- Tom Haberstroh, ESPN Staff Writer
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LeBron James won Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" and he may be only getting better.
MIAMI -- On Saturday after beating the Brooklyn Nets and watching his high school football team, St. Vincent-St. Mary’s, win the Ohio state championship in football, LeBron James walked out of the Heat locker room grinning with both hands in the air.
“I’m all ringed up,” James shouted as he exited the room.
And on Monday, we learned that his long line of accolades will get even longer.
Sports Illustrated named James the 2012 "Sportsman of the Year" after winning his first NBA championship, his first Finals MVP, his third most valuable player award and an Olympic gold medal in London.
Hard to top that. According to Sports Illustrated, no one did.
“It’s very humbling,” James said, after Monday’s Heat practice, about winning the award. “It was a long journey.”
Just last season, James played in front of crowds with posters that read "RINGLESS" in capital letters. But now, he has his own NBA championship ring and a "Sportsman of the Year" award to boot.
A wave of public negativity followed James after he left the Cleveland Cavaliers organization for Miami in the summer of 2010, but James said he grew on and off the court before winning the 2012 title.
“Going through what I went through my first year here [in Miami], making the transition from Cleveland and ultimately winning a championship, it makes it sweeter,” he said.
James has received not one, but two championship rings this past season. What many may not know is that James also received a ring from the Kentucky Wildcats after they won the 2012 NCAA tournament championship. Though James never attended college after going straight to the pros after high school, the 27-year-old has close ties to Kentucky coach John Calipari and his team.
It’s just the second time in history that a player won the basketball triple crown: an MVP, an NBA title and an Olympic gold medal. Michael Jordan achieved that bundle of accolades in 1992 and like James, he won a Finals MVP, as well.
Despite all the recognition, the 27-year-old doesn’t consider himself a finished product.
“It was a great year, an unbelievable year and I will never forget it,” James said. “But time waits for no one and I understand that."
A post-championship letdown hasn’t taken effect for James. Though his scoring numbers are down mostly due to a dip in free throws, James is averaging a career-high 8.9 rebounds and shooting a career-high 53.3 percent from the floor. James is also registering a league-leading 28.2 player efficiency rating (PER) so far this season.
James’ on-court game continues to grow. For much of his career, the three biggest knocks on James’ game were said to be the lack of a post game, a reliable jump shot and a knack for coming up big in crunch time. But the numbers show an enormous leap in all three categories.
This season, James is using post-up plays almost twice as often as he did two seasons ago, according to SynergySports. He is also shooting a career-high 43.8 percent from downtown and posting the highest PER in the league in clutch situations (when the game is within five points in the final five minutes of the game) among qualified players.
There’s not much left for James to accomplish on the basketball court aside from winning more titles. James won a championship at a younger age than Jordan, who was 28 when he first grasped the Larry O’Brien trophy. James needs to win five more titles to tie Jordan’s mark.
Ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Washington Wizards, James took a moment to reflect on how far he’s come over the years and how he’s dealt with the pressure.
“It’s a challenge when everything you do or say can be used against you,” James said. “The thing that’s helped me is that I’ve been watched and followed since I was 16 years old. They praise you and you make one mistake and they bring you down. They praise you again and then bring you down again so I’ve had a lot of hardships, but it all makes it sweeter in the end.”
Statistics from NBA.com were used in this story.
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