The Most Memorable NBA Stories from 2012

Bryan Toporek@@btoporekFeatured ColumnistDecember 28, 2012

The Most Memorable NBA Stories from 2012

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    The year 2012 will go down as one to remember for the NBA.

    The league's self-proclaimed king finally earned that nickname by winning his first championship, and then he headed to London to help Team USA defend its gold medal in basketball.

    Meanwhile, the two franchises in Los Angeles spent all year dealing with the ripples of commissioner David Stern's vetoed Chris Paul trade in December 2011.

    One year later, the Lakers and Clippers' records were enough to make any sane person think that the Mayans could have been right about that whole end-of-the-world prediction after all.

    New faces of the league such as Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin emerged, while old veterans like Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan reminded us all what happens when you count out the Boston Celtics or San Antonio Spurs too early.

    If you're going to remember anything about the NBA from 2012, these 10 things should top that list.

Honorable Mention: Ricky Rubio Delivers on the Hype

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    Minnesota Timberwolves general manager David Kahn became the laughingstock of the NBA after drafting point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn with the No. 5 and 6 picks in 2009.

    Three years later, Flynn looks every bit the bust that T'Wolves fans feared, but Rubio is turning out to be just as dynamic as projected.

    Rubio made a name for himself in the U.S. by holding his own against Team USA in the gold-medal game with Spain in 2008 despite only being 17 years old at the time. After being drafted in 2009, he played two more years in Spain, as he wasn't keen on paying for the enormous buyout in his contract with his own money.

    Kahn finally convinced Rubio to come to the States before the 2011-12 season once his buyout dropped to a more reasonable $1.4 million, and he immediately injected life into an otherwise moribund franchise.

    A torn ACL in March ended Rubio's rookie season prematurely, but he returned to the Timberwolves lineup in mid-December and immediately started firing the same smooth, awe-inspiring passes that made him a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight.

    Alongside Kevin Love, the Timberwolves appear to have legitimate building blocks for the first time since Kevin Garnett's heyday.

10. Kyrie Irving Pulls a Crossover on Half of Team USA

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    In 2012, it became apparent that despite only being 20 years old, Kyrie Irving already qualifies as one of the NBA's elite point guards.

    It's strange to call the 2012 Rookie of the Year a somewhat hidden talent, but given the depths to which Cleveland had fallen in the post-LeBron James era, Irving didn't generate nearly the same national attention as Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers did during his rookie year.

    Once he went to Team USA camp in the summer of 2012, all bets were off. The video to the left demonstrated far and wide the type of talent Irving already possesses despite being so young.

    Irving looked like a younger, larger version of Allen Iverson during his time with the Team USA select team. He put on a ball-handling clinic against the most talented basketball players in the world and all but proved he'll be one of the league's elite scorers in the near future, based on reports from CBSSports.com's Ben Golliver.

    At the :06 mark of this clip, Irving splits between Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, pulls a wicked spin move on James Harden and dribbles between his legs to avoid a Bryant steal. It's an unreal display of athleticism, talent and ball control that marks the sign of a truly elite point guard.

    As long as Irving stays healthy, he officially qualifies as a League Pass Alert based on the clips from his Team USA performance this summer. (The Uncle Drew videos don't hurt, either.)

9. Andrew Bynum Exacerbates His Knee Troubles...by Bowling

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    When the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum in the summer of 2012, the team expected to be starting a long and harmonious relationship with a presumed franchise center.

    Instead, the 2012-13 season has been one disaster after another for Bynum and the Sixers.

    He flew to Germany in September for the same Orthokine knee treatment that Kobe Bryant and other athletes swear by and was originally scheduled to miss three weeks of training camp to recover from the treatment and from a bone bruise in his right knee.

    He still hasn't played a game for the Sixers as of Dec. 28, thanks to an ill-timed bowling injury in mid-November.

    Bynum went bowling and managed to suffer a "setback" in his left knee, where doctors said he had a "weakened cartilage state," according to ESPN.com. Sixers general manager Tony DiLeo told reporters in late November that Bynum's knees "are not the same" as when the team traded for him five months earlier.

    On Dec. 21, Bynum was cleared for low-impact exercises, but he still remains out indefinitely for the struggling 76ers.

    It's safe to say that the honeymoon between Philadelphia fans and Bynum died the night he went bowling and injured that left knee of his.

8. Dwight Howard Whines His Way into a 4-Team Megatrade

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    Dwight Howard spent a grand majority of the 2011-12 season openly flirting with free agency, then inexplicably agreed to waive the early termination option in his contract in mid-March, ending any chance of him hitting the market in the summer of 2012.

    That didn't stop the shenanigans from Howard, however.

