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LeBron James on SI Sportsperson of the Year award, why he’s more than a basketball player

Lakers star led More Than a Vote effort to combat voter suppression

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James was recently selected as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year for 2020, along with Breanna Stewart, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.

For James, it’s an unprecedented third time he’s received the award. James was honored for his work on and off the court, stating that being named a third time carried special meaning.

“It definitely does,” James told reporters this week. “You see the class that I was in and the group that I was in, the men and women that I was a part of, understanding that we’re more than athletes.

“Being able to go out there, and not only perform at a high level at what we do, as far as our profession, but also being able to change lives and create opportunities, empower people and inspire people off the floor -- not only in our communities but all over the world.

“So, it means a lot to be a part of that group, and to be the first, three-time winner of this award, I’m very humbled. It means a lot to my family, my friends, the people that are part of my foundation and my school back home, my city of Akron where I come from.”

On the court, James -- who turns 36 years old later this month -- led the Lakers to the organization’s 17th NBA title and won his fourth Finals MVP trophy.

Off the court, James worked diligently to get more people out to vote across the country, specifically in inner-city areas where access to polling places has historically been an obstacle for those that live there -- particularly black people.

Legendary former Los Angeles Lakers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar penned a poignant tribute to James, who also was named the Muhammed Ali Legacy Award winner.

Here’s an excerpt from Abdul-Jabbar’s piece:

“Some might claim it’s easy to be bold when you’re successful, to preach from a pulpit built on stacks of cash and endorsement deals. They’re wrong. Ask Colin Kaepernick, who was blackballed by the NFL for his outspokenness. Or look at Ali himself, who had his heavyweight title stripped and faced years in prison. Success gave LeBron the opportunity to speak out, but it was his own courage that made him seize that opportunity, knowing that discussing hot-button issues like systemic racism and police brutality risked his life and the lives of his family. Think about how he and his family must have felt when someone wrote the n-word across the gate of his Los Angeles home.”

James put his thoughts on how to deal with racial and social injustice into practice this year with the organization of More Than a Vote, an effort he put together with other black athletes to combat voter suppression.

James said his organization will continue to work on the voter suppression issue, including the upcoming state’s Senate runoffs in Georgia’s January election.

“You look at the numbers through the election, it was most turnout ever in election history of people who got out and voted,” James said. “And one thing about us, we didn’t tell you who to go vote for, we didn’t pick one side over another side, we just wanted to educate you, enlighten you and empower you -- and let you know how important your right is, and that this is your right.

“So many people laid their lives on the line to have this right. Growing up in a black community, a lot of people don’t understand or don’t feel like their vote count -- or that voting actually matters, and it does. And we saw it in the November election.”