Miami Heat star

LeBron James

was named the Associated Press' male athlete of the year on Thursday, becoming the third basketball player to win the award that has been presented annually since 1931. James, who will turn 29 on Monday, received 31 of 96 votes in a poll of news organizations. He beat Denver Broncos quarterback

Peyton Manning

(20) and NASCAR driver

Jimmie Johnson

(7). James, who joined former NBA stars

Michael Jordan


Larry Bird

in receiving the award, won a second NBA title and a fourth MVP award.

BASEBALL The 30-day period to sign 25-year-old Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka began at 8 a.m. Thursday. Teams have until 5 p.m. on Jan. 24 to reach a deal with the righthander. If Tanaka and a major-league team come to terms, the franchise must pay his Japanese club, the Rakuten Eagles, a posting fee - capped at $20 million. The New York Yankees have been in contact with Casey Close, whom Tanaka designated as his agent, Newsday reported, citing a source.

Paul Blair, 69, the eight-time Gold Glove centerfielder who helped the Baltimore Orioles win World Series titles in 1966 and 1970, died at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, according to a hospital spokeswoman. Blair was with the Orioles from 1964 to '76. He then played for the New York Yankees - winning World Series in 1977 and 1978 - and the Cincinnati Reds.

COLLEGES Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg earned three more freshman all-American honors. He was named a second-team freshman all-American by Athlon Sports, Phil Steele's College Football, and He previously was named the first-team quarterback on the 247Sports true freshman all-American squad. Hackenberg was 231 of 392 passing for 2,955 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

The start for the St. Joseph's men's basketball game against Boston University on Sunday at Hagan Arena was moved up an hour to 4 p.m.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was pulled over again for going at least 25 m.p.h. over the speed limit, an hour before the Gamecocks flew to Florida for the Jan. 1 Capital One Bowl game against Wisconsin. The junior is leaving early for the NFL draft. On Dec. 7, state troopers said Clowney was going 110 m.p.h. in a 70-m.p.h. zone.

Florida coach Will Muschamp announced the hiring of Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper for the same job with the Gators (4-8), who are coming off their first losing season since 1979.

HOCKEY Providence's Jon Gillies made 23 saves to help the United States open its world junior title defense with a 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic in Malmo, Sweden. Miami of Ohio's Riley Barber, son of former NHL player Don Barber; Denver's Will Butcher; Minnesota's Hudson Fasching; Colorado College's Jaccob Slavin; and Notre Dame's Vince Hinostroza scored for the U.S. team. Anthony Mantha scored three goals in Canada's 7-2 win over Germany. In Group B, Sweden beat Switzerland, 5-3, and Russia routed Norway, 11-0. The United States will play Slovakia on Saturday.

TENNIS Wimbledon champion Andy Murray of Britain lost his comeback match from a three-month back-injury layoff in the Mubadala Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Murray lost, 7-5, 6-3, to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. Tsonga faces Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the semifinals of the exhibition event on Friday, while Rafael Nadal takes on Spanish compatriot David Ferrer. Ferrer beat Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, 7-5, 6-1.

- Staff and wire reports