I'm really annoyed with myself, because I had reached the conclusion late last week that LeBron James was the only real choice for Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. It would have made me look a lot smarter, therefore, had I posted this on Saturday or Sunday, but I was under the mistaken impression that the announcement wasn't going to be made until Wednesday. Oh, well.
What James accomplished this year was truly extraordinary - with his team facing elimination and a raucous Boston crowd in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, he lifted his game to a level that quite possibly has never been seen before - not even from the likes of Michael Jordan. And while Jordan remains the King for the time being, James has plenty of time to build the championship resume that could dethrone Jordan for the title of "best player of my lifetime."
As if that accomplishment wasn't enough, James also played a clear leadership role on the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team, taking the role that Kobe Bryant played in 2008. When it comes to basketball, U.S. and gold don't automatically go hand in hand anymore, and even with the overall excellence of this year's team, it might have been a different story without James' efforts.
None of this is going to make me root for the Miami Heat, and none of it erases the bad memory of James' departure from Cleveland - not so much that he did it, but the way that he did it. But even James' public image has undergone a transformation, thanks in part to a brilliant Samsung Galaxy/AT&T ad campaign that creates an image of James as a pretty regular guy - and pretty cool one, to boot.
All of which is to say, you won't hear any complaints from me about this choice. It is an award that is richly deserved.