What a year, fellow NBA fans. So much has happened in professional basketball in 2016 that it’s almost impossible to remember every important moment without the help of rocket scientists and brain surgeons. Fortunately, our crack team of brainiacs works around the clock to keep track of the NBA moments that truly mattered to us so that we can bring the most important victories, highlights, and Joel Embiid Instagram trolling to you in one convenient year-end list.
Here now are the 16 best basketball moments of 2016. Please enjoy.
The Warriors won 73 games, but blew a 3-1 lead
Years from now, when we’re all old and living out our final days in rocking chairs on the porches of government-owned retirement camps, we’ll tell our grandchildren about the Golden State Warriors team that blew the greatest season in NBA history. Yes, we’ll regale them with highlights of the greatest regular season in NBA history, as Stephen Curry and the Warriors did the unthinkable and won 73 games. We’ll recall how they almost blew it against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, but they did the impossible and overcame a 3-1 deficit to advance to the NBA Finals. “It was so amazing,” we’ll tell them whilst sipping warm Metamucil, “but then it all came crashing down.”
The Warriors, as we mention occasionally, ultimately blew their own 3-1 lead to LeBron James and the Cavaliers. It was a Finals for the ages, but all the Warriors had at the end was their 73-win regular season. They even hung a banner for it, because it’s better than renaming the arena the We Blew a 3-1 Lead Center.
Kevin Durant couldn’t beat them, so he joined them
So, how do you rebound from blowing a 3-1 lead? You go out and sign one of the biggest stars in the league, of course. People were stunned, possibly even flabbergasted, that Kevin Durant would leave Oklahoma City to join the team that beat his Thunder in the playoffs. After all, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame just a year earlier, as a preemptive “We love you, so please don’t leave us” gesture from the organization and even the state’s governor. But what are you going to do when Guy Fieri is selling you on his town?
Instead, KD took a short deal to chase a ring with Curry, but also presumably to make sure he’s one of the first stars in line to ink a $210 million deal under the new CBA.
Will Durant make Steve Ballmer and the city of Boston cry all over again as a free agent in 2017? Probably!
The rise of serial crotch-kicker Draymond Green
Like any good budding dynasty, the Warriors have been hated even more than they’ve been loved. The 3-1 lead jokes only grew stronger with the Durant coup, but it’s Draymond Green that has really evolved into the role of the team’s ultimate villain. Warriors fans, new and old (but mostly new) alike, defend his style of play as old school and intense, while the rest of us just want him to cool it with the dick- and face-kicking. The league tried to send a message with a $25,000 fine for kicking Steven Adams right in the pee faucet, but Green’s reckless appendage rampage has continued, with the latest “accidental” target being James Harden’s face.
Shirtless J.R. Smith is the hero Cleveland deserves
Oh yeah, about that team that didn’t blow a 3-1 lead! Was the best part of the Cavs winning the Finals how LeBron James finally brought a championship to Cleveland after years of close calls and then abandoning his hometown to chase a dream in Miami? Was it that the Warriors fans who made those awful signs felt stupid and went home to laminate their tears? Was it that the Cavs players received rings so fancy they’d make Liberace blush? No, the best part was shirtless J.R. Smith!
Soon after the Cavs’ celebration began in Las Vegas, Smith’s shirt was history. He even removed his shirt during Game 7 of the World Series to rally the Cleveland Indians. President Obama finally got in on the action by thanking Smith for bringing his shirt to the White House, but, honestly, we were bummed that he dressed appropriately for once.
Joel Embiid becomes “The Process”
This isn’t just about the champs, though. Even the worst team in the NBA could celebrate in 2016. The 76ers were mocked because of “The Process,” but now they won’t stop celebrating it. That’s because Joel Embiid adopted Sam Hinkie’s failure as his new nickname, and as such the fans are chanting, “Trust the process” for their budding superstar. He might be restricted because of his injuries, but he’s been insanely good in his limited play. Imagine when he’s at full speed and dunking all over everyone with no restrictions. It’s almost pornographic. The Sixers will issue post-coital cigarettes to fans because the Process will leave them sweaty and weak in the knees. Sort of like Nerlens Noel.
Even if Embiid doesn’t rise to superstar status and simply becomes an important role player, he’ll still be very important to us. Because who else will troll Chandler Parsons on Instagram? Certainly not Jahlil Okafor.
