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Since 1954, SI has awarded the Sportsman of the Year title to figures from the world of sports whose accomplishments transcend the field of play. Here, six of the past honorees—including the first Sportswoman—speak about the award and what it has meant to them
1968 BILL RUSSELL
As the Celtics' player-coach, he won the 10th of his 11 NBA titles
"MY PRIDE WAS BEING PART OF A TEAM. IF RED AUERBACH HAD TALKED ABOUT ME BEING A PIONEER, I WOULD NOT HAVE TAKEN THE COACHING JOB. HE TOLD ME IT WAS A CELTICS JOB... . UNTIL THAT TIME I DISDAINED AWARDS. BUT THEY SAID SPORTSMAN WASN'T ABOUT THE BEST ATHLETE OR WINNING SOMETHING—IT WAS ABOUT CONTRIBUTIONS TO SOCIETY THROUGH SPORTS."
1972 BILLIE JEAN KING
SI named its first Sportswoman in the year of Title IX
"I'M A BIG BELIEVER THAT YOU HAVE TO SEE IT TO BE IT. I KNEW FOR ME TO SHARE THE COVER OF SPORTS ILLUSTRATED WITH MR. WOODEN WOULD BE A START FOR WOMEN. IF I CAN DO IT, YOU CAN DO IT—THAT'S WHAT'S IMPORTANT FOR ALL OF US... . THE TIMES WERE A-CHANGIN', AS DYLAN SANG. SPORTS ARE A MICROCOSM OF SOCIETY, SO I THINK IT WAS HUGE."
1980 MIKE ERUZIONE
The U.S. wouldn't have had a Miracle on Ice without its captain
"THE COLD WAR. GAS LINES. INFLATION. PEOPLE WERE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT. WE WERE SMALL-TOWN KIDS WHO CAME FROM GREAT FAMILY VALUES, GREAT BACKGROUNDS, AND HAD GREAT WORK ETHICS. PEOPLE SAW IN US THEIR SONS AND NEIGHBORS AND THEMSELVES. WE SHOWED THEM WHAT MAKES OUR COUNTRY SO GREAT."