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LeBron James named AP Male Athlete of the Year for fourth time – Sportsnet.ca

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LeBron James told the world in 2020 that Black Lives Matter. He helped convince many who had never voted to finally head to the polls. He found more ways to continue elevating the lives of people in his hometown.

If that weren’t enough, he won another NBA championship.

James’ on-court performance this year was spectacular again. A fourth NBA title and fourth NBA Finals MVP trophy were his, as he lifted the Los Angeles Lakers back atop the basketball world. And after a year where he was brilliant, on the court and off, James was announced Saturday as the winner of The Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year award for a record-tying fourth time.

“I still know what I do on the floor and obviously, I give everything to the game,” James told AP. “But I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor. And I want to continue to inspire people with the way I play the game of basketball. But there’s so many more things that I can do off the floor to help cultivate people, inspire people, bring people together, empower them.”

The AP award was first given out in 1931. James’ fourth win matched Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods for the most by men. Three women have won the AP award at least four times; Babe Didrikson was a six-time winner, Serena Williams has won five and Chris Evert four.

The AP’s Female Athlete of the Year will be announced Sunday.

No NBA player scored more points or had more assists in 2020 than James. The only other player in his lifetime to lead the league in points and assists in the same calendar year? Himself, in 2018.

James also became the first player to be NBA Finals MVP for three franchises. He moved past Kobe Bryant for No. 3 on the all-time scoring list, doing so one day before Bryant died last January in a helicopter crash; the last tweet Bryant sent was a congratulatory message to James.

“He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said of James in October. “And if you think you know, you don’t know until you’re around him every day, you’re coaching him, you’re seeing his mind, you’re seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group. You think you know. You don’t know.”

James finished with 78 points in voting by a panel of 35 AP customers and editors. Kansas City quarterback and reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes was a narrow second with 71 points. Formula One seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton was a distant third with 14 points.

James — also the AP’s male athlete of this past decade — also won the yearly AP award in 2013, 2016 and 2018. Michael Jordan, a three-time winner, is the only other basketball player to win the AP award more than once.

“He’s one of the greatest leaders in sports,” Lakers guard Kyle Kuzma said of James.

That applies on and off the court.

James’ More Than A Vote organization drew more than 42,000 volunteers to work at polling stations for the November election, helped some earn back their voting rights and pushed for turnout among Black and young voters.

Black voters made up 11% of the national electorate, and 9 in 10 of them supported President-elect Joe Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 110,000 voters nationwide. When compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Biden drew more voters in critical areas with large Black populations — such as NBA cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Atlanta. That proved massive.

“The tragic death of George Floyd, everyone getting a chance to see that, and also hearing the story of Breonna Taylor, her tragic story, and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia … my people have had enough and I have had enough,” James said. “That’s why I called for action and with my platform, I believed I could get people to join me.”

He also focused, as always, on his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

The I PROMISE School he opened in 2018 now has over 450 students in third through sixth grades. When the pandemic shut down then school, James and his team ensured students got hot meals delivered to their homes — even complete Thanksgiving meals. An affordable housing project for 50 families broke ground this year. And this month, plans for House Three Thirty (a nod to Akron’s area code) were announced, detailing how James is going to offer things like accessible family financial health programming, job training and a community gathering space.

“The pandemic has been rough on all of us,” James said. “No matter your situation, no matter where you are in life, it’s been rough. And the first thing I thought about, besides the stoppage of the season, when the pandemic hit was `What am I going to do for my kids back in my back in my school?”‘

He is already eyeing 2021. The Lakers expect to be contenders again. His remake of “Space Jam” is expected to be released this summer. And James, who turns 36 Wednesday, hasn’t ruled out playing again for USA Basketball in the Tokyo Olympics on the team that will be coached by Gregg Popovich.

“It’s still possible,” James said. “It’s not a 0% per cent chance, I will say that. I love Coach Pop.”

But, as 2020 wound down, James allowed himself a moment to reflect on a year like none other.

“It’s a tribute to the people that I work with, to the people at my foundation, to the sponsors that continue to support us and what we do and what we strive for,” James said. “It’s unbelievable. I can’t sit here and say that at the time we stopped in March that I thought all this would happen and we would be at this point in December.”

Yet here he is, again.

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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