This year belonged to Stephen Curry: NBA MVP, NBA champ, AP Male Athlete of the Year, only the fourth NBA player -- LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Larry Bird are the others -- to earn the honor in the award's 85-year history.
But as epic as Curry's and the Warriors' year was, he wasn't the league's only story. As it often has in the past, the NBA saw some of its biggest stars publicly speak out on a variety of social issues -- but it also missed, as one writer noted, other opportunities to do so.
From DeAndre Jordan's change of heart in the summer to coaches begrudgingly accepting the 3-point shot as a weapon 35 years after it was introduced to LeBron James' lifetime deal with Nike, the NBA more than drove the lane of the sporting public's consciousness.
To celebrate the year that was, here are some of our writers' favorite stories from 2015.
The view was clear from DeAndre Jordan's house in the Pacific Palisades on the morning of July 3. This time of year, the marine layer that keeps the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean cool burns off early in the day. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and forward Chandler Parsons arrived at Jordan's house just after breakfast, ready to make one last pitch to the man they hoped would anchor their team for at least the next four years.
Parsons had been wooing and partying with Jordan for weeks in an elaborate, "Entourage"-style recruiting trip through the hottest clubs and most exclusive haunts in Los Angeles and Houston. On the first night of free agency, Parsons, Cuban and Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki took Jordan out for a gluttonous sushi feast in a private room at Nobu in Malibu, a few miles up the road from Jordan's house. After that, Parsons and Cuban had been in constant contact with the 26-year-old center. Other teams had gone to meet with Jordan at the offices of his agent, Dan Fegan, in Beverly Hills. But their pitches had been self-contained: an hour or two of the typical marketing presentations and basketball discussions that start to sound the same if you hear too many in too short a time. The Mavericks' pitch was all-inclusive and all-consuming. -- Ramona Shelburne and Tim MacMahon
It's May 2011, and Boston is trailing Miami two games to none during its second-round playoff series. On the best of days, Celtics coach Doc Rivers rides Rajon Rondo hard, pushing his stubborn point guard as only a former stubborn point guard can. But this day is different. Doc is more relentless, Rondo more seething. "He was just pushing and he was just pushing and he was just pushing," Kevin Garnett recalls. Rondo glances across the room at Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal. "They saw me bubbling," Rondo remembers. "They were trying to calm me down. It was too late."
Without warning, Rondo snatches his water bottle and hurls it, full force, at the television monitor, the one airing the game footage that's being used to critique him. The 50-inch flat-screen, mounted on a cart in the center of the room, shatters. "When he blew the TV up, it was about to go in another direction -- like, the whole thing," Garnett says, his voice rising. Rivers, fed up, gives Garnett an order: "I want Rondo out." Garnett obliges. "He kicked the door off the hinges," Garnett says. "I'll never forget: I had to pick him up and carry him out because it was going like that, and the locker room was suuuper tense. Just super tense." -- Baxter Holmes
With every sluggish possession, Golden State was confirming the doubts traditionalists such as Charles Barkley had raised about their jump-shooting offense all year. Somehow, they needed to change things up and get back to who they were. In the middle of the night after Game 3, Warriors assistant coach Nick U'Ren had an idea.
What if they just went extra-small by inserting Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup for center Andrew Bogut? What if they stopped pretending to play a traditional lineup with a center, two forwards and two guards? What if they just put their five best, most-skilled players on the court and let them play? -- Ramona Shelburne
In leopard-print shoes, at Oklahoma City's Eugene Field Elementary School, Russell Westbrook sat on a short, red bench with a classroom's worth of kids gathered around. He was holding a book, mouthing the words and following along as a young boy and girl read each page.
"Y'all read better than I do!" he joked, eliciting adorable laughter.
Westbrook was opening the third Russell's Reading Room, a program from his Why Not? Foundation to help promote children's literacy in Oklahoma. And the book selected for him to read to complete the small ceremony was called "I Like Myself."
I'm glad I'm me.
There's no one else I'd rather be.
I like my eyes, my ears, my nose.
I like my fingers and my toes.
