LeBron James’s ability to contribute at a high level at all five positions places him among the most versatile players the NBA has ever seen. This week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, which features James on the cover, breaks down James’s stunning array of skills, position by position, with takes by Lee Jenkins, Chris Ballard, Ian Thomsen, Mark Jackson and Bill Walton. This is the 19th SI cover for James; the last time he appeared was when he was named the 2012 SI Sportsman of the Year.
Small Forward: Since every player requires a position, Heat coach Erik Spoelestra pencils in James at small forward. Often manned by the most versatile player on the floor, the three spot is where the 6′ 8″, 250-pound star seems to fit best. Jenkins says, “James performs all the job’s diverse duties: slashing inside for layups and stepping out for three-pointers, handling the ball and hitting the glass, accepting the toughest defensive assignments and smothering them.” (PAGE 32)
Point Guard: Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a former point guard for 17 years in the NBA, says James’s skills at the point are similar to Magic Johnson’s, if Johnson had possessed the ability to score 30 every day. “To me, he has the chance to be the leading scorer in the history of this game and one of the top five assists guys,” says Jackson. “That’s how special he is.” (PAGE 33) Jackson says that in addition to being an excellent passer, James uses his length and strength to disrupt opposing point guards on the defensive end. “Even if he had to play only point guard on both offense and defense, he’s my Number 1 pick at the position right now,” says Jackson. (PAGE 33)
Shooting Guard: When James entered the league, he struggled with his outside shooting—teams dared him to shoot threes as he often took off-balance shots. Since his days in Cleveland, Ballard finds that James has worked with a shooting coach to create a “calmer” shot, which has helped turn him into a better long-range shooter. Now, Spoelestra takes James off the ball for large chunks of time, which enables James to take more efficient spot-up jump shots.“LeBron James could be, would be and is an excellent shooting guard,” says Ballard. “He can drive, he can score and he can defend opposing twos.” (PAGE 34)
Power Forward: James recently developed a post-up game, in which he bangs and bruises like a power forward, writes Ian Thomsen. After working on post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon before last season, teams now fear James inside—a place where he is one dribble from the basket and one kick-out pass from finding a wide-open shooter. “When the time is right, James could yet become the league’s most challenging power forward, having both an unparalleled ability to pass out of the post combined with a touch that will stretch defenses out to the three-point line,” says Thomsen. “It’s shocking to be the best player in the world and continue to improve,” says Pacers coach Frank Vogel. (PAGE 36)
Center: Hall of Fame center Bill Walton says James, who has played some center in the Heat’s small-ball lineup, can handle the pivot for even longer stretches of time should his team need him to. “He’s an outstanding passer and has outstanding footwork, which are two things you look for in a center,” says Walton. “Plus, who could guard LeBron? What center is equipped to take on that challenge? He can post you up and take you outside and shoot effortless jump shots.” (PAGE 37)
With the NBA and NHL playoffs in full steam, daily baseball games and much more in the world of sports, there’s a chance you couldn’t get to all of the great content on SI.com this week. Inside SI has you covered. Here’s a selection of some of the top Sports Illustrated stories and video productions from the past week.
SI announced 10 finalists for its inaugural College Athlete of the Year.
Richard Deitsch reviews Fox Sports 1’s new big hires and more in his weekly Media Circus column.
Jeff Pearlman reminisces about the USFL 30 years later
Ian Thompson says Steph Curry is the latest to establish himself as a star in the playoffs.
Lee Jenkins writes that Kevin Durant can only do so much for OKC.
Rob Mahoney lists five players who have disappointed in the playoffs so far. He also notes the biggest surprises of the playoffs so far.
Do the NBA Playoffs Underdogs stand a chance? Chris Mannix and Maggie Gray discuss the Warriors and Bulls (video).
Mannix discusses how the injuries of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Amar’e Stoudemire have affected their respective teams (video).
Sara Kwak says the Isles vs. Penguins has been the most thrilling series so far.
Allan Muir says the Senators showed their superiority over the shorthanded Habs.
