The 2010s decade is coming to a close, which has given us plenty of time to contemplate the best moments during that span. Numerous events have added more impressive history to the league. Still, there was no moment more significant than LeBron James helping guide the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first NBA title in a massive upset of the heavily-favored Golden State Warriors. However, several other defining moments added to the incredible last 10 years that challenged James and the Cavaliers for that top spot.
5. Warriors break Michael Jordan’s Bulls record
When the Michae Jordan-led Chicago Bulls racked up a 72-win campaign in the 1995-96 season, it was believed that record could stand the test of time. However, that all came crumbling down 10 years later in the 2015-16 season as the Golden State Warriors broke that mark.
It was a campaign that featured the Warriors completely shattered NBA history by winning their first 24 games, blowing past the 15-0 start that both the 1993-94 Houston Rockets and 1948-49 Washington Capitols each recorded. It also saw them win 28 straight regular-season games that dated back to the 2014-15 campaign, which was the second-longest winning streak in NBA history. That dominant stretch also helped fuel their NBA record 54-game home winning streak.
The 2015-16 campaign featured them setting the franchise and league record with 34 road win in a single season. On top of that, Golden State was the first team to finish the year without back-to-back losses and losing to the same team twice. Warriors would have placed much higher on this list if they accomplished what Jordan’s team did that incredible year and win an NBA title, but they fell short in historic fashion in the NBA Finals.
4. LeBron James heads to South Beach
Following the 2009-10 season, there was much uncertainty around LeBron James’ future with the Cleveland Cavaliers. His team ended the season in a disappointing semifinal exit in a loss to the Boston Celtics.
James‘ next move would change the entire parameters of the NBA as he decided to join the Miami Heat in free agency to form a new big three alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Although Kevin Garnett still swears that he and the Celtics “broke” James, the move further changed the landscape of the league.
He went on guide the Heat to four straight NBA Finals appearances with a pair of titles in his four-year tenure. Beyond his personal success, James’ move had a significant impact around the league for years to come.
3. Kawhi Leonard leads Raptors to first NBA title
A year after the Oklahoma City Thunder took a risky shot by landing a pending free agent in Paul George, the Toronto Raptors did the same with Kawhi Leonard. However, their situation wound up paying historic dividends as he guided the franchise to heights it had never reached before.
Leonard was the driving force for the Raptors pushing them to the NBA title that included draining a buzzer-beater to top the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup. That was followed up by overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in six games.
The Raptors behind Leonard and the emergence of players like Pascal Siakam and Fred Vanvleet won the NBA title in six games by topping the Golden State Warriors. The star forward dominated the series, averaging 28.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 1.2 steals. That put him alongside Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to earn Finals MVPs with two different franchises.
Although Leonard left in free agency, the Raptors’ risk paid off in the best way possible for a single season.
2. Kobe Bryant Scores 60 points in last NBA game
In late November 2015, Los Angeles Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant announced that the 2015-16 season would be the last of his 20-year illustrious career.
It featured many memorable moments along the way in his final season that further cemented his legacy as one of the greatest players to play the game. Bryant took it up a notch in his last NBA game against the Utah Jazz in the season finale as he led the Lakers to a comeback win behind a 60-point performance.
There had been some mystery before the game about how Bryant would go through it, but the contest wound up being what was hoped as he hoisted up a career-high 50 shots. Bryant played roughly more than 42 minutes of the possible 48 minutes of regulation to put up a scoring performance that no other player has accomplished in their final game and the oldest ever to reach that feat.
In short, it was the type of end to Bryant’s career that has cemented a timeless memory.
1. LeBron James returns home, guides Cavs to first NBA title
There were many, many memorable moments over this past decade, but nothing tops what James and the Cavaliers accomplished in the 2016 NBA Finals.
Cleveland had fallen into a 3-1 series deficit through the first four games against the 73-win Warriors and looked headed towards another disappointing finish to the season. However, James had other plans as he went on an absolute tear in the final three games of the series. He dropped a pair of double-doubles with 41 points in Games 5 and 6 and capped it all off with a triple-double in Game 7 on the road in the Oracle Arena.
The Cavaliers pulled out a win in the waning moments that saw James pull off arguably the greatest defensive play in NBA Finals history with the block of Andre Iguodala’s layup in transition and was capped by a game-winning 3-pointer by Kyrie Irving. James finished the series averaging 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.6 steals, and 2.3 blocks per game that gave him the Finals MVP award.
The series win snapped a 52-year-old professional sports championship drought. It also tremendously raised James’ legacy greatly as he returned to Cleveland and put the franchise on his back to guide them to their first title. There were many great moments in the 2010s, but nothing beats that.