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Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 4. Below are some personal choices for that honor by SI writers.
12/04/2006 07:51:00 AM

It's Wade! Your thoughts?

Well, it wasn't an easy decision, but Dwyane Wade is Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year for 2006.

The 24-year-old, who led the Miami Heat to an NBA title last season, is the seventh professional basketball player to be awarded SI's annual honor, joining Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rory Sparrow, Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

Did Wade deserve it? Or should someone else -- Roger Federer, Buck O'Neil, Albert Pujols, Tiger Woods -- have won the award this year? We want to hear from you. Tell us below what you think of our choice -- and feel free to make your own pick.

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12/01/2006 01:49:00 PM

My Sportsman: Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb
Even as he faces the third major injury setback of his eight-year career, Eagles QB Donovan McNabb finds reasons to smile.
Bob Rosato/SI

By Nunyo Demasio

When Donovan McNabb was carted off the field -- along with the Eagles' hopes this season -- I searched for his smile. Not a grimace following his right-knee injury against Tennessee, but the Cheshire-cat grin that the quarterback instinctively flashes during adversity.

McNabb smiled a lot this year.

No professional athlete faces as much inexplicable criticism: the obsessive carping of McNabb, whether from nitpicky fans, an NAACP "leader," an idiot commentator or a narcissistic teammate. And for much of the year, most of us developed amnesia of the quarterback's sterling sports resume amid the "Swiftboating of McNabb," as Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Phil Sheridan perfectly summarized.

McNabb reminded us of his greatness through his understated leadership, coupled with one of the hottest quarterback starts in NFL history.

However, McNabb isn't my Sportsman of the Year because of any gaudy numbers. The accolade isn't defined by individual statistics or a team's winning percentage. McNabb's grueling rehab from hernia surgery -- including reducing his body fat from 12 percent to 8 percent (the lowest of his NFL career) -- is barely a factor. McNabb is my choice because of the graciousness, character and dedication -- the sportsmanship -- he displayed to overcome his latest obstacles.

McNabb responds to a dropped pass by a wide receiver by saying he'll throw back to him ASAP. Opponents even find McNabb's trash-talking endearing because it's more Bill Cosby than Lenny Bruce. It's no wonder that during the public floggings that peaked this year, McNabb received supportive calls from players like Tom Brady, Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, even Randy Moss. Former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham telephoned McNabb to praise his handling of Terrell Owens as a perfect example for children. Former teammate Chad Lewis extensively cites McNabb as an exemplar of leadership in his upcoming book, Surround Yourself with Greatness.

Indeed, McNabb -- a national spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association -- is a model for sportsmanship. He's the youngest member on the board of trustees at Syracuse, where he played two seasons with Marvin Harrison. And Harrison -- the NFL's quietest man -- recently turned voluble in the Philadelphia Inquirer when asked about McNabb:

"Donovan is a competitor, a good person, and you combine the two, as a receiver you would just love to be around him, period," said Harrison. "He's going to give you everything he has on the field. He'll be easy to work with. ... He just brings fun and happiness to the workplace."

Now, as McNabb undergoes his third significant rehabilitation in five years, some experts have written his athletic obituary. My Sportsman of the Year is probably smiling at that.

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12/01/2006 12:19:00 PM

My Sportsman: Jim Leyland

Jim Leyland
Blue-collar Jim Leyland turned around baseball's laughingstock and gave a downtrodden city pride in its team.
David E. Klutho/SI

By Stephen Cannella

Shortly before Election Day, the Detroit Free Press polled its readers on who they preferred in the Michigan governor's race: incumbent Jennifer Granholm, challenger Dick DeVos or Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

Graholm was the overwhelming favorite, but Leyland -- he wasn't really on the ballot -- did get 14 percent of the vote. Keep in mind, this was after the Tigers lost the World Series in five games. Who knows what Leyland's total would have been had he been able to campaign at a victory parade.

Elevating Leyland to a state's highest office is going a bit too far (for one thing, he'd be putty in the hands of the Big Tobacco lobby), but he does get my vote for Sportsman of the Year. He fulfilled the role of the modern manager to perfection: He was equal parts psychologist, motivator, salesman and standup comedian. Sports, and sportsmen, reach their highest beauty when they're lifting the spirits of participants and fans. And whether it was the members of a downtrodden franchise or the citizens of a depressed city, no one put more smiles on more faces in 2006 than Leyland.

