NBA's 15 unforgettable characters from 2012

Patrick McDermott

The SB Nation NBA team chooses its 15 unforgettable characters from 2012, from the stars like Dwight Howard to the ingenues like Ricky Rubio to the fashion icons like Russell Westbrook.

Narrowing down an entire fruitful NBA year into a dozen or so personalities is difficult. Every team, even the bad ones, has one or two characters worth remembering. Some teams have rosters full of them. So we focused in on the players who we'll remember specifically at this point in the space-time continuum. The emphasis here is on the characters and, obviously, specifically 2012. So excuse the exclusion of Kobe (we'll remember Old Man Kobe; that story is still being written), KD and 'Melo. We have memories of each we won't let go, but we need to mark these others for posterity and special recognition.

With that, here's our list. Enjoy.

***

LEBRON JAMES

We did an entire collage on LeBron's 2012. -- Tom Ziller

***

DWIGHT HOWARD

Dwight-howard-loyalty-t-shirt_medium

Dwight, Dwight, Dwight.

Dwight!

Who knew so much could happen in one year? Remember when he demanded a trade and held Orlando hostage all of last season while pledging his loyalty in public, then abruptly signed an offer sheet to stay the next year, only to later re-demand a trade, claiming that he'd been "blackmailed" into signing the offer sheet? Remember the most uncomfortable press conference of all time? He also claimed to have been pooping during a Southern California earthquake, because of course. It's been quite a year!

The story can still change from here -- particularly if he gets healthy and becomes the best roleplayer of all time for the Lakers -- but we'll see. Dwight hasn't given anyone reason to be confident. For now, what's maybe most incredible about the Year in Dwight is how we've seen one of the most popular players in the league become one of the most loathed personalities in sports. At the same time, one of the most outrageously gifted athletes of this generation has gone from a top-5 player in the NBA and perennial MVP candidate to the guy that's currently being compared to Kosta Koufous by Lakers media. Who knew so much could happen in one year? -- Andrew Sharp

***

KEVIN GARNETT

"I hear you all calling me old. Weathered."

Never the most cuddly of superstars, Kevin Garnett enjoyed an unlikely third act in his NBA life by raging against the most normal human development -- his age -- and in doing so, he became more approachable than at any other point in his 18-year career.

KG didn't just rail against the press or the young fellas that didn't show the proper respect. More than any other player, he took the fight to management during the lockout and saved his most pointed barbs for the fat cats in the owner's suite who didn't appreciate the game and those who go through hell to play it the right way. In his own way, Garnett was speaking for a nation of life-weary Generation-Xers as he stocked up on double-doubles and kept the Celtics from fading into the sunset. -- Paul Flannery

***

RUSSELL WESTBROOK

2012 was the year that Russell Westbrook became a fashion icon.

Still not sure what's going on there. Though I'm partial to ...

Teddy bear chic.

Westbrook was also one of the very best players in the entire league. The Thunder's 2012-13 success without James Harden shows how important to the team Westbrook is in support of Kevin Durant. Don't forget that Westie, maligned in the 2011 playoffs and taunted as "Westbrick", played really well all the way through 2012, and even dropped a 40-spot in the Finals. Russ isn't going anywhere. -- Ziller

***

JAVALE MCGEE

As NBA fans, we're used to watching athletic freaks. The league is full of them, and they come in all sizes. But what happens when you see the most athletic freak of all athletic freaks? What happens when that same person is not one of the best players in the league, but rather is a bench player that has shown only flashes of stardom for years? You get JaVale McGee, a man who retweets himself, runs the other way when his team has the ball and throws passes from half court into the 15th row. It takes a lot to get an NBA fan fascinated by athletic curiosity, but JaVale brings a lot to the table. (Special shout-out to Pam McGee.) -- Mike Prada

***

JEREMY LIN

What more can be said about Linsanity that hasn't already been said? Jeremy Lin was a third-string guard on a sub-.500 team who suddenly became a global phenomenon in the world's most famous arena. He was a savior and then he was shown the door.

The interesting thing about Lin is that we still don't know how good he is just yet. Playing in Houston will afford him a chance to develop and grow at a normal pace, but already there are concerns about whether he and James Harden can function together in the backcourt. It's not fair, but then Linsanity was never about patience. It was about having it all right now and figuring out the rest later. -- Flannery

***

NICK 'SWAGGY P' YOUNG

Swaggyp

Well the picture above is from Nick Young's time with the Clippers in the NBA Playoffs last year, but if you click here, you can see a photo of SWAGGY P crashing a Pakistani wedding. As Michael Lee told it at the Washington Post:

"I just said, ‘Congratulations to the bride and groom,' " Young said with a laugh. "I didn't know nobody. I went in there and gave a speech. I was a wedding crasher. Will Ferrell. I didn't have nothing else to do."

HE GAVE A SPEECH.

We need video of that speech.

He also answered his critics by telling Dime Magazine, "Hey man, there’s a lot of haters out there, for real. They tell me I’m dribbling too much, I need to learn how to come off screens, how to do that. I’ma just keep working hard. That’s the definition of Swaggy P."

