Cooper Kupp’s improbable journey has taken him from red turf to the red carpet.
Kupp, the former Eastern Washington wide receiver-turned-Super Bowl champion added to his hardware haul on Wednesday night at the 2022 ESPY Awards, where the Los Angeles Rams standout walked out with trophies for “Best NFL Player” and “Best Championship Performance”
Five months after claiming the NFL’s triple crown award, leading all wideouts in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, Kupp beat three other finalists for “Best NFL Player”: Pittsburgh defensive lineman T.J. Watt, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor.
Kupp’s competition for “Best Championship Performance” included Spokane’s Julianna Peña, the UFC bantamweight fighter and Mt. Spokane High graduate who pulled off a stunning upset of world champion Amanda Nunes. Entering the bout, Nunes had won 12 consecutive fights with eight successful title defenses.
A rematch between Peña (7-2) and Nunes (14-2) is set for July 30 in Dallas at the UFC 277 event.
Other finalists for “Best Championship Performance” included Formula 1 title winner Max Verstappen, who surprised seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and NHL player Cale Makar, who helped lead the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup title over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Opening his acceptance speech Kupp said, “You put a mic in front of me, I’ve got my wife, I adore you. Thank you for everything you do. You amaze me, really. To my boys, I know you’re with your grandparents right now being watched. Extra dessert for you guys since the grandparents get to put you down, so enjoy that.
“Teammates, more than anything this is a team award. I just feel so blessed to be able to play this game with such incredible football players, coaches that put us in great positions.”
Former Washington State star Klay Thompson also took home hardware, winning the ESPY for “Best Comeback Athlete” after recovering from separate ACL and Achilles injuries to help the Golden State Warriors win their fourth championship in eight years. Thompson was up against Trey Mancini of the MLB’s Baltimore Orioles, Diamond DeShields of the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and Joe Burrow of the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals.
Thompson’s Warriors were also named “Best Team” after beating the Boston Celtics in a six-game series. The former Cougar returned midway through the 2021-22 NBA season after missing one full season with an ACL tear and another after rupturing his Achilles tendon. Thompson, whose jersey was retired at WSU during the 2019-20 college basketball season, averaged 19.0 points per game in the NBA playoffs and 20.4 during the regular season.
In his acceptance speech at the Los Angeles-based Dolby Theater, the Southern California native singled out late Lakers star Kobe Bryant for motivating him throughout the recovery process.
“The best memories I have growing up down here in Southern California are going to Staples (Center) with my father,” Thompson said. “I had a privileged life. He was a commentator for the Lakers, and I would go to every game early to watch Kobe do his thing. … I read ‘Mamba Mentality’ every day during rehab.”
Kupp’s Rams were also nominated for “Best Team” along with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, who won a championship with former Gonzaga standout Courtney Vandersloot averaging a double-double of 13.0 points and 10.2 assists through the playoffs.
Gonzaga star Chet Holmgren was nominated for best male college athlete but conceded that award to Heisman Trophy-winning Alabama quarterback Bryce Young. Holmgren, who became the highest-drafted player in Gonzaga history when the Oklahoma City Thunder selected him No. 2 overall, just wrapped up his first NBA Summer League campaign in Las Vegas.
In his lone season with the Zags, Holmgren matched Brandon Clarke’s single-season school record for blocked shots (117), was named a Naismith Trophy semifinalist and was selected as a finalist for Naismith Defensive Player of the Year. Holmgren averaged 14.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.5 blocks on the season.
Trinity Rodman, a former Washington State soccer signee and the younger sister of Cougars basketball player DJ Rodman, was nominated for “Best Breakthrough Athlete” after a spectacular rookie season with the NWSL’s Washington Spirit. Rodman was WSU’s highest-rated recruit in any sport when she signed with the Cougars in December 2019, but she elected to bypass the college route and play professionally when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out WSU’s fall season in 2020.
Chinese Olympic freestyle skiier Eileen Gu won for “Best Breakthrough Athlete.”
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