No, Sports Illustrated didn’t follow Tracy Morgan’s suggestion of Eli Manning for Sportsman of the Year, or Lindsey Vonn’s of Roger Federer. They chose LeBron James instead, the man who won an Olympic gold medal, an NBA MVP, an NBA Finals ring and an NBA Finals MVP award all in 2012.
The timing is all too perfect, LeBron finally emerging from America’s doghouse to recapture his place in our hearts. Because this is all important, right? That a handful of SI editors makes some declaration out of the indefinite matters, because what is sports without the finite? Even the name suggests an air of prestige, the facade that the award goes beyond sports. Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski won the award last year, one a legendary coach battling dementia and one a legendary coach battling a record book. Tiger Woods and Brett Favre have both won sportsman of the year awards. So have Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Lance Armstrong and Joe Paterno.
It’s not that the traditional award shouldn’t be handed out by the most prestigious sports magazine, or that it doesn’t matter. Just that it should be taken with perspective, as Bob Costas would say, because sporting achievement is only that. Sporting achievement. Formal recognition of LeBron James as the year’s greatest athlete isn’t a bad thing – and it’s probably well deserved, because it’s hard to say any one athlete was better than him. But it is hardly reflective of character or some other grand idealism, even if we try to skew it that way. LeBron James is every bit as likely to be embroiled in a sex scandal as Tiger Woods was (a golden boy at the time), every bit as likely to fall from his pedastal as any other athlete. Not that he will, or that we should assume the worst – just that he’s a Sportsman, or really a sports man, just I am a writer man or you are a reader man.