LeBron James Named Sports Illustrated’s 2012 Sportsman of the Year

Even in an Olympic year, SI says LeBron James stands head and shoulders above the rest.

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LeBron James of the Miami Heat smiles following his team's victory against the San Antonio Spurs on November 29 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida.

LeBron James can add another accomplishment to his ever-growing list: Sports Illustrated  Sportsman of the Year. The Miami Heat forward was named NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP and won both the NBA Championship and an Olympic Gold Medal in 2012. He becomes only the sixth professional basketball player to be named Sportsman, following the footsteps of teammate Dwyane Wade, Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell.

According to the magazine, since 1954 the honor has been awarded “to the transcendent athlete, coach or team who by virtue of their athletic achievement and comportment took us all to a higher place.” Though some NBA fans—especially those in Oklahoma City and Boston—may disagree with that last bit, there’s no denying James’ impressive accomplishments this year. You can read the excellent story, by SI senior writer Lee Jenkins, here.

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After seven seasons spent in Cleveland—not far from his hometown of Akron—James, 28, still had yet to capture an NBA championship, and announced his move to Miami in an ill-advised television event. In spite of playing alongside the best supporting cast he’d ever had, including Wade and seven-time all-star Chris Bosh, James fell short in his first season with the Heat, losing in the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. James’ performance in the Finals was thoroughly underwhelming, falling well short of his career averages in the six-game series. By and large, critics placed the blame for the team’s shortcomings squarely on the Akron native’s shoulders.

Things changed last season. James and the Heat defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals, finally living up to the lofty expectations that had been set for the team when James was first acquired. The newly-minted NBA Finals MVP then led the U.S. to an Olympic Gold Medal in London, capping off a truly remarkable 2012 campaign.  James became the second professional basketball player to be named NBA Finals MVP, regular season MVP and win a gold medal in the same calendar year (Jordan was the first, in 1992). While he’ll always have his detractors—largely for his bungling of the Cleveland-Miami transition—James has dominated basketball this year in ways few others have ever matched.

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Sports Illustrated –which, like TIME, is a Time Inc. brand –says James’ worthiness of the award stretches beyond his on-court achievements. “LeBron’s stirring accomplishments on and off the court were impossible to ignore,” Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum said in a press release. “He showed tremendous heart during times of adversity, and he delivered with relentless determination. Equally as impressive, although much less heralded, was his development of a hands-on educational program in an Akron, Ohio, school district which will have a profound and long-lasting impact on its students. His accomplishments embody the finest traditions of this award.”