Though both of the athletes have dominated their respective fields this year, with James winning the NBA Finals in October and Osaka finishing first at September’s U.S. Open, the news agency especially recognized them for their activism against social injustices, according to The Hill.
Naomi Osaka brought seven face masks to the US Open.
Each mask highlights a different Black victim of racial injustice and police brutality.
– Breonna Taylor
– Elijah McClain
– Ahmaud Arbery
– Trayvon Martin
– George Floyd
– Philando Castile
Today: Tamir Rice
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) September 12, 2020
The Haitian-Japanese tennis star said after the win that she feels a responsibility to use her platform to get people talking about the issues that matter.
"[W]atching the police injustices like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake (to name just a few) in the summer broke my heart. I am proud of my U.S. Open victory, but more so that I got people talking about the real issues," Osaka wrote in an email interview.
Following her quarterfinal win in the Open earlier this year, a video of Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, and Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery Sr., was played by ESPN thanking Osaka for wearing the masks and talking about their loved ones.
“I just want to say thank you to Naomi Osaka for representing Trayvon Martin on your customized mask, and also for Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Continue to do well, continue to kick butt at the U.S. Open. Thank you,” Fulton said.
“Naomi, I just want to tell you thank you for the support of my family, and God bless you for what you’re doing,” Arbery Sr. said in the video.
James, who was previously named AP's male athlete of the year, was also honored as AP’s male athlete of the decade in 2019.
Earlier this month, James’ family foundation announced that it was opening a 60,000-square-foot complex that will provide financial literacy and job training skills, as Blavity previously reported. The House Three Thirty project in Akron, Ohio, will also feature amenities like a coffee café and a dining area that will be available to residents of the city.
James, an education advocate and philanthropist, opened the iPromise School in 2018 for local children from under-resourced communities. He said he considers founding the school his greatest achievement. “This is right up there. Championships, MVPs, however many points, rebounds and assists,” he said of opening the school.
“I still know what I do on the floor and obviously, I give everything to the game. But I can make a greater impact off the floor right now, more than I can on the floor," he said. "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."