This Week’s Sports Illustrated: Fun and Games in L.A.

 Can Los Angeles Become the Sports Capital of the World? It Was Last Weekend

Chelsea’s Didier Drogba Excels in Soccer and Humanitarian Efforts

After Winning the Preakness Stakes, I’ll Have Another Looks Toward the Elusive Triple Crown

JR Hillenbrand Eyes Redemption at This Weekend’s Indianapolis 500

The Undefined Path of the Transgender Athlete

(NEW YORK – May 23, 2012) – Six playoff games in four days from their professional basketball and hockey teams, a baseball team leading its division by seven games hosting another division leader and 114 cyclists competing in the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California (the biggest bike race in North America) created a great sports weekend for sports in Los Angeles.

Senior writer Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) was on hand for all the madness. Jenkins talked with team executives, players, coaches, workers and fans to gain perspective on this time extraordinary weekend. New Dodgers minority owner Magic Johnson, who appears on the cover of the May 28, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated, said, “When fans fall in love with their teams, it’s not just because they’re winning. It’s also because they are part of their community. That’s where we lost our way a little bit. We need to sign autographs. We need to give to charity. We need to embrace our community again.”

Much of the action took place in downtown Los Angeles at the Staples Center, home arena for the Lakers, Clippers and Kings. It was a crowning moment for Tim Leiweke—president and CEO of AEG, which owns the Staples Center. He had imagined a weekend like this back in 1997 when AEG first announced its redevelopment plans for this area. When construction started, the surrounding neighborhood was filled with liquor stores and rent-by-the-hour motels. AEG transformed the space into a four-million­-square-foot entertainment district called L.A. Live, with 19 restaurants, two hotels and a public plaza. The hotels were so crowded this past weekend, even the Kings couldn’t get in (page 38).

Leiweke said, “I don’t think it is lost on Roger Goodell and the NFL owners what is going on. I don’t know if it’s a showcase or a defining moment or an exclamation point, but we have a chance to prove what we have been saying for years: ‘Of course football should be here. We have the infrastructure. We are built for this.’

On the Tablet: Time lapse video of all the activity at the Staples Center.

ONLY THE BEGINNING – ALBERT CHEN

Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp is one of the best baseball players in the game, but the fact that he is still learning the game is a scary thought for opposing teams. As a teenager growing up just outside of Oklahoma City, Kemp loved basketball and played on his AAU team all summer. Baseball was strictly secondary. By his junior year in high school though, Kemp realized that his build would limit his basketball potential, and he began to focus on baseball (page 46).

In many ways, Kemp is still new to the game. What the Dodgers see now is a player whose mental skills are catching up to his physical skills. Manager Don Mattingly said, “This game is not so much physical. It’s when the mental side and physical side connect, that’s the most important part. Everyone’s road takes them on a different path. And with Matt, we’re beginning to see everything connect, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

IN PRAISE OF DROGBA – GRANT WAHL (@grantwahl)

Last Saturday, Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich 4—3 in penalty kicks to win its first title in the prestigious UEFA Champions League. Striker Didier Drogba scored the equalizer in the 88th minute and later scored the winning penalty kick. Senior writer Grant Wahl reflects on a conversation he had with Drogba two years ago in Angola’s province of Cabinda in southern Africa (page 56).

In that interview, Drogba spoke of his humanitarian efforts to fund and build a hospital in his native country of Ivory Coast and his interest in helping the poor, especially in earthquake-torn Haiti. Even though Drogba is nearly done with his soccer career, he believes he has much more to do with his life saying, “I want to help with a lot of things: my charity, the hospital. I hope to keep learning. For me it’s important to open my mind. I love to meet people and listen to their stories.” 

On the Tablet: Champions League slideshow.

LET’S ALL HAVE ANOTHER – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)

A generation of American adults is nearing middle age without having witnessed a Triple Crown winner. It has been 34 years since Affirmed outdueled Alydar to take the 1978 Belmont Stakes and wrap up racing’s third Triple Crown in six years, a period that started with the great Secretariat in ’73 and included Seattle Slew in ’77.  Eleven times since ‘78 a horse has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but fallen short in the Belmont.  I’ll Have Another will be the next to try.  He won the Preakness the same way he won the Derby, by wearing down the speedy Bodemeister, this time just three strides from the finish (page 52).

I’ll Have Another faces his toughest challenge, the Belmont. The failures at Belmont have not been coincidental. John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones, which lost its bid for a Triple Crown in 2004, said, “You get to the Belmont at the end of a long campaign, with a bull’s-eye on your back. I know I felt a lot of pressure.”  

On the Tablet: A look at Triple-Crown near misses.

