The decision by the fine folks at Sports Illustrated to name LeBron James the Sportsman of the Year for 2012 is hardly shocking. If anything, the only surprise to come from this latest award for the self-proclaimed “King” is that he’s just the 6th NBA player to ever receive the honor, joining Dwayne Wade (’06), Tim Duncan and David Robinson (’03), Michael Jordan (1991), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985) and Bill Russell (1968). As for the actual merits and what this award actually represents, though, does James actually deserve it?
Sure. Why not?
To be very honest, I spent most of the morning trying to think of anyone who deserved this honor over James, and I came up with very few results. At first, I wanted to write a Skip Bayless-esque Jason Whitlock-ian essay about why it should have been Dwight Howard, but that really wouldn’t have been any fun for you. Then, I wanted to come up with the “GRRRRRRRR, I HATE LEBRON JAMES!” list of reasons why he doesn’t deserve the award, but that attitude has sort of run its course.
And let’s face it, once the Miami Heat won the NBA championship and took away our nuclear arsenal against the easiest man in sports to hate, this Sportsman of the Year recognition was locked up. He would have had to eaten, digested and pooped out a trash can full of puppies on a Fox News special, hosted by Glenn Beck and Chris Matthews, while Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly wrestled orphans in a pool of pudding to lose this thing.
But I’ll let SI’s brass explain why James deserves this.
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.”
Again, I don’t think there was an endless list of people who also deserved it, but I think I’m also severely jaded by my own list of people who absolutely didn’t deserve it. But we’ll get to that within the next several weeks, leading up to the Biggest Sports Moments of 2012.
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.’”
As much hatred and disgust that I’ve shown toward James in the past, that paragraph really says a lot, because it at least tries to humanize him and make us believe that James isn’t a sociopathic fame monger robot, like a sports version of the Manchurian Candidate, who allows his friends to make all of his decisions in the best interest of cash. And I know that so many people out there still hate James for a bevy of reasons, but they’d be really hard-pressed to come up with a reason as to why he doesn’t deserve this particular award.
If you take a look at the list of the award’s winners since its inception in 1954, the Sportsman of the Year award has been given to plenty of athletes and personalities who could have cases against them as being much worse human beings than James – Joe Paterno, Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Greg LeMond, Brett Favre, Curt Schilling, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Pete Rose, to name a few. But I’ll leave that question – Does LeBron James deserve this honor? – up to you guys.
In the meantime, let’s just be happy it wasn’t this guy.