The three icons have been chosen by the SI editors to receive the honor for their incomparable athletic careers and decades of leadership as social activists. They will be honored during SI’s Sportsperson of the Year event on December 12, 2016, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Chris Stone, Sports Illustrated Group editor in chief said of the honorees: “In 2016 we learned that the consequences of speaking out on hard issues were often painful ones, but also how deeply athletes can impact and advance the conversation on those same, hard issues. Jim Brown, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar all recognized, and acted on this in a far harder time in America. That was the example of their friend, Muhammad Ali, and the torch they’ve carried for the more than a half-century.”
Abdul-Jabbar, Brown and Russell are beacons of thoughtful discourse on racial and social inequality and their impact has been felt worldwide. In one profound example, the three came together nearly five decades ago in what became known as the “Ali Summit.” The 1967 meeting, organized by Brown, was attended by many top athletes of that era to support Muhammad Ali’s fight against induction into the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. It was a time of civil and social unrest in the U.S., and the public display of unity was a transformational moment in the fight for civil rights and for the notion that athletes’ voices should be heard beyond the field of play.
On this year’s award winners Lonnie Ali said: “Congratulations to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and Bill Russell for their numerous athletic successes and more importantly, the leadership they all have displayed to make this world a much better place. Particular recognition this year goes to Kareem for being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama and Jim for the new statue that sits outside of Cleveland Browns stadium in recognition of his achievements with the organization. In times of hardship and adversity, these three remarkable individuals continued to stand up as activists to pave the way for those that followed. I honor you for that and I know Muhammad certainly would be proud that you are receiving the award that bares his name.”
On receiving this award Abdul-Jabbar said, “Muhammad Ali was both a friend and a personal inspiration to me as an athlete and as an activist. To receive an award in his name is especially moving because it means I am honoring his legacy as a man who defied conventions and courageously risked life and career to making America a land of freedom, equal opportunity and social justice.”
Said Brown, “I am deeply touched to be honored for a lifetime spent working to establish common ground and mutual respect for all perspectives and backgrounds. I hope that this tribute serves as a symbol of inspiration for all Americans to be champions of social justice. This is a proud moment for me, and I am thrilled to be recognized alongside two other transformative athletes with whom I share a long history of activism and friendship, and for whom I have great respect.”
Added Russell, “To be a true influence of positive change in the world often means that you have to stand up against injustice and fight through adversity. I am honored to be recognized alongside some of the great cultural icons of our time who have used their platforms to fight for civil rights and social justice, regardless of the risk, including my good friend Muhammad Ali to whom the award is dedicated. Our work has just begun.”
The Sports Illustrated Legacy Award was born in 2008, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder and driving force behind the Special Olympics, was the inaugural honoree. In 2014, Magic Johnson was honored for his two decades as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, social and political activist. Last year SI renamed the award in honor of Ali in recognition of his decades as a boxing legend, humanitarian, civil rights activist and icon. Jack Nicklaus was the first to receive the rededicated award, during the 2015 Sportsperson of the Year ceremony.
The three Legacy Award recipients will be honored alongside the 2016 SI Sportsperson of the Year winner, the SI Kids SportsKids of the Year and other top names and moments from the year in sports at SI’s special Sportsperson of the Year celebration taking place at Barclays Center on December 12. The star-studded affair, which will also be attended by Lonnie Ali, will include a special awards dinner and ceremony with tributes to some of the world’s most legendary athletes, live musical performances and a VIP red carpet entrance featuring celebrities of sports and entertainment. More information about how to attend the event at Barclays Center can be found here.