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SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR She has served on the Supreme Court for 22 years, but it was in 2003 that O'Connor may have reached the apogee of her powers. As the swing vote in several 5-to-4 rulings, O'Connor brought her pragmatic, just-right-of-center judicial approach to some of the court's biggest decisions. Campaign-finance restrictions, the use of race in university admissions, California's "three strikes" laws--all were upheld last year with her nod.
LEBRON JAMES When he made his NBA debut in October, the 18-year-old Cleveland Cavalier faced empyrean expectations and a crush of journalists. Not only was he the No. 1 draft pick, plucked straight from high school, but he had already signed a $90 million deal with Nike. The 6-ft. 8-in. James offered a respite from the sordid drama of former boy wonder Kobe Bryant, who faces rape charges. And despite all the attention, James has maintained his game and his poise.
DICK GRASSO After he got the New York Stock Exchange up and running within days of the 9/11 attacks, the N.Y.S.E. chairman became a symbol of the country's resilience. But he was forced from the chairmanship two years later and became an emblem of corporate greed. Grasso resigned when it was revealed that he would receive $140 million in deferred pay, a staggering sum approved by the corporate titans he was charged with regulating.
FRANK GEHRY Los Angeles is often dismissed as a cultural wasteland, but Gehry may have changed that with his design for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new home of the L.A. Philharmonic that was unveiled in October. With its curvaceous exterior and acoustically adroit interior, Gehry's building bestowed on the city an important architectural landmark and proved that L.A. residents actually do go to the symphony.
JON STEWART Journalism stars are made in times of war: Edward R. Murrow in World War II, Morley Safer in Vietnam and now, with his deskbound coverage of the fighting in Iraq, The Daily Show's Stewart. As he incessantly points out, he plays host on a fake newscast on a basic cable channel (Comedy Central), but this allows him to be critical, arch, incredulous and relevant, to the delight of viewers and the envy of many real journalists.
HOWARD DEAN As 2003 began, he was virtually unknown--a short, thick-necked hockey dad who used to be Governor someplace up North. As the year ended, he emerged to fire an entire party's soul. Not a single Democratic primary vote has been cast yet, and Dean's antiwar rhetoric, so stirring to the left, may sound tinny long before November. But his savvy Web fund raising and spare-no-fools talk changed the political game in 2003.
THE GOOGLE GUYS Young, nerdy, ready to IPO: Larry Page, Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin made it seem not so much like 2003 but 1999. Page and Brin created the Google.com search engine in '98 and quietly built it into the Web's largest. Now they and CEO Schmidt are planning an IPO that could raise $2 billion. Competitors are swirling below, but who else has invented a new verb? If you need info on a new bar, new film, new fling, whatever--you Google 'em.