KRYSTEN OLIPHANT: The sports person of the year has to be New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
He’s won the Sports Illustrated Athlete of the Year and the Associated Press Sports Person of the Year, and if you know anything about the guy, he’s quite possibly the nicest human being on the planet. Even if he wasn’t, being a Louisianian myself, I am 99.8 percent certain he could walk around New Orleans brandishing a pistol and shooting people at random, and as long as he was wearing his No. 9 jersey and his Super Bowl ring, New Orleanians would think it was cute. The man can do no wrong, and he’s united not just a city or a state but an entire region with his arm and his smile. There was even a Twitter contest to name his newborn son.
I watched grown men hold each other and cry when the Saints won the Super Bowl, and I think Brees gets that. He understands exactly what he did, coming back from an injury everyone thought had ended his career and becoming a sort of bionic man — like that old ’90s movie, The Rookie, he was actually better after the injury. But more than that, he understands how much the game, the team, the season means to the entire Gulf Coast area. He knows how badly they were hurting, and he gets that people around here just needed something good to finally happen to them, something that would let them forget all the problems they had, even if it’s just for three hours on a Sunday.
Plus, he’s just a damn good quarterback, especially in the two-minute drill.
CHRIS PUMMER: Brees might be a nice guy, but nothing defines the competitive spirit of the modern athlete better than knowing you’re so good that you can tell everyone else to go fuck themselves. That’s why LeBron James is my Sportsman of the Year.
I’ll admit, I briefly toyed with tabbing Eagles QB Michael Vick. After the Eagles picked him up off the scrapheap onto which this country’s penal system turned him, Vick is leading the team into the playoffs, and might even be favored by some to win the Super Bowl.
You can learn a lot of things in prison, but humility wasn’t something Vick left with. When asked who should be this year’s NFL MVP, Vick wasn’t shy about saying he thought it should be him.
A real good sportsman doesn’t have to be modest.
But Vick may be deserving of the MVP, or at least a place in the discussion. And his past is in the past, so his case this year isn’t very strong.
James, on the other hand…
As we all know, James was the first overall draft pick by his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2003. The basketball prodigy from nearby Akron, Ohio ruled the Cleveland sports scene as he returned the Cavs to NBA relevance. King James lifted his team to five straight playoff appearances after Cleveland had sat out the postseason the previous seven seasons. Each time the Cavs at least made it as far as the Eastern Conference semifinals, after failing to win a playoff series since 1993. And of course there was an NBA Finals appearance, and two other years with league’s best record.
The burden of carrying those teams must have been too much, because LeBron elected to leave the Cavs for the Miami Heat, where he could be paired with another couple superstars, and together, could still look like the third- or fourth-best team in the league.
That’s not what earns James my Sportsman of the Year award. It’s how he sandbagged the city of Cleveland on his way out of town.
The Cavs bent over backwards to make James comfortable. They did what they could to build a supporting cast for him. They offered to accept his input on the next coaching hire, or at least fired Mike Brown, a coach he didn’t like, in an attempt to lure him back. They had even built a new practice facility in a location that would make James’ commute easier.
All of that still didn’t earn the Cavaliers the courtesy of LeBron’s candor when it came to his big career move.
In fact, LeBron left the Cavs twisting in the wind until minutes before he went on national television to tell everyone else, as part of his ESPN special, “The Decision.”
It was a classy move reminiscent of a time I watched a girl break up with a guy by mentioning to a room full of people, the guy included, that she was dating another guy. And that she thought the new boyfriend was sooooo much better.
All is fair in love and war, I guess, but let’s mention a pocketbook issue. Because nobody likes to get hit in the wallet.
In these tough economic times, LeBron thinks there are too many jobs. At least in the NBA there are. That’s why he recently said he’s in favor of the league contracting a couple teams.
James did backtrack on that proclamation, but you can’t un-ring the bell. The way he comports himself, I’m really only surprised he didn’t reinforce his contraction plan, specifically mentioning the Cavaliers as a prime candidate to be folded. Cleveland is now among the worst teams in the NBA since he left.
So if you don’t like any of that stuff, so what? King James is good, so the rest of us can jump in Lake Erie. Or if you can’t swim, just go fuck yourself.