The year ahead in sports

By SEAN KERRIGAN  |  December 28, 2011
2012 sports: Celtics

Because of the NBA lockout and the resulting shortened season, hoops fans won't have to wait long to discover that THE CELTICS WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY HAS CLOSED. Danny Ainge knows it already, but failing to get superstar point guard Chris Paul means luring super-duperstar center Dwight Howard to Boston next year will be almost impossible. The team as it stands is aging and can't compete with the Bulls and Heat in the east or the Thunder in the west. Luckily, a Plan B isn't inconceivable: of the major players, only Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are under contract after this season, so Ainge should have room to work. Just enjoy the Big Three while you can. They won't be around for long.

Though they will be around long enough to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder win the NBA Finals. It should be a big year for the Thunder, as KEVIN DURANT WILL WIN THE NBA MVP. He had our vote when we saw him playing fraternity-league flag football at Oklahoma State on YouTube.

SOMEONE WILL WIN WIMBLEDON. No one will care.

With competition from online upstarts and a new major player, ESPN'S DAYS AS THE WORLDWIDE LEADER MIGHT BE ENDING. The Boys from Bristol have been under increased scrutiny for undue influence in NCAA conference realignment and the fact that they somehow kept Craig James employed for as long as they did. In addition, ESPN's newsgathering operation has been getting beat all over the country — two of the biggest stories of 2011, Jim Tressel's downfall at Ohio State and the University of Miami's renegade-booster problem, were broken by Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann and Yahoo! Sports's Charles Robinson, respectively. Making things worse, the company lost two of its best — and most popular — reporters when Bruce Feldman joined CBS and Pat Forde signed on with Yahoo!

On top of all this, NBC WILL PLAY BALL IN 2012. The network is rebranding the Versus channel — home to the NHL and the Tour de France, among others — as the NBC Sports Network, in the hopes of providing an alternative to ESPN. They know it's a long game, but if anyone has the resources to break ESPN's stranglehold, it's the Peacock.

That challenge officially begins next month, but will really get a shot at gaining some traction in August, when the Summer Olympics are held in London. The time difference isn't that bad, and the Olympics is one of the rare events that can appeal to every demographic, so if NBC can keep the tape delay and sob-story features to a minimum and let the Games themselves carry the broadcast, they have a chance.

While the Honey Badger meme belongs to 2011 (see "Meme Forecast," page 12), LSU's version has shown that he, too, really doesn't give a shit, and will take whatever he wants. In 2012, that means the Downtown Athletic Club's big bronze prize, as TYRANN MATHIEU WILL WIN THE HEISMAN TROPHY, becoming only the second non-offensive player to ever do so. Pretty badass indeed.

2012 sports: Red Sox

Fenway Park celebrates its centennial next year, and to celebrate, THE RED SOX WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS AGAIN. The balance of power in the American League has shifted west, and the Wild Card will most likely land in Texas or Anaheim. That leaves only one team from the AL East, and the Red Sox isn't it. And this time, there's no Terry Francona or Theo Espstein to blame.

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