    In early April, he was front and center in what's sure to become one of the NBA's more infamous morning shootaround interviews

    First, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters that he just met with management, who said that Howard wanted him fired. Then, Howard joined Van Gundy, wrapped his arm around the coach and flatly denied everything Van Gundy just said after the coach left his side.

    After the 2011-12 season ended, the Magic decided that they could endure no more of the ongoing Dwightmare. Orlando ended up dealing him to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team megatrade that shook up the 2013 NBA title picture.

    It's almost criminal that Howard got what he wanted after treating the Magic so poorly for so long, but the Lakers' rough start to the 2012-13 season should have been a nice helping of humble pie for D12.

7. After 20 Consecutive Wins, the San Antonio Spurs Lose 4 Straight to Thunder

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    The San Antonio Spurs entered the 2012 playoffs on a 10-game win streak, then ripped through the first two rounds against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers with two straight sweeps.

    San Antonio then opened the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City with wins in Games 1 and 2, extending their overall win streak to 20 and earning some deserved championship buzz.

    In the way of those championship dreams? A buzzsaw named Kevin Durant.

    As dominant as the Spurs looked during their 20-game undefeated run, the wheels came off against the Thunder in Game 3. They got blown out by 20 points and gave the Thunder some life.

    After closely contested Games 4 and 5, the Thunder returned home up 3-2 in the series, ready to finish off the elder Spurs. San Antonio had other ideas, however, racing out to a 15-point halftime lead.

    The Thunder remained unfazed, coming back to close out the Spurs with a 107-99 victory in Game 6.

    The Spurs look equally ready for a championship run in 2012-13, but their surprising fall out of the 2012 playoffs after reeling off 10 straight playoff wins won't be soon forgotten.

6. The Oklahoma City Thunder Trade James Harden After Contract Talks Break Down

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    Days before the start of the 2012-13 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder shocked the NBA world by trading 2012 Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets.

    The Thunder spent the summer negotiating with Harden's representation on a contract extension, but the two sides were never able to come to terms on an agreement. Had Harden not signed an extension by midnight on Oct. 31, he would have become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2013.

    According to ESPN.com's Chris Broussard, Harden wanted a maximum contract offer from OKC. But with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each signed to max deals and Serge Ibaka recently inked to a four-year, $48 million deal, the Thunder had no interest in offering a third max contract to Harden.

    After giving Harden an hour to consider a final four-year, $54 million offer, according to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder called the Rockets and pulled the trigger on the trade.

    Trading a main piece of a team that had just appeared in the 2012 NBA Finals may sound insane, but the trade appears to be working out magnificently for both sides.

    Kevin Martin has slipped into Harden's role as microwave scorer off the bench without a hitch, and Harden's departure forced Durant and Westbrook to shoulder more responsibility in getting their teammates involved on offense.

    Meanwhile, Harden has led the surprising Rockets to an above-.500 record and ranks fourth in the league in terms of scoring as of Dec. 27 with 25.8 points per game.

5. Derrick Rose Tears His ACL in the First Game of the Playoffs

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    The Chicago Bulls entered the 2012 playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and had their eyes on a championship run, so long as star point guard Derrick Rose could stay healthy.

    Those dreams lasted all of 47 playoff minutes.

    With just over a minute left in the Bulls' first game in their first-round matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, Rose took a jump-step into the lane, attempted a floater, then immediately grabbed for his left leg.

    He tried to regain his balance for a second, but as play continued, Rose collapsed on the Bulls baseline. Upon seeing the replay, it became clear that Rose had just suffered a fluke non-contact injury, which oftentimes means a torn ACL.

    Lo and behold, that's exactly what it turned out to be. Rose tore the ACL in his left knee and missed the rest of the playoffs, spelling a first-round exit for the Bulls.

    Rose remains on the mend, as chronicled by Adidas' "The Return" marketing campaign, and he still has no established timeline to return from the injury in the 2012-13 season.

4. Commissioner David Stern Announces His Retirement Timeline

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    After 28 years of serving as the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern announced on Oct. 25 that he'd be stepping down on Feb. 1, 2014, the 30-year anniversary of when he started.

    For the longest-tenured commissioner in professional sports, the announcement came as somewhat of a surprise.

    Said Stern during the press conference to announce his retirement:

    It's been a great run. The league is in, I think, terrific condition. I'd like to think I did an adequate job. But one of the things I did best was provide a successor. I'm not going anyplace in the next 15 months, but this gives us the opportunity to have a very smooth transition.

    That successor he's referring to is none other than Adam Silver, the league's current deputy commissioner. As ESPN.com's Henry Abbott wrote, Silver "has long been the executive who knows how all the pieces fit together," with 20 years of varying NBA experience under his belt.