The sports world’s outpouring of support for Craig Sager
In March, it was reported that Craig Sager’s acute myeloid leukemia had returned, and NBA players, coaches, reporters, analysts, and fans – basically anyone who knows what the NBA is – were blown away and truly saddened to learn that doctors gave him 3-6 months to live. In July, ESPN honored the sideline reporter with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs, and in December he was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
But the recognition for his career was hardly limited to those two moments. They were simply indicative of how his peers feel about him and how inspiring he is to those who love and appreciate him, including LeBron James. The support has been limitless and widespread, as the NBA even paid tribute to Sager’s unique fashion sense. But in typical Sager fashion, we’ve also laughed with him, as he finally cashed in his World Series bet on the Chicago Cubs.
Sager passed away on December 15.
NBA stars and leaders speak out against Trump
The “Stick to sports!” crowd had a tough time with the NBA this season because of the renewed national conversation about racial inequality, which was certainly elevated by the presidential election. As Colin Kaepernick took heat for his National Anthem protests, NBA stars showed their support for him in the fight against police brutality. But as the reality of Donald Trump’s election set in, and as white supremacist groups endorsed him and eventually celebrated his victory, everyone from NBA stars to coaches took a stand against the president-elect’s divisive campaign rhetoric.
Some NBA teams announced that they will no longer stay at Trump-owned hotels. Some players, including LeBron James, have openly wondered if they’ll visit Trump’s White House if their team wins the NBA Championship. Warriors coach Steve Kerr “thought we were better than all of this,” and, of course, Stan Van Gundy, who unleashed hell on Trump like only he can.
LeBron, Carmelo, and more get political
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First off let me start off by saying " All Praise Due To The Most High." Secondly, I'm all about rallying, protesting, fighting for OUR people. Look I'll even lead the charge, By Any Means Necessary. We have to be smart about what we are doing though. We need to steer our anger in the right direction. The system is Broken. Point blank period. It has been this way forever. Martin Luther King marched. Malcolm X rebelled. Muhammad Ali literally fought for US. Our anger should be towards the system. If the system doesn't change we will continue to turn on the TVs and see the same thing. We have to put the pressure on the people in charge in order to get this thing we call JUSTICE right. A march doesn't work. We tried that. I've tried that. A couple social media post/tweet doesn't work. We've all tried that. That didn't work. Shooting 11 cops and killing 5 WILL NOT work. While I don't have a solution, and I'm pretty sure a lot of people don't have a solution, we need to come together more than anything at this time. We need each other. These politicians have to step up and fight for change. I'm calling for all my fellow ATHLETES to step up and take charge. Go to your local officials, leaders, congressman, assemblymen/assemblywoman and demand change. There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can't worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or whose going to look at us crazy. I need your voices to be heard. We can demand change. We just have to be willing to. THE TIME IS NOW. IM all in. Take Charge. Take Action. DEMAND CHANGE. Peace7 #StayMe7o
Even more than protests, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony did what people have been asking of them for years now. They stepped forward and used their voices to empower their fans and fellow players to be political and do something to incite progress. In July, Anthony penned a moving Instagram post that declared, “The system is broken,” while encouraging his fans and followers to be responsible and “steer our anger in the right direction.” And while he admitted that he didn’t have a solution, he called for his fellow athletes “to step up and take charge” regardless of the endorsements they may lose. Anthony organized a meeting with community leaders in Los Angeles. Dwyane Wade hosted a bike ride to promote police harmony. DeMarcus Cousins met with local police in Alabama to discuss violence.
Meanwhile, James endorsed Hillary Clinton and appeared at one of her campaign events, and even after Trump’s election James used his Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year cover photo to make a political statement by wearing a safety pin, which has become the symbol of support for the equality and safety of women and minorities. Obviously, the Trump crowd doesn’t appreciate James not sticking to sports like Michael Jordan did, but no one should expect The King to be silent again.
Dwyane Wade’s messy break-up with the Heat
The NBA is a business above all else, so when a star reaches a certain age but still wants to be paid like he’s in his prime, a very serious, tough decision must be made. What’s done is in the past, so no matter how many championships a guy has won, it doesn’t mean he’s gonna be paid for it after the fact. That was the harsh reality of Dwyane Wade’s final days with the Miami Heat, as Pat Riley had to decide if he should pay the franchise’s greatest star — the guy who orchestrated the era of the BIG THREE – the money that he’d given up in previous years so James and Chris Bosh could be paid well.
Riley made the best decision for the Heat, and so Wade made the best decision for Wade. He said goodbye to Miami, went home to Chicago, and joined the Bulls. The Bulls are doing fine, and the Heat are terrible, but that could always change. What won’t change is that the Heat didn’t do right by Wade and his time in Miami ended with a sad Price is Right fail horn.
Aaron Gordon and Zach LaVine save the dunk contest
The NBA Slam Dunk Contest was once an annual spectacle of our favorite thing about basketball, but then Blake Griffin jumped over a Kia and fans became bored. The gimmicks and props took away from the actual dunks, and players, like JaVale McGee, wondered why they should bother. Still, the dunks continued and there were some good ones after Griffin’s dumb car jump, but it wasn’t until Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon came along that we felt alive again.
