LeBron James was named the Male Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, another mark in the Miami Heat player’s career that continues to ascend into the stratosphere.
He is the third basketball player to be so honored since the inception of the award in 1931. James received 31 of 96 votes cast in a poll of news organizations, outdistancing Denver Broncos star Peyton Manning, 20 votes, and NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson, with seven votes.
And as wonderful as the acknowledgment is, James said that it is not the ultimate.
“I’m chasing something and it’s bigger than me as a basketball player,” James told the AP. “I believe my calling is much higher than being a basketball player. I can inspire people. Youth is huge to me. If I can get kids to look at me as a role model, as a leader, a superhero … those things mean so much, and that’s what I think I was built for. I was put here for this lovely game of basketball, but I don’t think this is the biggest role that I’m going to have.”
Past winners include Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, Joe Montana, Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps. Serena Williams was the AP Female Athlete of the Year, announced Wednesday.
James joins Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as NBA players to win the award.
“I don’t think I’ve changed much this year,” James said. “I’ve just improved and continued to improve on being more than just as a basketball player. I’ve matured as a leader, as a father, as a husband, as a friend.”
So far in 2013, with a maximum of three games left to play, James has appeared in 98. The Heat have won 78 of them. He led Miami to its second straight NBA championship last June, punctuating his brilliance with 37 points in the decisive Game 7 against San Antonio, includng the jump shot with 27.9 seconds left, that essentially was the clincher.