OPINION: It's that time of year when annual awards are handed out and far be it from me to buck tradition. Given that usually trophies are handed out - fine-looking empty vessels - these American sports awards shall be dubbed the Mitts.
Sportsman - LeBron James
Rarely has such a gap existed between an athlete's talent and concrete achievements but this year James bridged that gap. He won his first NBA title, the finals MVP and a gold medal at the Olympics to go with his third league MVP. He was the most famous sportsman in America with the most to prove and he nailed it. His game six against the Celtics in the conference finals was one of the most emphatic responses to a team that publicly doubted his resolve at crunch time - 45 points and 15 rebounds.
Sportswoman - Serena Williams
In Olympic years there are plenty of worthy winners, such as gymnast Gabby Douglas, but the Mitt goes to the evergreen Serena Williams, who had a year for the ages; two Olympic gold medals alongside her Wimbledon and US Open titles.
Coach/manager - Bruce Bochy
The unflappable San Francisco Giants manager led his team to their second World Series win in three years. They lost All Star closer Brian Wilson in spring training and MVP Melky Cabrera to a failed drugs test yet still took the title, with Bochy never putting a foot wrong as he went with a bullpen by committee, using six different relievers.
Comeback (athlete) - Peyton Manning
Some doubted his arm would be the same after two neck ops. But Manning has proved there is no substitute for smarts, taking Denver from pretenders to contenders. We won't know for a couple more months how far they can go, but there is a real chance he will face his younger brother in the Super Bowl. How great would that be?
Comeback (team) - Europe in the Ryder Cup
On Saturday it all looked lost for the Euros. Down by four and with another point slipping away. But then Ian Poulter ripped off five birdies to grab that point and on Sunday they won the first five matches, going on to clinch an unlikely win at Medinah in front of a hostile crowd. The best event in golf bar none.
Newcomer - Jeremy Lin
The Asian-American went from zero to hero in the space of a few weeks as he made the Knicks relevant again. Still that wasn't good enough for the Knicks, who let him leave for Houston, where he has yet to find his feet. But for that magical few weeks at Madison Square Garden he burned brighter than any of the game's stars.
Book - The Big Miss by Hank Haney
The book was overshadowed by the gossipy bites extracted from it for news stories but it's a fascinating look at a great sportsman. Despite the negative headlines, it's a sympathetic and nuanced portrait of Tiger Woods. Haney took a lot of flak over it but it seems a strange proposition that a man should not be allowed to write an honest book about a period of his own life.
Villain - Ryan Braun
The easy pick would be Lance Armstrong, who was finally brought down for his drugs cheating. But it goes instead to another athlete who tested positive to a performance enhancing drug - baseball's Ryan Braun. The Hebrew Hammer successfully appealed his suspension by fingering the poor drug tester for tampering with his sample despite there being no evidence of that - a new low.
Phil Hamilton is a Christchurch journalist now based in Portland, United States. His Stateside column will take a break over Christmas and return in the new year.
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