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Barry Jackson: LeBron’s exit is top local, national story in 2014

LeBron James sent South Florida into a tropical depression by bolting for Cleveland
LeBron James sent South Florida into a tropical depression by bolting for Cleveland

This was a year in sports marked by scandal and deplorable behavior — from Donald Sterling to Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson. LeBron James sent South Florida into a tropical depression by bolting for Cleveland. The Dolphins missed the playoffs for a sixth year in a row.

But we also witnessed the type of drama that makes sports the ultimate reality television: from a compelling World Cup, to a seven-game World Series, to a wonderfully entertaining Miami-Florida State game decided in the final minutes, to the Florida Panthers winning a game in a record 20-round shootout.

TOP 10 LOCAL STORIES

1 LeBron leaves: The Heat never saw this coming, not after NBA Finals appearances in four consecutive seasons. But two games after instructing Pat Riley to fly to Las Vegas to meet with him, James broke the news in an essay in Sports Illustrated: He had decided to return to the team that drafted him and the state where he grew up.

2 Heat blitzed in five-game NBA Finals: A series that began inauspiciously, with the air conditioning malfunctioning in San Antonio’s AT&T Center and James disabled by cramps, ended in embarrassment for the Heat, with three consecutive Spurs romps — by 19, 21 and 17 points — thus ending the Heat’s bid for a third consecutive championship.

3 Dolphins collapse again in December, but Joe Philbin is given a fourth season: Convincing losses to Baltimore (28-13) and New England (41-13) essentially foiled another Dolphins season. But owner Stephen Ross announced Philbin will return, and the franchise would post its first winning record since 2008 if it beats the Jets on Sunday.

4 Marlins give Stanton record contract, upgrade roster: The Marlins, who traditionally have one of baseball’s lowest payrolls, shocked everyone by awarding slugger Giancarlo Stanton the richest contract in the sport’s history (13 years, $325million), with an out clause after six seasons. Then, in the wake of a 77-85 season, they bolstered the team around him, adding Michael Morse, Dee Gordon, Martin Prado and Mat Latos.

5 UM regresses, finishes regular season 6-6: Al Golden’s fourth season at Miami began with an 18-point defeat at Louisville and ended with three losses in a row, including two games Miami was expected to win (Virginia, Pittsburgh). Nevertheless, UM announced Golden will return in 2015.

6 Development of young quarterbacks Ryan Tannehill, Brad Kaaya: The Dolphins’ Tannehill boosted his passer rating from 81.7 in 2013 to 93.2 in 2014 and enters the final weekend 12th in the NFL with 26 touchdown passes. Kaaya, poised and polished for a freshman, surprisingly seized the UM quarterback job and finished his first regular season ranked 20th in the nation in TD passes and 21st in passer rating.

7 Jeff Ireland dumped, Dennis Hickey hired: The Dolphins changed general managers, with Ireland pushed aside after six seasons of mostly mediocre results. After being spurned by several candidates, Ross hired Hickey, who worked 18 years in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ personnel department.

8 David Beckham lands MLS team in Miami, but with a big asterisk: Beckham was awarded a pro soccer team for South Florida, but only if he can work out a deal for a new stadium. Eleven months later, that stadium remains elusive. Beckham’s top two choices for a site — PortMiami and the boat slip site adjacent to AmericanAirlines Arena — were rejected by local government and the search continues for a suitable location.

9 Luongo’s return: After 71/2 seasons in Vancouver, the Panthers in March reacquired goaltender Roberto Luongo, who became the Panthers’ most popular player during five seasons here. Thanks to Luongo, a talented young nucleus and the guidance of new coach Gerard Gallant, the Panthers enter 2015 as a legitimate contender for a playoff berth.

