LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers clean up at ESPYS
LeBron James was named the best male athlete, the best NBA player and also was awarded the ESPY for best championship performance for helping to navigate the Cavaliers to the franchise's first title.
One year after losing in six games to the Golden State Warriors in the 2014-15 Finals, James led the Cavaliers to an unprecedented comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against those same Warriors, as Cleveland ended the city's 52-year championship drought. In doing so, James became the first player to lead a full playoff series in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks.
His efforts won him a unanimous Finals MVP, too.
The Cavs were also named the best team and, after already making a few appearances front and center at Wednesday's show, James ceded the floor to teammates J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Channing Frye, who each made sure to thank the city for its support.
James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love also accepted the award for best moment after making Cleveland a championship city for the first time in over 50 years.
Though the Cavs cleaned up at the ESPYS, the first award of the night went to a man who was on the other side of Cleveland's NBA Finals victory.
Warriors star Stephen Curry won the award for best record-breaking performance.
Curry, the reigning two-time NBA MVP, broke his own record for most made 3-pointers in a season as the Warriors went on to win an NBA-record 73 regular-season games.
"We had a great year, we got beat by a great team," Curry said in accepting the award and acknowledging Golden State's loss.
Curry also took time out of his brief acceptance speech to thank fellow NBA stars James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade for their message of social change that began the award ceremony.
In an evening full of recognition for today's sports heroes, the ESPYS also honored three players that elected to call it a career this season.
Recently retired Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant and Abby Wambach were honored with the Icon Award, which was presented by Justin Timberlake.
The trio were honored together on the Microsoft Theatre stage while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
"Sports would be nothing without the fans," Manning said. "Being a fan is how I first came to love the NFL, and now that my time is up as a player, I'm looking forward to being a fan again and watching all of you out here in this audience tonight."
Wambach said she was most proud to be part of a legacy left by the U.S. women's soccer team that fought for equality and left the game "better than I found it."
Bryant was met by chants of "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe" from the crowd, then joked that unlike Manning and Wambach -- who retired following championships -- he felt the timing was right to exit after the Lakers' "impressive 17-65 season."
Bryant then turned serious.
"I believe there is time for resting at the end, but for me, that time is not now," Bryant said. "Thank you for this tremendous honor and acknowledging my basketball career, but I'm far from done. My next dream is to be honored one day for inspiring the next generation of athletes to have a dream, sacrifice for it, and never, ever rest in the middle."
While those three luminaries have put their playing days behind them, Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Eric Berry was honored as the comeback player of the year for battling cancer and returning to the NFL.
Berry was diagnosed in November 2014 with Hodgkin's lymphoma and missed the rest of the season, but he was cleared to return to football by both personal physicians and team doctors shortly before the start of training camp last summer.
He earned his starting spot back, and over the last several games of the 2015 season played as well as he had at any time before his illness.
Berry finished third on the Chiefs in tackles and had two interceptions. After the season, he played in the fourth Pro Bowl of his six-year NFL career.
"I'm not accepting this award for me, I'm accepting this for all the fighters out there," Berry said in his acceptance speech.
The battle against cancer remained an important part of the ESPYS as TNT analyst Craig Sager, who is fighting his own cancer battle, was given this year's Jimmy V award.
"I will continue to keep fighting, sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me," Sager said.
Former UConn star and current Seattle Storm center Brenna Stewart took home the ESPY for best female athlete against competition from fellow WNBA player Elena Delle Donne, swimmer Katie Ledecky and gymnast Simone Biles. Stewart led the Huskies to a record fourth straight NCAA title while claiming her fourth straight NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player award. The first pick in the 2016 WNBA draft was also the unanimous women's college player of the year, capturing the Wooden Award, Sullivan Award and AP Player of the Year.
In her acceptance speech, Stewart thanked her fans, family, UConn, coaches, teammates and the media. She spoke of how during her time at UConn she received a lot of media attention, for which she was grateful. But playing in the WNBA now, she questions why the league's athletes don't receive the same amount of coverage as their male counterparts.
"I know that everyone in this room loves and supports women and girls in sports, and wants to be a part of that change, right?" Stewart said. "Equality for all takes each of us making an effort."
"Together, let's be better," she said in closing.
Chicago Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta took home best breakthrough performance honors, edging MMA star Conor McGregor, three-time gold-medal-winning snowboarder Chloe Kim and NBA Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns.
Arrieta, 30, recorded an MLB-best 22 wins and a second-best 1.77 ERA en route to winning the 2015 National League Cy Young Award. He also helped the Cubs to an NL Championship Series appearance, their first since 2003. In April 2016, he became just the third Cub to throw two no-hitters. Presenters Lindsey Vonn and J.J. Watt accepted the ESPY on Arrieta's behalf.
The best play of the year was given to the Green Bay duo of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tight end Richard Rodgers for their game-winning, 61-yard Hail Mary touchdown that lifted the Packers over the Detroit Lions this past season.
U.S. Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks was the recipient of this year's Pat Tillman Award for Service.
Marks overcame a devastating injury in Iraq and lung disease to become a world-class paraswimmer.
The family of Zaevion Dobson accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in his honor.
The 15-year-old Tennessee native and high school football player was shot and killed while trying to protect girls from gunfire.
Full List of Winners
Male Athlete: LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Female Athlete: Breanna Stewart, UConn
Record-Breaking Performance: Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Breakthrough Athlete: Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs
Play: Aaron Rodgers' Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Moment: City of Cleveland wins first title in 52 years
Upset: Holly Holm over Ronda Rousey, UFC
Comeback Athlete: Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Championship Performance: LeBron James
Game: NBA Finals, Game 7
Coach: Tyronn Lue, Cleveland Cavaliers
NBA Player: LeBron James
MLB Player: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
NFL Player: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
NHL Player: Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins