SI’s CANDIDATES FOR 2016 SPORTSPERSON OF THE YEAR

Last week, Sports Illustrated revealed the 12 contenders for its 2016 Sportsperson of the Year Award.  The winner will be unveiled on December 1:

  • Michael Phelps
  • Chicago Cubs
  • Simone Biles
  • Usain Bolt
  • LeBron James
  • Breanna Stewart
  • Katie Ledecky
  • Vin Scully
  • Steph Curry
  • Leicester City F.C.
  • Jimmie Johnson
  • Von Miller

My Take – The No’s

If we are strictly following SI’s criteria for this Award that has been presented annually since its inception in 1954: “the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement,” then Vin Scully should be out of the running.

Now, I am a huge fan of Scully and realize that his 67 years as a broadcaster for the Dodgers is a profound accomplishment and his effect on the baseball community runs deep.  However, he is not an athlete nor a team and 2016 was simply the last year of his career as a play by play announcer.

Many others on SI’s list performed athletically and were crowned the best in their sport one way or the other, while Scully did not.

For sure, Scully should be honored and his receipt of the Presidential Medal of Honor earlier this month is the right way to do it.  He is also already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and aptly so.

Another person that I feel should not be a final candidate for the award is LeBron James.

He may have helped the Cavaliers bring home a championship to Cleveland, a city that has never been NBA victorious.  And, the team had rallied back from 1-3 deficit in the finals thanks to his outrageous performance(s) which helped him earn his 3rd NBA title and 3rd MVP honor.

But, James didn’t win the NBA finals in 2016 alone.  He was a member of a team that together were champions.

Would the Cavaliers have won without him?  Probably not.  Yet, it’s not enough for me to give him the honor of SI’s award over others that did achieve greatness last year alone.

The same goes for Steph Curry, NBA superstar for the Golden State Warriors.  While he was magnificent during the 2016 regular season and led the league in scoring which propelled his team to a record-breaking wins total (73), his prosperity was aided by others.

Curry also fell apart somewhat in the post season and his team lost the championship to the Cavaliers.  This makes me scratch him off my list of Sportsperson of the Year, despite the amazing talent he so obviously is.

I also pulled Jimmie Johnson off my list of contenders.  The 41-year-old captured his record-tying 7th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in 2016, a triumph that has vaulted him into the conversation as the sport’s best driver, ever.

Still, he was a pilot on a team made up of many people who were responsible for launching his car forward.  Without them, he wouldn’t have realized success.

Denver LB Von Miller is yet another athlete who has benefitted from wearing the same uniform as others.  He contributed towards Denver’s Super Bowl 50 win and took home the MVP award in 2016.  And, this season he’s having a career year with 12.5 sacks already.

Miller’s reputation for disturbing QBs and making things happen on defense is legendary, but all of that is not enough for me to think he deserves SI’s award over others.

As for Breanna Stewart, she is 21 years old and just completed her rookie year in the WNBA for the Seattle Storm, but some are already thinking she may be the league GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

In 2016, the 6’4 forward averaged per game: 18.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, topping all rookies and which helped to take her team to the finals for the first time since 2013.   Yeah, she is great, going to be greater, but is she the greatest?  Maybe not yet.

In my book, swimmer Katie Ledecky has a better case for the SI Award, but still not on my “Yes” list.   She won five medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and became the first woman to sweep the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle events in 48 years.  She was also only the third U.S. woman in history to win 4 gold medals in a single Olympics.  Awesome, but not as good as what Phelps did in 2016.

The Maybes

Discussion involving gymnastics always seems to lead to the same speculation: that Simon Biles could be her sport’s GOAT.

Certainly, Biles is the best gymnast in the world having won gold in individual all-around, vault and floor at the Rio Olympics and a gold medal with Team USA.

In previous years, she has been world all-around champion 3 times, world floor champion 3 times, 2-time world balance beam champion, 4 time US National all-around champion and a member of the gold medal-winning American teams at the 2014 & 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

Truly great accomplishments, but still arguments to confirm she is the GOAT, not SI’s Sportsperson of the Year above all others.

What puts her in the “Maybe” category is the fact that she competed at the 2016 Olympics as an individual and with a team and came away with multiple high honors.  Only Ledecki & Phelps have similar accomplishments.

The nickname the “Lightning Bolt” is apt for Usain Bolt.

In Rio, the 30-year-old 6’5 sprinter won gold medals in the 100m & 200m and ran the anchor for the finals of the 4 x 100m relay for the gold.   With these wins, he became the first athlete to win these events three times in consecutive Olympics.  No runner has ever accomplished this before.  He finished his Olympic career with a 100%-win record in finals.

Bolt is also an 11-time World Champion and considered the fastest human ever timed as well as the “greatest sprinter of all time”.  It’s close to the top, but I still think what Phelps accomplished in 2016 is bigger.

The Yes List

Michael Phelps is the 3rd place winner for me regarding the SI Award.  With his 5 gold medals and 1 silver win at the Rio Olympics, his total medal count now stands at 28, including 23 gold. No other athlete in any sport has more than 9 gold medals at the Olympics. Phelps has also won 16 medals in individual events alone.

It is incomprehensible that any one person has attained this number of medals and no one may ever surpass it. For this, Phelps is the most outstanding singular athlete of 2016.

But, to me, there are 2 teams that tie for the Sportsperson of the Year award: Chicago Cubs & Leicester City FC.

Isn’t it ironic that two of the most sublime triumphs for teams in the sporting world occurred during 2016?  One took place in Europe.  The other in America.

The question is:  Which championship is more important?

I can’t decide.  That’s why I think it’s a draw.

Leicester City Football Club became champions of the Premier League against all odds.

No one on planet Earth thought a team that had been on the bottom of the rankings in 2015 would rush past the wealthiest teams, blow by the 5000-1 odds for the title, and crash land at the top a year later.

In Europe and all over the world, it was a huge story and considered to be “the biggest thing to happen in football.”

Over the pond, five months later, the Chicago Cubs pulled off the incredible feat of breaking baseball’s longest championship drought and won the World Series after 108 long years.

It was a huge story here, but how much did it effect the world like Leicester’s win did?

As an American, it is hard for me not to be bias.  Like many other baseball fans in the US, I hung on every Cubs postseason win and loss like they were my beloved Yankees.

Still, I can’t overlook what Leicester achieved.  CNN speculated in May 2016 that their “triumph” could be “sport’s greatest achievement”.

Like the Cubs who had never won in the big show, Leicester City had never won the top division of the Premier League in the 111 years since the club joined the EFL.

The English Football League (EFL) was founded in 1888.  MLB was founded in 1903.

Before 2015, Leicester spent the last 12 years demoted to tiers below the Championship Level (League One & League Two) due to poor performances.  The team also struggled with financial difficulties along the way.

Then, in 2010, a Thai businessman bought the team and after winning promotion back to the Premier League in 2014, they hired Claudio Ranieri, an Italian coach who had just been fired by Greece.

Under Ranieri’s tutelage, Leicester starting winning, a lot.  During the 2015-16 season, the team only lost 2 of its first 18 games and went on to finish with the best record in the Championship Level (23-12-3).

This story is very similar for the Chi Cubs.  The Ricketts family bought the team in 2009, hired Theo Epstein in 2011 and then Coach Joe Maddon arrived in 2015.  The following year, the Cubs won the World Series.

In the end, both championships mean a great deal to different parts of the world.  To give them equal treatment, I think SI should have them share the crown for this award.

We’ll just have to wait to see who the editors of the magazine will choose.

UPDATE:  SI revealed the 2016 Sportsperson of the Year: LeBron James

 

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