During a year that’s presented an endless succession of unprecedented challenges, LeBron James and Naomi Osaka dug deep and still managed to dominate both on and off the court, and for their accomplishments in both sports and social activism, the Associated Press has named them the Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
From NBC News:
LeBron James told the world in 2020 that Black Lives Matter. He helped convince many who had never voted to finally head to the polls. He found more ways to continue elevating the lives of people in his hometown.
If that weren’t enough, he won another NBA championship.
With his fourth Athlete of the Year win, James matches embattled cyclist Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods for the most by men.
“I still know what I do on the floor and obviously, I give everything to the game,” James told AP. “But I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor. And I want to continue to inspire people with the way I play the game of basketball. But there’s so many more things that I can do off the floor to help cultivate people, inspire people, bring people together, empower them.”
For King James that included launching the voting initiative More Than a Vote, which seeks to protect the voting rights of Black folks in America, and partnering with the Los Angeles Dodgers to transform Dodger Stadium into a polling center for the presidential election.
As for Osaka, aside from finishing the year ranked No. 3, she won her third Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open in September while “positioning herself as a leader not only in women’s tennis but in all of sports” and “a force for change in our society,” according to tennis great Billie Jean King.
“She successfully completed the difficult task of taking excellence in sports performance and using that platform to succeed outside of sports on a much bigger stage,” King told the AP. “She ignited a conversation on social justice, the results of which were bigger than tennis, larger than sports, and in doing so raised the bar for all those who want to leverage the gifts and talents we have to make a difference in our world.”
And she also did it while ensuring that the entire world said Breonna Taylor’s name by wearing a mask paying tribute.
Prior to subsequent matches, she also wore masks bearing the names of Tamir Rice, Elijah McClain, George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery and Philando Castile.
“To be honest, I really didn’t stop to think about what others would think of my actions,” Osaka said while discussing her decision. “Other people’s opinions weren’t going to stop me from doing what I know in my heart was the right thing to do. The strong voices of Colin [Kaepernick] and LeBron were certainly positive influences for me and gave me strength in my own convictions.”
Congrats are in order to both Naomi and LeBron. Very much deserved on both accounts, and don’t be surprised if they both run it back next year, too.