10 Biogenesis scandal takes another turn: Nine August arrests were the latest fallout from the scandal swirling around the shuttered Coral Gables health clinic that provided performance-enhancing drugs for several Major League Baseball players, including Alex Rodriguez and others. Among those arrested: The clinic’s founder, Tony Bosch, who entered a guilty plea to conspiracy to distribute PEDs. Meanwhile, Rodriguez admitted to the Drug Enforcement Administration that he used steroids.

TOP 10 NATIONAL STORIES

1 LeBron’s return to Cleveland: The biggest local story also tops the national list. The relocation of the NBA’s best player to Cleveland changed the balance of power in the Eastern Conference and launched a domino effect that led to Kevin Love’s trade to the Cavaliers, among other moves.

2 NFL player arrests and controversy over the league’s seemingly arbitrary discipline system: Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended former Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games for punching his wife in an Atlantic City elevator in February, then suspended him indefinitely after TMZ obtained footage of Rice delivering the punch. Rice was reinstated Nov.28 but the controversy eroded confidence in Goodell’s judgment. Among several other NFL player arrests involving violence, the most notable was Vikings star Adrian Peterson’s indictment on charges of beating his 4-year-son with a wooden switch, resulting in the league placing him on the NFL’s exempt list. Peterson, who said he was merely disciplining his son, accepted a plea deal in November, then was suspended by the NFL for the remainder of the season without pay.

3 Donald Sterling’s racist remarks: The Los Angeles Clippers owner was banned by the NBA for life, fined the maximum $2.5million and forced to sell the team after TMZ obtained a tape in which Sterling told female friend V Stiviano: “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associated with black people. You can sleep with [them] … you can do whatever you want, [but] the little thing I ask you is … not to bring them to my games.” Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer bought the team for $2billion.

4 Seattle wins Super Bowl 48: The Seahawks, a two-point underdog, blitzed the Broncos 43-8, winning their first Super Bowl with the third-largest margin of victory in history. It was the most-watched TV program in U.S. history (111.5 million viewers) and the first Super Bowl played outside at a cold-weather site (East Rutherford, New Jersey).

5 FSU’s national title and remarkable run: The Seminoles stormed back from a 21-3 deficit to slip past Auburn 34-31 in the BCS title game in January, then won all 12 regular-season games in 2014 to stretch its winning streak to 29 entering its playoff semifinal game against Oregon on Thursday.

6 Spurs win another title: San Antonio won its fifth championship in 16 years and avenged the previous year’s NBA Finals loss to the Heat with a brilliant display of team basketball. The Spurs became the first team to win three consecutive Finals games by 15 points or more. At 22, forward Kawhi Leonard became the third-youngest Finals MVP, behind Tim Duncan (1999) and Magic Johnson (1980).

7 Germany wins World Cup, but U.S. makes Round of 16: The United States raised hopes by winning its World Cup opener 2-1 against Ghana and by leading Portugal 2-1 in the final seconds of extra time before Portugal’s Silvestre Varela tied the score. The United States then lost 1-0 to Germany and was eliminated in the knockout round 2-1 by Belgium. Germany beat Argentina 1-0 for its fourth World Cup title and first since the reunification of West and East Germany in 1990.

8 San Francisco Giants win another World Series: Behind the remarkable performance of Madison Bumgarner, the Giants beat Kansas City 3-2 in Game 7 for their third World Series title in five years. Three days after pitching a four-hit shutout to win Game 5, Bumgarner threw five scoreless innings in Game 7, finishing with a World Series-record 0.25 ERA.

9 Connecticut makes history: The Huskies became the first school to win men’s and women’s NCAA basketball titles in the same year. The men’s team held off Kentucky 60-54 in the championship. The UConn women defeated Notre Dame 79-58 to finish 40-0.

10 Four stories are tied: The United States finished second behind Russia, 33-28, in the final medal count of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia; The Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers in five games to win their second Stanley Cup Final; Rory McElroy won three consecutive golf tournaments, including the U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and also registered three second-place finishes in an extraordinary nine-tournament stretch; and Phil Jackson agreed to become president of the New York Knicks.

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