In Houston, we are currently living in a golden age of team sports. The Astros are a year removed from a world championship, the Rockets are coming off a Western Conference Finals berth, and the Texans won the AFC South this past season. There is massive star power on all three teams, with multiple MVP candidates. This glory was all on display last night at the Hilton Americas-Houston at the second annual Houston Sports Awards, presented by Insperity.
Members of those teams — Alex Bregman, DeAndre Hopkins, and James Harden — were in attendance and named finalists but, ironically, it was an individual athlete who took home the Athlete of the Year Award. It was 21-year-old Simone Biles, on the strength of her four gold medals at the 2018 Gymnastics World Championships, who took home the trophy in her hometown.
In other award categories, the Houston Rockets had a productive night, with Mike D'Antoni taking home the Coach of the Year Award in a tough field that included A.J. Hinch, Kelvin Sampson, and Bill O'Brien. Additionally, the Rockets' appearance in the Western Conference Finals won Event of the Year, and owner Tilman Fertitta won Executive of the Year, not only for his stewardship over the Rockets, but also his role as the head of the board of regents at the University of Houston, and all of the improvements to athletic facilities there.
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The Houston Sports Awards has also become the launch point for inducting new members into the Houston Sports Hall of Fame. Last year, the three number 34s — Hakeem Olajuwon, Nolan Ryan and Earl Campbell — comprised the inaugural class. Last night, a four man class was given its white Hall of Fame jackets — golf legend Jackie Burke, auto racing icon A.J. Foyt, former boxing world champion George Foreman, and former Oilers quarterback Dan Pastorini.
For the second consecutive year, J.J. Watt won the Sportsmanship Award. In 2018, Watt continued his philanthropic efforts in distributing the millions he helped raise for Hurricane Harvey relief, as well as paying for the funerals of the victims of the tragic Santa Fe school shooting last spring. Kesean Carter of The Woodlands won High School Athlete of the Year for his efforts in track and football, and University of Houston quarterback D'Eriq King won the College Athlete of the Year award. Finally, the Fan of the Year Award, as voted on by fans throughout the Houston area, was given posthumously to Texans superfan, the late Joe "Joe Texan" Banowsky, with the award accepted by his wife and mother.