Houston Strong was a theme in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in August, and nobody embodied that theme better than Astros shortstop Jose Altuve and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The two sports stars were beacons of hope in different ways for a city that’s on a long road to recovery, and for that, Sports Illustrated has honored both as its 2017 Sportsmen of the Year.  

After Harvey ravaged Houston in August, submerging much of the city and eventually becoming the most expensive Atlantic hurricane of all time, the entire country took up arms to try and provide relief.

It was a long process, and it’s one that is ongoing. For Watt, it was all about helping however he could. He set the (relatively) modest goal of raising $200,000 in relief. When it was all said and done, Watt had raised over $37 million in support of the city. Watt was shut down for the season with a leg injury in Week 5, but this was bigger than anything he could do on the field. “Nothing J.J. Watt has achieved in his career, or might still achieve, will measure up to what he did for Houston,” MMQB Editor-in-Chief Peter King said.

But everything wasn’t off the field. Altuve provided relief in way that only sports can: Distraction. Or, more accurately, a refocusing of energy. The Astros gave Houston something to cheer for this year, and their incredible run in October was capped by a World Series victory over the Dodgers — the Astros’ first Fall Classic win. Led by Altuve’s bat, the Astros took down the Red Sox and the Yankees. One could argue that they faced the three biggest legacy teams in baseball — and they beat them all. Altuve batted .310 with an astounding seven home runs. It was an amazing run capped by a Game 7 World Series win.

Sports have always been contextualized by what goes on outside of them. For Houston, a city that was underwater, Watt and Altuve provided tag-team relief. Watt raised money to help the city, and Altuve gave Houston residents something to cheer for. For that reason, it’s hard to imagine two more deserving athletes, and that’s coming in a year where a lot of athletes deserve a mention. 

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