NEW YORK -- LeBron James was asked on Wednesday night what advice he would give the 17-year-old LeBron James who first appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2002.
"What I would say to that kid is there are going to be a lot of ups and downs, and there are going to be a lot of expectations" said James, after accepting the 2012 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award at the magazine's annual awards celebration. "There are going to be a lot of pitfalls, too. But it's how you come back from those pitfalls and how you come back from those situations that will define you. You have obstacles you must go through. The easy thing for me to tell that 17-year-old kid would be to avoid it all. But that's not the right thing to do. The experiences you go through in life make you a better person."
JENKINS: NO ONE HAD A BETTER SEASON THAN JAMES
The Heat star -- one of seven professional basketball players to be named Sportsman, including Heat teammate Dwyane Wade (2006); Tim Duncan and David Robinson ('03), Michael Jordan (1991), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985) and Bill Russell (1968) -- was joined at the eSpace club in Manhattan by family and friends, including singers Jay-Z and Beyonce and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who shared the Sportsman of the Year last year with former Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt. James requested that Krzyzewski, his coach on the U.S. Olympic basketball team this summer, introduce him at the award ceremony.
"LeBron, you have been the most scrutinized athlete that I have seen in my lifetime," Krzyzewski said, looking at James during his speech. "To have the year of scrutiny that you had the year before -- and then to have the year of accomplishment -- the dignity and class you showed makes you unbelievably deserving of this award.
"You are in a position of mastery," Krzyzewski continued. "That's where you are with your game. There is nobody in the history of the game of basketball who has been more unique than you. No one has been able to play all five positions or guard all five positions at the highest level that you do."
Asked prior to his speech if James was the most gifted player he had ever coached, Krzyzewski said, "I think he is the best athlete and the most unique. He can play and defend all five positions on the court, which I'm not sure anyone in the history of the game has done. He was really the only candidate this year for Sportsman of the Year. To be MVP, champion in the NBA, MVP of the NBA Finals and our leader at the Olympics where we won a gold medal, you can't have a year any better like that. He's one of only three players in the history of the game -- Bill Russell, Michael Jordan and LeBron -- to win MVP, the NBA championship and the Olympics in the same year. He's in rarified air.
The Sportsman award comes less than 29 months after James sat on a stage at a Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., and incurred a nation's wrath with his ESPN-broadcast announcement (The Decision) that he was heading to Miami. James gave his Sportsman acceptance speech on Wednesday without any prepared notes. "I'm a kid from Akron, Ohio and to have one of the greatest coaches of all time be a mentor and be someone who I can call every day no matter what the time of day is crazy," James said. "I got a Coach K and Jay [referring to Jay-Z] to call any time I want to for advice, for anything. It is unbelievable to see where I have come from."
James thanked his family -- his mother Gloria and fiancé Savannah Brinson were in the audience-- and cited his work with the LeBron James Family Foundation and Wheels for Education. "It means everything to me," James said. "To be able to inspire kids, to be able to be a role model to those kids, it is everything. I feel like all adults, as role models, as leaders, as mentors, we all have to find a way to make sure these kids' dreams become a reality."
On that note, James said he would fly out Connor and Cayden Long -- the 2012 Sportskids of the Year who were honored at the event -- to be his guests at an upcoming game in Miami.
James has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated 18 times and made his cover debut on the Feb. 18, 2002 issue as a high school junior under the now famous tag: THE CHOSEN ONE. He revealed on Wednesday that the screensaver of his phone is a Photoshop image of himself handling the ball while guarded by Michael Jordan in his prime. "Jordan was my superhero growing up," James said. "He was the guy I feel helped me get to where I am today. As a competitor, who would not want to go against the best? That's like asking [Tom] Brady would he want to go against Montana in the fourth quarter."
James was asked if he thought he would play into his late 30s as Jordan did. "I want to play to the point where I am still able to make an impact," James said. "I feel like I have set a standard for myself. When I am on the floor, I want to make an impact in some way shape or form. Hopefully, if I can stay healthy and continue to be a leader, I can play until the game tells me it is over."