The 2022 ESPY Awards brought all the biggest sports stars under one roof.
Super Bowl champions, Olympic gold medalists, NBA champions, collegiate stars and more gathered Wednesday night at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California, for a celebration of sports filled with laughs, spectacle and even a Stephen Curry musical number.
But there was more on the agenda than a good time. Many champions used the primetime platform to champion social issues, ranging from women’s rights and the release of Brittney Griner to cancer research and mental health awareness.
Did you miss the 2022 ESPYs? We got you covered. Here’s five of the best moments from the 2022 ESPY Awards:
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Stephen Curry roasts LeBron, Boston Celtics in hosting gig
Stephen Curry opened the 2022 ESPY Awards with a shot at LeBron James, who co-hosted the 2007 ESPY Awards with comedian Jimmy Kimmel.
“I am the second NBA player to host this award show, which is kind of crazy to think about. LeBron hosted this award show back in 2007 after losing in the NBA Finals,” Curry joked in his opening monologue. “So yes, you guessed it. This feels better.”
James and the Cleveland Cavaliers got swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2007 NBA Finals. Curry, on the other hand, is coming off his fourth NBA title and first Finals MVP.
“It’s been an amazing year. But somehow I’m still getting overshadowed, by Draymond Green’s podcast,” Curry said of his teammate, who laughed in the audience.
Despite Kevin Hart’s suggestion, Curry left his one joke out of his opening monologue, although he did share it later in the broadcast: “I’m Steph Curry, proud husband of Ayesha Curry, son of Dell Curry and daddy of the Boston Celtics. “
Klay Thompson thanks Kobe, Gianna Bryant in comeback speech
Thompson dedicated his best comeback honor to the late Kobe Bryant. The Warriors star missed back-to-back seasons with separate ACL and Achilles tendon injuries before winning the 2022 NBA championship.
“To Vanessa and her three beautiful girls, we think of Kobe and GiGi every day,” Thompson said. “I read ‘Mamba Mentality’ every day during rehab. Those were the best memories of my life watching him play. He inspired me to be the athlete I am today.”
‘We are not your charity’: Top female athletes advocate for equality
Some of the biggest female athletes in the game, past and present — including tennis legend Billie Jean King, Basketball Hall of Famer Lisa Leslie, college softball player Jocelyn Alo, WNBA player Layshia Clarendo, Olympians Chloe Kim, Allyson Felix, Aly Raisman, Megan Rapinoe and Paralympian Oskana Masters — joined together for a powerful celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.
But, the women highlighted that there’s still a long way ahead for women’s rights.
“We refuse to be happy with the minimum, because more than it has been does not mean it’s where it should be,” Kim said. “We still fight for equal pay and pregnancy protections, for resources,” Felix said, while Raisman added: “We still fight for safety, to be believed and we still fight to have control over our own bodies.”
Rapinoe continued: “To be honest its exhausting trying to convince the world of our ability, or humanity, or worth. We are not your charity. We are not your measuring stick for whatever version of masculinity. We are certainly not the shield just to deny college athletes’ equal pay or trans kids’ equal rights.”
Brittney Griner ‘deserves to be free,’ athletes say
After the Arthur Ashe Courage Award was presented to Vitali Klitschko, the former boxing champion and mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv in the midst of the Russian invasion, Curry took the stage in Brittney Griner’s Phoenix Mercury jersey. Griner has been detained in Russia since February after Russian authorities claimed that cannabis oil was found in her luggage.
“We need to acknowledge who isn’t here. Her name is on this jersey,” said Curry, who was joined by Skylar Diggins-Smith, Griner’s Mercury teammate, and the Los Angeles Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike.
“It’s been 153 nights now that BG has been wrongfully detained thousands of miles away from home. Away from her family, away from her friends, away from her team,” Diggins-Smith said.
Curry added: “We urge the entire global sports community to continue to stay energized on her behalf… she’s one of us, the team of athletes in this room tonight and all over the world. A team that has nothing to do with politics and global conflict.”
Megan Rapinoe said she wasn’t afraid to get political. She dedicated her acceptance speech for best play to Griner and called for athletes in the room to use their platform to bring attention to Griner to put pressure on the administration: “She deserves to be free. She’s being held as a political prisoner.”
Dick Vitale: ‘Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer. And we must do it.’
College basketball analyst Dick Vitale received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance following the 82-year-old’s seven-month battle with cancer, the disease that claimed the life of his best friend Jim Valvano in 1993. Less than two months before Valvano’s death, he gave an iconic speech at the inaugural ESPY awards ceremony.
Vitale recalled helping his terminally ill friend on the stage that night 29 years ago, adding that he did not know if Valvano was well enough to even give a speech.
“If only you had heard Jimmy V the night before, you would never believe or dream that he can stand here and give a speech,” Vitale recalled. “He told Mike (Krzyzewski) and I, ‘Just get me on that (expletive) stage’ … I was mesmerized and blown away as he electrified the nation. That speech created why we are here today.”
He said Valvano’s speech inspired his lifelong dedication to cancer funding and his own battle with cancer: “I heard Jimmy’s words in my head, ‘Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.'”
During a powerful moment in his speech, Vitale asked anyone in the room who knew someone battling cancer to stand up. The entire room rose to their feet.
“It doesn’t discriminate. It comes after all. It doesn’t matter race, religion, (cancer) will bring you to your knees,” Vitale said. “There is only one way to beat it my friends, we have to raise dollars and give oncologists a fighting chance.”
He continued: “Jimmy’s dream was to beat cancer. And we must do it.”