MIAMI — The only thing that keeps LeBron James up worrying at night is basketball, which simultaneously makes perfect sense and no sense.
On one hand, he’s the game’s best player.
On the other, he’s rarely impressed with himself.
Even after a year like 2013 — when a spectacular wedding, a second NBA championship and a fourth MVP award were among the many highlights enjoyed by the Miami Heat star — he still is, as he puts it, striving for greatness. Or, technically, more greatness, since his enormous list of accomplishments just keeps growing.
James was announced Thursday as The Associated Press’ 2013 Male Athlete of the Year, becoming the third basketball player to capture the award that has been annually awarded since 1931. James received 31 of 96 votes cast in a poll of news organizations, beating Peyton Manning (20) and Jimmie Johnson (7).
“I’m chasing something and it’s bigger than me as a basketball player,” James told the AP. “I believe my calling is much higher than being a basketball player. I can inspire people. Youth is huge to me. If I can get kids to look at me as a role model, as a leader, a superhero … those things mean so much, and that’s what I think I was built for. I was put here for this lovely game of basketball, but I don’t think this is the biggest role that I’m going to have.”
Past winners include Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Carl Lewis, Joe Montana, Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps. Serena Williams was the AP Female Athlete of the Year, announced Wednesday.
“I don’t think I’ve changed much this year,” James said. “I’ve just improved and continued to improve on being more than just as a basketball player. I’ve matured as a leader, as a father, as a husband, as a friend.”
None of those was bigger than the four Miami got in the NBA Finals against San Antonio. In Game 7, James was at his best, scoring 37 points, including the jump shot with 27.9 seconds left that essentially was the clincher.
“He always rises to the occasion when it matters the most,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Business-wise, James is booming. Some estimate his annual income around $60 million, less than one-third of that being made on the court. His wife has opened a juice bar in Miami, and David Beckham wants James to be part of the Major League Soccer team he plans on bringing to South Florida in the next couple years.
Countless people want to align with James. Few make him listen. Beckham did.
“You want to be a part of it, but it has to feel real to you,” James said. “You don’t want to do something that doesn’t feel much to you, that you’re just doing for the money. We all have money. For me, my time is more than money at this point in my life.”