While this week’s SI cover man Sidney Crosby worked his magic in the Penguins’ Game 5 Win, Eli Bernstein says the play of both goalies proved to be the difference.
Stu Hackel on how the NHL may change their policy on head shots.
Tom Verducci says expensive free agents are once again failing to meet expectations.
Jay Jaffe says Matt Harvey is fastest-starting Mets ace ever.
Cliff Cocoran provides this week’s Awards Watch.
SI.com’s Tom Verducci takes a look at the increasing strikeout rate around the MLB and asks if the Braves’ power can overcome their swing-and-miss ways (video).
The Tigers top Joe Lemire’s power rankings.
Peter King notes differing draft strategies, who will control the ’14 draft and more in this week’s MMQB.
Jim Trotter writes on how the California workers comp bill will have a lasting effect on NFL players.
Don Banks asks if betters days are coming for minority hires in the NFL?
Chris Burke on each team’s most pressing question as minicamp looms.
Micahael Bamberger writes that TV saved Tiger Woods from withdrawing from the Masters.
Gary Van Sickle says McIlroy, Stricker and Scott make TPC Sawgrass look easy
Andy Staples takes a stab at his post spring top 25.
Holly Anderson hands out her Sixth annual Switzies, which celebrate the ‘best’ of the 2013 offseason.
Stewart Mandel on how Ohio State aims to break the SEC’s title streak in 2013.
Rick Pitino talks Kentucky Derby, Final Four and 2013-14′s prospects in a Q&A with Pete Thamel.
Luke Winn gives out his second annual data-based hoops awards.
Bruce Jenkins writes that Madrid red clay is a welcome sight after 2012 left all feeling blue
In his weekly mailbag, Jon Wertheim wonders if Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens can find peace.
Grant Wahl provides updates on Alex Morgan, Frank Lampard and various MLS nuggets in his Planet Futbol Column.
Jonathan Wilsion says David Moyes is a safe choice for Manchester United, but comes with risk.
Sid Lowe writes that Jose Mourinho’s separation from Real Madrid getting messy.
Floyd Mayweather tops Chris Mannix’s Pound-For-Pound Top 15.
Floyd Mayweather talks about his title fight victory over Robert Guerrero, and looks ahead towards the rest of his multi-fight contract (video).
Jeff Wagenheim discusses Anderson Silva’s punishment, Johny Hendricks’ beard, and more in his MMA mailbag.
Lars Anderson on what we learned on a rainy, dark day at Talladega.
Carl Estes provides this week’s power rankings.
Sports Illustrated Stanley Cup Prediction: Kings in Six
The Celtics Big Three Have One Last Shot at a Title
A Look at the Work of American Realist Master George Bellows
Matt Cain Voted Baseball’s Most Underrated Pitcher by His Peers
(NEW YORK – May 30, 2012) – Ten years ago, Sports Illustrated’s exclusive in-depth look at the use of performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball (MLB) led to a senate investigation. Former National League MVP and admitting steroid user Ken Caminiti told SI that he had used performance-enhancing drugs and believed that about as many major league players were using steroids as were playing the game clean. Senator Byron Dorgan opened the senate subcommittee hearing by citing the SI story as a call to action, a reason to decide whether any “legislative action is necessary.”
As MLB continues to expand its drug testing since the hearing, the focus has been on the tainted records and court cases that resulted from the Steroid Era. But the cover story for the June 4, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated looks inside the lives of ordinary players whose careers were defined by the choice they made, to cheat or not to cheat.
Senior writer Tom Verducci, who wrote the cover story in 2002, examines the playing careers of four right handed pitchers who were members of the Minnesota Twins organization in mid-to-late 1990s. They had similar skills and backgrounds. None were drafted by the Twins higher than the fourth round of the MLB amateur draft. One of the four, however, took steroids, and he was the only one who ever reached the major leagues. His name was Dan Naulty and his decision to cheat the game, his teammates and himself affected all their lives (page 38).
