LeBron James wins AP Male Athlete of the Year

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.

James joins Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as NBA players to win

the award.

”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.”

So far in 2013, with a maximum of three games left to play,

James has appeared in 98. The Heat have won 78 of them.

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.”

James has another ”decision” to make in 2014. He can become a

free agent again this summer, though still smarting from the circus

atmosphere that followed him during his final season with the

Cleveland Cavaliers four years ago, James is staying largely silent

on what might happen.

He insists he has no idea.

”I’m so zoned in on what my task is here this year that it’s

hard to think about anything else,” James said. ”A guy the other

day asked me what I’m going to do for New Year’s, and I haven’t

even thought about that.”

When asked if there’s anything he doesn’t like about Miami,

James offered few complaints, other than the often-clogged street –

Biscayne Boulevard, or U.S. 1 – that leads to the arena the Heat

call home.

”What is there not to like about Miami?” James said. ”It is a

home. My family is very happy; I’m very comfortable. But U.S. 1? I

wish that was a highway.”

Bear in mind, he’s not always unhappy when that street is

gridlocked.

The last two years, he’s been largely responsible for hundreds

of thousands of people lining that road for Heat championship

parades.

And if he gets his way, they’ll be back next June.

Projects Editor Brooke Lansdale contributed to this report.