Tune In Tonight: Is 2012 the year of the thoughtful athlete?

Signs that we’ll soon be auld lang syne-ing our way out of 2012 arrive with increasing frequency. “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” (9 p.m., HBO) gathers a round table of wise men and women (including Mary Carillo, Frank Deford, Jon Frankel, Bernard Goldberg, Armen Keteyian and Andrea Kremer) to discuss and review the best sports stories of the year.

In addition to the headline-grabbing wins and losses, Gumbel’s panel recalls Jeb Corliss, who donned a pair of wings and “flew” off Table Mountain in South Africa; Alex Zanardi, a former Formula 1 driver who did not let an accident, and the loss of both legs, slow him down; and the Isle of Man’s dangerous motorcycle race, a competition that has claimed more than 230 lives over the years.

I’m no sportswriter, but two stories that conveniently dovetail with my New York fandom stand out. Who could resist Linsanity? This time last year, Jeremy Lin was sitting on the New York Knicks bench and sleeping on a friend’s couch. But after a teammate’s injury made him a starter, he led the team to one of the most exciting winning streaks in New York history. In a sports world filled with big egos, Lin reacted to instant celebrity with modesty, good humor and expressions of faith.

Last December, few would wager that 38-year-old New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey would compile a 20-3 record and win Major League Baseball’s Cy Young Award. Like Lin, Dickey projects a thoughtful side, and he has said he would have become an English professor had he not taken up baseball. And, like Lin, he is centered by his beliefs.

Lin has since left New York, and Dickey’s future is uncertain, but both men certainly made the sports world a little brighter in 2012.

Tonight’s other highlights:

• A Christmas visit on “NCIS” (7 p.m., CBS). Robert Wagner guest-stars.

• A winner emerges on “The Voice” (7 p.m., NBC) finale.

• Whoopi Goldberg stars in the 2002 special “It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie” (7 p.m.).

• Violence and football on “Rizzoli & Isles” (8 p.m., TNT).

• Dixon goes undercover on “Vegas” (9 p.m., CBS).

• Nothing can keep Charlotte down on “Private Practice” (9 p.m., ABC).


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