If the Heat played the role of NBA villains all season, the Mavericks were the league's ultimate feel-good story. Dirk Nowitzki (far right) was the knight in shining armor, leading Dallas on a sensational playoff run that included a sweep of the defending champion Lakers. Nowitzki and another future Hall of Famer, Jason Kidd (far left), earned their first titles by knocking off the Heat.
The Blake Show
Blake Griffin's first NBA season was like a jolt of lightning. He averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds. He had 214 dunks, not including his leap over a car to win the league's Slam Dunk contest. Most impressively, he made the lowly, luckless Clippers relevant enough to become a desirable destination for Chris Paul, whom they acquired on Dec. 14.
Hear them roar
The Memphis Grizzlies had never won a playoff game, let alone a playoff series, in their short and undistinguished history. But with a cast of NBA misfits, including Zach Randolph and Tony Allen (pictured), the Grizz stunned the top-seeded Spurs to become just the second No. 8 seed to win a best-of-seven series.
Derrick Rose was the Rookie of the Year in 2009 and an All-Star in 2010, so he was no slouch entering 2011. Still, his ascension to legitimate NBA superstar was a sight to behold. With an improved jumper to complement his extraordinary athleticism, Rose averaged 25 points and led the Bulls to the best record in the NBA. At the tender age of 22, he became the NBA's youngest MVP and left us wondering how much better he can get.
Oh, the drama!
Love them or hate them (and the latter is more likely), the Miami Heat had a Shakespearean quality that was great for the NBA. The Big Three's season was full of spectacular highs and crushing lows, dominance and weakness, thrills and tears, culminating in a spectacular Finals failure. Only the great bard could write something that good.