From villain and traitor, the transformation is complete.
A year that produced his first NBA championship and later an Olympic gold medal is ending with LeBron James at the top of the sporting world by at least one account.
Monday, it was revealed that the Heat forward has been named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.
James follows in the footsteps of teammate Dwyane Wade, who won the award in 2006 after the Heat won the first of the franchise's two championships.
Among previous winners were Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Wayne Gretzky. College basketball coaches Mike Krzyzewski, who coached James in the London Olympics, and Pat Summitt shared the honor last year.
James became the six professional basketball player named Sportsman of the Year, joining Wade, Tim Duncan and David Robinson ('03), Michael Jordan ('91), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ('85) and Bill Russell ('68).
According to the magazine the award is presented, "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 first was handed out in 1954.
James not only twice shared in team glory this past year, but also was named Most Valuable Player of 2011-12 NBA regular season and MVP of the 2012 NBA Finals, with the Heat taking that best-of-seven series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. James became only the third NBA player to win an NBA championship, Olympic gold medal and MVP, joining Jordan and Russell.
In bestowing the honor, with James to be formally recognized Wednesday in New York after the Heat's Tuesday road game against the Washington Wizards, James also was cited by the magazine for his charitable efforts.
"This year there was an endless list of high-quality possibilities," Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum said in a statement. "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."
Just 2 1/2 years ago, James was widely criticized for the manner in which he left the Cleveland Cavaliers in free-agency, using an hour-long ESPN televised special, "The Decision," to announce his move to join Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
James and the Heat then lost in the 2011 NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks, with James criticized in how he carried himself through that season.
Saying he no longer was comfortable playing the villain, he changed his approach last season, winning over many of his previous critics, while also playing with more of a take-charge and take-responsibility approach on the court.
In the article chronicling his rise to the honor, James says, "Did I think an award like this was possible two years ago? 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."
In talking the honor, James will be featured for the 18th time on the cover of the magazine, dating to when he was featured as a high school junior in February 2002, an issue he was referred to as ''The Chosen One.''
The issue featuring James' honor will be released Wednesday.
In the story, Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski says, "The game is a house, and some players only have one or two windows in their house because they can't absorb any more light. When I met LeBron, he only had a few windows, but then he learned how beautiful the game can be, so he put more windows in. Now he sees the damn game so well, it’s like he lives in a glass building. He has entered a state of mastery."
Copyright © 2012, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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