Other definitions of Swaggy P: Shockingly useful playoff performer for the L.A. Clippers in the playoffs last year, phenomenally counterproductive member of the Washington Wizards but inventor of intricate bow and arrow celebrations, and this season, a solid role player for the 76ers, who run plays for Swaggy P, not Nick Young. Most important lesson for 2012? Swaggy P won. They said he couldn't, and he did. SWAGGY AGAINST THE WORLD. -- Sharp

***

RAJON RONDO

A strange thing happened to one of the NBA's most polarizing players this year: Rajon Rondo became marginally overrated by the very people who never understood his talent in the first place and more scrutinized by those who first identified with his genius. His singular passing ability has always been the most obvious trait in his skillset, so naturally the former jumped aboard the bandwagon as he compiled game after game of double-digit assists, while the latter noted for the record that his other numbers were down across the board as he led a Celtics' offense that was comparable to the Wizards and Pistons.

No matter. Rondo's not about that life. Analyze him. Scrutinize his game. Poke and prod however you like, Rondo's not changing for you or anyone else. But put him on the biggest stage with the brightest lights and he will perform wonders the likes of which you have never seen before and may never witness again. -- Flannery

***

JAMES HARDEN

As much as we'd like to see players unleashed in new environments, it really doesn't happen much. Teams go searching for that star that has been caged in a limited role for their old team, and they rarely find him. But once every few seasons, a player like this comes around and terrorizes the league, prolonging the inevitable search for years to come.

In 2005, that player was Gilbert Arenas. 2012, that player was James Harden. If he keeps ballin' like this for the Houston Rockets, GMs will search far and wide for the next sixth-man-turned-franchise-player that looks like a cartoonish supervillan. -- Prada

***

IVAN JOHNSON

Kinda afraid to say anything here, but bottom line: Any NBA player who's ever been banned for life from the Korean Basketball League is cool with me. -- Sharp

***

TONY ALLEN

It takes a certain type of personality to be the league's premier wing defensive specialist in a league where they continue to be undervalued. Tony Allen shows off that personality every single day, whether it's on his must-read Twitter account or on the 94-foot length of the basketball court. It's very hard to make defense seem cool, but Allen finds a way. A modern-day Charles Oakley, if you will. -- Prada

***

DEMARCUS COUSINS

Let's make it a trio of scowl fiends. Boogie began the year suspended by Paul Westphal for screaming at the coach, and ends the year suspended by Keith Smart for screaming at the coach. Seems about right. In between, he made all those dummies who said he'd eat himself out of the league during the lockout eat their words; in 2011-12, he was probably the best of the 2010 lottery picks despite being taken No. 5. (Greg Monroe, No. 7, can make a claim to the title as well.) Cousins has also been suspended for approaching Spurs analyst Sean Elliott "in a hostile manner" after some predictably silly comments made on a broadcast, as well as for racking up too many technicals and popping O.J. Mayo in the drawers. Banner year for Boogie. -- Ziller

***

RICKY RUBIO

Three years after being drafted, Ricky Rubio has yet to play in 50 NBA games. That's important to remember because even after all the hype and anticipation, we still don't know what we have. He has been described at the Spanish Steve Nash, the passing Pistol Pete and the evolutionary Euro unbound by custom and tradition, but that doesn't quite capture Rubio's essence.

What is safe to say is that he was worth the wait, which is the most remarkable thing about the 22-year-old. He has a joy about him that is unmistakable and a competitive streak that we didn't anticipate. It seems clear that Rubio will soon find himself as an unwitting pawn in a larger game pitting Wolves management and their other superstar (Kevin Love) against one another, but that's still a few years away. For now we finally have Rubio and the game is better for his inclusion. -- Flannery

***

DAVID STERN

We're finally losing Stern. For nearly 30 years the crusty little powerhouse has been pushing the league to its limits, creating a $4 billion behemoth that remains more likely than any of the other major American team sports to dominate in international growth for decades. Give Stern credit for this: after he and his owners won the lockout by chopping down the players' share of revenue, after fans came racing back like addicts in the throes of withdrawal, after the NBA set ratings records and made all that populist anger from the fall look like a bunch of kindergarten protests, the commissioner never really gloated. He could have, and maybe in his younger years he would have. But he didn't.

Now he saunters away, and we're left to wonder how much the NBA will really miss Stern when he retires in 13 months. There are few if any doubts that he leaves the league in incredibly capable hands. But there's something special about Stern, something you can't quite replicate, and it's going to be gone. 2012 gave us time to appreciate that, and appreciate the commissioner all the more.

(Also, he's the only person in NBA history to battle Gregg Popovich. Stern might be tougher than Ivan Johnson.) -- Ziller

***

CHRIS PAUL

He was freed from basketball purgatory in New Orleans, he become a centerpiece of the most consistently entertaining team on the planet, won a playoff series his team had no business winning, took home his second Gold Medal (TWO CHAINZ!), and introduced the world to his son, who might be the coolest person in the NBA. He was so good in 2012 that everyone forgot how average that Clippers team was, and now that the Clippers are actually good this year, they're the best team in the league.

But what's probably more important in this "Year End" discussion is that 2012 was the year Chris Paul cemented his status as the greatest point guard on earth, and with all due respect to Rajon Rondo, it wasn't really close. The entire Clippers franchise was transformed when he got there, almost like the flick of a switch, and he did everything they needed, just about every night. This year he's doing it all over again, again making it all look way too easy.

Anyway ... the NBA as a whole is as great as it's been in 20 or 30 years, and there's a lot to love all over the league. But if we're talking regular season, there may not be a better spectacle in the NBA than watching Chris Paul carve up any/every team in the league two or three times a week. 2012 was the year that Paul reminded us of all that. Here's to hoping 2013 gets even more ridiculous. -- Sharp

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