Sports Illustrated recently unveiled its twelve nominees for its coveted Sportsman of the Year award. They are as follows: Michael Phelps, the Chicago Cubs, Simone Biles, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, Breanna Stewart, Katie Ledecky, Vin Scully, Stephen Curry, Leicester City F.C, Jimmie Johnson, and Von Miller.
It’s truly a compelling crop of candidates to choose from. Here’s what my ballot would look like.
12 Jimmie Johnson
Won a record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup championship, equaling Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt
Credit to Johnson for furthering his case as one of the greatest racers of all-time. Too bad very few care about NASCAR anymore; and too bad I don’t really consider a driver to be much of an athlete.
11 Breanna Stewart
Captured fourth consecutive NCAA women’s basketball title with UConn Huskies; top draft choice in WNBA draft
Given her remarkable accomplishments, she’s arguably the greatest player to ever suit up for the Huskies–an honor in the women’s hoops world equivalent to being recognized as the greatest Yankee or Laker of all-time. With that said, her notoriety isn’t on par with the following ten athletes.
10 Michael Phelps
Added to his record for Olympic medals by winning five golds and a silver in Rio
He had another stellar Olympic games; but I don’t like the idea of giving Phelps a lifetime achievement award, particularly after he was recognized as SI’s Sportsman of the Year in 2008.
9 Stephen Curry
Became the NBA’s first-ever unanimous MVP and led Golden State to a record 73 wins
As great as Curry was last season, what I’ll remember the most was how he and the Warriors underachieved in the Finals. Curry’s time will come.
8 Vin Scully
Wrapped up a 67-year broadcasting career that will likely never be matched
I feel sort of rotten for putting a legend like Scully this low, particularly since he’s actually leading SI’s fan vote. But I think given how many athletes had terrific year’s, I’d rather give this award to someone other than a broadcaster.
7 Von Miller
Led Denver to a Super Bowl title, taking home MVP honors along the way
You know it’s been a great sports year when someone like Miller is this low. He certainly has a case, though: In addition to his dominant on-field performance, he’s done notable charitable work and he’s become one of the NFL’s most marketable players.
6 Leicester City F.C.
Won the English Premier League after opening the season as a 5,000-1 long-shot
This award hasn’t been given to an athlete (or team) from outside the United States since 1994. For that reason, it’s highly unlikely Leicester City will win. Although on my ballot, I believe they’re extremely deserving because they become the greatest Cinderella story of all-time by dominating last year’s Premier League season from start to finish despite talk that they were going to be relegated. I mean, 5,000-1 odds! Talk about inspirational.
5 Simone Biles
4 Katie Ledecky
The two 19-year olds dominated Rio, winning a combined nine gold medals
It’s a toss-up between these two, but I’d give the slight edge to Ledecky only because she won gold in every event she competed in. Though I don’t think either of these two Olympians are the most-deserving candidates this year, I envision them sharing this award the next time they take the national stage at the 2020 Olympics.
3 LeBron James
Delivered for Cleveland by leading the Cavs to their first NBA title
James rallied the Cavs from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Warriors to claim the city’s first pro sports championship in over 50 years. Without a doubt, there’s not a single athlete that means more to their city than LeBron does in Cleveland. But since he’s won this award already, and because there are two other compelling candidates, James settles at three.
2 Usain Bolt
Became the first person to ever win three consecutive gold medals in the 100, 200, and 4 x 100 meter sprints
I’d say that Bolt is deserving of a lifetime achievement award, yet who am I to say he still isn’t in his prime? He’s absolutely one of the greatest athletes of all-time, and with such grace and charisma, I’d find it incomprehensible that there are fans out there who don’t root for him. Plus, this might be the last chance for SI to recognize Bolt, as his Olympic career looks to be over.
1 Chicago Cubs
Ended an 108-year drought by finally winning the World Series
Yet there’s only one thing Bolt couldn’t out-run: History. “The last great American sports story” finally came to a conclusion this fall, as the Cubs came back from a 3-1 deficit to top the Indians in one of the most dramatic World Series’ of all-time. Sports Illustrated really doesn’t have a choice, right?