ESPN's A to (N)Z of 2016

A: Adams Family. New Zealand basketball star Steven Adams enjoyed quite the year with Oklahoma City Thunder, his improvement in all aspects of his play in the NBA seeing him rewarded with a four-year contract extension worth $100 million -- making him the best-paid Kiwi in world sport. Fair to say he's proving himself to be worth the extra, with subsequent career highs of 11.9 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in 29.7 minutes per contest of the 2016-2017 season. Oh, he was also nominated the best contracted NBA player from Australia and NZ by ESPN readers. Big sister Valerie Adams, meanwhile, won silver in the Olympic shot putt to go with her gold medals from Beijing and London -- the latter awarded to her after Nadzeya Ostapchuk was found to have failed two drug tests.

B: Brownlow winners. Congratulations to the three Brownlow Medal winners announced this year. Three, you ask? Well, yes. Of course, Patrick Dangerfield's incredible maiden season in the blue-and-white hoops resulted in a runaway win. But he wasn't the only AFL star to get his hands on the league's highest individual honour. Sam Mitchell and Trent Cotchin were also announced as winners of the 2012 Brownlow Medal after Essendon's Jobe Watson handed his back after the fallout from the disastrous supplements saga.

C: Chiller. Australia's Chef de Mission at the Olympic Games was everywhere in Rio de Janeiro. And in fairness to the former modern pentathlete, she had to be. Kitty Chiller was certainly front and centre prior to the Games, but she was clearly sick and tired of fronting the media a fortnight later as Australia's athletes continually found themselves in trouble on the streets of Rio.

D: Delly 1s. You're the owner of an NBA Championship ring, have made a mega-rich move to Milwaukee and are only a few months back from your second Olympics; so what else could a baller want? Well, for Matthew Dellavedova, an awesome 2016 has been capped by the release of the Delly 1s, a shoe he helped design with Peak Australia. We wonder how many pairs there were under Christmas trees across Australia last week?

E: Esposito. Modern Pentathlon may be a niche sport -- in fact it's five sports rolled into one -- but that didn't stop it getting its moment in the sun thanks to Chloe Esposito. The Sydneysider captivated the nation when she produced a stunning come-from-behind win at the Rio Games, with her beaming smile almost matching the glow of her gold medal. Esposito defied a lack of funding, the loneliness of training away from her family, fiancee and friends on the other side of the world, and then a serious injury scare to clinch Australia's first gold medal in the sport with an Olympic-record score of 1372 points.

F: Fairytales. If the rest of the world can enjoy a good fairytale (think Leicester winning the English Premier League, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Cubs breaking length title droughts in the NBA and MLB respectively) then why should sport Down Under miss out? Thankfully, the Hurricanes, Western Bulldogs and Cronulla Sharks won Super Rugby, AFL and NRL premierships in emotional fashion. For the Hurricanes, it was their first title; the Dogs won their first flag since 1954; and the Sharks saluted after 50 years of heartache. Their remarkable successes would have made every small or struggling club, or athlete, think to themselves: Why not us?

G: Goodbyes. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and in 2016 we had to farewell a host of greats. Tennis legend Lleyton Hewitt finally said enough was enough, while AFL stars Jimmy Bartel, Dane Swan, Brent Harvey, Matthew Pavlich and Corey Enright also hung up their boots. Retirees from the NRL included Corey Parker, Jamie Lyon, Michael Ennis, Anthony Watmough and Ben Creagh. Wycliff Palau and Benn Robinson brought a halt to their rugby careers, and in cricket New Zealand great Brendon McCullum as well as Aussies Shane Watson and Chris Rogers announced their retirement from international matches. Swimming gold medallists Alicia Coutts and Bronte Barratt retired after Rio, as did legendary track cyclist Anna Meares. Injury forced basketball champion Lauren Jackson to retire before Rio, while her longtime teammate Penny Taylor did the same after the Games. Netballer Kim Greene also retired from international competition.

