SI got it right with Serena Williams, but she wasn’t my pick

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Serena Williams talks to the media during the BNP Paribas Open in March, 2015.

Earlier today, Sports Illustrated announced its Sportsperson of the Year and it was Serena Williams, and deservedly so. No one had as dominate year in tennis since Serena in 2003, the first time she completed the Serena Slam.

For a later blog, I was trying to figure out top athletes, etc. When it came to an athlete of the year, Williams was edged out. In fact, she was edged out in tennis player of the year.

My pick is Novak Djokovic. Like Serena, he reached won three majors this year, and I gave him an edge because he reached the finals of all four majors. Serena, for this calendar year, reached three, falling in the semifinals of the US Open.

I was surprised Serena won the award, because it’s my understanding you only win in once and I figured she had won it already. She hadn’t. I thought she would have won it in 2003, when she first completed the Serena Slam. Tim Duncan and David Robinson won it in 2003.

As for this year, me picking Djokovic over Williams is splitting hairs.

The award is also about contributions beyond sports. Serena paired her return to the BNP Paribas Open with raising money and awareness for the Equal Justice Initiative. Williams raised $100,000 for the organization that provides legal representation for prisoners who might have been wrongly convicted and not have the means for proper representation. EJI has saved 115 men on death row from execution since 1989.

But I was looking mainly on athletic accomplishments, although Djokovic has done tremendous work for his native Serbia, a war-torn nation when he grew up.

In addition to Djokovic and Williams, I had also thought Ronda Rousey would have serious consideration until she lost her first fight.

Rousey singlehandedly turned women’s UFC into a major player on the sports scene, becoming one of the top pay-per-view attractions. Before Rousey, UFC president Dana White said he would not have women in the UFC. Now the women, thanks to Rousey, is his most visible product.

And because of Rousey, women’s UFC is looked as an equal to the male counter part, making it the only sport other than tennis where men and women are look at as equals in terms of equals as professional sports. Look at pro basketball, the WNBA greatly trails the NBA, and women’s soccer has struggled to get off the ground.

However, Rousey’s shocking loss to Holly Holm changed the game a little. I assume the rematch will be the most highly anticipated fight in the UFC next year.

Then there’s the issue of American Pharoah, the horse who completed the historic Triple Crown this year and was the most dominant horse in a long time.

American Pharoah won the online poll, which made it unusual why Sports Illustrated would even have the poll if it didn’t determine the winner.

That was the top accomplishment in sports this year. On my list, I didn’t consider American Pharoah, because I’m considering human athletes and competitors. But it does make me rethink about considering trainer Bob Baffert, who is the best at what he does and one of the few in the entire sports landscape who is a living legend.

But looking up past winners of the SI Sportsperson, I was surprised to see only one male tennis player, Arthur Ashe (1992), won the award. That was well past his playing days, and more recognition for his humanitarian efforts, which was well deserved.

So that’s a long line of players who hadn’t won the award, such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic.

For the women, Billie Jean King (1972) and Chris Evert (1976) were previous winners.

As a note, two players completed the Grand Slam three times since Sports Illustrated started naming Sportsman of the Year in 1954. And neither one won it.

Rod Laver completed the Grand Slam in 1962 and 1969, but Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker of Oregon State won in 1962 and Cy Young winner Tom Seaver  won in 1969 after leading the New York Mets to the World Series title.

Steffi Graf was the last player to complete the Grand Slam in 1989, but cyclist Greg LeMond won the SI award after winning the Tour De France and the world championship.

 

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