Sportsmen – By Doug Keenholts

Last week, Sports Illustrated announced its choice of Lebron James for 2012 Sportsman of the Year.  As the end of each year nears, every outlet everywhere compiles “best of” and “top ten” lists, names its “person of the year,” etc.  In the sports world, SI’s Sportsman of the Year still holds some clout.  SI’s aim is to recognize the most significant sports figure from the previous calendar year, and in that regard it is hard to quibble with the choice of Lebron James.

“The Decision” and all of the venomous aftermath was only two and a half years ago.  At that time, Lebron was on the top of everyone’s “most hated” athlete lists.  Looking back, it was all quite silly.  Did he make a huge mistake in how he announced his move to the Miami Heat from the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency?  Of course, and he’s admitted as much since.  When the Heat failed to win a title the following year, the general sports world reveled in the perceived failure.  They did make it to the finals, but the storyline centered around Lebron’s inability to finish when he averaged an anemic three points in the fourth quarter of each game.  Heading into the 2012 playoffs, despite being universally regarded as the best basketball player on the planet, the questions about Lebron continued to swirl.  They were answered emphatically in game six of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Celtics, when with the Heat down three games to two, Lebron delivered an epic 45 point, 15 rebound performance IN BOSTON, where he was completely and utterly unstoppable.  It was the most dominant athletic performance of 2012, and when the Heat went on to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals, Lebron James had placed his stamp on the 2012 sports calendar.  Any stain from “the decision” has been permanently removed.

What other performances in 2012 were worthy of consideration?  For me, perhaps the most electric and “goose-bump” inspiring moment was Gabby Douglas winning the woman’s all-around gold medal in gymnastics.  We collectively get a thrill out of rooting for members of the stars and stripes come Olympic time, but nobody on this year’s team captured the hearts of Americans like Gabby.  The stress and pressure of woman’s gymnastics, where one little bobble can cost you a place atop the medal stand, lends itself to heart-pounding drama.  But Gabby’s story and smile added greatly to the theater, and when she stuck the landing on her last tumble in the floor routine to seemingly capture gold, you could almost hear the entire country exhale and applaud simultaneously.

Another option for SI might have been the Brothers Manning.  Eli started the year off in grand form, securing his second Super Bowl victory and Super Bowl MVP trophy in February, highlighted by one of the more beautiful passes ever thrown in a huge moment:  the “dropped in a mailbox” over the shoulder throw to Mario Manningham that kick-started the Giants’ game-winning touchdown drive.  Peyton has since done his part, answering all of the doubters who thought he would never make it back from four neck surgeries, by delivering one of his greatest statistical regular seasons ever.  With a great chance at winning his fifth NFL MVP award, it will be hard to look back at 2012 without thinking of the accomplishments of Archie’s kids.

In the end, as a great calendar year of sports comes to a close, I think SI got it right with Lebron.   The scariest part is he’ll probably be in the conversation each year for the next decade as well.