James who accomplished the rare feat of winning an NBA Championship, an Olympic Gold and being named league MVP and Finals MVP, joins an elite group of immortals such as Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to receive this honor. James is just one of six professional basketball players to be named Sportsman including Heat teammate Dwayne Wade ('06); Tim Duncan and David Robinson ('03), Michael Jordan (1991), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985) and Bill Russell (1968).
Annually, the magazine presents the Sportsman of the Year award to the transcendent athlete, coach or team who by virtue of their superior athletic achievement and comportment took us all to a higher place. The award debuted in 1954, and in describing the feats of the first Sportsman, Roger Bannister, the editors introduced the award's guiding principle: "While the victory may have been his, it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather, it is for the quality of his effort and manner of his striving."
"This year there was an endless list of high-quality possibilities," said Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum. "But LeBron's stirring accomplishments on and off the court were impossible to ignore. 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."
For the Sportsman feature SI Senior Writer Lee Jenkins presents a myriad of poignant voices from those who know him best. Perhaps the most thoughtful was LeBron himself who talked openly about a coming of age. Jenkins writes: And so, less than 29 months after he sat on a stage at a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., and incurred a nation's wrath, LeBron James is the Sportsman of the Year. He is not the Sportsman of 2010, when he announced his decision to leave Cleveland in a misguided television special, or 2011, when he paid dearly for his lapse in judgment.
"He is the Sportsman of 2012. 'Did I think an award like this was possible two years ago?' James says. 'No, I did not. I thought I would be helping a lot of kids and raise $3 million by going on TV and saying, 'Hey, I want to play for the Miami Heat.' But it affected far more people than I imagined. I know it wasn't on the level of an injury or an addiction, but it was something I had to recover from. I had to become a better person, a better player, a better father, a better friend, a better mentor and a better leader. I've changed, and I think people have started to understand who I really am.'"
Last season, James became only the third NBA player to achieve the NBA Champion, Gold Medal winner, MVP trifecta (Jordan and Bill Russell) and just the seventh in NBA history to have three MVP awards (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Moses Malone). He followed that by leading Team U.S.A. to an Olympic Gold medal, and was described by many as that team's MVP.