While LaVine dazzled us with his flawless display of athleticism, Gordon pulled off an impossible leap over Stuff the Magic Dragon to give fans a true conundrum. Which guy deserved to win? Yes, the judges gave the trophy to LaVine, but everyone went crazy for Gordon, too. Either way, they made fans give a damn about the dunk once again. Now they just need to have a rematch.
Steph Curry’s boring “Chef” shoes
One of the greatest Twitter moments ever was this hilarious shoe roast, and we got the NBA version of that when Under Armour’s Curry 3 shoes dropped. What was your favorite nickname for Curry’s boring shoes? Air Josh Grobans. Dad Force One. The Danny Tanner Lows. The Forrest Gumps. The “Bulls Just Function Better When Kirk Hinrich Is On The Floor” IIs. The Bathtubs in that Cialis Ad. There were so many good insults, it’s hard to keep track, but like the aforementioned shoe roast, it’s the joke that you can always return to months later for a guaranteed laugh.
Of course, UA wasn’t laughing when its stock dropped four percent and the company lost $600 million of its value, mostly because the Curry 3 wasn’t flying off the shelf like previous Curry shoes. But maybe a lot of grandfathers out there will get new shoes for Christmas and all will be well.
Blake Griffin is a very bad friend
When Blake Griffin’s NBA career is over, he’ll probably dabble in comedy because he’s a pretty funny dude. Or maybe he’ll get into MMA or boxing since he also apparently has a heck of a temper. In January, the Clippers star broke his hand by punching the team’s assistant equipment manager twice while they were dining at a restaurant in Toronto. What made this so unusual is that the two men are good friends, so we just assumed that Matias Testi tried to eat from Griffin’s plate. The cause was irrelevant, though, because the resulting injury cost Griffin a chunk of his season and made him the subject of a lot of trade rumors.
The Clippers went 18-5 without their angry leader, so Doc Rivers spent plenty of time telling reporters that Griffin wasn’t going anywhere. Perhaps it was from this act of stupidity that the Evil Clippers, angrier than ever, were born and unleashed on the Western Conference for a stellar first month of this season.
Team USA dominates for gold
Was anyone surprised that Kevin Durant and co. went a perfect 8-0 at the Brazil Olympics to win the gold? Did anyone fall out of their chairs in shock when Team USA whooped Serbia by 30 points in the gold medal game after the Serbs almost embarrassed the Americans in their preliminary matchup? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a blast to watch! Then again, anything good that happened at the Olympics automatically becomes 100 times better if you compare to Ryan Lochte peeing on a gas station and then causing an international incident because he lied to his mommy.
Tim Duncan calls it quits
Since 1999, the San Antonio Spurs have been the franchise that every team in every sport aspires to be. While they’ve only won five NBA titles in that time, the team routinely wins 50+ games as if anything less would be humiliating. At the center of it all has been Tim Duncan, a vanilla ice cream star who was undeniably great from the beginning of his career until the end. While he was never the most electric or exciting player on the court, every GM in the NBA would have sold his soul to have him on their rosters, and, at the very least, he entertained us all with his ridiculous feud with Joey Crawford.
Unlike other stars, there was no farewell tour for Duncan. Instead, he simply called it quits in a brief announcement and went about his business. The team, however, has settled into a rebuilding process. LOL JK they’re still amazing.
Kobe Bryant goes out in Mamba fashion
Unlike Duncan, Kobe Bryant gave everyone some notice that the 2015-16 season would be his last, which allowed every team to plan parties and order ice cream cakes for him. The Lakers even gave him a big, beautiful ring! The Utah Jazz were the chumps that he’d embarrass for the last time in his career. He dropped a hot 60 on them that fateful April night, and it was truly vintage Mamba action. (Even if some people would argue that the Jazz looked a little soft at times on defense.) The ending was perfect for Bryant, as he even outscored the Jazz 23-21 in the fourth quarter, while the Lakers won by only five. It was a storybook ending for the ultimate hero and/or villain.
Klay Thompson’s 60-point game
As stars leave, others continue to rise, which is why we come full circle with Klay Thompson’s huge, ridiculous, absurd, and even legendary game against the Pacers on Dec. 5. How huge was it? He scored 60 points in just 29 minutes! After Brian Scalabrine breathed life into some made-up rumors about Thompson being on the trade block, the Warriors’ third-best player reminded everyone why the Warriors are probably going to march right back to the NBA Finals. Will they blow another 3-1 lead? Check back in 365 days for the 2017 year-end round-up.