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AP MALE ATHLETE OF YEAR: LeBron James is king of 2016

The Associated Press
  • Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.
  • James ended 52 years of sports heartache by bringing Cleveland a championship.
  • James collected 24 first-place votes. Michael Phelps (16) was second and Usain Bolt (9) was third.

CLEVELAND — LeBron James was jolted forward when the massive crowd swelled from the sidewalks and into Cleveland's streets, surrounding the convertible that he and his family were riding in. This wasn't supposed to happen.

James looked at his wife, Savannah, their baby daughter and two sons and feared for their safety.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is the Associated Press 2016 Male Athlete of the Year.

"We were kind of afraid for a second," James said.

Then relieved.

Scanning the crowd, James spotted people dangling from lamp posts and traffic lights, even a few straddling window ledges to get a glimpse of the champion Cavaliers, who were being honored with a once-in-a-generation downtown parade after their comeback in the NBA Finals. James was awe-struck, and any concerns quickly melted away when he looked at the spectators' faces and saw only smiles, laughter and tears of joy.

"Everybody was just rejoicing in grace and happiness," James said, fondly reflecting on the picture-perfect day in June when Cleveland was transformed into a giant block party. "It was more than I could have ever imagined. It was unforgettable, unbelievable."

And he had made it possible.

James, who ended 52 years of sports heartache by bringing Cleveland a championship and used his superstar platform to address social causes, was chosen as The Associated Press 2016 Male Athlete of the Year, an award he won previously in 2013.

Results of the vote by 59 editors from AP member newspapers and customers were announced Tuesday.

The voting: James collected 24 first-place votes, beating out a pair of Olympic legends: Michael Phelps (16) and Usain Bolt (9), the fastest men in water and on land who are not accustomed to finishing behind anyone.

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, the NL MVP who led his team to its first World Series title since 1908, tied for fourth with Golden State star guard Stephen Curry, last year's winner. Cristiano Ronaldo, Von Miller and Andy Murray also received votes.

James joined Michael Jordan as the only NBA players to win twice. Jordan won it three straight years from 1991-94.

U.S. gymnast Simone Biles is AP Female Athlete of Year

U.S. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles was named AP's top female athlete on Monday.

A rabid sports fan, James was flattered to be in the same class with Phelps, the 23-time gold medalist who added five more to his record collection at the Rio Olympics.

"To be that dominant in your respective sport, to see what he's been able to do over the years, what he does in that water, man, it's tremendous and very inspiring," James said. "When you have that type of tenure to be able to dominate, when you know that the entire competition is gearing up to beat you — and only you — and you're still able to come away No. 1 or always be at the top of the food chain, that's very inspiring."

Third NBA title: That James received the honor in an Olympic year underscores the weight of his accomplishments.

His third NBA crown was for Cleveland, delivering on a promise James made to a city that hadn't celebrated a major championship since 1964 and had endured many torturous sports moments since.

James, whose game shows no signs of aging as he approaches his 32nd birthday in a few days, came up short in 2015, leading an injury-depleted Cleveland team to the finals where they lost to the Warriors. And although James posted the best statistical series of any player in history, his critics were quick to point out his 2-4 record in the finals compared to Jordan's 6-0.

The Cavs got a rematch with the record-setting, 73-win Warriors. Led by Curry, the league's unanimous MVP choice, Golden State was being talked about as potentially the best team ever, an argument that gained steam when it took a 3-1 lead.

James, though, wasn't going to be denied again. He scored 41 points in Games 5 and 6 and posted a triple-double in an epic Game 7 that will be remembered for his chase-down block of Andre Iguodala in the closing minutes — a defensive gem that stands as the signature play of his magnificent career.

Fulfilling moment: After the final horn, James collapsed on the floor and when asked moments later about his emotions, the Ohio native who proudly says he's "just a kid from Akron," screamed at the TV camera: "Cleveland, this for you!"

"At that moment," James said, "I felt fulfilled. To know the history of our sports here and how heartbreaking at times it was for all those years that our fans had to go through, and the circumstances that we came back from, it was so fulfilling."

