This could have all been avoided, of course. The Elite Ones
could have just huddled up, talked it out, not been quite so
bullheaded. There are other years available, after all. They
didn't all have to go out and have Sportsman of the Year years
in the same year. But they did.
So this year, more so than any other in recent memory, it's a
good thing that Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year
amphora is kept locked away until December. If it were left
within easy reach--like, say, a breath mint or a ballpoint
pen--it might have been given away a half-dozen times in 1996.
In June we were gung ho to make Michael Jordan the first repeat
recipient in the 42-year history of the honor. The urge to pick
up Michael off the floor of Chicago's United Center, where he
lay sobbing on Father's Day for his murdered dad and for the NBA
title he had just won in his dad's memory, and present him with
our award on the spot was almost palpable. After all, he had
just had an MVP season in which his legendary will to win was
somehow even fiercer, following his baseball sabbatical.
Then came August, and we were itching to honor sprinter Michael
Johnson, not only for successfully taking on the yoke of an
unprecedented double--Olympic gold in the men's 200 and 400
meters--but also for shrugging off the yoke entirely in the 200
final and flying to victory in a world-record-shattering 19.32
December 23, 1996
And what of the U.S. women in the Atlanta Games? Their powerful
performance in basketball, gymnastics, soccer, softball,
swimming and tennis sorely tempted us to honor them en masse.
September came, and with it, Steffi Graf at the U.S. Open,
playing right through the shadow cast by her father's trial in
Germany for tax evasion and winning her third Grand Slam singles
title of 1996 and the 21st of her career. October followed, and
there was manager Joe Torre hugging everything but the bat rack
after the New York Yankees' improbable World Series victory--a
warm, human face at last for a sport that in recent years had
worn only a scowl.
Then November and, well, why not reward a 34-year-old fighter
who destroyed Mike Tyson, the most menacing fighting machine on
earth? Why not heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield?
But now it's December, and the air and the blood have cooled.
And it seems clear, to us anyway, that one young man has
recently surpassed all the others--perhaps in deeds but
certainly in the long ripples those deeds produced. Tiger Woods,
all of 20, all of four months as a pro under his belt after he
won, in most dramatic fashion, a remarkable third straight U.S.
Amateur title, is the only one among the candidates who changed
the face of a sport, perhaps more rapidly than any other athlete
ever has. In case you blinked and missed it, golf is no longer
your father's sport...and Tiger Woods is SI's 1996 Sportsman of
At least for now.
This issue also marks the debut of SI View (page 14), a channel
surfer's weekly guide to sports programming. SI View will not
offer a full listing of sports on TV; instead, it will do
something more valuable: highlight the coming week's
must-watch--and must-avoid--shows and events.