J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: I decided to go through my phone to see how many favorite moments I had captured in pictures. This little piece of Linsanity is remarkable simply because of where it was taken: at the Salt Lake City airport.
Danny Nowell, Portland Roundball Society:Dwight Howard debuts for the Lakers ... in a loss. So much of the NBA season is monotony and the certainty of superior talent, and the Lakers, with their four Hall of Famers, were locks to plow through most of the West. Until they actually took the court, that is, and turned conventional wisdom and the title race on their heads.
Benjamin Polk, A Wolf Among Wolves: Gregg Popovich resting all of his starters in a nationally televised game against the Heat. Popovich claims to have transcended giving a damn about anything but how his team performs in June, but this deadpan tweaking of the micromanaging, image-obsessed David Stern was pure comic genius. Not only did he subtly reveal the contradiction between the league's myopic focus on championships and its senseless, grinding regular season, but he nearly beat the Heat on the road with a collection of scrubs.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: Now that the Warriors are playing well, it's fun to reflect on the disastrous retirement of Chris Mullin's jersey last season. Oakland fans seized the microphone from owner Joe Lacob with a powerful, emotional, collective voice. If it were just poor Lacob being roasted, the fiasco might have been sad. By snatching the mike and berating the bellowing crowd, Rick Barry made it hilarious.
Tom Sunnergren, Philadunkia: The Thunder and the Timberwolves duel. Of the 990 regular-season basketball games we were treated to last season, there was none like the March 23 epic at Chesapeake Energy Center. A double-overtime 149-140 thriller OKC pulled out only after scoring nine straight in the waning minutes. Kevin Love poured in 51, Russell Westbrook scored 45 and Kevin Durant, the game's third-leading scorer, totaled 40 points and 17 rebounds.
4. What was the fourth-best NBA moment in 2012?
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Adande:Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's enormous smile at the unveiling of his statue outside Staples Center. Abdul-Jabbar doesn't receive as many honors as he should. Although I disagreed with many of ESPN The Magazine's Hall of Fame rankings, it did remind us that, objectively, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest basketball player ever.
Nowell:James Harden is traded to the Rockets. My Oklahoma City-born buddy and I saw this news broken while we were out for an evening, and we spent the rest of the night checking his Twitter timeline from his phone. This trade marked a serious change of course for a contending team and exemplified how fun following the NBA can be.
Polk: The Ray Felton/Tyson Chandler pick-and-roll with Carmelo Anthony on the wing. Anthony's one-man scoring feast has been the dominant story of the Knicks' renaissance this season, but the Felton/Chandler/Melo pick-and-roll has been its most edifying image, not to mention the Knicks' most consistent weapon. Initiated with perfect spacing, executed with creativity and precision, the play poses an impossible riddle. The Felton floater, the Chandler smash, the Melo spot-up 3: you can't stop 'em all.
Strauss: Game 1 of the Clippers-Grizzlies first-round series made a friend leave my apartment early. He was prepared to stay for all of it, but once Los Angeles was down 27, it was time to get going. He thought I was pranking him with excited texts about a Nick Young-fueled comeback.
Sunnergren: Blake Griffin's posterization of Kendrick Perkins. There are two basic levels at which we process sports; the Big Narrative -- the overcoming adversity, courage in the face of overwhelming odds, morality-play stuff -- and the "purely visceral joy of watching a human do things you can't" level. The latter is Blake's wheelhouse. Take another look at what he did to Perkins here. Play it again. Who does that?
3. What was the third-best NBA moment in 2012?
Adande:Chris Paul's and Blake Griffin's Christmas sweaters. They were gloriously tacky. They also symbolized the camaraderie of this team. If the two stars are willing to look so foolish in public for the sake of team bonding, it explains why the Clippers are setting franchise records for winning.
Nowell:Harrison Barnes posterizes Nikola Pekovic. I won't say too much more about this.
Polk: Bulls-Sixers Game 5. Facing elimination in Round 1 without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and with Taj Gibson playing on a gimpy ankle, the Bulls put up one of the most comprehensive defensive performances I've ever seen. Melding precision and passion is a hallmark of the Tom Thibodeau defense, but these Bulls were possessed by a righteous fury. They swarmed the ball; they choked passing lanes; they swallowed up shooters. It was beautiful.
