Here at TIME, we’ve offered our take on the Top 10 Sports Moments, and Top 10 Olympic Moments, of 2012. These lists attempt to cover the defining events of the year, both good and bad, both on and off the field. Three of TIME’s top four sports moments, in fact, bring up no fond memories: the NFL‘s replacement ref debacle at number 4, the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky case at number two, and the fall of Lance Armstrong at number one.
So in order to end 2012 on a more upbeat note, we thought it might be fun to think about our favorite sports moments of this year. The events, the endings, the big wins that we’ll be telling our kids about, that we’ll be proud to say we once saw.
As it happens, my favorite sports moment from this year coincides with an event on our Top 10 list: the rise of Linsanity, which checked in at number three. For me — and many others, I suspect — one game stood out: Friday, February 10, when the Knicks hosted the Los Angeles Lakers on national television. Linsanity was already three games old, and I — and again, I suspect, many others — figured it had to come crashing down, on this night at least. These were the Lakers, of Kobe Bryant and Co., rolling into town. Kobe would not be upstaged at Madison Square Garden, site of one of his most dominant games, a 61-point outing back in 2009. Kobe holds the Garden scoring record.
But Lin came out firing — and never stopped. Within the game’s first five minutes, Lin hit a three-pointer, two jumpers and a layup, threw a no-look pass to Tyson Chandler for a dunk, had a steal, and drew a loose ball foul on Metta World Peace. Lin finished with 38 points. For years, Madison Square Garden was dormant, thanks to the continued failure of the Knicks. But Lin ignited the place, and it felt like the old days, when MSG was one of the most electric arenas in all of sports.
I was perched up in the press box: TIME had already decided to do a Lin story for the following week. Even if he came back down to earth against the Lakers — a safe bet — we thought he had done enough to shatter stereotypes of Asian-American basketball players. Lin was pretty much the first Asian-American to succeed in the NBA.
This night is my number one because it offered the very best of sports: the moment surprised you, delighted you, enveloped you. My expectations were low, but Lin could do no wrong; he exploded to the basket regularly, and seemed to hit every clutch jumper. Back in the 1985, Larry Bird scored 60 points against the Atlanta Hawks, and as Bird hit shot after unbelievable shot, you can see Hawks players on their bench, covering their mouths, slapping each other on the arms, falling off their chairs: they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. (Check out the video here, starting around the 1:40 mark). They weren’t supposed to react like fans would, as an opponent torched them. But they couldn’t help it.
Along the same lines, up in the press box, some members of the media started reacting like those Hawks players did: I let out a few “oooooos,” smacked the arm of New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, who was seated to my left, a couple of times after Lin baskets. You’re really not supposed to “cheer” in the press box, but this wasn’t really cheering. This was more “are you kidding me?”
Plus, I’ve developed a personal rule: in the press box, you can kind of cheer for your story. And since Lin’s performance would only give his story more relevance, and pages in the magazine, hell, I was happy. (TIME’s Linsanity story would up on the cover in Asia).
Lin, of course, left New York, and is now the starting point guard for the Houston Rockets. His team is on a roll right now, but Lin has had his struggles in Texas. We’ll never see Linsanity again. But I’ll always appreciate it, for that Friday night back in February.
That’s my favorite moment – what’s yours? It could be a favorite team’s surprising victory, your child’s first Little League hit, anything. Please, before stressing out about your 2013 sports prospects — the hockey lockout, your NFL team’s draft needs, etc. — feel free to relive the best of 2012 in the comments.