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In this Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. Baseball's lovable losers were favored to finally break through after assembling a powerhouse team that led the majors with a 103-59 record. This being the Cubbies, of course, they had to make their first title since 1908 as difficult as possible. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
In this Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. Baseball's lovable losers were favored to finally break through after assembling a powerhouse team that led the majors with a 103-59 record. This being the Cubbies, of course, they had to make their first title since 1908 as difficult as possible. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

In a year marked by loss, Chicago Cubs’ victory stands out in 2016 Add to ...

Everything changed for the Chicago Cubs on a rainy November night. A century-plus worth of heartache washed away by a wave of pure joy.

There were hugs, cheers and tears – and bottles and bottles of booze, sprayed everywhere from Cleveland to the shadow of Wrigley Field.

Lovable losers, no more. The story of so many lifetimes is The Associated Press’s sports story of the year.

“The burden has been lifted,” manager Joe Maddon said.

The Cubs’ first World Series title since 1908 is the runaway winner for top sports story of 2016, collecting 48 of 59 first-place votes and 549 points in balloting by AP members and editors. The death of Muhammad Ali after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease was second with 427 points, while LeBron James leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to the franchise’s first NBA title took third with 425 points.

In a year that seemed to be more about people we lost (Ali, Arnold Palmer, Gordie Howe, Pat Summitt, Jose Fernandez and the plane crash that killed most of the Brazilian club soccer team Chapecoense) than the winners on the field, the Cubs provided a feel-good moment that warmed at least the north side of Chicago well into the winter. The Cubs drew huge ratings throughout the playoffs, with much of the continent tuning in to see if it finally was the year – and it was.

“I think a lot of casual fans were initially drawn to the Cubs in the postseason because of the 108-year drought and the curse narrative,” said the team’s president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein. “But when they tuned in, they saw a talented team full of young, exciting players who are also team-first, high-character people.”

As baseball stories go, the 2016 Cubs had it all. One last stand for David Ross, a retiring catcher who became a key figure in Chicago’s clubhouse. Loads of bright young stars, with Kris Bryant turning in an MVP performance. An eccentric personality in Maddon, who cemented his status as one of the game’s best managers.

There was history, for the franchise and its front office, with Epstein helping end two of baseball’s biggest droughts. See the Boston Red Sox of 2004.

Ali was mourned all over the world after his death in June at age 74. U.S. President Barack Obama called Ali’s wife, Lonnie, to express condolences, and a public memorial in the boxer’s hometown of Louisville, Ky., drew an eclectic mix of celebrities, athletes and politicians.

“He was a tremendous bolt of lightning, created by Mother Nature out of thin air, a fantastic combination of power and beauty,” comedian Billy Crystal said.

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