LeBron James will receive the 2020 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award in honor of his social activism efforts during a year filled with uncertainty and division.
James, 35, capped off his 17th NBA season by helping the Lakers win their 17th championship title. This year's NBA Finals looked drastically different than any other in history as it was held in the league's bubble in Orlando due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid the virus's impact on everyday life, the nation also faced an intense political divide over social justice issues and the presidential election between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden. Countless large-scale protests against racism and police violence took place throughout the U.S., which were largely prompted by the killing of George Floyd. Floyd, 46, was killed in late May after being violently apprehended by Minneapolis police.
James was among a group of NBA players who used their platforms to speak out on police brutality, racial inequality and voting initiatives.
While in the NBA bubble, James addressed the shootings of multiple Black men and women, including Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Jacob Blake.
When Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot in the back by police in Kenosha, Wis., the Bucks elected to sit out Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Magic on Aug. 26 in protest. The NBA playoffs were postponed for two days while players decided how to proceed amid on-going social justice protests.
James and Chris Paul were part of a small group of NBA players that received advice from former President Barack Obama during the hiatus. After the players voted to resume postseason play, the NBA and WNBA decided to establish a social justice coalition, convert arena facilities into voting locations and create and include advertising spots in playoff games that promote greater civic engagement.
James continued to use his platform to speak out on the election and voter registration following the conclusion of the season. The four-time NBA MVP led More Than a Vote–a voting rights organization comprised of prominent Black athletes and artists. The group helped sign up over 10,000 volunteer poll workers in its efforts to combat voter suppression.
"This all came together during the protests against police brutality," James said about the inception of More Than a Vote. "All of us were angry, which we still are, and wanted to do something with real impact right now. We didn't want to talk about it. We organized around voter suppression in our community because it’s very real and if we want actual change, it's going to start by educating, energizing and protecting Black voters in 2020."
James's commitment to social activism reflects the spirit of Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, which celebrates individuals whose dedication to the ideals of sportsmanship has spanned decades and whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world.
The Lakers star also is one of the recipients of this year's Sportsperson of the Year awards, joined by Breanna Stewart, Patrick Mahomes, Naomi Osaka and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. They are each being honored not only for a championship performance this year but also for turning their athletic fame into a platform for social activism.