In the world of sports, 2023 was the year Swifties embraced football, Kim Kardashian put athletes in Skims and Ali Krieger channeled her inner Beyoncé.
While Patrick Mahomes earned the NFL MVP award, Corey Seager and the Texas Rangers won the World Series and the Denver Nuggets took home the NBA Championship trophy, Us Weekly has slightly different criteria for what makes an Athlete of the Year.
In a shocking turn of events, Travis Kelce is not actually on our list, but the Kansas City Chiefs tight end (and his relationship with Taylor Swift) inspired more than one pick. Kelce and Swift started dating this summer after he attended one of her Eras Tour shows. They went public in September when she attended a game at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, and Us has been watching football ever since.
Scroll through to see which athletes made Us’ list — and why:
Angel Reese: Best Refusal to Settle
After the Louisiana State University women’s basketball team won the NCAA championship in April, they scored the traditional invitation to the White House — but so did the losing team, the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. LSU forward Reese, however, wasn’t having it, because when do the losers ever get to meet the president? “A JOKE,” she tweeted after First Lady Jill Biden publicly extended her invite to both teams.
Reese ultimately visited the White House with her LSU teammates, but the Hawkeyes did not, and Biden’s press secretary clarified that the first lady only meant to “applaud the historic game” between the two teams. Now in her senior season, Reese was recently named The Sporting News’ Athlete of the Year alongside her Iowa rival Caitlin Clark.
Marcus Jordan: The Michael Jordan Trophy
The NBA announced in December 2022 that the league’s Most Valuable Player award would be renamed to honor the Chicago Bulls legend. While his son Marcus never even played in the NBA, he’s an MVP to Us for joining The Real Housewives of Miami with girlfriend Larsa Pippen. Marcus has all the makings of a good Househusband: He’s showing up to events on the show, he’s stirring the pot by giving different answers every time he’s asked about a potential engagement and his family situation brings serious drama. (ICYMI: Michael has a complicated history with Larsa’s ex-husband, his former Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen). Marcus could even make the list again in 2024 based on his performance in the upcoming season 2 of The Traitors.
Bryson Stott: Best Walk-Up Song
The Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park is known for bringing in some of the rowdiest crowds in baseball, and Stott’s walk-up song only has only added to the hype. Each time the second baseman approached home plate this season, Tai Verdes’ feel-good single “A-O-K” blasted through the speakers. With every game, fans got louder and louder as they sang along — and the 2023 playoffs were no exception.
“It’s really cool, kind of locks me in,” Stott said in an October interview of the crowd’s reaction. “You almost can’t even hear the actual song. It’s just everybody else singing it, so it’s pretty cool. I love it.”
The Phillies may not have made it to the World Series this year, but “A-O-K” has become the team’s unofficial anthem leading into 2024. (Watch out “Dancing on My Own,” because rumor has it “A-O-K” is still echoing through the Bank to this day.)
Tommy DeVito: Poultry Prince
The New York Giants quarterback got his first start in November after starter Daniel Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor were both injured. While he’s found some success on the field, he solidified his spot in pop culture for 2023 via his love of chicken cutlets — which he proudly enjoys at home with his parents.
Ellen Goltzer: Queen of Pickleball
Goltzer may not have ended up with Gerry Turner, but she dominated the court during a group date on The Golden Bachelor, winning the first-ever Golden Bachelor Pickleball Tournament with partner Kathy Swarts. It’s a true skill to show off your abilities on a Bachelor group date without ending up with a target on your back.
Jason Kelce: Achievement in Journalism
It was Travis’ brother, Jason, who asked Travis about a recent concert he attended when the siblings recorded a SeatGeek ad in July, which led Swift to contact Travis. In another commercial for the ticket platform in November, Jason tee’d up Travis to tease a trip “close to the equator” ahead of his now-viral appearance at Swift’s Buenos Aires concert. When he returned, Jason got all the scoop on how Travis felt about Swift changing her “Karma” lyrics to give her boyfriend a shout-out and how he converted Swift’s dad, Scott, from an Eagles to Chiefs fan. Plus, who could forget Jason’s investigation into Travis’ interaction with Taylor’s security guard outside of SNL?
Jason has found the perfect balance of making his brother blush while respecting his privacy. Consider this an endorsement for Jason’s inevitable post-football broadcast career … unless he is interested in a sports reporter position at a certain weekly magazine. For a complete list of the best “New Heights” moments in 2023, keep checking Us’ End of Year hub.
Mecole Hardman Jr.: Social Media Star by Association
The Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver’s girlfriend, Chariah Gordon, nearly broke the internet when she posted a pic of Swift kissing Travis on the cheek in October. Hardman Jr. may have not played a down of football since week 11 because of a thumb injury, but his relationship with social-media-savvy Gordon made Us forever thankful for his time in the NFL.
A’ja Wilson: Queen of Good Times
Wilson led her Las Vegas Aces to their second straight WNBA championship in October and won her first WNBA Finals MVP trophy, but it was her unparalleled celebratory skills that landed her on this list. At the team’s post-game press conference, Wilson couldn’t contain her laughter as her teammates brandished champagne bottles while she tried to answer questions over the sounds of Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck.”