Measuring the value of a major league manager is tricky, a subjective exercise in a sport that prizes objective precision. Leyland didn’t drive in any runs this season. He didn't strike anyone out, and it's entirely possible that the Tigers, a team full of young talent stockpiled before he arrived, would have gone to the World Series even if Alan Trammell were still their manager in '06. (Not likely, but possible.)

But Leyland's contribution to the turnaround of baseball's laughingstock franchise -- Detroit had endured 12 straight losing seasons and was just three years removed from an American League record 119-loss season -- was made on a deeper level.

Leyland's accomplishment wasn't to teach grown men to play better baseball. It was, as Tigers closer Todd Jones said, to make those grown men feel "bulletproof." Maybe he got lucky with some lineup moves. Maybe those profane rants after early-season losses made an impression on his players. Maybe his jokes in team meetings loosened them up. Whatever the formula, Leyland reversed the mindset of a stagnant franchise, rejuvenating an organization where losing and subpar effort had become accepted, almost embraced, as part of the ritual of fielding a baseball team.

For that, Leyland became the biggest star in baseball's best story in '06. At Comerica Park, the fans routinely gave Leyland the biggest pregame ovation of anyone in a Tigers uniform. Perhaps it's because they know, deep down, he's one of them. Never mind his multimillion-dollar contract: Leyland, whose father spent 46 years building windshields at a General Motors plant in Toledo, Ohio, is an auto-worker at heart.

Leyland helped the Tigers escape their dismal recent past. And, if only for a few hours each night during the summer and fall, he helped the people of the Motor City, which has seen tens of thousands of job cuts in the auto industry, forget the harsh realities of the present.

Leyland can't make those problems go away -- after all, he's not the governor. But he can offer proof that, even in the most dire situations, there's always hope of a turnaround.

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11/30/2006 04:50:00 PM

My Sportsman: Vince McMahon

Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon and the WWE are sending wrestlers to Iraq to boost spirits as part of their 'Tribute to the Troops' program.
Courtesy of WWE

By Andy Gray

My choice for Sportsman of the Year is World Wrestling Entertainment Chairman Vincent Kennedy McMahon.

Yes, that Vince McMahon. The guy who brought you the XFL and called Bob Costas an "elitist" during a contentious interview five years ago. The guy who, on multiple occasions, dropped his pants on national television so his wrestlers could join the "Vince McMahon Kiss My Ass Club."

While the choice may seem absurd on the surface, here's why McMahon has earned my vote: the WWE's Tribute to the Troops tour.

Dozens of wrestlers, crew members and assorted employees have embarked over the past four years on a five-day USO-style sweep through the Middle East to entertain the troops. According to McMahon, the trip has replaced Wrestlemania as the most important event on the WWE calendar.

"The smiles on the faces of those men and women over in Iraq is something that is very dear to our heart," McMahon says. "They are the most appreciative audience that we will play to all year long."

The tour is the brainchild of wrestler-turned-announcer John Bradshaw Layfield, who came up with the idea while visiting Kuwait. He proposed the idea to McMahon and within weeks, the first tour was scheduled. Over five days, the wrestlers visit 25 bases (about eight or nine per wrestler) and spend time with the troops. This is quality time, not a 20-minute "appearance" where a performer poses for pictures before heading to the next destination. Instead, the wrestlers eat with the troops, sleep on the floor of their barracks and get a full taste of military life.

While five days may not seem like much of a commitment, it's five more days than any other professional sports team spent in Iraq this year. More importantly, the company doesn't make a dime off the trip. It's simply a way for McMahon and the rest of the WWE to say thank you to a group of people who are too often overlooked.

I'm not attempting to argue the merits of professional wrestling as a sport or justify what goes on within a WWE ring. Some of it's entertaining. Some if it's absurd. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

What I do know is that every time I see an NBA "Read to Achieve" or NFL United Way commercial, I can't help but wonder how much goes beyond a neatly packaged commercial with a catchy theme song and well-placed images of an athlete and child sharing a laugh.

When I tune into WWE each Christmas, however, I see hundreds of exhausted soldiers, many on their third and fourth tours of duty, forgetting that they have to spend another holiday away from their families and enjoying themselves as they eat, sleep and hang out with professional wrestlers. And for that, McMahon earns my Sportsman of the Year vote.

