It’s the end of an era.
Some of the greatest athletes of the 21st century called it a career in 2022. The year was full of emotional sendoffs, swansongs and even a handful of un-retirements. A few players came out on top in their final moments in action, while others graciously waved goodbye in defeat.
Before a new generation of stars takes the torch, let’s celebrate the iconic athletes who retired in 2022.
Tom Brady made his first retirement from the NFL in 2022, but he’s not done just yet.
Brady’s retirement saga began with reporting from ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington on Jan. 29 that the quarterback was hanging up his cleats after 22 seasons. Brady’s agent, Don Yee, then pushed back against the initial report and said Brady would be the only one able to announce the decision with complete accuracy.
The man himself came forward three days later with a lengthy social media statement, saying “I have loved my NFL career, and now it is time to focus my time and energy on other things that require my attention.” One key word was absent from Brady’s message, though: retirement.
As it turns out, Brady’s leave lasted just six weeks. He announced on March 13 that he was returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 23rd season, citing “unfinished business.”
Brady has had a rough go of it on the field during the 2022 season. He has 20 passing touchdowns to just seven interceptions and the Bucs still have a hold on the NFC South, but the team has just a 6-8 record on the year. He is a free agent after the season, so football fans will be eager to see what announcement – or announcements – Brady has in store for 2023.
Serena Williams and Roger Federer
Two generational tennis players enjoyed farewell tours in 2022.
In an editorial for Vogue magazine, Serena Williams announced in August that she would be “evolving away” from tennis. The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion got a ceremonious sendoff at the U.S. Open with thousands of dedicated supporters cheering her on in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. After two impressive victories, her 2022 U.S. Open run came to an end in the third round against Ajla Tomljanović.
Less than two weeks after Williams walked off the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, an all-time great on the men’s side announced his retirement. Roger Federer posted a heartfelt retirement message on Sept. 15, saying “tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.” Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam singles champion, competed in the Laver Cup as his final event, ending a tennis career that began in 1998.
Like Brady, one of the tennis icons has not closed the door on a return. Despite welcoming Federer to the “retirement club” following his announcement, Williams said “I am not retired” in October and called her chances at a comeback “very high.”
Albert Pujols turned back the clock in 2022 and put together one of the best retirement sendoffs in recent baseball history.
While Aaron Judge was chasing single-season home run history, Pujols moved up the all-time leaderboard. The Cardinals first baseman entered the year with 679 career home runs, but after hitting just 23 home runs across 2020 and 2021, 700 seemed a bit out of reach. He had seven homers on the year through July, but then the Machine turned it up a notch when the calendar flipped.
Pujols crushed seven long balls in a 10-game stretch from Aug. 10-22, setting up an exciting race against the clock to see how many homers he could end his career with. He soon hit No. 697 on Sept. 11, passing Alex Rodriguez for fourth in major league history.
Dodger Stadium, a venue Pujols called home in 2021, was the site of Nos. 699 and 700. He blasted two home runs in a Sept. 23 victory against his former team and got three more across the Cardinals’ final 10 games to bring his career number to 703.
Pujols officially turned in his retirement papers in November, completing an illustrious chapter in MLB’s record books.
The Flying Tomato’s career came to a close in Beijing.
Shaun White made his final snowboarding run in the halfpipe at the 2022 Winter Olympics. The 35-year-old had won Olympic gold in the event three times before and ultimately placed fourth in 2022.
White spent the last two decades as America’s most famous dual-board athlete. He earned five X Games medals in skateboarding, but snowboarding is where he truly took things to new heights. White won his first Olympic halfpipe gold at 19 years old in Torino and defended his title four years later in Vancouver. After placing fourth in the event in 2014, he ascended the medal stand once again in 2018 with a gold-winning performance in PyeongChang.
Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles
The WNBA saw two legends finish out their careers in 2022.
Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles both won gold medals with Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics before embarking on their final WNBA seasons. Both players got their flowers across the league during the season, even becoming co-captains for the 2022 All-Star Game.
Bird’s 21-year WNBA career ended in the semifinals to the eventual champion Las Vegas Aces. She spent that entire time with the Seattle Storm, winning four WNBA championships, earning 13 All-Star selections and becoming the league’s all-time assists leader with 3,234, over 600 more than anybody else. Add in her five Olympic gold medals, five world championship medals and two NCAA titles with UConn – not to mention her play overseas – and she is one of the most decorated winners in basketball history.
Fowles, meanwhile, did not get a chance to compete in the 2022 WNBA Playoffs as the Minnesota Lynx did not earn a postseason berth. The two-way center built quite the trophy case, as well, throughout her 15 seasons. Fowles won two WNBA Finals, earned two WNBA Finals MVP honors, was the 2017 league MVP, an eight-time All-Star and a four-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year.
The winningest coach in college basketball history got a sendoff that was both ceremonious and excruciating.
Mike Krzyzewski announced in June 2021 that Duke’s 2021-22 season would be his last. His fans will remember the 1,202 wins and five national championships he collected across 42 seasons at Duke. His detractors, meanwhile, will hold his final home game and last ever game over him.
Rival North Carolina spoiled Coach K’s last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 5, earning a 94-81 win in front of a packed house filled with Duke legends. Duke had a chance to get the last laugh in New Orleans, but North Carolina won a historic Final Four matchup in Coach K’s final game. The two schools had never faced off in the NCAA Tournament before, and the Tar Heels sent Krzyzewski packing with an 81-77 victory.
Along with Krzyzewski, another multi-time national championship head coach retired in college basketball this year.
The Wildcats enjoyed the best era in their history under Wright. The head coach led the program to six Big East championships, four Final Fours and national titles in 2016 and 2018. Wright’s last game came on the same day as Coach K’s when Villanova fell to Kansas in the Final Four.
After 24 NHL seasons, Zdeno Chara decided to retire with the organization he led to a Stanley Cup title.
Big Z signed a one-day contract with the Boston Bruins on Sept. 20 to conclude his hockey career. The 45-year-old played for four organizations after being drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1996 NHL Draft, but the best years of his career came in Boston.
Chara was a six-time All-Star, five-time All-Star Game SuperSkills Competition Hardest Shot winner, a Norris Trophy winner in 2009 and a Stanley Cup champion in 2011. At 6-foot-9, he is the tallest player in NHL history.
Lionel Messi still has a lot of soccer planned for the rest of his career, but he will never reach another peak like he did to close out 2022.
The 35-year-old announced in October that this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar would be his last. Among all of the soccer accolades he has compiled through his iconic career, the World Cup trophy was the one that eluded him, and he had one last shot to bring it back to Argentina.
Those chances took a major hit in Argentina’s first group stage game, which ended in a shocking defeat to Saudi Arabia. Messi and Co. turned things around in a hurry, winning their next five matches to set up a final against the defending champion, France.
With all of the pressure in the world on Messi, he shined his brightest on the biggest stage. He opened the scoring with a goal from the penalty spot and scored again in extra time. He made one last, crucial strike on Argentina’s first attempt in the penalty shootout, which the country wound up winning 4-2 to conclude an unforgettable final.
It was a storybook ending to Messi’s World Cup career, but he announced after the match that he is not retiring from La Albiceleste just yet. He wants to “continue playing as a champion” for his country, and it’s a championship his nation would not have won without him.