I like me wild.
I like me tame.
I like me different, and the same.
As much dissection, investigation and evaluation that still goes on around the Thunder's enigmatic point guard, one thing has always been abundantly clear: Russell Westbrook is comfortable being Russell Westbrook. -- Royce Young
Carmelo Anthony took the court on Feb. 23, 2011, to a hero's welcome, with Diddy's "I'm Coming Home" blaring over the Madison Square Garden speakers. "I think New York needed a moment like this," Anthony said the night that he played his first game as a Knick. "It's a dream come true for me, and I'm ready to rock."
The dream ending has eluded Anthony. In his four seasons with the Knicks, they have won just one playoff series. They have gone a combined 151-153 (as of Feb. 2) since the Anthony trade. The organization has been through three coaches, three general managers and two team presidents since Anthony arrived. It's not exactly the kind of stability -- or success -- many envisioned when Anthony came aboard. -- Ian Begley
Larry Bird's shooting is the stuff of legend.
"Larry was an amazing shooter," says Danny Ainge, Bird's Boston Celtics teammate for 7½ seasons. "The amazing thing about Larry was how many contested shots Larry could make. He was like Dirk Nowitzki today. Guys were all over him."
But while Bird's 3-point skills are well-known, the shot is not something he practiced, thought about, liked or even did very often. Bird never averaged more than three 3-point attempts a game until he turned 30.
"I can remember if a guy was out at the 3-point line, you wouldn't even go out there and challenge him," Bird says. "Shoot, we didn't guard anybody out there. We dared them to shoot that shot." -- Tom Haberstroh
LeBron James doesn't intend for his lifetime Nike deal to be his biggest business move. If he is going to eventually be a billionaire with this latest deal, James surely wants a bigger prize -- perhaps to someday join his idol Michael Jordan as an NBA owner.
That is something he has talked about. But just when you think you can see James' plan, understand he has probably envisioned something more expansive.
For years now, his visions have gone beyond basketball. Why not an NFL owner? Majority owner of a Premier League team? Head of his own Hollywood production and talent firm? What about running for public office? James and his team have shown they don't operate within established parameters.
He's past the point of picking up a large paycheck for putting his name or face on a product. As James slowly became obsessed with the bigger picture and started thinking in terms of 10 figures and not eight or nine, he realized he wanted to rise above someone who endorses brands. He wanted to own the brands. If he was associated with it, he wanted equity in it. -- Brian Windhorst
The compressed nature of New York means its disparities are more metaphorical than physical. It's not too far from 202 Bay St. on Staten Island to the edge of New York Harbor, presenting a view of the Manhattan skyline and all the possibilities it represents -- and all the parties and celebrity-stocked events it hosted with the NBA All-Stars in town for the weekend -- so tantalizingly close across the water.
Bay Street ends in a little loop, creating a small side street with a few stores jammed next to one another. Right next to Bay Beauty Supply is a plastic case filled with candles, teddy bears, flowers and balloons. There's a wreath affixed to the wall above it along with an American flag and a note that reads: "Dear God, Let Not this Angel Die In Vain."
This is where it ended for Eric Garner. -- J.A. Adande
Diagnosing the root of Atlanta's historic apathy toward its NBA franchise has long been a discussion among the city's sports fans and amateur sociologists.
The snarling traffic is often cited. Some say Atlanta is a city of transplants who brought their loyalties to other teams with them. There's the loser theory, too: Fans in Atlanta don't connect to the Hawks because the team hasn't been to the NBA's final four since 1969. The roster hasn't featured a bona fide superstar since Dominique Wilkins was shipped out of town in 1994. -- Kevin Arnovitz
It's hard to imagine now, but Vince Carter almost didn't make the Olympics in 2000.
Had the Team USA selection committee initially had its way, Carter would have remained grounded. Watch the eruption of sheer rage Carter unleashed after the dunk. It's primal, but hardly anything personal against Frederic Weis. It's the outburst of a combustible mix of joy, pain, anger, resentment and energy that had been simmering for months. -- Michael Wallace and Rob Peterson