By Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney
December 22, 2014

This year has been a whirlwind for the NBA. From high-profile scandals to LeBron James taking his talents back to Cleveland, there were plenty of things to celebrate and just as many we all would like to forget. Instead of highlighting every significant moment of the year, SI's own Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney came together to pick out their ten favorites from 2014. 

April 29
The end of Donald Sterling
In just a few short minutes, NBA commissioner Adam Silver set himself apart from his predecessor by doing what David Stern would not. The grounds and need to remove Donald Sterling from the NBA had existed for years, the case to do so rooted in a long history of apparent bigotry. Yet for so long the league had turned a blind eye to the actions of its most openly contemptible owner. That it ultimately took a TMZ scoop to put Sterling’s exit in motion is ridiculous, but Silver was unequivocal in his response: “Effective immediately, I am banning Mr. Sterling for life from any association with the Clippers organization or the NBA.” -- RM
Damian Lillard shocks Rockets with series-clinching buzzer-beater
Hyperbole rules the roost during our era of limited attention spans, but Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beating, game-winning, series-clinching three-pointer against the Rockets was quickly, and virtually unanimously, dubbed the greatest shot in Portland Trail Blazers history. With 0.9 seconds left, the All-Star point guard somehow came free on an inbounds play, getting off a deep, quick-trigger three that gave the Blazers a 99-98 victory and sent the Moda Center into total pandemonium. As if sending the Blazers to the conference semifinals for the first time in 14 years wasn’t enough, Lillard then took a microphone and shouted, “Rip City!” to kick off another round of frenzied celebrations. Lillard went home that night with the “Shot of the Year” title; considering the stakes and the drama, everyone else placed a distant second. -- BG
May 6
Kevin Durant’s MVP speech
Every player chosen as the league’s MVP goes about their acceptance speech a little differently. It’s telling, though, that Durant’s may be the only one that really sticks with us. The formula wasn’t so unique, as Durant hit all the typical beats of award reception. Yet in place of any defiant bit on proving his doubters wrong, Durant spent nearly half an hour addressing -- one by one -- those who helped him most. “I just never thought that I could make it to college, NBA, or stand up here in front of you guys and be an NBA MVP,” Durant said. “It’s just a surreal feeling, and I had so much help. So many people believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.” Durant spoke directly to every member of the Thunder roster, the full collection of which were seated on the stage next to him. He expressed his gratitude to his team’s coach, his general manager, and owner. By the time he spoke to his mother from a stage of the NBA’s highest individual achievement, there wasn’t likely a dry eye in the house. Durant’s speech came to be a fair extension of the man himself: Graceful, proud, and undeniably powerful. -- RM
MAY 31
Spurs' Tim Duncan eliminates Thunder from WCF in Game 6 OT
The Spurs rolled up so many double-digit victories that they rarely faced legitimate tension during the postseason. Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against the Thunder was arguably their toughest test: San Antonio aimed to close out the series in front of a hostile Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd and without Tony Parker, who was sidelined during the second half with an ankle injury. Gregg Popovich and company found a way to hold things together, surviving to play an overtime period despite 65 combined points from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. The 38-year-old Tim Duncan took over in the extra period, scoring seven straight points to end Oklahoma City’s season. During his post-game interview, Duncan predicted that the Spurs would topple LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Heat in the Finals. He was right. Add another chapter to his legend. -- BG
Spurs prevail over LeBron James, Heat in Finals Game 1 aka "The Cramp Game"
Is it raining in the locker room? No, that’s just a cameraman perching on a stool, sweating profusely onto your head. The AT&T Center’s air conditioning cut out early during Game 1 of The Finals, and it was an uncomfortable scene for everyone from LeBron James (who exited early with leg cramps and needed IVs afterwards), to the fans (who did their best to fan themselves all night), to the reporters (who dealt with the gross “drip, drip, drip” during post-game interviews). The Spurs took full advantage of their unusual home-court advantage to triumph 110-95 in "The Cramp Game." They never looked back, avenging their loss to the Heat in the 2013 Finals with an easy five-game series victory. -- BG
NBA commissioner Adam Silver selects Isaiah Austin at NBA Draft
Even the most jaded cynics got a little dusty when commissioner Adam Silver unexpectedly announced during the June 26 draft that the NBA would “select” Baylor center Isaiah Austin, who was diagnosed with a career-ending disease just days earlier. Donning a cap with the NBA’s logo, Austin took the stage for the ceremonial handshake with Silver as the Barclays Center saluted him with a standing ovation. The thoughtfulness and decency displayed by the first-year commissioner drew praise from a number of superstars on social media, and the exchange helped reinforce the less rigid tone that has been the hallmark of Silver’s early tenure. -- BG
July 11
LeBron James’ homecoming
There was a point at which James’ 2014 free agency looked to be a mere formality. His early termination option would allow the Heat to reload complementary talent, after which all three of James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh would return to build on their run of two championships and four consecutive NBA finals. Instead, James incredibly returned to his first basketball home -- a city which only four years prior set fire to his jersey as effigy. In doing so James joined a franchise with a lot of room to grow and much left to sort out. His story as a renewed Cavalier is being written as we speak. The bigger story, though, is one that James already penned himself. -- RM
September 14
Anthony Davis makes an opening statement
Team USA was intended to have Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, and Paul George in its run at the FIBA World Cup, not to mention the many other stars (Dwight Howard, LaMarcus Aldridge, etc.) who expressed initial interest only to wind up elsewhere. Instead Team USA had Anthony Davis. The 21-year-old announced his presence to the world emphatically with a gold medal run, and in doing so teased a capacity for superstardom that has raised Davis firmly into the NBA elite. -- RM
November 19
Vince Carter finds closure with Raptors fans
Nine years ago, Vince Carter left Toronto a villain and a deserter. Some of that reputation was deserved, some unfairly exaggerated. Regardless, Carter was mocked and booed in his every NBA appearance in the city thereafter, blamed for both his own exit and the state of the franchise in his wake. That changed in dramatic fashion in November. A video tribute for the visiting Carter was first met with boos and jeers, as is custom. Then, in a moment of catharsis, the air in the building shifted. The Air Canada Centre embraced a teary-eyed Carter for what he was: Toronto’s first true superstar. -- RM
Kobe Bryant surpasses Michael Jordan on all-time scoring list
The top rungs of the NBA’s scoring chart rarely see movement. Not since 2003, when a 39-year-old Michael Jordan (playing for the Wizards) surpassed Wilt Chamberlain for third place, had one of the list’s top three names changed. But Lakers guard Kobe Bryant finally displaced Jordan by hitting a pair of free throws in Minnesota for the 32,292nd and 32,293rd points of his 19-year career. Bryant, 36, was presented with the game ball by Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor in recognition of his achievement, and Jordan praised Bryant as a “great player with a strong work ethic and … an equally strong passion for the game of basketball” in a statement of congratulations. The milestone will be remembered as the clear highlight of Bryant’s otherwise frustrating twilight. -- BG

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