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11/30/2006 04:03:00 PM

My Sportsman: Roger Federer

Roger Federer
Roger Federer put together a year that may be the most dominant in the history of tennis.
Bob Martin/SI

By Jon Wertheim

It was a year ago that we used this opportunity to make the case for Roger Federer, the Swiss sorcerer who'd merely won 80 of his 84 matches and turned in what ranks among the most gilded years in the history of men's tennis. At least in this corner, we held the humble opinion that -- much as we all like barroom sports debates -- Federer deserved to be named Sportsman the same way, say, five times five deserves to be 25. Sure, you could try to assert otherwise; but you wouldn't have right on your side. Federer was not merely a peerless performer. He also embodied all those virtues -- grace, poise, intelligence, humility, self-possession, independence -- we look for in athletes.

You can imagine the surprise and disappointment in this corner when Tom Brady -- not even the best quarterback in his conference -- somehow scrambled off with the honors. If we were more cynical we might have contended that if only Federer were, by accident of birth, from Toledo or Spokane (and not Basel, Switzerland) the Sportsman Derby would have held less suspense that most of the guy's matches.

In any event, in 2006, Federer outdid himself, winning matches as a matter of ritual, all the while playing a style that resembled calligraphy on the tennis court. After the results of this past year, even the most die-hard Sampras-philes and Laver-phones are conceding that Federer might well be the best tennis player ever to draw breath. But rather than rely on emotion to make our case again this year, we're trying a new strategy and canvassing for Federer with harsh, undeniable, rational numbers.

Roger Federer's Year By the Numbers
92-5 Federer's 2006 match record.
12 Titles Federer won in '06, the third straight year -- an ATP record -- he's won at least 10 tournaments.
$8.3 million Prize money, in dollars, won by Federer in '06, a tennis record.
3 Major titles won by Federer in '06 (Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open).
1 Matches by which Federer missed winning the Grand Slam, tennis' answer to the Triple Crown.
0 Other players since Rod Laver in 1969 who reached the finals of all four Majors.
One Federer's year-end ranking if you exclude his results at the four Majors.
5 Federer's '06 ranking on the ATP ace list, evidence that his success is the product of a complete game, not simply a percussive serve.
1 Federer's ranking in break points saved, evidence of an unsurpassed ability to summon his best tennis when it matters most.
0 Full-time coaches Federer employs, a nod to his self-sufficiency.
2 Players to defeat Federer in '06.
8,370 ATP rankings points Federer accumulated in '06.
3,900 Points separating Federer and second-ranked Rafael Nadal.
3,871 For respective, ranking points differential separating Nadal and No. 66-ranked Janko Tipsarevic.
365 Days in '06 Federer spent atop the rankings, part of an uninterrupted streak that dates back to Feb. 2, 2004.
20* Tears humbly expelled by Federer when his boyhood idol, Laver, presented him with the Australian Open trophy.
0 Combined number of drunk driving arrests, failed drug tests, out of wedlock children, bar brawls, strip club hijinks, white apparel worn after Labor Day, wrong fork usage, incurred by Federer in '06.
0* Opponents, fans, and media members Federer managed to offend in '06.
4 Languages in which Federer taped PSAs for UNICEF, the charity for which he is the international goodwill ambassador.
25 Pizzas Federer purchased for the corps of ballboys last month after winning the tournament title in his hometown of Basel.
0 Candidates more deserving of being named Sportsman of the Year for '06.
* approximate figures
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11/30/2006 03:43:00 PM

My Sportsman: Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods
It was a year full of drama for Tiger Woods, from remarkable wins to stunning losses, from pure joy to unbearable pain.
Robert Beck/SI

By Gary Van Sickle

There is little left to say about Tiger Woods. Not even Roget has any unused superlatives in its Thesaurus to describe him. The man is a driven golfing genius, simple as that.

If 2001 was Tiger's best year, a signature season that featured the Tiger Slam (four concurrent major titles) and lopsided margins of victory, '06 may have been Tiger's most remarkable year. Brilliant victories. Infinite sadness. A stunning streak. Raw emotion. As a golfer, his game never looked better. As a man, he never looked more real and we saw him in new ways:

Tiger the Mourner: After his father, Earl, lost a long battle with cancer, Tiger took two months off to absorb the loss. When Tiger returned at the U.S. Open, he clearly wasn't physically or mentally ready. He missed the cut and looked lost.

