LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard Win AP Male Athlete Awards

LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard may both be busy battling for the NBA’s fiefdom of the future in 2020. But their respective paths to success—prior to joining the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, respectively—have landed the two superstars as prime choices for the Associated Press’ top male athlete awards to end 2019.

This week, Kawhi became the fifth NBA player to be named the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year, joining legends like Larry Bird (1986) and Michael Jordan (1991-93), as well as top-tier contemporaries in Stephen Curry (2015) and, of course, LeBron (2013, 2016, 2018). After leading the Toronto Raptors to their first championship and earning his second Finals MVP honors, the 28-year-old Southern Californian shook the league’s landscape when he returned home to sign with the Clippers in free agency. 

“I’m playing to have fun and try to be the best player I can be,” Kawhi told the AP. “I’m happy with myself and what I have done in my career, and I’m just going to keep on from there. It’s not about me being famous or want to have more fame than those guys. It’s about me playing basketball and having fun on the floor.”

Kawhi easily beat out star NFL quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, tennis great Rafael Nadal and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks for the AP’s award. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles was named the AP Female Athlete of the Year.

As for LeBron, he beat out New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to be named the AP’s Male Athlete of the Decade. The two superstars led their teams to the same number of titles during the 2010s (three), but LeBron owned a clear edge in individual accolades, with three regular-season MVPs to Tom’s two and three postseason MVPs to Tom’s two. LeBron joins golf greats Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer and hockey legend Wayne Gretzky among winners of the AP’s decade-long honor, with tennis icon Serena Williams drawing distinction as the AP’s Female Athlete of the Decade.

Along the way, LeBron set a new standard for what it means to be “More Than An Athlete.” From dictating the terms of free agency and starring on the silver screen, to building businesses and schools and speaking out on social issues, the now 35-year-old led the way for his peers and left a blueprint for successive generations to follow in search of a well-rounded impact.

“I don’t live in regret,” LeBron told the AP. “There’s no moment in this last decade that I wish I could have back. If a situation was bad or you feel like you could have done better, then I learned from it.”

With 2020 right around the corner, the basketball world will be watching to see how Kawhi and LeBron parlay those lessons and triumphs in pursuit of the Larry O’Brien this coming spring.


Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.