LeBron James, who won an NBA title with the Los Angeles Lakers and formed a coalition to battle voter suppression, was Thursday named Time magazine’s 2020 Athlete of the Year.
The honor from Time comes days after James was named among Sports Illustrated’s Sportspersons of the Year — a list that also featured activist athletes after 2020 saw the Black Lives Matter movement sweep through sport along with the rest of US society.
Time lauded James’s More than a Vote, a non-profit organization aimed not at endorsing candidates but at encouraging Black citizens and others to exercise their right to vote.
Time noted that the group promoted the use of sports arenas as polling places — offering larger spaces that would allow for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic — and helped recruit more than 40,000 election workers nationwide.
“At every step, James supported the work by recruiting fellow athletes to the cause, promoting More Than a Vote to his more than 48 million followers on Twitter, and turning himself into a billboard by wearing a Vote or Die! shirt to a practice,” Time wrote.
“It was the highest-profile example of the surge in activism that spread across the sports world in 2020.”
Recalling the famous reluctance of NBA icon Michael Jordan to speak out on politics and social issues, Time said that James had “established a new paradigm, in which commercial clout exists alongside political principle.
“He remains one of the world’s top pitchmen, endorsing Nike, AT&T, Walmart, and other major brands. And he has laid waste to the dated notion that political and social engagement is some sort of distraction for athletes.”
The magazine noted that on the way to his fourth NBA title, James led the league in assists for the first time in his career, and his simultaneous success on and off the court shows that athletes “can now bring their full humanity to their games”.
“James has been incredibly successful both on the court and in the business world in 2020, but the biggest reason he has received as much recognition as he has is that he’s used those successes to look out for people who once struggled in life as he did,” Time said.