MIAMI- On December 3rd, Sports Illustrated named Miami Heat forward LeBron James their 2012 Sportsman of the Year. LeBron James has celebrated quite a bit lately, winning his third NBA league MVP award, his first NBA Championship, a Finals MVP, and an Olympic Gold Medal. The iconic magazine decided his athletic performances, coupled with his laudable philanthropic work with schoolchildren, deemed him worthy of yet another honor.
During 2012, LeBron James’ star shone the brightest during those darkest moments of the Heat’s season. Down two games to one, on the road against the Indiana Pacers in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals, James resuscitated the flat-lining Heat hopes with 40 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals in Game 4. Then, in even more dire straits against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, James’ single-minded, stern-faced approach resulted in 45 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists during Game 6—a playoff performance for the ages. Once the season was over, James joined his fellow basketball countrymen in London, and rescued the USA team against Lithuania, with 9 points in the final four minutes to stave off an upset.
In addition to his on-court prowess, James is being honored for his charitable work with schoolchildren, much of it in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The LeBron James Family Foundation has developed the Wheels for Education program that targets at-risk, inner city students. The program focuses on incoming third-graders, providing guidance and encouragement, and urging perseverance. James leaves messages for the students, writes letters, donates resources (like the 1,000 HP laptops given to one Akron after school program), and provides a positive role model.
Sports Illustrated annually presents their Sportsman of the Year award to the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement. The accolade was first presented to British runner Roger Bannister in 1954 for completing the first sub-four minute mile. James joins the likes of Bill Russell (1968), Muhammad Ali (1974), the US Olympic Hockey Team (1980), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1983), Michael Jordan (1991), Arthur Ashe (1992), Don Shula (1993) and Mike Krzyzewski (2011), among others.
James’ teammate, Dwyane Wade, was chosen as the 2006 Sportsman of the Year after his performance in that year’s NBA Finals. James is the third winner associated with the Miami Heat. Retired NBA guard Rory Sparrow, who netted the first ever field goal in Miami Heat history, was honored with the award in 1987 as part of an eight-person “Athletes Who Care” presentation.
In a press conference before practice on December 3rd, LeBron James addressed the honor. “I was just as surprised as anyone.” Some of the competitors considered to have been in the running for the award included Olympians Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas and Missy Franklin.
“It’s humbling,” he said, surrounded by reporters while his teammates participated in various shooting drills. He called it “a long journey since July 2010,” clearly referencing his infamous “Decision” to take his talents to Miami. When asked what he felt about all of the accolades bestowed on him, James shrugged, saying he hasn’t “had time to sit down and grasp all that happened in 2012.”
He continued by saying, “Anything in life that’s worth having is worth working for.”
With the latest issue of Sports Illustrated hitting newsstands this week, LeBron James graces the magazine’s cover for the 18th time. He continues to work toward the goal of a second NBA title with the Miami Heat, at present mired in their first losing streak of the season. James takes the court again on Saturday night to face the New Orleans Hornets.