After leaving the Miami Heat to return to his home state of Ohio, LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2016 NBA title, breaking a 47-year championship drought in Ohio, being named NBA Finals MVP along the way.
Today, in recognition of his big 2016, LeBron James was named Sports Illustrated’s 2016 Sportsman of the Year. James faced stiff competition from around the world of sports, including the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series in over a century, and teams like Leicester City, which engineered an epic run in the Barclays Premier League.
According to the editors at Sports Illustrated, it came down to James doing more than just on the court…
“In the end we could choose only one winner, which brings us to the 2016 Sportsperson of the Year, LeBron James. He, of course, was not the only athlete to help end a famous title drought. He wasn’t even the only athlete to be part of a comeback from a 3-1 deficit to end a famous title drought. He is, however, the only athlete who did those things to gain more than a ring. In putting the Cavaliers on his back in the NBA Finals he also fulfilled a promise to his home city and to an entire region. He was following through on that heartfelt, but risky, vow he made three summers ago when he returned home after four successful years in Miami.
“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission,” he wrote in a 1,200-word essay for Sports Illustrated announcing his return. “I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
LeBron James certainly did not save Cleveland or northeast Ohio, but he lifted the area in unmistakable ways. In his forthcoming cover story on James that will post later today, Lee Jenkins dives deep into the transformation of a city’s image and the power that sports has to shape how an entire region views itself. (Aside from “Cleveland: City of Champions,” is there a more unlikely phrase than “J.R. Smith: Clevelander for Life?”) This award celebrates northeast Ohio as much as its does the region’s favorite son. In a very crowded year of Sportsperson candidates, the connection between player and community, his community, can be fairly described as the tiebreaking vote.”
James rallied the Cavs in the NBA Finals to defeat the favored Golden State Warriors, who won 73 games during the regular season. James was selected finals MVP for the third time in his career after Cleveland became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
James scored 41 points in Games 5 and 6 and made a key block in the final minutes of Game 7.
James joins Tigers Woods as the only two-time winners of the award.
The 31-year-old James has won three league MVPs. He returned to Cleveland in 2014 after four seasons in Miami, where he led the Heat to four straight finals and two titles.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.