Sports Illustrated announced last week that Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is the 2016 Sportsperson of the Year. In a year full of stirring and historic performances across all sports, James was transcendent, rallying the Cavaliers from a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals to deliver the city of Cleveland’s first championship in a major sport since 1964. James, who has now won three NBA titles, was named Finals MVP for the third time in his career. More important to fans in Cleveland, he delivered on the promise he made when he returned to the Cavaliers as a free agent in 2014 — to bring the franchise in his home state its first NBA crown. James will be honored at the Sportsperson of the Year event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on December 12.
“It’s hard to remember a year with such a crowded field of Sportsperson candidates,” said Chris Stone, Sports Illustrated’s editor in chief. “But in the end, LeBron James was the clear choice. It’s not just the way he took over the NBA Finals, though that performance was epic. It’s that LeBron was also carrying the weight of that promise he made when he returned to Cleveland in 2014. It’s a special thing for a favorite son to follow through on that kind of commitment to his hometown. Especially since he doubles down on that commitment off the court, with the work his foundation does for underserved kids in Akron and with his increasing willingness to speak out in the fight for social justice. On court and off, James was the athlete in full in 2016.”
James’s impact extends beyond the court. In his CNBC reality show, “Cleveland Hustles,” he offers funding to local businesses in need of capital. Through the LeBron James Family Foundation the Akron native has partnered with the University of Akron to guarantee four-year scholarships to qualifying children in James’ Akron I PROMISE Network program. Currently, there are more than 1,100 students enrolled, the equivalent of more than $41 million in support. His Wheels for Education program supports at-risk third-grade students in the inner city and follows them all the way through graduation and beyond, and last month, the foundation established the I PROMISE Institute, aimed at making the transition to college easier for these students and their families by providing the resources and support they need as they pursue their higher educations. Additionally, the foundation recently announced a $2.5 million donation to the Muhammad Ali exhibit at the new Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture honoring Ali’s legacy in athletics, activism and beyond.
Following the announcement, James said via Twitter, “Humbled! This honor belongs to everyone around me: my family, fans, team, & my @ljfamfoundation kids. #WeAreFamily #StriveForGreatness #RWTW”
Since 1954, Sports Illustrated has annually presented the Sportsperson of the Year award to the player, coach or team who has best personified the ideals of athletic achievement and sportsmanship. James, who also was SI’s SOTY in 2012, is only the second two-time winner of the award (Tiger Woods: 1996, 2000). The list of past SOTY honorees is a who’s who of the greatest athletes of the last half-century who have transcended their sport, including Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Serena Williams. This is the seventh time the Sportsperson award has gone to a professional basketball player. The others were Dwyane Wade (2006), Tim Duncan and David Robinson (’03), Michael Jordan (1991), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985) and Bill Russell (1968).
James, a four-time NBA MVP and 12-time All-Star, enhanced his legacy as one of basketball’s all-time greats in this year’s NBA Finals. With the Cavaliers down three games to one, he scored 41 points in Game 5 and again in Game 6 to help Cleveland tie the series. In the deciding seventh game, a four-point Cavaliers win on the Warriors’ home court, James had a triple-double, just the third such performance ever in a Finals Game 7. His come-from-behind block of Andre Igoudala’s attempted fast-break layup with less than two minutes to play instantly became one of the iconic plays in NBA history and a key factor in Cleveland becoming the first NBA team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the title.
James will be honored alongside the 2016 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award winners Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and Bill Russell; the SI Kids SportsKids of the Year and other top names and moments from the year in sports at SI’s special Sportsperson of the Year celebration, taking place at Barclays Center on December 12. The star-studded affair, which will also be attended by Lonnie Ali, will include a special awards dinner and ceremony with tributes to some of the world’s most legendary athletes and special guests. More information about how to attend the event can be found here.
— Dr. Dionne Mahaffey is an Atlanta-based writer, business psychologist and founder of The WhereU app. Follow her on Twitter @ATLcelebrity @WhereUCameFrom