‘King’ of court crowned

LeBron James is named AP Male Ath­lete of Year

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Cleve­land

LeBron James was jolted for­ward when the mas­sive crowd swelled from the side­walks and into Cleve­land’s streets, sur­round­ing the con­vert­ible car­ry­ing him and his fam­ily on a bright June af­ter­noon.

That wasn’t sup­posed to hap­pen.

James looked at his wife, Sa­van­nah, their baby daugh­ter and two sons and feared for their safety.

“We were kind of afraid for a se­cond,” James said.

Scan­ning the crowd, James spot­ted peo­ple dan­gling from lamp posts and traf­fic lights, even a few strad­dling win­dow ledges to get a glimpse of the cham­pion Cava­liers, who were be­ing hon­ored with a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion down­town pa­rade af­ter their come­back in the NBA Fi­nals.

James was awe-struck, and any con­cerns quickly melted away when he looked at the spec­ta­tors’ faces and saw only smiles, laugh­ter and tears of joy.

“Every­body was just re­joic­ing in grace and hap­pi­ness,” James said, fondly re­flect­ing on the pic­ture-per­fect day when Cleve­land was trans­formed into a gi­ant block party.

“It was more than I could have ever imag­ined. It was un­for­get­table, un­be­liev­able.”

And he had made it pos­si­ble.

James, who ended 52 years of sports heartache by bring­ing Cleve­land a cham­pi­onship and used his su­per­star plat­form to ad­dress so­cial causes, was cho­sen as As­so­ci­ated Press Male Ath­lete of the Year, an award he also won in 2013.

Re­sults of the vote by 59 ed­i­tors from AP mem­ber news­pa­pers and cus­tomers were an­nounced on Tues­day.

James col­lected 24 first­place votes, beat­ing out a pair of Olympic leg­ends: Michael Phelps (16) and Usain Bolt (9), the fastest men in wa­ter and on land who are not ac­cus­tomed to fin­ish­ing be­hind any­one.

Chicago Cubs third base­man Kris Bryant, the NL MVP who led his team to its first World Se­ries ti­tle since 1908, tied for fourth with Golden State star guard Stephen Curry, last year’s win­ner.

Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Von Miller and Andy Murray also re­ceived some votes.

James joined Michael Jor­dan as the only NBA play­ers to win twice. Jor­dan won it three straight years from 1991-94.

US Olympic gym­nast Si­mone Biles was named AP’s top fe­male ath­lete on Mon­day.

A ra­bid sports fan, James was flat­tered to be in the same class with Phelps, the 23-time gold medal­ist who added five more to his record col­lec­tion at the Rio Olympics.

“To be that dom­i­nant in your re­spec­tive sport, to see what he’s been able to do over the years, what he does in that wa­ter, man, it’s tremen­dous and very in­spir­ing,” James said.

“When you have that type of ten­ure to be able to dom­i­nate, when you know that the en­tire com­pe­ti­tion is gear­ing up to beat you — and only you — and you’re still able to come away No 1 or al­ways be at the top of the food chain, that’s so spe­cial.”

That James re­ceived the honor in an Olympic year un­der­scores the weight of his ac­com­plish­ments.

His third NBA crown was for Cleve­land, de­liv­er­ing on a prom­ise he made to a city that hadn’t cel­e­brated a ma­jor cham­pi­onship since 1964 and had en­dured many tor­tur­ous sports mo­ments since.

James, whose game shows no signs of ag­ing as he ap­proaches his 32nd birth­day in a few days, came up short in 2015, lead­ing an in­jury-de­pleted Cavs team to the Fi­nals, where they lost to the War­riors. And al­though James posted the best sta­tis­ti­cal se­ries of any player in his­tory, his crit­ics were quick to point out his 2-4 record in the Fi­nals com­pared to Jor­dan’s 6-0.

The Cavs got a re­match with the record-set­ting, 73-win War­riors. Led by Curry, the league’s unan­i­mous MVP choice, Golden State was be­ing talked about as po­ten­tially the best team ever — an ar­gu­ment that gained steam when it took a 3-1 lead.

But James wasn’t go­ing to be de­nied again. He scored 41 points in Games 5 and 6 and posted a triple-dou­ble in an epic Game 7 that will be re­mem­bered for his chase­down block of An­dre Iguo­dala in the clos­ing min­utes — a de­fen­sive gem that stands as the sig­na­ture play of his mag­nif­i­cent ca­reer.

Af­ter the fi­nal horn, James col­lapsed on the floor and when asked mo­ments later about his emo­tions, the Ohio na­tive who proudly says he’s “just a kid from Akron”, screamed at the TV cam­era: “Cleve­land, this for you!”

“At that mo­ment, I felt ful­filled,” he said. “To know the his­tory of our sports here and how heart­break­ing at times it was for all those years that our fans had to go through, and the cir­cum­stances that we came back from, it was so ful­fill­ing.”

James’ jour­ney to his great­est tri­umph co­in­cided with the pass­ing of an­other great — The Great­est of all — as Muham­mad Ali died on June 4. Dur­ing the play­offs, James watched tapes of Ali’s fights for mo­ti­va­tion.

It was in the spirit of the box­ing leg­end and global am­bas­sador that James stood on stage with close friends Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo An­thony at the ESPYs in July to de­cry vi­o­lence against un­armed black men and en­cour­age fel­low ath­letes to do more to sup­port lo­cal po­lice and im­prove com­mu­ni­ties.

James later do­nated $2.5 mil­lion for a Smith­so­nian ex­hibit hon­or­ing Ali, and he’s pro­duc­ing a doc­u­men­tary on the champ.

“He’s def­i­nitely a per­son I’m in­spired to be like, to have a so­cial con­science about things,” James said. “What I al­ways saw in Ali was that he was al­ways ed­u­cated about ev­ery­thing he was speak­ing about. He was never just talk­ing to be talk­ing. There was a method to the mad­ness.”


Cleve­land Cava­liers for­ward LeBron James shoots against the Golden State War­riors dur­ing the first half of Game 7 of the NBA Fi­nals in Oakland, Cal­i­for­nia on June 19. On Tues­day, James, who ended 52 years of sports heartache by bring­ing Cleve­land a cham­pi­onship and used his su­per­star plat­form to ad­dress so­cial causes, was named As­so­ci­ated Press Male Ath­lete of the Year.


LeBron James dunks against the Toronto Rap­tors dur­ing the first half of Game 1 of the NBA East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal on May 17.


LeBron James an­swers ques­tions as he holds his daugh­ter Zhuri dur­ing a me­dia con­fer­ence af­ter Game 7 of the NBA Fi­nals on June 19.

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