I prefer to think of it as all of these things, and none of them, at the same time. A highlight is impossible to define but, to quote Associate Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (thanks, Wikipedia!), "I know it when I see it."
So let's look at some examples and find out what a highlight really is.
The "OH MY GOODNESS WHAT JUST HAPPENED"
NBA players are better athletes than 99.999% of the entire history of our species. But even they can [RUN LAMEPUN.EXE] rise above the competition [END LAMEPUN.EXE] sometimes, and then we all win. One that sticks out amongst the rest comes from Gerald Green, who may have been better known for blowing/spitting out a cupcake during the 2007 Slam Dunk contest. At least until he did this.
The Lucky Shot
Or as I call it, the "Dwyane Wade Special." Nobody has made as many B.S. shots in the NBA's recent history than this man.
The Nick of Time, Just In
Taking the win at the last possible second happens infrequently, but there's no way to reproduce the excitement these plays provide. It'd be hard to argue with a rule making all games required to end at the final horn, at least it would be harder than enforcing it. Out of all the examples of this, though, I'll choose a personal favorite: Mo Williams' game-winner against Indiana back in 2005, which was my first Bucks game ever. Just to give you the proper reference, this was so long ago that a) I was able to heckle both
Metta World Peace Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal at the same time, and b) I made a post on MySpace about my experience. MySpace.
The Unlikely Comeback
An eight-point lead with 40 seconds to go should be safe, right? Right?
I honestly believe we will never see anything like this ever again. Tracy McGrady may be washed up, but man oh man could he play.
These are just some of my favorite highlights. Which ones are yours?