Naulty was 6’6’’ and 180 pounds as a senior at Cal State Fullerton, had a fastball that sat around 85mph and was drafted in the 14th round. After using steroids and other performance-enhancement drugs, he began throwing his fastball at up to 95mph and at one point weighed 248 pounds. He spent three seasons with the Twins, pitching in 97 games before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1999, where he won a World Series.
On the outside, he looked like many other major leaguers, but inside he was an emotional wreck from the steroids, the guilt of cheating and a drinking problem. Naulty hit rock bottom just after the World Series. After a night of celebrating with some teammates, Naulty asked his driver as they crossed the George Washington Bridge, “Tell me. Tell me if this is all there is to life. Because if this is all there is, just stop this car right now and I’ll jump…. I had no hope. I had sold myself that bill of goods so long that I believed it. But I realized at that moment I had totally destroyed my life. And I had destroyed countless other people’s lives. I was ready to die.”
Brett Roberts was the highest drafted of the four pitchers, and in 1996, the Twins invited he and Naulty to big league camp where Naulty beat him out for a roster spot. Roberts said, “It’s hard enough trying to make it in this profession. You want to make it on your own abilities and work ethic, and all of a sudden, when you think it’s an even playing field, you’ve got somebody cheating. I was very upset, knowing my chance to get to the big leagues was cut short. I was jealous, hurt, frustrated, angry . . . all that stuff. I guess I should have been suspicious. How can a guy go from 85 miles an hour to 95 in three or four years? As I look back on it, it’s so clear and obvious that I can’t believe I was that naive and incredibly stupid. All the signs were there.”
On the Tablet: Podcast with Tom Verducci and Richard Deitsch.
LAST STAND OF THE BIG THREE – IAN THOMSEN (@SI_Ianthomsen)
Despite a season plagued by injuries, the Boston Celtics have reached the Eastern Conference finals. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came together in Boston before the 2007 season and have since been known as the Big Three. After winning a title in their first season together, they have been consistently successful but haven’t won another championship. With Garnett’s and Allen’s contract set to expire at the end of the season, this is likely their last shot to win it all (page 58).
When Ainge traded for Garnett and Allen, he was reluctant to refer to his stars as the Big Three out of deference to Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who won three titles in their 12 seasons together in Boston. Now Ainge feels that the current trio has earned the right to be called Big. Ainge said, “When Kevin and Larry and Robert were healthy, they were extremely special. They just didn’t maintain it this long; Kevin and Larry weren’t the same players after their surgeries. When they were in their 20s, I’d give the nod to the Big Three of the ’80s. But in their 30s, I’d give the nod to the Big Three of today.”
QUEST FOR THE CROWN – MICHAEL FARBER
The Kings have gone 45 years without winning a Stanley Cup, which ties them with the Maple Leafs and the Blues for the longest active drought in the NHL. During that time, the franchise has wasted some of the best offensive talent in the history of the game including Wayne Gretzky. They have failed to raise their status in the city of Los Angeles in large part because they have never won the Stanley Cup, but they have a chance to rewrite history for now and years to come (page 52).
Luc Robitallie, the franchise’s all time leading scorer and president of business operations said, “Thirteen million people here. We’re not a city. We’re a country. The way we make a dent is if we compete [for a Cup] year after year. But our best players—27-year-old captain Dustin Brown, 26-year-old goalie Jonathan Quick, 24-year-old center Anze Kopitar, 22-year-old defenseman Drew Doughty—are our youngest players. We should be able to compete for six, seven years.”
On the Tablet: Slideshow of the Kings over the years.
THE ART OF BOXING – ALEXANDER WOLFF
The savagery and spectacle of prizefighting a century ago are at the heart of an exhibit of works by American realist master George Bellows. On June 10, the first comprehensive retrospective of his work in 30 years, opens at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with further stops at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall and London’s Royal Academy of Arts next spring (page 64).
Said Charles Brock, curator of Bellow’s boxing work, “These are the greatest sporting images in American art. Bellows is an intensely serious and ambitious artist speaking to the entire history of art. His work can appeal on a popular level but aspires to the highest place in the culture” curator Charles Brock says of Bellows’s boxing work.” Senior writer Alexander Wolff examines his work which includes six oils and scores of lithographs and drawings.