BACK IN CONTROL – LARS ANDERSON (@LarsAndersonSI)

JR Hillenbrand’s final-lap crash in the Indy 500 last year could have been a career-defining moment, for all the wrong reasons. The initial reaction from media and pundits was that he had committed the biggest blunder in the history of American racing.  Hillenbrand climbed from the ruined Panther Racing car that slid across the finish line in a hail of sparks and rode in an ambulance to the infield care center physically fine but emotionally broken.  But JR Hillenbrand handled his heartbreak with grace. After the race Hillenbrand refused to blame anyone but himself, speaking eloquently to all who had questions for him.

Hillenbrand said, “The worst feeling in the world as an athlete is not closing things out. But I knew it was in my hands how people reacted to me, so I wanted to be thoughtful and serious about it. I accepted the situation.” 

THE TRANSGENDER ATHLETE – PABLO TORRE (@SIPabloTorre)AND DAVID EPSTEIN (@SIDavidEpstein)

Playing fields have long been segregated on the basis of sex. But what happens to the athletes whose physiology doesn’t match their gender identity? Against whom do they compete? What obstacles do they face? And how are they being treated by sports’ governing bodies? One transgender scenario currently unfolding involves the U.S. Olympic women’s track and field team. Keelin Godsey, formerly known as Kelly, was born as a female and competes as a female but identifies as a male.  Godsey will continue to compete as a female, in hopes of making the team heading for London, but will later undergo sex reassignment surgery to make his biological and gender identities match (page 66).

The UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, which studies gender-identity issues, pegs the size of the U.S. transgender population at 700,000; how many are athletes is difficult to determine. The most contentious recent case was in November 2010. Kye Allums, a starting guard for the women’s basketball team at George Washington University came out before his junior year, making him the only open transgender Division I athlete. Allums said, “Yes, I am a male on a female team. And I want to be clear about this: I am a transgender male, which, feelings wise … I feel as if I should have been born male with male parts.

On the Tablet: Podcast with Richard Deitsch, David Epstein and Pablo Torre.

NBA PLAYERS POLL

Who is your favorite NBA announcer?

Charles Barkley                                     20%

Jeff Van Gundy                                     14%

Steve Kerr                                             10%

Reggie Miller                                         9%

Mike Breen                                            6%

[Based on 124 NBA players who responded to SI’s survey]

FAST FACTS: In Barkley, Kerr and Miller, TNT announcers landed three of the top five spots. ESPN is represented by Van Gundy and Breen (who also handles play-by-play for the Knicks on MSG). . . . Former Knicks star Walt Frazier, Breen’s broadcast partner at MSG, placed 10th, with 2% of the vote. . . . Bill Walton, whose bad back forced him to retire as an analyst for ESPN in 2009, placed eighth, with 3%, ahead of Shaquille O’Neal. . . In a similar poll on Facebook, Sir Charles ruled again, as he was named favorite by 52% of SI readers.

SCORECARD: SNOOZE CONTROL – DICK FRIEDMAN

Last week, during the Roger Clemens federal perjury trial, three jurors fell asleep. Senior editor Dick Friedman believes that this perfectly illustrated the boredom that some sports stories entail. Stories that he believes have been over-reported include the prospects for a Pacquiao-Mayweather “fight” and when will Los Angeles get an NFL team (page 15).

POINT AFTER: A STAT EVEN DR. NAISMITH WOULD LOVE– ROY BLOUNT JR.

Contributing writer Roy Blount realizes there are many basketball stats already, nevertheless, he invents a stat for a player who, based on his effective field goal percentage, makes more shots than he takes. Blount calls the stat Over the Top (OTT) (page 74).

INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS

  • MLB (page 33): Excitement in the Air – The Orioles currently have the best record in the American League, but their chances at contending may still be a year or two away. (@Joe_Sheehan)
  • NHL (page 35): Block Busters – The Rangers lead all postseason teams with 328 blocked shots. Some feel they are ruining the game, but for New York, it’s all about winning. Michael Farber
  • NBA (page 36): Help Wanted – With Chris Bosh injured, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade will have to play an even larger role for the Heat.

THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 24)

  • Bernie Montoya (Yuma, Ariz./Cibola High) – Track and Field
  • Stephanie Canfield (St. Joseph, Ill./St. Joseph—Ogden High) – Softball
  • Marvin Kimble (Milwaukee/Hamilton High) – Gymnastics
  • Ryan Skomial (Hartland, Mich./Hartland High) – Lacrosse
  • David Pless (Atlanta/Bates College) – Track and Field
  • Caitlin Racich and Summer Ross (Santa Barbara, Calif./Pepperdine) – Sand Volleyball

To submit a candidate for Faces in the Crowd, go to SI.com/faces. Follow on Twitter @SI_Faces.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 130 other followers