Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year is an annual must-read. Sadly, that the national recognition rarely has anything to do with the teams or individuals whom we cover. In turn, WFNY will soon announce its choice for 2014’s Cleveland Sportsman of the Year. Here’s one of the nominations for that honor by an WFNY writer.
What does it say when the man deemed to be the most important figure in Cleveland Sports was actually a part of the entire landscape for less than half of a calendar year? What does it say when that man is voted to be better than a player who was dubbed the best pitcher in the entire American League? Truthfully, had this series been run before LeBron James was able to set foot on a basketball court in a Cavaliers jersey, I wouldn’t be shocked had he still come away with the proverbial crown.
Sure, being a Sportsman has plenty to do with on-field or on-court performance. Wherein 2013 was a run-away win for Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, this was largely due to the rest of Cleveland sports being littered with scandal and suspensions. With the Indians getting to play baseball in October, there was little else to cling to.
The year 2014 was much, much different. The Browns produced their best win total in nearly a decade after ousting the toxins in the front office; the Indians were playing meaningful games well into the late summer, producing a Cy Young Award winner for good measure; the Cavaliers produced one of the biggest off-seasons in the history of professional sports—even Dan Snyder had to be impressed—in signing Kyrie Irving to a long-term contract extension, trading for Kevin Love and adding a few key free agents. But being a Sportsman is also having that innate ability to provide a person or an entire fan base with a feeling of euphoria. As Joe Gilbert laid out in his nomination of James, this is exactly what took place on that mid-July Friday afternoon when The Essay was officially published. And again during his Homecoming. And again with a Nike commercial spot that included the city of Cleveland.
Say what you want about James, the way he left in 2010 or some of his mental shortcomings during times of struggle, it’s No. 23 who instantly provides the city of Cleveland with their best chance at winning a title since Albert, Manny and Kenny patrolled the finely manicured outfield grass at Jacobs Field. Forget about the economic impact of having the best player in the world playing basketball in your city, the emotion and legitimate hope—not that nonsense that bubbles up every spring during the NFL Draft or August’s Training Camp—is palpable. No one player, in any sport, has the ability to change the dynamics of an entire franchise the way James did when he decided to return home for his final years in the league.
It may not end in a championship this season. It may not result in a championship ever. But think back to how you felt on July 11 when that proclamation was published. Think back to where you were—you know you remember. And think about how real the hope actually is. It’s never about one game or one week or one month. It’s about the future and what it could hold. And for that, LeBron James is our 2014 Sportsman of the Year.