Inside This Week’s Covers: SI Creative Director Chris Hercik Discusses How the Team Worked up Until Deadline To Produce a Stanley Cup and LeBron James Cover

This week’s Sports Illustrated national cover marked LeBron James’s 20th appearance gracing the front of SI. However, with the Stanley Cup playoffs playing a potential series-ending game this past Monday—the night of SI’s weekly magazine deadline—the editors decided to hold the presses until the very last second to be able to produce a timely regional cover featuring the Blackhawks if they won. And they did!

To discuss the process of working on a cover with very little time to spare, Inside SI caught up with with SI creative director Chris Hercik. Hercik takes us through last Monday night in the SI offices and share his opinion on both covers.

27COVwdkpromoDescribe the process of holding this week’s issue open until the very last moment of the weekly deadline? How did you plan for it and what happened once the Blackhawks won?

Hercik: On many occasions the timing of these finals games doesn’t always work in our weekly schedule. This week, however, two major sporting events were happening simultaneously. In our weekly edit meeting we went through each scenario for a NBA cover and story as well as an NHL cover and story. But it’s never this easy. This week proved that point.

As the Heat clinched their second consecutive title last Thursday, we made plans to shoot LeBron for the cover but we also had to be prepared for Game 6 of the NHL Finals on Monday night. The plan: Close the entire issue by 9 pm Monday night but leave open space for the an NHL feature story and of course an NHL cover. The problem: if the Blackhawks lost, the series would have been tied 3-3.So the edit team had to prepare a completely separate story that can be swapped in at the last minute in the exact same space. Another problem was what to do with the contents page. How do you write an entry for the first story in the magazine when you don’t know what that story is? The Answer: you don’t. Sometimes you have to be prepared to publish unconventional things to make your deadlines.

So we made plans to go grab dinner, watch the game and reconvene back in the office after the second period. At that time it was 1-1. We only had until midnight to complete this process due to printing deadlines. About 12 minutes into the third period, the Bruins score and take a 2-1 lead. At this point we think there is no cover since Boston is going to win with time running out or the Blackhawks could tie the game and send the game to overtime—meaning we would miss our window of time on the presses. Then it happens. The Blackhawks tie it up and it’s about 10:30. I start preparing the cover just in case, and in 17 seconds I was glad I did. The Blackhawks go on and win the Stanley Cup. Now the fun begins.

SI managing editor Chris Stone and I agreed it had to be the final goal…NETCAM! So the process began looking for photos for the cover as well as the inside feature. Problem: The Cup isn’t presented for about 30-40 minutes after the game ends. As photos started to come in, we were decisive and pulled only photos that we would use. The story was being finished off by veteran late nighter and deputy art director Steve Skalocky, while I worked on the cover. From start to finish this process only took 56 minutes. Now that’s an SI record!

In the end, we were proud that the very next day we had a cover of LeBron James and the Blackhawks. Two amazing covers that reinforce SI’s dedication to sports.

This is LeBron’s 20th SI cover. What makes this one unique?

27COVv15Hercik: As you can imagine, doing anything 20 times makes it that much tougher to make it unique. We came up with several ideas for the cover which had to be run by LeBron’s camp, including shooting him with his two sons, which I thought would have made an iconic cover. Unfortunately, they only approved LeBron, the trophy and 20 minutes.

The previous covers that we’ve published of LeBron have tended to be more serious and introspective—so I knew this cover had to be lighter, both in tone and mood. This photo of LeBron that Jeffery Salter took shows that genuine moment of relief and enjoyment. Throughout the playoffs, you could see the intensity and the “weight of the world” on LeBron’s face. This cover needed to be the opposite.

We had a several photos to choose from from this shoot. Normally eye contact with the reader is something you strive for. In this case, I purposely chose the one of him gazing at the trophy and not at the reader because this was the moment—what he has been working towards the entire year. It’s an amazing photo and an even better moment.


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