The photos that defined the 2012 NBA calendar year also double as the memories that defined that same calendar year.
When you think of the year 2012 (in terms of the NBA) one, two or even three decades down the road, what's the first thing that will come to mind?
Though 2012 was a particularly crazy year in the NBA, a few things still managed to stand out, starting with...
No. 10: Mike D'Antoni
You could replace this picture with pretty much any other picture of Mike D'Antoni and come to the exact same conclusion. For the most part, it just wasn't D'Antoni's year.
Because outside of a brief, shining, Jeremy Lin-fueled window of success and the moment he was hired by the Lakers, Mike D'Antoni just could not catch a break this year.
Between resigning as head coach of the New York Knicks after butting heads with Carmelo Anthony, and having a truly dreadful start to his Los Angeles Lakers tenure, you could make the case that no one in basketball had a worse year than D'Antoni.
Maybe getting Steve Nash back will be the Christmas present that finally gets D'Antoni to smile again.
No. 9: Kobe Bryant hits 30,000 points
Of course, there's one Laker that's not having so bad a year. At least, not statistically anyways.
At 34 years old, Kobe Bryant is scoring in bunches (29.5 points per game) and doing it more efficiently than ever. Bryant currently sports a 60 percent true shooting percentage, which would be the highest of his career (via Basketball Reference).
Oh yeah, and there's also the fact that this exact shot gave him 30,000 points in his career, a milestone that only four other players in NBA history have ever reached. Pretty impressive stuff.
For a top-10 all-time player, Kobe has faced a lot of criticism over the years. Some people didn't like the way he dealt with Shaquille O'Neal in the early 2000s. Some people think that he shoots too much, don't like the way that he publicly calls out teammates and hate his steadfast refusal to pass the ball in crunch time.
That's why it was nice that—even though it was just one night—everyone was able to appreciate Kobe for what he is rather than what he isn't. Kobe's been playing at an incredibly high level for an incredibly long time.
And after he scored No. 30,000, even his biggest critics had to admit that.
No. 8: The Dwight Howard saga
No doubt everyone's still absolutely exhausted over this nightmare of a trade saga, so let's just skip it.
Just know that when you think of the 2012 NBA calendar year, you'll eventually remember the way that Dwight Howard essentially held the whole city of Orlando hostage, all of the drama that ensued and the horrible haul that the Magic eventually came away with when they traded him.
And you'll hate it. Again.
No. 7: The Oklahoma City Thunder trio
This picture, sadly, shows just how fragile the NBA world can be.
James Harden was fresh off of absolutely eviscerating the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth quarter of the series-deciding Game 4, and it felt like the Oklahoma City Thunder's young trio would play together forever.
They just fit perfectly together. The relentless intensity of Russell Westbrook, the scoring wizardry of Kevin Durant and the steadying hand of James Harden. It was perfect.
Of course, we all know how the story ends. The Thunder were unwilling to pay Harden the max and shipped him off to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks.
The trade seems to be working out for both teams—the Thunder have the best record in the league, and the Rockets have a great young core. But looking back on that Game 4, and that specific image in particular, you have to wonder what might have been.
No. 6: The New Orleans Hornets draft Anthony Davis
This right here marks the day that things started looking really good for the future of basketball in New Orleans.
The future looked less than bright for the New Orleans Hornets after they swapped Chris Paul (who was only the best player in franchise history) for a package centered around the perpetually injured Eric Gordon.
But thanks to one lucky bounce of the ping-pong balls (or some David Stern intervention, if you believe the conspiracy theorists), New Orleans got the No. 1 overall pick and the right to draft Kentucky phenom Anthony Davis.
Just to recap—the Hornets went from one of the least promising franchises in the league to one of the most promising franchises in the league in a matter of months.
No. 5: Chris Paul suits up for the Los Angeles Clippers
Until Chris Paul actually stepped on the court, it didn't feel real
The Chris Paul trade had already long been made official by then, but it still felt like a dream. The idea that Chris Paul, the near-consensus best point guard in the league, was playing for the Los Angeles Clippers seemed absurd.
At that point, the Clippers were more of a punchline than an actual NBA franchise. If something bad happened to your favorite team, they were the team that all of your friends would point to and say, “Hey, at least you're not a Clippers fan.”
But all that changed when Chris Paul showed up on the court wearing a Clippers jersey. Suddenly, two things became readily apparent:
- The power balance in the NBA had shifted dramatically
- The Clippers were going to be good.
(Technically, Chris Paul played three games for the Clippers in 2011, but since pretty much all of his time with the team was in 2012, we're going to count it. It's my list after all.)
No. 4: Derrick Rose is injured
Hello, worst basketball photo of 2012.
Derrick Rose's injury didn't just affect last year's playoffs, it could affect the Eastern Conference (and more specifically, the Chicago Bulls) for the next 10 years.
This has been talked about ad nauseam ever since Rose went down, but what if he's never the same again? Will he be able to play superstar-level ball if he's robbed of his astonishing athleticism? What will happen to the Bulls if the answer is no?
Of course, what makes this picture really awful is that the injury couldn't have happened to a nicer guy or a guy who lived and breathed basketball more.
After his injury, Rose told CSNChicago.com's Aggrey Sam:
I couldn't believe it. That's the closest thing to death, the closest to death I've got to right there, where it just seemed like the wind and everything was taken out [of me].
No. 3: Steve Nash and Dwight Howard join the Lakers
Of all of the images of the new-look Lakers, this one felt the most appropriate.
The Lakers provided us with tons of stories this season, but ultimately, everything keyed off of the fact that they landed both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
It can't be understated how high the expectations were in Lakerland this season. Metta World Peace was talking about going 73-9. This particular team was supposed to be one of the best squads in Lakers history. For a franchise with 16 championships, that's saying a lot.
The bitter disappointment that Laker fans have felt to this point only amplifies just how high the team was flying this summer. This year was going to be fun.
(This image was tweeted by the Los Angeles Lakers)
No. 2: Linsanity
Does anyone honestly think that they're going to forget Jeremy Lin's breakout 2012?
Linsanity technically started almost a week before this photo was taken, when Lin scored 25 points against the New Jersey Nets. But this was the peak.
When Lin dropped 38 points on the Lakers on national television the narrative started changing from “this is a fun story” to “this guy's actually good.” You could go on and on about the global impact that Lin had, but his real impact was felt locally.
With every point Lin scored, Madison Square Garden, and even Lin's teammates, came more and more alive. What had previously been a pretty bitter season was becoming the greatest show in town.
This picture—one of Lin with his fired-up teammates and an MSG crowd nearing nirvana—comes as close as you can get to capturing that feeling. Maybe it couldn't last forever, but thanks to an undrafted kid from Harvard, the Knicks were back.
No. 1: LeBron James wins his first title
You had to see this one coming. We'll remember 2012 as the year that LeBron James finally put it all together, played the best basketball that anyone's seen since Michael Jordan and won that elusive championship ring in the process.
Just look at that picture...when's the last time that James looked that happy? LeBron James has always been burdened.
When he entered the league, he was the next Jordan. When he was handed some bad Cleveland Cavaliers squads, he was expected to elevate them to a championship level. When he mishandled his free agency, he had to face media scrutiny that no athlete in history has ever had to deal with.
Millions, maybe even billions, of people were rooting for him to fail and rejoiced when he did. The guy just couldn't catch a break. Until this year.
And that's why the defining NBA photo of 2012 depicts a visibly exhausted, but elated, James finally holding up that championship trophy and becoming the player that many thought he could be.
Out of all the memories that 2012 brought, that's the one that will stay the longest.
All stats accurate as of 12/22/12