Dallas Mavericks’ Forward Dirk Nowitzki, who led his team to its first NBA championship, and women’s tennis player Li Na, the first Chinese player, man or woman, to win a Grand Slam singles title, have earned the United States Sports Academy’s Male and Female June Athlete of the Month Awards.
Nowitzki, whose team defeated the Miami Heat in the finals, led his team in June when it counted most—the fourth period. The 33-year-old NBA veteran earned the Academy’s Male Athlete of the Month award for the second straight month by scoring 62 of his 156 total points in the final period of the six-game series. The 7-foot German averaged 26 points and 9.7 rebounds per game in the finals. He is one of only four players in NBA history with career postseason averages better than 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Li Na recently celebrated her French Open victory with a homecoming celebration in Bejing hosted by the Women’s Tennis Association. Ranked No. 6, she made history as the first Chinese person to capture the French Open title. She beat defending champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-4, 7-6 (0) at Roland Garros. Li Na used powerful ground strokes to compile a 31-12 edge in winners and to win the last nine points of the match.
The public is invited to participate in the worldwide Athlete of the Month nomination and ballot voting processes. Visit the Academy website to submit your nominations each month, and then return to the website between the first and second Tuesdays of each month to vote on the Athlete of the Month. The votes along with the Academy’s selection committee choose the winners and they are announced on the Academy’s website and in the online edition of the The Sport Update.
Finishing second in the male athlete category was PGA golfer Rory McIlroy, who shot a 16-under 268 to win the 2011 U.S. Open. No one in history has played an Open in fewer strokes or more under par. McIlroy, who won by 8 strokes and lead the Open from start to finish, posted four round totals of 65-66-68-69. McIlroy, 22 years, 46 days old, also became the second youngest player to win a major since World War II.
The runner up to Li Na in the Female June Athlete of the Month voting was another golfer—Yani Tseng of Taiwan. At the age of 22, she became the youngest professional golfer to win four LPGA majors. When Se Ri Pak (LPGA) and Tiger Woods (PGA) won their fourth major titles, they were both 24 years old. No.1-ranked Tseng won the Wegmans LPGA Championship by closing with a 6-under par 66 en route to a 19-under 269 victory total. Her 10-shot win at the LPGA Championship is a record and her 269 total, which included 27 birdies, tied the record for lowest score in relation to par ever shot in a major championship, by man or woman.
Third place winners were Rafael Nadal, who won the French Open men’s title, and Dallas Escobedo, a standout freshman pitcher who led Arizona State University to the NCAA Women’s College World Series. The 25-year-old Nadal tied Bjorn Borg for the most French Open titles with six. Escobedo was 5-0 in the championship series and earned the co-Most Outstanding Player award.
The winners will be considered as a candidate for the 2011 Athlete of the Year ballot. In December 2011, the Academy will name the Male and Female Athlete of the Year for the 27th consecutive year. The recipients of these prestigious awards are selected annually through worldwide balloting hosted by the Academy in conjunction with USA Today and NBC Sports.
In 2010, the Male Athlete of the Year was Spain’s star football (soccer) player David Villa and the Female Athlete of the Year was South Korea’s No. 1 figure skater Yuna Kim. Both of these individuals dominated 2010’s ballot, receiving more than 12 votes per second from across the world.