Detroit’s Sportsman of the Year for 2018

Who was the best, most impactful Detroit athlete of 2018? I’ve been asking myself that question for a few weeks as I prepared to write this end-of-the-year feature article. Unlike other years, it wasn’t obvious. But I finally came up with my pick.

Blake Griffin of the Pistons is the 2018 Detroit Sportsman of the Year. It’s a fictional award, no trophy, no plaque, no championship belt. Just a silly little exercise I go through each December. But still, congratulations Blake.

Griffin is in his first full season in Detroit, the team nabbed him via a trade in January. Thus far, in about 65 games with the Pistons, Griffin has been a legitimate superstar, the type of marquee scorer and player the franchise hasn’t had since Grant Hill. (Unless you count the brief Allen Iverson experiment or the one great season from Jerry Stackhouse).

Griffin is averaging 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in the Motor City. He’s still just 29 years old and has the chance to lead the team back to a deep run in the playoffs. Maybe not this year, but soon.

Griffin is the first Piston to win my Sportsman of the Year honor since Big Ben Wallace back in 2004, the last time the team won an NBA title. He’s the seventh Piston to earn the award. Bob Lanier and Isiah Thomas won it twice each.

It was slim pickings in 2018, and if I had to pick a few finalists to go along with Griffin, I suppose I’d choose Tigers’ right fielder Nicholas Castellanos and Lions’ rookie running back Kerryon Johnson. Maybe Andre Drummond belongs on a short list too. But none of them can match the impact of Griffin in 2018.

Here’s a list of the award winners, which goes back to 1967, the year I was brought into this cruel world:

Detroit Sportsman of the Year

2018: Blake Griffin
2017: Matthew Stafford
2016: Matthew Stafford
2015: J.D. Martinez
2014: Victor Martinez
2013: Miguel Cabrera
2012: Miguel Cabrera
2011: Justin Verlander
2010: Miguel Cabrera
2009: Pavel Datsyuk
2008: Pavel Datsyuk
2007: Magglio Ordonez
2006: Ivan Rodriguez
2005: Placido Polanco
2004: Ben Wallace
2003: Sergei Fedorov
2002: Dominik Hasek
2001: Nicklas Lidstrom
2000: Grant Hill
1999: Germane Crowell
1998: Steve Yzerman
1997: Barry Sanders
1996: Sergei Fedorov
1995: Herman Moore
1994: Barry Sanders
1993: Steve Yzerman
1992: Joe Dumars
1991: Barry Sanders
1990: Cecil Fielder
1989: Steve Yzerman
1988: Steve Yzerman
1987: Alan Trammell
1986: Jack Morris
1985: Isiah Thomas
1984: Alan Trammell
1983: Lou Whitaker
1982: Isiah Thomas
1981: Kirk Gibson
1980: Billy Sims
1979: Steve Kemp
1978: Ron LeFlore
1977: Bob Lanier
1976: Mark Fidrych
1975: Marcel Dionne
1974: Al Kaline
1973: Mickey Redmond
1972: Bob Lanier
1971: Mickey Lolich
1970: Lem Barney
1969: Denny McLain
1968: Denny McLain
1967: Dave Bing

Steve Yzerman won the award four times, the most ever. Barry Sanders copped it three times, as did Miguel Cabrera. Only Denny McLain, Yzerman, Pavel Datsyuk, Cabrera, and Matthew Stafford have won the Detroit Sportsman of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons.

The Tigers lead with 22 selections, followed by the Red Wings with 12, and the Pistons and Lions (nine each).

Probably the best players to never win it are Henrik Zetterberg, Calvin Johnson, Brendan Shanahan, and Dennis Rodman. You might toss Max Scherzer in there. All five of those Detroit stars had great seasons, they just happened to occur when another athlete was having an even better year.

Which player currently active with a Detroit team is most likely to win a Sportsman of the Year Award? If you say Dylan Larkin or Reggie Jackson you’re probably on the right track. Maybe Justin Abdelkader and rookie running back Kerryon Johnson should be in the mix too.