Lynne Sladky/Associated Press file photo
Lynne Sladky/Associated Press file photo
From London to Los Angeles, Miami to Medinah and just about everywhere else imaginable, Associated Press photographers captured countless images from the sports world in 2012.
Each of them was unforgettable in its own way, capturing either someone’s success or someone’s struggles.
Here’s a look at 10 photos that helped define the sports year:
Everyone at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami knew LeBron James finally was about to become an NBA champion. With a couple of minutes left on the clock in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the outcome without doubt, Heat guard Mario Chalmers waved his arms in celebration.
James yelled at him to stop. “It’s too soon,” he said.
Even in that moment, James wanted to take no risks.
The only things James didn’t seem to win in 2012 were Powerball and the presidential election.
NBA Finals MVP.
And, at long last, he got his hands on the NBA championship trophy, when the Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games for the crown.
Miguel Cabrera will be remembered for making two things during the 2012 baseball season: history and the last out.
The Detroit Tigers’ third baseman became baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, after batting .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs on the way to the AL Most Valuable Player award.
But in the World Series, the Tigers were swept by the San Francisco Giants. San Francisco’s Sergio Romo struck out the side in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 4, and he got Cabrera looking at a belt-high, 89-mph fastball to end the Giants’ 4-3, title-clinching win.
“We’ve got to feel proud about what we did this year,” Cabrera said. “We went through a lot, down and up.”
In his case, mostly up.
That’s how to describe what Roger Federer enjoyed on Centre Court, Wimbledon this year (at least until the Olympics). For the seventh time, Federer prevailed at the All England Club, beating Britain’s Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to win the title and his 17th Grand Slam tournament.
A week earlier, few might have thought Federer would win. He needed to win an 8-6, fourth-set tiebreaker just to take France’s Julien Benneteau to a fifth set (Federer won 6-1) in the third round. From there, though, old form emerged.
He beat Novak Djokovic in four sets in the semis, his serve broken only once, then survived a first-set loss to topple Murray – who beat him at Wimbledon for Olympic gold later in the summer – for the title.
There are magic numbers in basketball. For Wilt Chamberlain, there’s 100. For Michael Jordan, there’s 23.
For Baylor, there’s 40.
Star center Brittney Griner and the Bears were the best team in the women’s game in 2012. Baylor played 40 games and won them all, becoming the seventh team in the NCAA era to finish something-and-oh – and the Bears topped the previous record of 39-0 first achieved by Tennessee in 1998 and then matched three times since by Connecticut.
To be perfect, Baylor had to beat Tennessee – twice; had to beat Notre Dame – twice; had to erase an 11-point deficit over the final 13 minutes to beat Connecticut.
And in the end, the Bears had to escape a final four where all four No. 1 seeds made their way to the national semifinals.
For Jose Maria Olazabal, joy and pain fit together perfectly at the Ryder Cup.
Seve Ballesteros was in Olazabal’s heart and mind throughout the competition, when Europe trailed 10-6 entering the final day and pulled off a series of epic singles victories to win the gold trophy. And when it was over, Olazabal didn’t even bother trying to contain his emotions.
“All men die, but not all men live,” said Olazabal, addressing his team. “And you made me feel alive again this week.”
Ballesteros died of brain cancer in 2011, but Olazabal made sure that he was part of the 2012 European team in spirit. His image adorned the team’s golf bags. And it wasn’t coincidental that at the closing ceremony, Olazabal wore a blue-and-white jacket, Ballesteros’ traditional Sunday colors.
Once again, Usain Bolt stole the Olympic show.
He easily won the 100-meter dash in an Olympic-record time, then captured the 200-meter dash four days later, with teammate Yohan Blake second in both of those finals. And then came the capper, a world-record time for Jamaica in the 4x100-meter relay, with Bolt running the final leg and ensuring that the U.S. could do no better than second on that night.
Gold, gold, gold in London. Gold, gold, gold in Beijing. And he became the first man to win the 100-200 double at consecutive Olympics.
“I’m now a living legend,” Bolt said. “I’m also the greatest athlete to live.”
It might have been the sports photo – and certainly the sports-meme-generator – of the year.
McKayla Maroney was not impressed.
Arms folded, lips together, pursed to the side a bit, it almost certainly will be the moment that stays with Maroney from 2012. She won the silver medal in vault at the London Olympics, and on the medal podium, let the world know that she wasn’t thrilled about her performance.
Hence, the picture.
It captured everyone’s attention. When Maroney and the team visited the White House, President Barack Obama wanted a picture with Maroney.
Yes, they did the McKayla Is Not Impressed Face.
This is not how we’re used to seeing Tom Brady.
Seated. Somber. Second-best.
Early in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots quarterback nearly slammed the door on the New York Giants. With the Patriots up 17-15, Brady took a snap, avoided two would-be sacks, settled and threw downfield toward Rob Gronkowski, who was behind a defender inside the Giants’ 10-yard line.
Gronkowski never had a chance.
The Giants’ Chase Blackburn defended the play perfectly, making the interception. Brady got knocked down just after he released the ball and from his temporary seat watched Blackburn make the play that gave New York new life.
Final score: Giants 21, Patriots 17.
She won as a bright-eyed, super-talented kid at Wimbledon in 2004, prevailed at the U.S. Open in 2006 and captured the Australian Open in 2008.
The French Open, however, always had been a huge problem for Maria Sharapova.
That is, until 2012.
Sharapova rolled across the clay at Roland Garros, dropping only one set – a tiebreaker – in her seven matches. The final was a 6-3, 6-2 win over Italy’s Sara Errani, a victory that made her the 10th woman to complete the tennis version of a career Grand Slam.
Sharapova dropped to the clay both in celebration and disbelief.
The best Olympian ever? Could be.
The most-decorated Olympian ever? There’s no question Michael Phelps has that title.
In all, 22 medals, 18 of them gold, the last four golds coming at the London Olympics. And in his final race, the third leg of the 400-meter medley relay, Phelps got to hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” play in his honor one last time.
After his final swim, he got a special trophy from swimming officials that said: “To Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.”
Phelps didn’t just go into retirement with more golds than any other Olympian; he doubled the total that anyone else ever had won.
Paul Sancya/Associated Press file photo
David Vincent/Associated Press file photo
Eric Gay/Associated Press file photo
Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press file photo
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press file photo
Matt Dunham/Associated Press file photo