H: Heights. A fear of heights isn't a great attribute for someone competing in the Red Bull Cliff Diving world series, but it's something Aussie Rhiannan Iffland overcame in scintillating style in winning the championship in her maiden series. "It's definitely frightening being up there and every single time I go up there I am a little bit scared," Iffland told ESPN soon after securing her amazing title. "That little devil inside is saying 'jump, jump' and then on the other shoulder there's the angel saying 'no, don't jump'." Thankfully for Iffland, from the tiny town of Nords Wharf in NSW, the devil was always louder than her angel, allowing her to push the boundaries in winning one of the world's most daunting competitions.

I: Invincibility over. It's not often the Irish say it's been a long time between drinks but when their rugby team broke a 111-year drought against the mighty All Blacks, it was a victory worth toasting. It's quite possible those who witnessed Ireland's first rugby win over New Zealand won't be around to witness the second but, if nothing else, 2016 will be the year the All Blacks lost their air of invincibility in the Emerald Isle.

J: #JJintheUSA. Josh Jenkins is an elite athlete in his own right but EPSN's intrepid U.S. sports fanatic brought us a different perspective and insightful views on a number of different sports throughout the year. His work during the AFL season was so impressive that his epic end-of-year tour of the States required the catchy hashtag #JJintheUSA for his legion of social media fans.

K: Kyrgios. What a tumultuous year for the bad boy of Australian tennis. On the court, he was more often than not on the improve, with his ranking shooting from 30 to 13 but his behaviour saw his popularity plummet. The 21-year-old finished 2016 under suspension for his antics and while there is little doubt that he has the talent to be one of the best players on the ATP Tour, 2017 looms as a make or break year for Kyrgios' tennis career.

L: Legend. Paul Gallen was already a revered figure in Sydney's Sutherland Shire but 2016 will be documented as the year he truly elevated into legend status. After 50 years of waiting and being the butt of cruel jokes, captain 'Gal' was at the helm as Cronulla ended what was previously the longest premiership drought in the NRL with a much-celebrated premiership. But when most were planning for the Christmas break, Gallen went back to work for his 'second' job and proceeded to improve his impressive boxing record to seven wins from seven fights - the last of which was a knock-out win against outspoken Shire-sledger Ryan Carr-Ketu in front of an appreciative and adoring crowd at the Sharks home ground.

M: Mennie. Could he be this decade's version of Scott Muller (he of "can't bowl, can't throw" fame)? South Australia's Mennie has toiled away at first-class level for years, with considerable success, but didn't look overly threatening during his Test debut against South Africa in Hobart. Then selectors thought they'd seen enough, recalling Jackson Bird at Mennie's expense. With a host of quality quicks making their way back from injury -- think Patrick Cummins, Peter Siddle and James Pattinson -- Mennie is almost certainly destined to be a one-Test wonder.

N: No. 1. Ben Simmons is the latest off the Australian production line of world-class basketball talent, and the Melbourne-born big man could be the best of the lot. The Philadelphia 76ers certainly thought so, taking the 20-year-old at No. 1 in June's draft. A foot injury has stalled Simmons' first year in the NBA, but his few Summer League appearances showed that he is the real deal. A huge 2017 awaits.

O: Ouch! This year was not one for the faint-hearted. Western Bulldogs young gun Mitch Wallis broke both bones in his left leg in the AFL champions' 15-point loss to St Kilda mid-year, while former Wallabies captain James Horwill nearly snapped his finger clean off in this incident in November. (Do NOT click those links if you are squeamish.)

P: Parra's woes. Parramatta fans will happily close the book on what has been a ghastly 2016. Salary cap scandals, player misdemeanours and boardroom squabbles capped off with a $Aus11 million deficit -- the worst financial results recorded in the history of the NRL. Eels fans deserve better.

Q: Quidditch World Champions. While some Australian sports flagged in 2016, one small, unknown Australian team quietly became world champions in one of the world's most well-known sports: Quidditch. It may have started as a fictional game in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but it is now a sport played by thousands of muggles around the world -- with 21 countries fighting for the ultimate glory of taking out the Quidditch World Cup. Taking on the world's best in Germany earlier this year, the Australian Dropbears didn't disappoint, going one better than in previous years by taking out the previously unbeaten U.S. to win gold.

