The NBA has certainly changed in terms of the style of play witnessed every night, but that has not taken away from the quality of basketball that is played. The NBA players are still the best athletes in the world considering what they do on a nightly basis, whether it is making smart plays on both ends of the court or showcasing out worldly athleticism. Of course, the NBA is home to the greatest basketball players in the world and it isn’t close. Luckily, we have witnessed some incredible seasons over the past few years.
The one that comes to mind most often has to be the 2015-2016 season, a year where legends were retired and history was made. The 2016 season completely altered the legacies of some all-time great players and also delivered memories that modern NBA fans will cherish forever. We saw an unexpected NBA champion hoist a trophy at the end of the year, the greatest regular-season team ever play unique basketball, and farewell to some all-time great stars. Here are the greatest moments of the 2016 season, one of the best in NBA history.
Tim Duncan And Kevin Garnett's Retirements
Easily two of the top-five power forwards ever, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett played their final seasons in the league during the 2016 season. The San Antonio Spurs bid farewell to the greatest power forward ever, as Duncan completed his 19th season after winning 5 NBA championships with the franchise that drafted him. The legendary big man was proficient in all areas of the floor, be it rebounding or defense throughout his career. Duncan won his 5th and final championship 2 years prior, but he was still an effective big man as he approached 40 years old. Tim made the All-Star team in 2015 at age 38 and averaged 8.6 PPG and 7.3 RPG in his final year. As soon as Duncan retired, fans knew the greatest ever career for a power forward was complete.
Meanwhile, Kevin Garnett fittingly retired with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the franchise that took him No. 5 overall in the 1995 Draft. Garnett had a first-ballot Hall of Fame career with a resume that includes an NBA title, 15 All-Star appearances, 12 All-Defensive Teams, a Defensive Player of the Year, and an MVP award. His brightest moments surely came in 2008, as he won Defensive Player of the Year and his NBA title together. Garnett’s intensity and defensive prowess made him one of the most dominant power forwards ever, and he retired at age 39 to also complete a legendary career.
2016 Dunk Contest
The 2016 Dunk Contest might have been the greatest ever, barring the 2000 performance by Vince Carter. Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon went ballistic at throwing down jams because we witnessed the unthinkable of what human beings could do in front of sold-out crowds. LaVine powered past Aaron Gordon thanks to some incredible dunks including a windmill jam from the free-throw line and a sensational between-the-legs reverse dunk. Zach was clearly focused on making his name known around the world, and he shined on the brightest stage in Toronto.
Even if Gordon officially lost to LaVine, the forward still put up one of the greatest performances ever. The high-flyer had some iconic dunks including dunking over a mascot and also a spinning reverse jam that brought everyone to their feet. Gordon could have easily won the Dunk Contest award and the result should have seen both LaVine and Gordon win the award. We also saw some other high-flyers including Andre Drummond and Will Barton showcase their hops as well, so it was truly an iconic Dunk Contest for the ages.
Kobe Bryant's Legendary Farewell Tour
The 2016 season also hosted one more retirement party, and that was for the great Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba completed his farewell tour at age 37, as he was clearly a shell of himself as injuries and mileage completely finished his legs. Bryant suffered countless injuries throughout his career, but the Achilles tear during the 2013 season was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Bryant never returned to superstar form and gave us whatever he had left during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He only averaged 22.3 PPG in 2015 in 35 games, before averaging 17.6 PPG in 66 games for the Lakers in 2016. Kobe was clearly not himself in his final season, shooting a poor percentage (35.8%), but the Lakers team knew the fans wanted to see the former MVP take all the shots on the court.
The highlight of Bryant’s farewell tour came in the final game of his career when he went off for an incredible 60 points on 50 shot attempts. With the stadium packed and everyone’s eyes glued to the television, Kobe gave us one final game of what we were used to as he nailed a game-winning shot as well. Saying goodbye to Bryant was coming after three subpar seasons, but it was still emotional to see the legend break headlines again with a dominant scoring display.
Warriors 73-9 Record
One of the most incredible feats during the 2016 season saw Golden State shatter the 72-10 record held by the Chicago Bulls. The Warriors started the season 24-0 before breaking the win-loss record for a season at 73-9. Stephen Curry was the league MVP averaging a league-leading 30.1 PPG on 50-40-90 shooting. Alongside him were All-Stars Klay Thompson (22.1 PPG) and Draymond Green (14.5 PPG), and also the best coach in the NBA at that point in Steve Kerr. Golden State completely changed the game, because no team had better shooting and ball movement than the Warriors. It is no wonder why Kevin Durant leaped at the chance to join them in 2017 after coming up short in the playoffs with Oklahoma City.
With Curry and Klay draining threes and Draymond Green playing like one of the best defenders in the league, the Warriors got off to a tremendous start and never let loose as the playoffs approached. The team was going after the win-loss record, and there is absolutely no shame in that. Nobody would have ever believed that the 72-10 record would ever be broken, because Chicago’s team was incredibly great. They had the greatest player ever in Michael Jordan and also a host of elite Hall of Famers including Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman on the roster. But the Warriors did it and did it in the flashiest way possible. Of course, they would take that momentum through the playoffs as they made it to the NBA Finals for the second straight year.
Stephen Curry's Unanimous MVP
Curry is a three-time NBA champion and two-time MVP at this point of his career, but his greatest individual achievement might have come during the 2016 season as well. The greatest shooter of all time managed to win a very deserving unanimous MVP Award following one of the most legendary regular-season performances in NBA history. Curry averaged 30.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 6.7 APG, and 2.1 SPG while shooting 50-40-90 on the court. The point guard was perfection all season long, and he easily deserved the game’s most prestigious individual award.
Of course, Curry’s play was the catalyst for the Golden State Warriors to win 73 games in the season. With Curry’s shooting numbers, scoring title, team record, and impact; it was no surprise when the point guard became the NBA’s first unanimous MVP. We have not seen an MVP season quite like that, possibly since Michael Jordan’s incredible season in 1988. Curry had stiff competition for the award early in the season from the likes of Kawhi Leonard (2nd place in voting) and LeBron James (3rd place), but the point guard solidified himself as the best shooter ever en route to his second-straight MVP award.
LeBron Leads Cavs To 3-1 Comeback Over Warriors
LeBron James completed arguably the most incredible postseason comeback in NBA history by fighting off a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA title in 2016. James and the Cavaliers had their backs against the wall, with a 3-1 hole against unanimous MVP Stephen Curry and the sharpshooting Warriors that finished 73-9. LeBron’s legacy was in deep trouble, and many thought he would never have a sniff at Jordan’s throne ever again. But James did the impossible.
He was incredibly impactful in the Finals, averaging 29.7 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 8.9 APG, 2.6 SPG, and 2.3 BPG. LeBron James also pulled off the game-saving play in Game 7 known as “The Block’, where he ran the length of the floor to block an Andre Iguodala layup to keep the Cavs in the game. Nobody in the world thought LeBron would come back from this deficit, but he did the unthinkable and brought home an NBA title to the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.
That championship that LeBron delivered would be the first in Cleveland’s history, and it happened not long after The King promised the city that he would bring a title home. James had his help with superstar Kyrie Irving, a point guard who hit one of the biggest shots in Finals history over Stephen Curry to complete the 3-1 comeback. Irving averaged 27.1 PPG during the series, and his duo with James will go down in NBA history as one of the best ever. With LeBron capturing his 3rd title, it capped off one of the best years in the history of professional basketball.