    Stern has just over a year left before he hands the reins over to Silver, leaving plenty of time for more of his infamous meddling. (Beware, floppers.)

    We likely won't see another vetoed trade of a superstar and thankfully won't see another lockout during Stern's last year, but it's difficult to picture Stern slogging through a lame-duck year in his final year as commissioner. He's likely to be just as active as ever in his final year in charge.

3. Chris Paul Brings 'Lob City' to the L.A. Clippers

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    Speaking of David Stern's infamous meddling...remember the time in December 2011 that Stern vetoed a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, citing "basketball reasons" as his justification?

    Instead, the New Orleans Hornets ended up trading Paul to the Lakers' cross-city rivals, the Clippers, for Eric Gordon and a few other pieces.

    Just like that, "Lob City" was born, courtesy of Blake Griffin.

    Between Griffin and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, the two threw down over 350 dunks in the 2011-12 season, according to Basketball Reference. (Griffin had 217 dunks, while Jordan registered 156.)

    Paul's ability to feed the Clippers bigs for easy baskets even resulted in a "Lob City" song, not to mention the Clippers' first playoff appearance since 2005-06.

    It's only gotten even more exhilarating in Year 2 of "Lob City," as Paul and Griffin led the Clippers to a league-best 22-6 record by the end of Christmas Day. A franchise-record 14-game win streak certainly helped.

    If the Mayans hadn't already been proven wrong about the apocalypse happening on Dec. 21, 2012, the 2012-13 Clippers' record is enough to make you think twice about that prediction.

    Paul catalyzed a complete overhaul of the Clippers' fortunes in just one calendar year.

2. The Rise (and Fall) of 'Linsanity'

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    If there's one NBA story that defined the 2011-12 regular season, it's the global phenomenon known as "Linsanity."

    In February 2012, Jeremy Lin, an undrafted Asian-American point guard from Harvard, went from benchwarmer to front-page material in the span of two weeks with the New York Knicks.

    Since this happened in New York, Lin naturally became the biggest thing to happen to the game of basketball since the invention of the shot clock.

    Sarcasm aside, Lin's rise to prominence defied all logic or reason. The Golden State Warriors cut him at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, and the Knicks were reportedly ready to do the same before playing him out of pure desperation against the then-New Jersey Nets on Feb. 4.

    Twenty-five points, seven assists and five rebounds later, Lin became a fixture in the Knicks' starting lineup. Less than a week later, Lin went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant and emerged victorious, dropping 38 points in a 92-85 Knicks victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

    A partially torn meniscus sidelined Lin toward the end of March for the rest of 2011-12, bringing a premature end to his otherwise sensational season.

    The Knicks then shocked the NBA world in the summer of 2012 by not matching the three-year, $25 million contract offer that Houston extended to Lin, even after a source told ESPN.com's Marc Stein that the team would match any offer "up to 1 billion dollars."

    Lin hasn't found his groove in Houston the way he did back during that magical February run with the Knicks, but that's not entirely unexpected.

    Lin has plenty of chapters left to write in his NBA story, but the "Linsanity" phase will likely go down as the most memorable of all. 

1. LeBron James Gets 'The Look,' Wins His First Championship

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    The Miami Heat's road to the 2012 NBA championship opened up once Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls tore his ACL, but it still wasn't an easy road for the Heat to get back to the NBA Finals.

    Miami overcame a 2-1 deficit to the Indiana Pacers in the second round of the playoffs only to meet its old nemesis, the Boston Celtics, in the Eastern Conference Finals.

    The Heat and Celtics were tied 2-2 in the series heading into Game 5 in Miami, where a huge three-pointer from Paul Pierce with 50 seconds left gave the Celtics a four-point advantage they wouldn't relinquish. James was guarding Pierce at the time, and Pierce appeared to taunt James after draining the shot.

    Whether it was Pierce's trash talk or the thought of going home empty-handed once more, James flipped the switch in Game 6 and turned into the NBA's version of the Terminator.

    Before the game even started, James had a stone-cold serious look on his face that suggested he was going to be all business that night.

    He dropped 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a transcendent Game 6 performance, then played all 48 minutes in Game 7 and chipped in 31 points and 12 boards to lead the Heat into the finals.

    In the Finals against Oklahoma City, James put all the questions about his clutch play to rest once and for all. He scored at least 25 points in all five games during the NBA Finals, finishing off the Thunder in Game 5 with a triple-double of 26 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds.

    Finally, nine seasons into his NBA career, James became an NBA champion and legitimized that "King James" nickname of his.

    "Linsanity" goes down as the biggest surprise in the 2011-12 season, but the best player in the league winning his first NBA championship takes home the prize for being the most memorable moment of the year.