R: Rio. Australians headed into the Games with their heads held up and expectations high; they were going to turn around results from the 2012 London Olympics and climb up the medal rankings. But by the end of the first week, it was clear that Australia wasn't even going to match the London tally. The highest-profile swimmers failed to deliver; the cycling team struggled, and the sailors earned just one gold; the Boomers, Opals, Kookaburras and Hockeyroos didn't even place. But there were still stories of amazing triumphs. Australia's women's sevens side won hearts while claiming gold from New Zealand; unknown Catherine Skinner claimed trap shooting victory; Kyle Chalmers and Mack Horton wrote themselves into the history books; and who can forget when Chloe Esposito shocked the world in coming from seventh in her final event to win gold. Things were much better the other side of the ditch with New Zealand winning 18 medals -- four gold, nine silver and five bronze -- to surpass the record 13 claimed in 1988 and 2012 and exceed High Performance Sport New Zealand's target of 14. Mahe Drysdale, Hamish Bond and Eric Murray in rowing; Lisa Carrington in canoeing; and sailors Peter Burling and Blair Tuke won gold.

S: Shoeys. Shoey: To drink beer out of one's own shoe in a ritual sometimes undertaken at parties in Australia. In 2016, the humble Australian shoey took centre stage on one of the world's biggest sports circuits: F1. Daniel Ricciardo celebrated his 100th race and second-place podium finish by doing the "most Australian thing ever". Foreign media were bemused by the act, but Australians around the world were left cheering for the F1 star. Ricciardo soon turned the shoey into his victory celebration and he made sure everyone else took part in the celebrations with him -- including teammate Max Verstappen, world champion Nico Rosberg and Red Bull boss Christian Horner. Rosberg was unimpressed with the Australian tradition, stating "I hope he does not win any more races this year", but we'll just blame his German heritage for his lack of taste in Australian culture.

T: Twitter stoush. A war-of-words broke out just days before the Olympic Games when two of Australia's finest basketball stars, Andrew Bogut and Liz Cambage, traded blows on social media. The spat began when Bogut apologised for comments he had made to Australian rapper, Briggs. Cambage chimed in with a "better late than never" and the feud was on, escalating to include a number of digs at both players' previous indiscretions.

U: UFC Melbourne. UFC was back in Melbourne in 2016 - 12 months after the memorable Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm fight which broke numerous attendance records. However, this edition will be remembered for all the wrong reasons as the card that was served up was an overwhelming disappointment, bringing into question the future of the sport Down Under.

V: Van Gisbergen. The Kiwi has been one of the premier V8 Supercars drivers for close to a decade now, but he sensationally broke through for his maiden series championship in 2016 after joining Red Bull Racing Australia. Shane Van Gisbergen managed to outclass his teammate and six-time champion Jamie Whincup to become the first series winner from across the ditch since Jim Richards in 1991.

W: espnW. This was a landmark year for women's sport in Australia with the launch of a localised edition of ESPN's all-women's sporting website, espnW. From the Australian women's rugby sevens triumph at the Olympics to Tyler Wright's record-breaking surfing crown, to the establishment of the AFL Women's league for 2017, there was no shortage of female sporting highlights in 2016 -- many of them featuring in the inaugural IMPACT10 list.

X: Xavier Richards. Richards spent four years with the Sydney Swans and played in the final 10 games of the 2016 AFL season, including the Grand Final. After entering into contract negotiations with the Swans and not being happy with the tabled offer, Richards requested a trade. Heading to the national and rookie drafts and not hearing his name called, Richards is now without an AFL club to call home. Can he resurrect his career or has the curtain dropped?

Y: YouTube. Well before he was drafted, Thon Maker was an enigma to NBA fans and scouts alike; highlight videos on YouTube showed his impressive skills yet nobody knew anything about him. The Milwaukee Bucks took the leap of faith and selected Maker with the 10th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Maker still has a lot to learn on the court but it's clear that his skillset will hold him in good stead. And it all may not have happened had it not been for his impressive YouTube compilations.

Z: Zika. Health experts called for the Rio Olympics to be postponed, visitors began to question their holiday destination, and concerns about the virus led many athletes to withdraw from the Games -- including Aussie golfers Jason Day and Marc Leishman. Zika was the biggest storyline heading into the Olympics. Luckily for all involved, it did not live up to its billing, with no reported cases to come out of the Olympics (for both athletes and visitors).