Impacted by Ali's death: James' journey to his greatest triumph coincided with the passing of another great — the greatest of all — as Muhammad Ali died on June 4. During the playoffs, James watched tapes of Ali's fights for motivation. It was in the spirit of the boxing legend and global ambassador that James stood on stage with close friends Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony at the ESPYs in July to decry violence against unarmed black men and encourage fellow athletes to do more to support local police and improve communities.

James later donated $2.5 million for a Smithsonian exhibit honoring Ali, and he's producing a documentary on the champ.

"He's definitely a person I'm inspired to be like, to have a social conscience about things," James said. "What I always saw in Ali was that he was always educated about everything he was speaking about. He was never just talking to be talking. There was a method to the madness.

"Ali definitely showed me the way."

AP Male Athlete of the Year

2016 — LeBron James, basketball

2015 — Stephen Curry, basketball

2014 — Madison Bumgarner, baseball-x

2013 — LeBron James, basketball

2012 — Michael Phelps, swimming

2011 — Aaron Rodgers, football

2010 — Drew Brees, football

2009 — Jimmie Johnson, auto racing

2008 — Michael Phelps, swimming

2007 — Tom Brady, football

2006 — Tiger Woods, golf-x

2005 — Lance Armstrong, cycling

2004 — Lance Armstrong, cycling

2003 — Lance Armstrong, cycling

2002 — Lance Armstrong, cycling

2001 — Barry Bonds, baseball

2000 — Tiger Woods, golf

1999 — Tiger Woods, golf

1998 — Mark McGwire, baseball

1997 — Tiger Woods, golf

1996 — Michael Johnson, track and field

1995 — Cal Ripken, baseball

1994 — George Foreman, boxing

1993 — Michael Jordan, basketball

1992 — Michael Jordan, basketball

1991 — Michael Jordan, basketball

1990 — Joe Montana, football

1989 — Joe Montana, football

1988 — Orel Hershiser, baseball

1987 — Ben Johnson, track and field

1986 — Larry Bird, basketball

1985 — Dwight Gooden, baseball

1984 — Carl Lewis, track and field

1983 — Carl Lewis, track and field

1982 — Wayne Gretzky, hockey

1981 — John McEnroe, tennis-x

1980 — U.S. Olympic Hockey Team

1979 — Willie Stargell, baseball

1978 — Ron Guidry, baseball

1977 — Steve Cauthen, horse racing

1976 — Bruce Jenner, decathlon

1975 — Fred Lynn, baseball

1974 — Muhammad Ali, boxing

1973 — O.J. Simpson, football

1972 — Mark Spitz, swimming

1971 — Lee Trevino, golf

1970 — George Blanda, football

1969 — Tom Seaver, baseball

1968 — Denny McLain, baseball

1967 — Carl Yastrzemski, baseball

1966 — Frank Robinson, baseball

1965 — Sandy Koufax, baseball

1964 — Don Schollander, swimming

1963 — Sandy Koufax, baseball

1962 — Maury Wills, baseball

1961 — Roger Maris, baseball

1960 — Rafer Johnson, track

1959 — Ingemar Johansson, boxing

1958 — Herb Elliott, track

1957 — Ted Williams, baseball

1956 — Mickey Mantle, baseball

1955 — Hopalong Cassady, football

1954 — Willie Mays, baseball

1953 — Ben Hogan, golf

1952 — Bob Mathias, track-football

1951 — Dick Kazmaier, football

1950 — Jim Konstanty, baseball

1949 — Leon Hart, football

1948 — Lou Boudreau, baseball

1947 — Johnny Lujack, football

1946 — Glenn Davis, football

1945 — Byron Nelson, golf-x

1944 — Byron Nelson, golf

1943 — Gunder Haegg, track

1942 — Frank Sinkwich, football

1941 — Joe DiMaggio, baseball

1940 — Tom Harmon, football

1939 — Nile Kinnick, football

1938 — Don Budge, tennis

1937 — Don Budge, tennis

1936 — Jesse Owens, track-x

1935 — Joe Louis, boxing

1934 — Dizzy Dean, baseball

1933 — Carl Hubbell, baseball

1932 — Gene Sarazen, golf

1931 — Pepper Martin, baseball

x-both male and female winners were from the same sport