Following in Jordan’s footsteps: SI names LeBron Sportsman of the Year

It was inevitable. Sports Illustrated named Michael Jordan its Sportsman of the Year after he won his first NBA title in 1991.

So it logically follows that James would receive the honor in 2012 on the heels of his first NBA title.

Despite their dominance and stature in the game, Sports Illustrated made both players wait until they got the ring before giving them the honor. It took seven seasons for Jordan and nine years for James, who had a couple extra years thanks to turning pro out of high school.

Of course, the difference is that Jordan was universally revered back then. James, meanwhile, still feels the backlash of “The Decision.”

Still, it is hard to deny James’ impact on sports, and that Game 6 performance in Boston was something to behold. Perhaps you could have made a case for Usain Bolt, but a cover featuring a Jamaican sprinter isn’t going to sell as many magazines as James.

Here is the link to Lee Jenkins’ story.

Here is the announcement from SI:

Sports Illustrated today announced that Miami Heat and USA Basketball star LeBron James is the 2012 Sportsman of the Year. James who accomplished the rare feat of winning an NBA Championship, an Olympic Gold and being named league MVP and Finals MVP, joins an elite group of immortals such as Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to receive this honor.  James is just one of six professional basketball players to be named Sportsman including Heat teammate Dwayne Wade (’06); Tim Duncan and David Robinson (’03), Michael Jordan (1991), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985) and Bill Russell (1968). 

Annually, the magazine presents the Sportsman of the Year award to the transcendent athlete, coach or team who by virtue of their superior athletic achievement and comportment took us all to a higher place.  The award debuted in 1954, and in describing the feats of the first Sportsman, Roger Bannister, the editors introduced the award’s guiding principle: “While the victory may have been his, it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather, it is for the quality of his effort and manner of his striving.”

“This year there was an endless list of high-quality possibilities,” said Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum. “But LeBron’s stirring accomplishments on and off the court were impossible to ignore. He showed tremendous heart during times of adversity, and he delivered with relentless determination. Equally as impressive, although much less heralded, was his development of a hands-on educational program in an Akron, Ohio, school district which will have a profound and long-lasting impact on its students. His accomplishments embody the finest traditions of this award.”

For the Sportsman feature SI Senior Writer Lee Jenkins presents a myriad of poignant voices from those who know him best. Perhaps the most thoughtful was LeBron himself who talked openly about a coming of age.  Jenkins writes: And so, less than 29 months after he sat on a stage at a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., and incurred a nation’s wrath, LeBron James is the Sportsman of the Year. He is not the Sportsman of 2010, when he announced his decision to leave Cleveland in a misguided television special, or 2011, when he paid dearly for his lapse in judgment.

 “He is the Sportsman of 2012. ‘Did I think an award like this was possible two years ago?’ James says. ‘No, I did not. I thought I would be helping a lot of kids and raise $3 million by going on TV and saying, ‘Hey, I want to play for the Miami Heat.’ But it affected far more people than I imagined. I know it wasn’t on the level of an injury or an addiction, but it was something I had to recover from. I had to become a better person, a better player, a better father, a better friend, a better mentor and a better leader. I’ve changed, and I think people have started to understand who I really am.’”

Last season, James became only the third NBA player to achieve the NBA Champion, Gold Medal winner, MVP trifecta (Jordan and Bill Russell) and just the seventh in NBA history to have three MVP awards (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone).  He followed that by leading Team U.S.A. to an Olympic Gold medal, and was described by many as that team’s MVP. 

Less heralded but incredibly impactful has been his work to support children’s education.  While working closely with the Akron, OH school system he launched a Wheels for Education program which supports to the city’s third grade students who have been deemed at-risk. More the 500 students participate in the program which is already making an impact. The preliminary report of Kent State researchers, tracking the group’s progress, found that James students averaged 14.7 absences last year, compared with 18.9 for their peers in the district. Even after the Wheels for Education kids pass third grade, they remain in the program. They will be monitored by James and his staff until they graduate from high school. The first commencement ceremony will be in 2021. In testament to his impact Austin Qualls a senior at Akron’s Firestone High, one of 19 Wheels for Education ambassadors says, “I’m not doing this because LeBron is a basketball player. I don’t even watch a lot of basketball. I recognize him more for his fatherly side.”

Also from the story:

Team U.S.A Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski who coached LeBron in two Olympic competitions says: “The game is a house, and some players only have one or two windows in their house because they can’t absorb any more light,” says Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Team USA. “When I met LeBron, he only had a few windows, but then he learned how beautiful the game can be, so he put more windows in. Now he sees the damn game so well, it’s like he lives in a glass building. He has entered a state of mastery. There’s nothing he can’t do. God gave him a lot but he is using everything. He’s one of the unique sports figures of all time, really, and he’s right in that area where it’s all come together. A voracious mind has caught up with a supreme body. The marriage is a marvel.”

Heat President Pat Riley (who interestingly addresses LeBron as B.O.A.T – Best of All Time). Jenkins writes: “After James had unleashed 45 points, snatched 15 rebounds and sucked all the juice from an expectant crowd, he marched toward [Pat] Riley, the Heat president who lured him to South Beach two years ago with his six sparkling rings. He was just a few steps from Riley when a 20-something man perched above the tunnel poured what remained of his beer through a net canopy, dousing James’s head and jersey…

‘From where I was standing, there was a backlight on LeBron from the arena, and as the [beer] pellets sprayed up in the air, they looked like they were forming a halo over him. This is what I saw: The good Lord was saying, ‘LeBron, I’m going to help you through this night because you’re a nice person, and I’m going to give you 45 and 15. But as you walk off, I’m going to humble the heck out of you.’ And, you know what, that’s the best thing that could have happened.’”




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