MLB PLAYERS POLL
Who is the most underrated pitcher in the game?
Matt Cain, Giants 9%
Doug Fister, Tigers 8%
Ricky Romero, Blue Jays 6%
Dan Haren, Angels 4%
Vance Worley, Phillies 3%
[Based on 293 NBA players who responded to SI’s survey]
FAST FACTS: A whopping 98 hurlers received at least one vote—including four Cy Young winners (the Brewers’ Zack Greinke, the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, the Mets’ Johan Santana and, at ninth overall with six nods, the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez). . . . Combined career record for the top five: 264–233; combined ERA: 3.47. . . . Fister, who drew 16% of the votes from his own AL Central, is winless in five starts in ’12, but has a 1.84 ERA. . . . In a similar poll on Facebook, Romero led with 34%.
SCORECARD: A MATTER OF HORSE SENSE – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)
On Saturday, June 9, I’ll Have Another has a chance to become the first thoroughbred in 34 years to win racing’s Triple Crown, one of the rarest feats in any sport. Hundreds of thousands of people will be attendance and millions watching from their TVs, but the sport of horseracing has a number of problems going on that can’t be solved with one Triple Crown winner. Senior writer Tim Layden said, “It is only a moment, and the sport’s troubles will rise unchanged with the Sunday sun. But racing deserves that moment. Racing can again be great for a day” (page 15).
POINT AFTER: TO FIGHT CANCER, IT TAKES A TEAM – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
The California softball team is one of many sports teams, who are active members of the Friends of Jaclyn foundation, a nonprofit organization that pairs children suffering from brain tumors with teams, primary college. Barbara Wiggs, better known as Bebe, has been a fixture with the Golden Bears all season. As she continues to battle cancer, she is always around the team, providing a vast amount of inspiration. Said coach Diane Ninemire, “I hope we’ve given her half the inspiration she’s given us” (page 74).
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- Motor Sports (page 31): Great Scot – On the second hottest day in Indy 500 history, Dario Franchitti shot to the lead on the next-to-last lap to win his third 500 and enter the talk of IndyCar legends. (@LarsAndersonSI)
- MLB (page 34): Death, Taxes and Adam Dunn – White Sox DH Adam Dunn had one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball history in 2011, but he’s back on track in 2012, putting up statistics like his old self. (@SI_BenReiter)
- NBA (page 36): Market Watch – A look at free agents not named Deron Williams who will garner a great deal of interest this summer. (@chrismannixsi)
On the Tablet: Truth and Rumors
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 24)
- Megan Pinson (Fallbrook, Calif./Fallbrook High) – Rugby
- Allex Austin (San Marcos, Texas/San Marcos High) – Track and Field
- Maggie Fobare (Dallas/Hockaday School) – Lacrosse
- Brandon Newton (Ruston, La./Cedar Creek High) – Golf
- Jessica Simpson (North Canton, Ohio/Miami (Ohio)) – Softball
- Kyle Merber (Dix Hills, N.Y./Columbia) – Track and Field
With the resolution of the NFL lockout yesterday, the number of North American professional sports leagues embroiled in a labor crisis is down to one. So what to make of the current state of the NBA? Senior writer Ian Thomsen (@SI_IanThomsen) – who profiled National Basketball Player’s Association President Derek Fisher in last week’s issue – answers some of our questions about the issues at hand and what to expect.
In the 5.30.11 Edition of SI: NBA Finals, Fred Wilpon, Tiki Barber, NHL Playoffs and Inside the Indy 500Posted: May 25, 2011
On the Cover: The NBA Conference Finalists Get Down and Dirty
What Loyalty to Bernie Madoff is Costing Fred Wilpon and the Mets
Time for Tiki Barber to Get Back at His Critics
Puck Possession Is the Key to Winning the Stanley Cup
Inside the Evolution of the Indy 500 After 100 Years
The May 30, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated—on newsstands now—features Miami’s LeBron James and Chicago’s Joakim Noah pursuing a loose ball in the Eastern Conference Finals on the cover. It is the 13th cover appearance for James, which ties him for 14th all time with New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle.
