The 10 sports stories that defined 2012

Linsanity, the London Games, and the fall of Lance Armstrong all made for quite a year

Jeremy Lin in a Knicks uniform: Don't expect to see this again.
(Image credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

1. Linsanity

In early 2012, the Knicks' top players were injured, and famously grumpy New York fans were sick of losing. Down against a superior Boston Celtics team in early February, Coach Mike D'Antoni, running out of options, strangely called the number of a little-known, 6-foot-3, Asian-American kid who slept on his teammate's couch. Then unexpectedly, D'Antoni once again gave Jeremy Lin playing time in the next game. He scorched the Nets for 25 points, five rebounds, and seven assists, and led the Knicks to victory. Then things got even weirder: Lin continued to put up mind-blowing numbers, and more importantly, the Knicks kept winning. Linsanity was born. The Knicks rattled off seven straight wins with Lin as their leader, and all of Gotham seemed to swoon. But soon enough, a knee injury knocked Lin out of the lineup, and when he became a restricted free agent in the offseason, the Knicks declined to match a pricey offer from the Houston Rockets. Lin left town. New York fans were predictably irate — robbed of one of their most popular players in a decade.

2. Tennessee's Pat Summitt retires

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After being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease, legendary Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt announced in April that she would retire from the sport. Summitt is widely hailed as one of the best coaches ever, posting more college basketball wins than any man or woman, with 1,098 victories to go along with 8 NCAA titles.

3. The Penn State scandal's resolution

The NCAA decimated Penn State's football program with an unprecedented series of sanctions as punishment for its leaders' failure to protect boys sexually abused by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who was sentenced to jail for the rest of his life. Among the penalties: The team will be banned from post-season bowl games for four years, and it will have to cut its scholarships to 65 a year by 2014 — 20 fewer than rival programs. The NCAA also wiped out all of the Nittany Lions' wins dating back 11 years, stripping the team's legendary ex-coach, the late Joe Paterno, of his status as the winningest coach in college history. Paterno's statue was also removed from the entrance to the school's stadium.

4. The rehabilitation of LeBron James

Ever since LeBron announced on national television — with incredible tone-deafness — that he would "take my talents to South Beach," abandoning his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers for the star-studde Miami Heat, he's been viewed as a villainous athlete that millions of fans love to hate. That is, until this spring, when LeBron won his third MVP award and his first NBA championship. He followed that up with an Olympic gold. America loves a winner — and many fans have once again started rooting for James.

5. The London Games

Whether it was LeBron's gold, Ryan Lochte's sudden popularity, Usain Bolt's blink-and-you'll-miss-it wins, or the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team's unprecedented dominance, there was no shortage of excitement at this summer's Olympic Games in London. The only real black mark? NBC's highly criticized coverage.

6. The NFL referee lockout

With the regular referees refusing to work after being denied a pay raise by the NFL, the league was forced to rely on an army of less-capable replacement refs when the 2012 season opened. Players and fans alike were quickly annoyed (if not outright nauseous) over a raft of botched calls, and after a Monday night fiasco in which a super-obvious blown call by replacement refs robbed the Green Bay Packers of an important win, the league soon caved and made a deal with the real refs.

7. The fall of Lance Armstrong

For many fans in the United States, Lance Armstrong put competitive cycling on the map. That's why so many were shocked when the cancer survivor was unceremoniously stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from the sport for life by the United States Anti-Doping Association. Armstrong — who has long been dogged by accusations of doping — was a cheater, plain and simple, USADA said. Armstrong denies the charges, but Nike and other sponsors soon bailed on the cycling legend, costing Armstrong millions in endorsements — not to mention legions of fans.

8. Miguel Carbrera's triple crown

The Detroit Tigers' slugging first baseman Miguel Cabrera became the first MLB player in 45 years to win the triple crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. (For the record, he hit .330, smacked 44 homers, and drove in 139 runs.) Cabrera is just the 15th player in league history to accomplish the feat, and the first since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Let me put this in perspective, said Kevin Baxter at the Los Angeles Times: "Man had not yet walked on the moon the last time a player earned baseball's triple crown." Cabrera was awarded the American League MVP award for his accomplishment, but his slugging prowess wasn't enough to help his team attain its ultimate goal. The Tigers were embarrassingly swept out of the World Series by the underdog San Francisco Giants.

9. The cancelation of the New York City Marathon

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted for days that the world's largest marathon would go on as planned. But after days of fierce criticism, Bloomberg finally agreed to cancel the annual event, which would have brought tens of thousands of smiling runners to the starting line in Staten Island — which was left devastated by the storm. As many critics said in the days after Sandy, would New Orleans have held a marathon after Katrina?

10. The NHL lockout robs fans of games

The NHL — in its third costly labor dispute in 20 years — has canceled hundreds upon hundreds of games, losing its All-Star weekend, its Winter Classic, and the goodwill of thousands upon thousands of fans as players and owners continue to grapple over revenue sharing and contract lengths. "Colossal stupidity" on both sides, says Scott Burnside at ESPN.

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