Then, at the Aces’ victory parade, Wilson wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the voting results for the regular season MVP race — including a “1” for the lone vote for her to finish in fourth place. (The New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart was named the regular season MVP in September.)
“Whoever you are out there that voted me fourth, thank you. Thank you so much,” Wilson said at the event. “I want to say I appreciate you because that just means that I got a lot more work to do. We coming back, we coming back, baby. We gonna do this s–t again.”
Nick Bosa: Hottest in Skims
If you didn’t see the photos of the San Francisco 49ers defensive end modeling Kardashian’s new men’s underwear line at least five times when the collection dropped in October, you’re not following the right people on Instagram.
Coco Gauff: Best ‘I Told You So’
Gauff took home her first Grand Slam title in September when she won the US Open after defeating Aryna Sabalenka in three sets (making her the first American teenager to win the tournament since Serena Williams in 1999). While accepting the trophy, the 19-year-old thanked her parents, her coaches, tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King — and her haters.
“Honestly, thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” Gauff told the thrilled crowd. “A month ago, I won a 500 title, and people said I would stop at that. Two weeks ago, I won a 1000 title, and people were saying that was the biggest it was gonna get. So, three weeks later, I’m here with this trophy right now. I tried my best to carry this with grace and I’ve been doing my best, so, honestly, to those who thought you were putting water on my fire, you were really adding gas to it, and now I’m really burning so bright.”
After a hard-fought battle on the court, Gauff saved a little energy for a polite kiss-off — and fully cemented her status as an icon.
Dak Prescott: Most Unhinged Touchdown Celebration
A Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving has become a time-honored sports tradition, but Prescott brought a little extra shock value to the field this year. The QB threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to KaVontae Turpin, who hopped into an oversized Salvation Army bucket after making it into the end zone. Prescott followed, pulling turkey legs from the bucket and taking a huge bite. (The Cowboys beat the Washington Commanders 45-10.)
“Team effort, team idea,” Prescott said in a postgame interview, revealing it was “a two to three day long process” to get the plan in place. “We understand we’re going to be in [the end zone]. It’s not like we had [turkey legs] in just that end zone, we had them in every bucket.”
Jordan Mailata and Jordan Davis: Unexpected Singing Talent
Teammates Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson and Mailata returned to the studio for the second annual Philadelphia Eagles holiday album, A Philly Special Christmas Special, and once again, Mailata’s vocals took listeners by surprise. He hit all the right notes on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and held his own alongside the legendary Patti LaBelle on “This Christmas.”
It was newbie Davis, however, who truly caught fans off guard as he crooned the bridge of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” While his performance quickly went viral, Davis needed a little convincing to join the charity project. “It was incredible,” he told USA Today in December. “I’m really happy that I have something to show for it, something to give my mom for Christmas. … Not a lot of people know I can sing. I don’t even think I can sing half the time.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Best Met Gala Serve
The Oklahoma City Thunder star has become a street style icon throughout his time in the NBA, and he further proved his fashion prowess by pulling up to the 2023 Met Gala in custom Thom Browne. His layered black-and-white suit was paired with a black bow tie, black combat boots and cropped black trousers, perfectly embodying the “Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty” theme.
Gilgeous-Alexander previously attended Fashion’s Biggest Night in 2021, and returning to the iconic Met steps was just like prepping for a basketball game. “You just want to get it right. … When you play at the Staples Center, you walk in and you can feel it,” he told GQ in May. “When you play at The Garden, you walk in, you feel it.”
Ali Krieger: Best Divorce Swag
Soccer fans were shocked in October when news broke that Ashlyn Harris had filed for divorce from wife Krieger, thus ending their reign as one of the sport’s biggest power couples. The situation only got more shocking when Harris started dating Sophia Bush, who’d recently split from husband Grant Hughes, leading some internet sleuths to wonder whether there was any overlap in the relationships. (Harris subsequently denied cheating on Krieger.)
Krieger’s lone comment on the split is an October Instagram caption that read, “Preparing for playoffs while in my Beyoncé lemonade era.” (As the Beyhive knows, Beyoncé’s 2016 album, Lemonade, was all about Jay-Z’s inexplicable infidelity.)
One month later, Krieger captained NJ/NY Gotham FC to its first-ever NWSL championship, then dropped the mic by retiring. In her Lemonade era, indeed!
Jabrill Peppers: Funniest Mic’d Up Flub
When the New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants 10-7 in November, Peppers was caught throwing major shade at his own team on a hot mic, telling Giants running back Saquon Barkley after the game, “You lucky we ass.”
Peppers’ commentary quickly made its way around the internet — and was even included in the NFL’s Mic’d Up highlight reel for Week 12. He later issued an apology for the flub, telling reporters, “We’ve got more important things to worry about than me being caught on a hot mic. … We all know the standard. We know what it’s supposed to look like, and it’s not that right now.”
The safety said he was just letting out “a little frustration” after a tough loss and insisted that his quip wasn’t directed toward anyone in particular. “That’s one that I wanted. But at the end of the day, we’re not doing enough to get it done right now, and we all know that,” he added. “But we’ve got six more opportunities to go out there and try to build momentum going into next year. … I want to be a part of the solution. So, it is what it is.”