Sports Illustrated names LeBron “Sportsman of the Year”

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When we reflect back on him in 20 years, we may remember 2012 as the year LeBron James started to fulfill his potential.

And he can now add Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year” to his list of accolades from 2012 that include NBA champion, NBA regular season MVP, NBA finals MVP and leading Team USA to a gold medal at the London Olympics (and make no mistake, when you watched that team practice it was clear whose team it was).

The magazine made its announcement Monday. The last time an NBA player won the honor? Back in 2006 when Dwyane Wade did it.

For years LeBron had seemed unable to reach his full potential. Sure, he had put up monster numbers, twice been NBA MVP, he’d led teams deep into the playoffs, he had a gold medal, he’d been the best player walking the planet for maybe five years. But there was always another level you could sense but that he couldn’t reach. You felt something holding him back.

In 2012 he matured enough mentally to reach those heights. He needed to be out of Cleveland — where he was close to home and where team ownership bent over backwards to cater to him. Basically, he needed to move out of the home he grew up in.

Then he got to Miami where Pat Riley wasn’t bending the franchise for him. More importantly, he became hated by many and had to adapt to people seeing him as a villain. He didn’t like it.

But somewhere after his first season in Miami, he seemed to accept that and find his mental balance. He grew up. And when that happened he could tap into all that potential. He averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game — but he had better statistical seasons before. What was different was the leadership, the ability to take over a game late (or whenever it was needed). The Heat became LeBron’s team and Wade was 1A.

And he put together a year that nobody has ever done save Michael Jordan.

That is what Sports Illustrated is recognizing.