*LeBron James and Serena Williams were announced as The Associated Press’ 2013 Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
James received 31 of 96 votes cast in a poll of news organizations, beating Peyton Manning (20) and NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson (7). He becomes the third basketball player to capture the award that has been annually awarded since 1931.
“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.
James joins Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as NBA players to win the award.
This is the third AP award for Serena, following 2002 and 2009. Only two women have been chosen more often as AP Athlete of the Year since the annual awards were first handed out in 1931.
The vote by news organizations was about as lopsided as many of Williams’ matches this season. She received 55 of 96 votes, while Brittney Griner, a two-time AP Player of the Year in college basketball and the No. 1 pick in April’s WNBA draft, finished second with 14. Swimmer Missy Franklin was next with 10.
Williams, who grew up in Compton, Calif., and turned 32 in September, produced the finest women’s tennis season in years. According to the WTA:
• Her .951 winning percentage was the best since Steffi Graf’s .977 in 1989;
• her 11 titles were the most since Martina Hingis‘ 12 in 1997;
• her winning streak was the longest since her sister, Venus, had a 35-match run in 2000.
“She just continues to be an inspiration to American tennis,” said Gordon Smith, the executive director of the U.S. Tennis Association, which runs the US Open. “Her year this year? Unforgettable.”
By adding a fifth career US Open championship and a second French Open title, Williams also moved within one Grand Slam trophy of the 18 apiece won by Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. The record is 24 by Margaret Court.