As the Grammys have proven time and time again, the winner isn’t always the most deserving. But when it comes to Time Magazine’s Athlete of the Year, this year at least, they hit the nail on the head.
On Thursday, Time Magazine made the big announcement and commended King James for not only leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their 17th championship, but leading against voter suppression efforts off the court too. In June, James launched the voting initiative More Than a Vote, which seeks to protect the voting rights of Black folks in America.
In the time since, he’s been more vocal than ever about the role systemic racism plays in our voting system, all while using his connections and resources to pull strings like helping turn Dodger Stadium into a polling center in order to help get Trump the hell out of here during the 2020 presidential election. He’s also partnered with organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
After nearly two decades in the NBA, James has fully embraced that his talent on the court is a means to achieving something greater off it. And this year, more than in any before it, he showed why he is unrivaled in both. Despite misgivings, James played on in the bubble and led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA championship—his first with the team and fourth overall. By staying, James increased his leverage and influence, and got deep-pocketed owners, fellow athletes and fans the world over engaged directly with democracy. And through it all, he spoke personally to the anguish of Black Americans, channeling pain and outrage into a plan of action.
On Sunday, James was also named one of Sports Illustrated’s Sportspersons of the Year. He became the first athlete to do so on three separate occasions, previously winning in 2012 and 2016.
“[It’s] being able to go out there and not only perform at a high level in what we do as far as our profession, but also being able to change lives and create opportunities, empower people and inspire people off the floor, not only in our communities but all over the world,” James said this week when asked about being honored by Sports Illustrated. “It means a lot to be a part of that group, to be the first-ever three-time winner of this award. I’m very humbled. It means a lot to my family and my friends and the kids in my foundation and my school back home and my city of Akron where I come from.”
James has long said that his legacy off the floor is much more important than anything he will ever accomplish on it, and between his pursuits in player empowerment, entertainment, and social justice, it shouldn’t come as a surprise why so many have called James the greatest professional athlete of all-time.