- Roy S. Johnson, Contributing writer, ESPN.com
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You got it wrong, LeBron. It actually isn't that "crazy" that you are among the 25 finalists for Time's Person of the Year.
The award is widely viewed as a celebration of someone who had the most significant and positive impact on our world during the year; and indeed, the list of winners selected since the honor was first bestowed in 1927 largely reads like a veritable Do-Gooders Hall of Fame: Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Pope John XXIII, Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa and virtually every major world political leader of the 20th and 21st centuries. (Just askin', but how did Mother Teresa and Billy Graham fail to make the cut over the years?)
The magazine has recognized Good Samaritans (represented by Bono and Bill and Melinda Gates) and has given group hugs to the Hungarian Freedom Fighters, the Apollo 8 astronauts, American women, Middle-Americans, American soldiers (twice), American scientists and even Earth.
But the essence of the award isn't just "good." It's also "influence." It acknowledges a person, a people, an idea, a place, or a thing that "for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year."
That's how a pair of society's scum crashed the group -- Ayatollah Khomeini (1979) and Adolf Hitler (1938).
It's why the Computer was recognized (1982).
It's how You (yes, you) were named, uh, You of the Year (2006).
In truth, the award recognizes game-changers, people (or things) who mattered, who forged their own path and reshaped the landscape along the way.
Think about it, LeBron. That would very much be you. For better or for worse.
In sports, no one influenced the course of events in 2010 more than you did. Your "Decision" this summer to "take your talents to South Beach" was the most anticipated, most watched, most scrutinized and, yes, the most loathed sports moment of the year.
In the top 56 markets, seven of every 100 homes across the nation tuned to ESPN during prime time on the night of July 8 to see where you'd play basketball this season. In Cleveland, one in four homes among your soon-to-be scorned fans watched.
Even the events leading up to it were chronicled like no other free-agent saga ever, in any sport. (Except perhaps Pete Rose's move from the Reds to the Phillies in '79?) In every city throughout the past NBA season, you were asked about your "decision." And when free agency finally became official at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, a parade of salivating suitors began their pilgrimages to Akron to court you with their best dogs and ponies.
Days later, in the awkward instant it became clear you were joining buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, the sports landscape shifted like tectonic plates on wheels. Suddenly, the road to the NBA championship would wind through Miami -- or so many thought back then.
Now, as for the better or worse aspect of your candidacy well, I hate to tell you, LeBron, but it ain't better.
I'm not saying anything you don't already know: "The Decision" appears, right or wrong, to have made you Public Enemy No. 1 among sports fans.
Although you only exercised your right under the rules agreed upon through collective bargaining, and although you made the kind of free career choice made by citizens every day, it has been portrayed as selfish, boorish, arrogant and much, much worse. You're booed in most visiting arenas and cheered when you and your new team's feats don't match the hype (which, frankly, has happened pretty regularly thus far).
Heck, a year ago, who'd have thought you'd be less popular than Michael Vick?
Waaaaay less popular.
For some reason, you've come to embody a fundamental loathing some fans have for star athletes -- at least those athletes who dare to flaunt their stardom, who dare to be "uppity" rather than, at least in their eyes, grateful for our cheers (and our money).
That you had the audacity to decide to play with your buddies rather than stay put -- and that we actually cared -- well, it made a lot of people nuts. And you're paying the price.
So, yes, LeBron, you do indeed deserve to be among the 25 POY finalists.
Where Time got it wrong, though, is that you should have more company from the world of sports in that group.
My finalists would include:
Brett Favre: Like you, LeBron, the aging icon's own decision to return to the Minnesota Vikings for a 135th NFL season rather than remain in "retirement" in Mississippi certainly caused a stir. And a shift. At 3-6, the Vikings, a team that came within a game of the Super Bowl last season, are the league's biggest bust in '10. And much of the blame rests with Favre, whose erratic efforts have mostly failed. His body is broken, and so is this season, probably irrevocably.
Cecil Newton: The father of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the runaway Heisman favorite, allegedly pimped his kid for upwards of $200,000, with the highest bidder getting his son's talents. The Bills may win the Super Bowl before the case is resolved, but it has already caused even college football's most ardent fans to finally recognize the game's sleazy underbelly.
Tiger Woods: Yes, his downfall began in '09, but his past 12 months remain at the center of almost any sports dialogue -- for better or worse. That he went the entire year without winning a single tournament is not only historic but still almost unfathomable. His troubled marriage finally came to an end in '10 (costing him custody of his children and millions). His home is on the market. And his swing is on the mend. Years from now, if Woods fails to break Jack Nicklaus' record for major championships, 2010 might ultimately become known as one of the most significant years in the history of the sport -- the Year That Brought Down Tiger.
Butler University basketball: Finally, the better! Two points. One basket. It was all that separated the "Hoosiers"-like Bulldogs from completing a fairy tale. The Little Team That Almost Did lost to mighty Duke 61-59 in the NCAA championship game; but along the way, the Bulldogs made us remember why March is our favorite month of the year.
Michael Vick: Yeah, get over it. He is the story of the year in sports. No one has done what he's accomplished in 2010, rising from 21 months in a prison cell to performing at the peak of his profession. Even before his stunning 20-for-28, 333-yard, six-touchdown night in Washington on Monday, Vick had come to embody the rewards of humility, hard work and grace. He is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL.Any. He should be among the leaders for MVP, and would get my vote to be Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.
UConn women's basketball: If not Vick, then certainly the Huskies deserve SI's honor. In fact, it should be a lock if they tie or break maybe the second-toughest streak in sports -- the UCLA men's team's 88 straight victories in the early 1970s -- and place themselves in the annals of sport. They've won 80 straight so far.
Time could have (should have) included any, if not all, of these sports figures among their finalists.
But it didn't.
So stand proud, LeBron, amid your fellow finalists: Sarah Palin (who'll probably win it), the Chilean Miners, POTUS, the Unemployed American and Lady Gaga, among others. Represent your sports brethren.
Just know that you are not alone -- for better or worse.
Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Nikita Kruschev in 1957. Pope John Paul XXIII in 1962. Why not LeBron James in 2010? Stranger things have happened when Time magazine picks its Person of the Year.