Tiger the Transformed: Tiger's year had two halves -- before and after the Western Open in July. It was during that tournament at Cog Hill that swing changes he'd been working on with Hank Haney finally clicked. A Sunday charge by Woods left him second to Trevor Immelman. He once again looked like the Tiger of old, and soon served notice.

Tiger the Son: Woods left driver in the bag and conservatively dominated Royal Liverpool with a clinical display of long-iron shotmaking that was one for the ages. We saw his most human side after the last putt when he melted into tears on caddie Steve Williams' shoulder and couldn't stop crying. This win, more than all of the others, was for Earl.

Tiger the Triumphant: It felt eerily familiar when Woods won the PGA Championship at Medinah for a second time. It was his 12th major title and signaled his return to dominance. His march to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors now seems merely a matter of time.

Tiger the Resilient: Woods bounced back from an embarrassing Ryder Cup loss inlate September and won the American Express Championship the following week near London, leading wire-to-wire for his sixth consecutive PGA Tour victory and becoming the first player to win eight times in three different seasons. With tournament sites in early '07 where he has multiple wins in the past -- Kapalua, Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill -- Byron Nelson's record of 11 straight victories, long considered untouchable, is within his reach.

Woods would be the first to win Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year three times. In 2006, Woods continued to do things no one else has. He turns 31 in December and, obviously, isn't done yet.

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11/30/2006 01:55:00 PM

My Sportswoman: Lindsey Jacobellis

Lindsey Jacobellis
Lindsey Jacobellis' miscue cost her gold in snowboardcross, but her attitude afterwards reminded us what sports are really about.
Bob Martin/SI

By Kostya Kennedy

Hers was the sports star's life in Cliffs Notes, an arc of fame to infamy condensed (as it can be for Olympians) into a few short weeks. Lindsey Jacobellis came into the 2006 Winter Games with the sheen of new celebrity, prominent on television ads and with her pretty, wind-burnt face and angelic blonde tresses looming large on billboards across the U.S.

There she was, competing in the new and curious sport of snowboardcross, romping down the mountainside, banging off strange-looking moguls, turning on edge, going magnificently airborne. Dazzling.

In the four-rider final she shot out of the gate; within seconds she'd left her competitors and any last shred of anonymity behind. She was soon so well ahead of the rest, hurtling toward Olympic immortality, that her coach, Peter Foley, began shouting, "Keep racing! Keep racing!" afraid Jacobellis would let up.

She didn't, but on the course's final jump, flying high above the slick white track, Jacobellis twisted her body and grabbed the backside of her board. "Method air," they call the move -- a flash of panache. When she crashed to the ground, the crowd gasped, realizing the magnitude of her gaffe. By the time Jacobellis clambered up, her lead and the gold were lost. She slid across the finish line as a silver medalist with a lot of explaining to do.

Why did she have to go and grab her board like that? Why not finish the race soberly and safely? It was in the bag. One hundred meters to go. She was the overconfident hare of the fable, wasn't she? The analysts and the pundits were upon Jacobellis, deriding her as a hot dog, scolding her for snowboating, bemoaning her lack of respect for the Olympic stage.

Jacobellis blinked nervously into the bright lights of the cameras, much as she had in that Visa ad, and said: "I was having fun. Snowboarding is fun. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up."

With that it became clear that all the tsk-tsking was born of shallow thought, that the derision was misplaced. Lindsey Jacobellis wasn't showing a lack of sportsmanship; rather, she was adhering to that most precious of sporting ideals: racing for the pure love of it, for joy, regardless of what was at stake. Snowboarding is fun.

Amid all the portentous bios that clog the media arteries during the Olympics, the stories of hardship and struggle, of draconian efforts to shave one one-hundredth of a second off the time it takes to ski down a mountain or skate around a track, we forget that sports are, at essence, about celebrating human athleticism. Competing in sports is a superfluous human activity made socially vital only because of the pleasure it brings to those who watch it and those who do it.

Intuitively and instinctually, Jacobellis gets this. And that is why, for her one gleeful, lost-in-the-moment mid-air twist, she is the rightful Sportswoman of the Year.

Jacobellis didn't taunt anyone. She didn't beat her chest. She was a 19-year-old, Vermont-bred girl heading down the slope with the world's eyes upon her. She rose up and unleashed genuine spirit, reminding us of the real pulse that beats in the Games.

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