FRED WILPON PAYS THE PRICE – TOM VERDUCCI (@TOMVERDUCCI)
New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon shares detailed and personal accounts of the Bernard Madoff scandal and Irving Picard lawsuit with senior writer Tom Verducci. Wilpon acknowledges the $1 billion lawsuit could cost him ownership of the Mets, saying (page 64): “I think the club became in jeopardy when he filed [for] this billion dollars. That’s when I decided to sell part of the club and maintain control in our operations and share the partnership with somebody.”
Wilpon says the Mets “are bleeding cash” and acknowledges that they stand to lose as much as $70 million this year.
In the summer of 2002, after Wilpon became the sole owner of the Mets, he reached out to four or five “extremely close friends” to offer them a piece of the team. One of those men was Bernie Madoff who turned down the offer. Looking back on it, Wilpon recalls: “Bernie didn’t want to be in the public eye, which I can now understand more.”
To read the full online version of Fred Wilpon Pays the Price, click here.
On the Tablets: A Sports Illustrated audio podcast interview with Tom Verducci.
TIKI BARBER GETS REAL – L. JON WERTHEIM (@jon_wertheim)
Former Pro Bowl running back Tiki Barber seemed destined for success after football, but a failed television career and a scandal shattered his post football ambitions. Now 36, he attempts an NFL comeback and to repair his bruised image (page 46).
Former teammate Michael Strahan says: “When people are like, ‘What’s up with Tiki?’ I don’t even know where to begin. You can be critical, even of your old team, but people felt Tiki was malicious. You take that, and then the team you criticized wins the Super Bowl? That can be hard to recover from. Especially in New York.”
Says Roman Oben, a Giants tackle from 1996 to ’99 (page 46): “A lot of players want to be taken seriously as more than a football player. But we’d beat the Cowboys and fly home. Guys are yelling, playing cards and watching movies. Tiki’s sitting there, legs crossed, reading Wuthering Heights or whatever. Come on. Some guys let you know how bad they had it growing up. Tiki wanted you to know the opposite: Hey, I’m not from the hood.”
To read the full online version of Tiki Barber Gets Real, click here.
On the Tablets: Exclusive video of Barber’s workouts as he attempts an NFL comeback.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: BULLYING THE BULLS – IAN THOMSEN (@SI_IanThomsen)
For all the attention paid to James and the other two members of Miami’s Big Three, it was the physical play of Udonis Haslem that set the Heat back on track against Chicago after he missed all but 13 games this season. Says Dwyane Wade (page 36): “He’s the heartbeat of our team. Our team is that much better with U-D being back.”
To read the full online version of Bullying the Bulls, click here.
On the Tablets: Video highlights from the Bulls-Heat series.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS: A BEAUTIFUL RIVALRY – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
Oklahoma City and Dallas are perfect foils. The Thunder is a young team and new to the NBA elite while the experienced Mavericks have yet to fulfill their championship hopes. These teams are not only in the middle of a down-and-dirty playoff series but also at the beginning of what promises to be an interstate rivalry for years to come. Says Kevin Durant, a former Texas Longhorn (page 40): “Anytime you have an Oklahoma team against a Texas team you’re going to have that extra little bit of intensity from the fans. That’s just the way it is down here.”
To read the full online version of The Beginning of a Beautiful Rivalry, click here.
On the Tablets: Video highlights from the Western Conference finals and hot spots of the five best rivalries in NBA history.
NHL PLAYOFFS: KEEP BOTH EYES ON THE PUCK – BRIAN CAZENEUVE
Nobody in the NHL can agree on just how to quantify puck possession. But everybody knows that hockey’s most elusive statistic is essential to winning the Stanley Cup. Says Tampa Bay Lightning G.M. Steve Yzerman (page 60): “Without the red line and with relaxed rules on icing, the puck can go from behind your net into the other team’s end in an instant, so there’s not much playing in the neutral zone anymore. The more you have the puck, the more you can attack and generate offense. That’s the way I believe you defend a lead now: Attack and make the other team defend.”
