2012 was a great year in sports.
It brought us joy, thrills, sadness, satisfaction, tears and we were always on the edge of our seat waiting to see what our favorite superstars would do next.
But five of those superstars stood alone this year in a class of their own.
These five male athletes broke records, won championships, shattered expectations and brought fans to their feet in excitement.
These five athletes carved 2012 in a way that made it an awesome year to be a sports fan.
But which athlete stood above the rest?
Let's rewind 2012 and find out in this definitive list.
Here are 10 remarkable athletes that just didn’t make the cut. This is in no particular order.
Jeremy Lin, NBA
R.A Dickey, MLB
Eli Manning, NFL
Peyton Manning, NFL
Kobe Bryant, NBA
Miguel Cabrera, MLB
Jonathan Quick, NHL
Kevin Durant, NBA
Buster Posey, MLB
Rory McIlroy, Golf
An athlete is meant to inspire, to wow, to do things an ordinary person can’t.
That description fits Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson perfectly.
On Christmas Eve 2011, the Vikings were playing the Washington Redskins in a meaningless late-season game. But the attention of the whole NFL quickly turned to that matchup as “Purple Jesus” was helped off the field early in the third quarter.
On December 26, 2011 one of the greatest running backs of all time onto injured reserve due to a torn ACL and MCL.
Peterson spent the early parts of 2012 recovering from that gruesome injury in a way that only someone nicknamed "All Day” can do. He wasn’t expected to make it back for the start of the season. After all, the superstar runner had just suffered one of the most horrible injuries in sports.
But here we are, almost a year later.
Peterson, leading the NFL in rushing yards, has his lowly Vikings in playoff contention and is almost a shoo-in for the MVP trophy. After all he only needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season rushing record. With the way that he has been playing, the shattering of the record is seeming more and more likely.
Seasons like the one that AD is enjoying don’t happen often.
Recoveries like the one that AD went through don’t happen often.
That is because athletes like AD aren’t around often.
An athlete is also meant to be an entertainer. Fans pay money to watch their favorite athletes and to be delighted.
No one puts on a show quite like soccer player Lionel Messi. He shines on the pitch and dazzles crowds. He rarely has a bad game and his electric passes and dribbles can light up a stadium. His ball skills are second to none and his speed would put a cheetah to shame.
And I haven’t even mentioned his shots, which pull fans to their feet.
Luckily for Messi, and futbol fans everywhere, lots of his shots this year found their way into the net.
90 goals to be exact.
In 2012 Messi surpassed the 40-year-old record set by Gerd Mueller, who scored 85 goals in 60 matches for Bayern Munich and West Germany in 1972.
Barcelona fans can thank the Argentine for undoubtedly making their team better and putting on one hell of a show while doing it.
Sports fans can thank the living legend for allowing us to witness him creating history.
2012 was an Olympic year so sports fans were treated to an excess amount of highlight reel plays and jaw-dropping moments.
Many of those moments were courtesy of one man, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
In London he declared himself a legend (h/t Sports Illustrated) and told the world to "bask in my glory.” Who am I to disagree?
In 2012 it seemed that every sprinter basked in his glory. In England he became the first man in history to win the 100- and 200-meters at consecutive Olympics. He is the fastest man to ever run in this earth and the fastest living person.
It isn’t even close.
Bolt took home three gold medals this year but that was expected. Like most people on this list, Bolt got famous for his athletic abilities.
But he became a legend for his personality.
The way he jogs at the end of races, because he already has the competition beat by a mile and a half.
The way he dances and points "To Di World” and inspires a globe to point with him.
The way confidence just oozes out of him.
The way he struggled back from injuries in 2010 and 2011 and raised questions if he was done just to prove that there is not a sprinter better than him in the whole world.
The way he represents Jamaica with such pride and honor.
The way he seems to be having fun all the time and invites everyone to come and dance with him.
This exit hurt.
The London Olympics were likely the last time Michael Phelps ever swam competitively, and while it stings to watch him walk away, it gives time to reflect on what exactly he has accomplished.
In 2012 he picked up four golds and two silvers, not as good as his 2008 record-breaking haul but pretty close.
With that performance, Phelps leaves the pool with more gold medals (18) and overall medals (22) than any other Olympian in the history of the world.
The best part was that Phelps didn’t need to come back in 2012. He was already a bona fide superstar and could have nabbed the record for overall medals just by swimming on the relay teams.
But that isn’t Michael.
The work he put in, the hours he swam, the pain he endured, the Subway sandwiches he ate just to do it all again in London is something that can be appreciated by the sporting community.
But this spot on the definitive list isn’t just because of 2012. It’s because 2012 ended one of the greatest careers by any athlete ever.
The kid next door from Maryland might be the greatest athlete of all time, in part because of what he accomplished this year.
Most Valuable Player
All-NBA First Team
NBA All-Defensive First Team
NBA Finals MVP
Gold Medal Winner
Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year
My Male Athlete of the Year
This is just a short list of what Miami Heat forward LeBron James accomplished this year. His 2012 was not only the greatest by any athlete this year, but it might be the greatest by any athlete ever.
Of course, the cherry on top was finally being crowned in NBA champion. In his words, “It’s about damn time!” (via ESPN, h/t Yahoo Sports)
I had tears in my eyes when James finally won his elusive ring, and not because I’m a Heat fan, which I’m not.
The King finally shook the monkey off his back. Critics had been clamoring for years that he was never good enough to win it all.
Because this year he did it. This was LeBron’s year, hands down.
When the going gets tough—like it did in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Celtics when Miami was facing elimination—the tough get going, like James did when he led the Heat to victory with 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
That performance was an instant classic.
It led him to the NBA Finals and James would not be denied.
He scored his only triple-double of the season with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists in a Game 5 clincher against upstart Oklahoma City.
There was no doubt that this was LeBron’s championship and LeBron’s year.
Now, add an almost flawless Olympics in London and James’ resume goes through the roof.
It is undeniable that LeBron James was the greatest athlete this year.
In 2012 we were all witnesses to a spectacular show.