Why 2012 was the best year in sports history

By GREGORY MELICK | March 29, 2018

Kobe_Wall
Keith Allison/CC BY-SA 2.0 2012 was Kobe Bryant's last strong year, but stars like John Wall replaced him.

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owadays in sports, the term GOAT — “greatest of all time” — is thrown around all the time. We are in a unique moment in sports history, where there may be GOATs from three different sports playing at the same time.

In football, Tom Brady is still dominating the NFL, winning an MVP award and leading his team to the Super Bowl this season at the age of 40, becoming the oldest QB to start in a Super Bowl. And this year, Brady broke his own record for most passing yards in a Super Bowl game, throwing for 505 yards in the Patriots’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

In the NBA, LeBron James is pulling off a comparable feat, with more assists per game and rebounds per game than he has ever had in a single season, and scoring his most points per game since the 2009-10 season. 

The fact that a 33 year old in his 15th NBA season has been able to sustain such a performance, carrying his teams to seven straight finals appearances, is definitely worthy of the GOAT conversation.

Finally, in baseball, Mike Trout has been making his own case for GOAT consideration. He was among the top two in MVP voting during each of his first five years in the MLB.

Trout set career highs in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He also had the highest home run rate of his career while still racking up 22 stolen bases after playing for only three quarters of the season because of a mid-season injury.

All of this has come before Trout turned 26, so there is much more to come. But even if he just maintains this kind of performance for a few more years, he will assert himself as a GOAT.

Watching these three play at the same time is a treat for today’s sports fans, but this was even more true during the 2012-13 seasons. It was this year that many stars ended their careers on high notes, while other players began to cement their legacies.

Starting with the baseball season, Miguel Cabrera did something that had not been done in 45 years by winning the American League Triple Crown. However, some argued that Trout’s rookie year made him more deserving of the MVP award than Cabrera. Meanwhile, Derek Jeter delivered his fifth and final career Silver Slugger season, as he led the league in hits and finished seventh in the MVP voting.

In the National League, Giancarlo Stanton had his first All-Star season, showing off his amazing power with his first slugging percentage above 0.600. It was also R.A. Dickey’s lone All-Star year, during which he exploded out of nowhere to win the Cy Young award, despite Clayton Kershaw having another Kershaw-esque season.

The story of the National League in 2012, however, was the San Francisco Giants. It was an even year, so of course they won the World Series, but the way they did it was jaw dropping. Buster Posey had his first true breakout year, leading the League in batting average on the way to his first All-Star game and first MVP award. 

In the playoffs, it was Pablo Sandoval who took over. Sandoval had his second consecutive All-Star season in 2012 and carried that into the playoffs, hitting six home runs, including three in game one of the World Series. He would go on to hit 0.500 in the series and take home the World Series MVP award in the Giants’ sweep of Detroit.

A combination of stars like Jeter and Cabrera, who had what would end up being the strongest year of their Hall of Fame careers; breakout seasons from youngsters such as Trout, Stanton and Posey; and one-hit wonders like Sandoval and Dickey proved that the 2012 MLB season was the best in recent memory.

A fantastic MLB season alone cannot make for the best year in sports history. So next, we look at the 2012 NFL season.

2012 was the year Adrian Peterson accumulated the second most rushing yards in a single season in NFL history, coming only eight yards short of Eric Dickerson’s record from 1984. While Peterson was just short of the record, Calvin Johnson managed to set the record for most receiving yards in a single season, with 1,964.

As for the quarterbacks, Drew Brees set the pace with passing yards, accumulating the third most ever (at the time). The bigger news was Peyton Manning, who bounced back resiliently from missing the entire 2011 season with his new team, the Denver Broncos. 

The Broncos had the second highest scoring offense in the League, behind the Brady-led Patriots, of course. 

While many offensive players exploded in the 2012 season, J. J. Watt also had a breakout year on the defensive side of the ball. He had 20.5 sacks, good for seventh most in a season and his first Defensive Player of the Year award. 

The highlight of the 2012 season, however, was Ray Lewis’ final NFL season. His Baltimore Ravens were the fourth seed entering playoffs but managed to beat both the Manning-led Broncos and the Brady-led Patriots to reach the Super Bowl. There, Lewis got his storybook ending, fitting for a sure-fire Hall of Famer and possibly the GOAT NFL defender.

The 2012-13 NBA season was the icing on the sports season cake.

James was defending his first NBA Championship and his third MVP award in his third season with the Miami Heat. He did so by repeating in both categories, as his Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs in seven games thanks to Ray Allen’s iconic three to send game six to overtime. James also won his fourth MVP award, his most recent one to date.

Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant had his last full-strength season, as it was his last year playing more than 70 games. Bryant shot a higher percentage from both the field and three than he had in any of the previous three years, while also contributing more rebounds and assists than he had during the same time period. Unfortunately, it was also the season Kobe tore his Achilles tendon, and while he was still able to make his free throws and walk off the court under his own power, he was never the same player after that injury.

Many young players established themselves that season to replace the gaping hole left by Bryant. Damian Lillard won the Rookie of the Year award, indicating the beginning of his strong career, and James Harden played his first year with the Houston Rockets, beginning his ascension to superstar status.

Finally, the 2012-13 season was the first year Steph Curry broke the single-season three-pointer record, with 272 three pointers made, and he would go on to set a new record mark twice more during his career.

With all the records that were broken during the pro-sports seasons that began in 2012, it is impossible to not call it the best year in sports history. The mix of young players entering their prime and older players leaving created an unprecedented overlap of high quality play, giving sports fans a treat they can only truly appreciate after the fact.

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