016 games, winning all three sprinting events in Rio.

Leicester City overcomes the odds to win Premier League

Leicester City's Danny Simpson and Jamie Vardy celebrate the team's unlikely Premier League title.Rui Vieira/AP

They were 5,000-1 underdogs to win England's Premier League title before the 2015-16 season began.

But somehow, the Foxes — who were nearly demoted to the league's second tier the previous season — tied Manchester United 1-1 on May 1 to clinch the title over Tottenham. 

Villanova wins NCAA tourney on buzzer-beater

Villanova's Kris Jenkins drains a game-winning three pointer as time expires.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In one of — if not the — greatest endings to an NCAA championship ever, the Villanova Wildcats lead the University of North Carolina Tar Heels by three with less than 10 seconds to go until UNC's Marcus Paige drained a circus shot from beyond the arc to tie the game, seemingly sending the national championship to overtime. But with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation, the Wildcats' Ryan Arcidiacono rushed the ball down the court and tossed it to forward Kris Jenkins, who sunk a deep-three as time ran out to win it for Nova, the school's second national championship.

Death of José Fernández

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died in September.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

At 24 years old, Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernández was one of the game's brightest young stars and a burgeoning icon in the Cuban-American community. But in late September, the 2013 Rookie of the Year was killed in a boating accident in South Beach, Florida, rocking Major League Baseball and Florida's Cuban-American community.

Greats retire

Kobe Bryant, #24, retired in April.Mark J. Terrill/AP

This year also brought the retirements of some of the greatest players in their respective sports.

In February, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning finished his 18-year career with a Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. Then, in April, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant dropped 60 points in the final game of his storied career. And in August, after adding a 23rd gold medal to his name, swimmer Michael Phelps announced he would be retiring — for real this time

Alex Rodriguez, whose 22 seasons in the MLB were as successful as they were controversial, also retired in August.