One of the most intriguing parlor games played here at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED begins in January, when our attention turns to the coming year and we think about the tantalizing possibilities the next 12 months could bring. As the events on the sports calendar slowly unfold, and distinguished moments, performances and achievements start piling up, a question inevitably starts to echo around the offices—whom should we be considering for Sportsman of the Year?
It makes for fun discussion and, yes, disagreement. But it's not a topic we take lightly. The award, which SI has been handing out since our inception in 1954, honors those athletes, teams or executives whose accomplishments embody the spirit of sportsmanship combined with a high level of on-field success. Ask any SI editor or writer at any time of the year who their choice would be and you'll likely initiate a thoughtful and pointed conversation. Opinions matter around here, and there are lots of them.
This year has been no exception, especially with a seemingly unprecedented level of possibilities. Given the sporting landscape in 2012, it would be easy to make the case for a number of impeccably qualified candidates. Eli Manning once again led the Giants to a remarkable Super Bowl victory against the Patriots. Rory McIlroy won us over with his breathtaking talent and grace, grabbing four Tour events, including the PGA Championship. Serena Williams took Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and a gold medal. Gabby Douglas and the U.S. women's gymnastics team were golden in every way. Usain Bolt dominated the sprint events in the Olympics like no one before him. And I could go on.
In the end, though, there was one person whose stirring accomplishments on and off the court made him stand taller than the others, and for those achievements we have named LeBron James the 2012 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Sportsman of the Year. The tangible proof is there for everybody to see: He won that elusive first NBA championship by leading the Miami Heat to the title; he was named MVP of both the regular season and the Finals; he led Team USA to the gold medal in London. He achieved all of that selflessly, showing determination, leadership and guts even through times of adversity. In a less public way, he also shined bright, creating a hands-on educational plan throughout the Akron, Ohio, school system that helped young children to become engaged and to learn. The effects of that program will be profound and long-lasting. SI senior writer Lee Jenkins captured it all elegantly in his story on LeBron (page 56).
The Sportsman announcement, however, is just the start of a December-long celebration of the year's athletic feats. In our next issue we will roll out the Fan's Choice award for the Most Inspiring Performer of 2012, chosen by SI readers through social media. And in subsequent issues you will be selecting the Picture of the Year (Dec. 24 issue) and the Moment of the Year, which will grace the cover of our Dec. 31--Jan. 7 magazine. Vote as often as you like at Facebook.com/SportsIllustrated, and let us know what you prized most about the 2012 sports year before we all turn our attention to 2013.
There were many worthy Sportsman candidates, but James's deeds on and off the court made him stand tallest.
CHAD MATTHEW CARLSON (FICHTENBAUM)
WALTER IOOSS JR. (JAMES)