LeBron James, who won his first NBA title this year with the Miami Heat, was named the Male Athlete of the Year while Baylor All-American and NCAA champion Brittney Griner was honored as the Female Athlete of the Year at the 2012 ESPY Awards handed out Wednesday in Los Angeles.
James wasn’t on hand for the 20th annual show celebrating the year’s best athletes and moments in sports. He was in Las Vegas with the rest of the U.S. national team preparing for the London Olympics.
James also won an ESPY for Championship Performance of the Year and for NBA Player of the Year.
James’ Heat were honored as the Team of the Year for their NBA title win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Griner also was honored as the Female College Athlete of the Year.
“Just excited. I wouldn’t be here without Title IX,” Griner said backstage. “Everything is just coming together and it feels good to be here.”
Host Rob Riggle of “The Daily Show” and “The Hangover” fame zinged some of the famous faces in his opening monologue.
He touched on the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal in singling out quarterback Drew Brees, who won for record-breaking performance after shattering Dan Marino’s single-season passing mark. Brees and the Saints are haggling over his contract with a Monday deadline looming.
“If only the Saints had some sort of fund that they could pull extra cash from to reward people for doing things on the field,” Riggle cracked as Brees looked down from his seat and the crowd roared.
Riggle teased Anthony Davis of Kentucky, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft known for his connected eyebrows. Davis recently trademarked the phrases “Fear the Brow” and “Raise the Brow.”
“It looks like two caterpillars just making sweet love on your forehead,” Riggle told Davis. “Is that like one of those Mr. Potato Head eyebrows you just take on and off?”
The Arthur Ashe Courage award went to former Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who revealed her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s last August. She retired in April after 38 years.
Summitt’s son, Tyler, escorted her to the stage to accept the trophy from Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who went to college at Tennessee, while the Nokia Theatre crowd stood applauding.
“I am deeply touched,” she told the crowd. “I’m going to keep on keepin’ on, I promise you that.”
The Jimmy V Award for Perseverance was given to former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand. He is recovering from a spinal cord injury that ended his playing career.
“My dream is to get back on my feet and walk again,” he told the audience after a standing ovation. “You can best believe that I’ll never give up.”
The ESPY for Best Play went to Christian Watford of the Indiana Hoosiers for his buzzer-beating shot last year that stunned No. 1 Kentucky and gave Indiana a 73-72 upset win.
Other winners included:
• Breakthrough Athlete of the Year: Jeremy Lin, the former Harvard guard and NBA vagabond who came off the New York Knicks’ bench to average 14.6 points and 6.2 assists per game.
• Record-Breaking Performance of the Year: Saints quarterback Brees for breaking Marino’s NFL regular-season passing yards record. Brees threw for 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns last season. Marino threw for 5,084 yards in 1984 (Tom Brady also broke Marino’s record in 2011).
• Biggest Upset: The Los Angeles Kings, who came from the eighth seed in the Western Conference to win the Stanley Cup over the New Jersey Devils. The Kings beat the top three seeds in the West.
• Game of the Year: The San Francisco 49ers’ dramatic 36-32 NFC Divisional playoff win over the Saints, which saw four lead changes in the final four minutes. The 49ers won the game with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis with 14 seconds to play.
• Best Moment: Tim Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL playoffs.
• Coach/Manager of Year: Tom Coughlin, who won his second Super Bowl in January, beating New England 21-17. Coughlin became the oldest coach at age 65 to win a Super Bowl with the title.
• Best Comeback: Detroit Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford, who came back from offseason shoulder surgery and threw for 5,038 yards last year, fourth most in NFL history.
• Best International Athlete: Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona’s striker and Argentina’s captain, scored 50 goals in La Liga and 14 in the Champions League.
• NFL Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers).
• MLB Player of the Year: Josh Hamilton (Texas Rangers).
• NHL Player of the Year: Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings).
• Driver of the Year: Tony Stewart.
• WNBA Player of the Year: Diana Taurasi (Phoenix Mercury)
• Fighter of the Year: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
• Male Golfer: Bubba Watson.
• Female Golfer: Cristie Kerr.
• Male Tennis Player: Novak Djokovic.
• Female Tennis Player: Maria Sharapova.
• Male College Athlete: Robert Griffin III.
• Male Action Sports Athlete: Shaun White, skateboarding-snowboarding.
• Female Action Sports Athlete: Jamie Anderson, snowboarding.
• Jockey: Mario Gutierrez.
• Male Athlete with a Disability: Kyle Maynard, climbing.
• Female Athlete with a Disability: Jessica Long, swimming.
• College Athletic Program: Stanford women’s athletics and Florida men’s athletics
• Bowler: Sean Rash.
• MLS Player: David Beckham, Los Angeles Galaxy.
• Track and Field Athlete: Walter Dix.