I’ve taken on the tough task of figuring out the ten biggest NBA stories in the year 2014. As with every other year, there was no shortage of events to consider as top 10 worthy. Figuring out which ones deserved to make the cut and where on the list they should actually be … that proved to be a little more difficult. Before we crack the top 10, check out the stories that just missed the cut.
Two different players (Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James) score sixty points in a game for the first time since 2006, when Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas both accomplished the feat … Dirk Nowitzki surpasses Hakeem Olajuwon as highest scoring foreign born player in NBA history … The Philadelphia 76ers tie the NBA record with 26 consecutive losses … NBA owners vote against a draft lottery reform … Steve Kerr replaces Mark Jackson as the Golden State Warriors head coach … Damian Lillard buries a walk-off game-winning and series-winning three-pointer against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA Playoffs … Derrick Rose re-returns … Metta World Peace decides to change his name to The Pandas Friend … The Charlotte Bobcats become the Charlotte Hornets once again … Becky Hammon becomes first full-time female assistant coach in any of the four major professional sports in North America
10: The Cleveland Cavaliers acquire Kevin Love
This one isn’t just about the Cavaliers managing to acquire Kevin Love; it’s about how Cleveland was willing to part ways with back-to-back number one overall picks to get Kevin Love. The perennial all-star forward was on the trade block for as long as the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 were on that mysterious island on Lost and after discussing trade packages with a few teams—Boston, Golden State and Chicago were all rumored—the Minnesota Timberwolves pulled the trigger on a deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers that got them Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, the No. 1 overall selections in the 2013 and 2014 NBA Drafts respectively. This move was obviously a part of a much bigger storyline that we’ll be getting to soon enough.
9: Phil Jackson returns to New York as the Knicks President of Basketball Operations
The luster of Phil’s move to the front office has worn off quite a bit considering the Knicks are a cool 5-22 at the time of this writing. The hire of his former point guard Derek Fisher hasn’t exactly been a home run and there have been frequent rumors of locker room tension, so needless to say Phil Jackson’s tenure as Knicks President of Basketball Operations has been a shaky one. Even still, when one of, if not the greatest coach in NBA history returns as a figurehead and prominent decision maker to the city where he won a two championships as a player, it has to be considered a top 10 worthy story.
8: Paul George breaks his leg in Team USA scrimmage
I’m a sucker for embedding YouTube videos into my write-ups, but Paul George’s leg injury from Team USA’s intrasquad scrimmage back in August is just too gruesome to include. This one was a bummer for just about everybody involved. A blossoming George was forced to miss an entire NBA season, and that not only sucks for George, but for NBA fans too. Team USA lost George—and as we would learn later on, Kevin Durant backed out because of George’s injury too—and because of that, a totally full strength Team USA wasn’t a part of the FIBA World Cup in Spain. The injury also served as yet another kick to the proverbial groin of the Indiana Pacers, who went from Eastern Conference powerhouse to depressing lottery team in the same amount of time that Drake goes from 0 to 100. There is a silver lining though: if Indiana’s marketing crew plays their cards right, the return of PG-13 could be epic.
7: League signs new TV contract
In early October the NBA agreed to a new TV deal with ESPN and TNT that was worth $24 billion over the course of nine years. Are you sitting there wondering what this means for the league long term? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you. Because of this mammoth agreement, the league’s value nearly tripled. The salary cap—roughly $63 million today—will increase to nearly $90 million starting after the 2015-16 season. Plus, as part of the deal, more games will be televised throughout the season and ESPN will increase its NBA focused programming with 750 new hours of content per year. Trust me, if you’re an NBA fan this contract should definitely excite you. And if spending spree’s in free agency tickle your fancy, you better get your popcorn ready for the summer of 2016.
6: Kevin Durant wins MVP
Kevin Durant may have declared his mother as the real MVP, but KD was a very deserving first-time winner of the award. Durant’s 2013-14 season was a tour de force offensively and a reminder that LeBron James’ time at the top of the league isn’t going to last forever. Once the calendar page flipped to 2014, Durant averaged 34 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. Have fun trying to duplicate those on NBA 2K. Sure, every year somebody takes home the award, but Durant’s win after finishing as the runner-up in three of the previous four seasons makes this one even more sweet.
5: Kobe Bryant surpasses Michael Jordan for third all-time on NBA scoring list
Normally a climb to third on an all-time list wouldn’t automatically warrant inclusion on any end of year countdown of the biggest stories in the league, but there is nothing normal about anything that Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan are involved in, so when it’s those two icons that are the key figures in this storyline, it’s elevated to a different level. Just a few days ago when Kobe Bryant surpassed Michael Jordan to position himself as the third leading scorer in NBA history more fuel was added to the Kobe/Jordan debate fire, as if it needed any more. The fact that Kobe is ahead of Jordan on this particular list does help to create an interesting, yet overused narrative, and no matter what side of that debate you’re on, it is one that matters.
4: David Stern steps down as NBA Commissioner
On February 1, 2014 David Stern stepped down as NBA Commissioner. It was exactly 30 years to the day after he took over for Larry O’Brien in 1984. I’ve had my bouts with Stern in the past, mostly during the 2011 lockout due to his seemingly nonchalant attitude towards getting a deal done between the owners and players, but it’s impossible to call into question what a profound impact Stern had on the NBA in his tenure. We can give credit to Bird and Magic, or Michael Jordan, or the internet or a variety of other outside influences as to why the NBA has grown into the successful league that it is today, but Stern was the overseer of all of it. The league grew by seven teams during Stern’s tenure, and the games popularity grew exponentially. Luckily for basketball fans, Stern left the league in what would prove to be very capable hands.
3: Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling suspended for life
Those capable hands I just mentioned are the hands of Adam Silver. I’m a sucker for embedding YouTube videos into my columns as a means of making my life easier. The video I’m embedding right now is for your benefit, not mine. After ugly, racist comments made by Clippers owner Donald Sterling were released to the public thanks to some weird chick named V. Stiviano who wore Daft Punk-looking mask on the reg, the new commish took swift action. The incident could have turned out to be one of the worst in league history. Instead, after all the dust settled, the league came out looking pretty good and Adam Silver already finds himself in the discussion as one of the best commissioners in professional sports history.
2: San Antonio wins 5th NBA Title
As Baller Mind Frame’s resident LeBron James fan, even I will acknowledge that San Antonio deserves the top spot, but unfortunately this is San Antonio’s M.O. They win, they look good winning and they somehow manage to fly under the radar, never getting the full amount of credit that they deserve. I’m not recognizing the Spurs fifth title in fifteen years as the biggest NBA story of the year, but I’ll do you one better: this particular Spurs team should be mentioned in any conversation about the best teams in league history. 62-20 in the regular season, a 19 game winning streak during the regular season, 16-7 during the NBA Playoffs, a complete undressing of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in the NBA Finals and a totally badass YouTube video that highlights why the Spurs are so damn good.
1: LeBron James returns to Cleveland
You had to know this was coming. Whether you love him or hate him, LeBron James’ return to Cleveland was the biggest story in the NBA, and maybe all of professional sports in 2014. Four years after he took his talents to South Beach, LeBron James announced a somewhat surprising return to Northeast Ohio in a brilliantly written 970 word Sports Illustrated feature on July 11th. LeBron’s move from Miami to Cleveland shook the NBA landscape, but even more so, it highlighted a sense of maturity in the most polarizing athlete in the world; one who had been called immature, selfish and arrogant at various points during his career. In a rapid reaction piece I wrote immediately after LeBron’s return was announced, I called that July 11th, 2014 my favorite day as a LeBron James fan. In retrospect, I may have been caught up in the moment. But it was a day that the story of the most prominent figure in professional sports since Michael Jordan saw a profound and overall positive plot twist.