Strauss: I didn't see Jeremy Lin score 38 points against the Lakers live. I was, however, walking through Oakland Chinatown as Lin took ownership of the evening. You could see the game on in cafe windows, barbershop windows, pretty much wherever there were windows. Linsanity made basketball feel bigger than the sport, and the Lakers game exponentially amplified that sense.
Sunnergren: LeBron's Game 6. The whispers started after the Heat lost their third straight to go down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals. He's choking. He's not cut out for this. He's not Jordan. LeBron heard them and, facing elimination, responded with one of the most dominant performances in playoff history: a 45-point, 15-rebound, 5-assist shellacking of the Celtics that made all that followed seem, looking back, inevitable, if it wasn't always.
2. What was the second-best NBA moment in 2012?
Adande:The Thunder's arrival in the NBA Finals. It was at once the culmination of a project that turned around a team that started in Oklahoma City by losing 16 of its first 17 games only four years earlier and the beginning of a constant in June. Of all the goofy getups Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant wore during the playoffs, the Western Conference championship caps were the best look.
Nowell: Linsanity. A thrice-rejected backup point exploded onto the scene for the Knicks as a result of mundane February desperation. Even if Jeremy Lin hadn't set off a leaguewide discussion on race and chemistry, changing the fortunes of no fewer than four teams this season, his run would have been remarkable.
Polk: Spurs-Thunder Game 2, third quarter. This Western Conference finals game was the capstone of the Spurs' majestic, improbable 20-game winning streak; from the middle of the second quarter until the end of the third, they played nearly perfect basketball. It was as if the game was dreaming of the ideal version of itself. Then the dream ended. OKC started fouling Tiago Splitter; the Spurs lost their forward momentum and never found it again.
Strauss: Perhaps you don't like LeBron James, but I was thrilled by his Game 6 against Boston. With so many expecting a LeBron implosion, with so many ready to mock him for that, it was inspiring to see a man kill a negative mythology by becoming something of a real-life myth. Under the circumstances, those 45 points and 15 rebounds probably constituted the best individual playoff performance I've ever seen.
Sunnergren: Linsanity. There isn't much to say that hasn't been written, but the Jeremy Lin story, the bizarre confluence of racial politics -- amplifying and upending prejudices people didn't realize they held -- and the flat-out incredible and unlikely basketball it packed would make an NBA Story of the Decade list, let alone for a calendar year.
1. What was the best NBA moment in 2012?
Adande: OK, this picture wasn't taken by my phone. But the image of LeBron James dancing on the sideline in the waning moments of the championship-clinching Game 5 stays in my mind like a computer desktop background. It had been years since we'd seen that side of LeBron, the playful, joyous LeBron whose on-court demeanor alternated from withdrawn to angry as he absorbed the blowback from The Decision. With a ring finally within reach, it came rushing back. That's the NBA moment of 2012.
Nowell: The Miami Heat win the title. Yes, this seems too easy, but the Heat's victory allowed a generation of fans to exorcise its collective angst over the credentials of the game's most transcendent talent. LeBron let us all off the hook -- we can stop worrying about all the manufactured drama and appreciate an all-time talent.
Polk: LeBron vs. Boston, Game 6. LeBron had put up supernova playoff scoring efforts before, but this 45-point (on 26 shots), 15-board, 5-assist masterpiece in the East finals was an entirely new creation. Never before had he played with such serene intensity, with such blank-faced focus, with such an easy relationship with the game. He entered a higher plane and stayed there -- or just barely beneath it -- for the rest of the playoffs.
Strauss: It happened mere weeks ago, but the embrace between Kevin McHale and Kevin Garnett was the most staggering NBA moment I saw this year. We might never know quite what Garnett said to make McHale weep, and we probably shouldn't. That's their private exchange within a public one that reminds you of what McHale has gone through after the death of his daughter, his connection to KG's youth and KG's maturing into someone who so selflessly comforts a fellow father in need.
Sunnergren: LeBron gets his title. What a powerfully freighted moment. The best basketball player alive was, in extraordinary fashion, validated, while the opening salvo was fired in the two rivalries that will define the rest of his career: LeBron vs. Kevin Durant for contemporary supremacy and the King vs. Jordan, Russell and all the ghosts who haunt the sport for his place in history.