While Michael Phelps lost out to LeBron James for the 2016 title of Sportsperson of the Year, he received a different honor at last night’s Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year gala at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Phelps was recognized during the ceremony by three fellow Olympians: swimmer Tom Dolan, gymnast Aly Raisman and track & field athlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee. They presented him with a special award naming him the ‘Greatest Olympian of All-Time.’
Phelps is the most decorated Olympian ever with 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which are gold.
In his speech, Phelps called the award a “tremendous honor” and described James as “truly an inspiration.”
He reminisced about both the beginning of his career and the previous year, which saw him win six Olympic medals in Rio after coming out of a short post-London retirement. He also was chosen to carry the U.S. flag in the Rio Opening Ceremony, and became a husband and father.
“Being able to look at this and look back at my career, it almost doesn’t even seem possible,” Phelps said. “But like these guys [Dolan, Raisman and Joyner-Kersee] said, it was all done off hard work and dedication. I remember as a kid dreaming that I wanted to win one Olympic medal.
“For me being able to have one more year where I came back and finished things exactly how I wanted, I know there are some people out there who know what that feels like, I feel like I’m on top of the world. I was able to get married this year, have my first child. I literally feel like the luckiest man in the world.”
James spent part of his own acceptance speech marveling over Phelps. “We talk about you at the crib so much, man,” James said to Phelps from the stage. “You’re literally a fish. Literally. I have no idea how you do what you do.”