To read the full online version of Keep Both Eyes on the Puck, click here.
On the Tablets: A closer look at the leading contenders from each of the four remaining teams to take home the Conn Smythe Trophy: Martin St. Louis (Lightning), Joe Thornton (Sharks), Tim Thomas (Bruins) and Ryan Kesler (Canucks).
100 YEARS OF THE INDY 500 – CHARLES LEERHSEN
This year’s Indianapolis 500 marks 100 years since the inaugural race. The Indy 500 has evolved into a far safer and more streamlined event over the years, but can it regain its former roar? Sports Illustrated takes a closer look at some of the memorable moments that have been made on the 2.5-mile oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as how the cars at the hallowed Brickyard have evolved since Ray Harroun won the 1911 race in a Marmon Wasp (page 52).
On the Tablets: Nine photos of past action from the Indy 500.
THE PREAKNESS: LEADING FROM THE FRONT – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)
By pushing the pace from the start, Shackleford never allowed Animal Kingdom to relax as he did in the Kentucky Derby. In holding off the 2–1 favorite by a half length on the backstretch, Shackleford defied the racetrack wisdom that a fast pace benefits fast-finishing horses (like Animal Kingdom) by wearing out the leaders. Says Shackleford’s trainer, Dale Romans (page 44): “When the pace is slow, you keep closers in the race.”
To read the full online version of Leading From the Front, click here.
On the Tablets: A slideshow of Sports Illustrated’s best photos from the Preakness.
POINT AFTER: END OF THE STORY – JOE POSNANSKI (@JPosnanski)
During an interview on Thursday with senior writer Joe Posnanki, Dick Ebersol summed up his career thusly: “The most important thing to me was to tell stories.” Ebersol saw past the excess hype, one-liners and camera angles of today’s sports media landscape and focused on captivating narratives. With Ebersol’s departure from NBC, fans may have seen the last giant of network television sports. Speaking with Posnanski shortly after Ebersol’s resignation, Al Michaels said (page 74): “I think Dick saw his role as 75 percent creative and 25 percent business. And I think things were changing so that [the ratio] was going to be the other way around…. Dick took chances. I don’t know who will take those chances now.”
To read the full online version of End of the Story, click here.
SCORECARD: TOO MUCH INFORMATION? – Jack McCallum
This week marks the national release of These Guys Have All the Fun, an inside look at the lives of the talent as ESPN since the network’s inception in 1979. As ESPN continues to grow, its audience has become more invested with its anchors, which raises the question: How fair is to scrutinize the private lives of people delivering the news? (page 12)
To read the full online version of Too Much Information?, click here.
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 23)
• Anna McClung (Gate City, Va.) – Soccer
• Kyle Winter (San Antonio) – Track and Field
• Adrienne Monka (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.) – Softball
• Nyko Bodnar (Long Beach, Calif.) – Diving
• Grace Gaeng (Bel Air, Md.) – Lacrosse
• Paul Karmas (Queens, N.Y.) – Baseball
Follow Faces in the Crowd on Twitter @SI_Faces.
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS (page 24)
- Boxing: Golden Oldie – At the record age of 46, a revived (and aggressive!) Bernard Hopkins took the light heavyweight title. (Chris Mannix, @ChrisMannixSI)
- Golf: Grandfathered In – After a crushing playoff loss at the Players, David Toms rebounded with an emotional win in honor of his late grandfather at the Colonial. (Gary Van Sickle, @GaryVanSickle)
- Soccer: The Best Ever? – Barcelona goes for the accolade of “best club ever” in Saturday’s Champions League final. Here’s how Manchester United can stop them. (Jen Chang, @JenChang88)
- Baseball: Bigs Break – They’re minor leaguers now, but these five players will be major contributors soon. (Joe Sheehan, @joe_sheehan)
THIS WEEK ON THE TABLETS
- SI Digital Bonus: Game 6 – Five months after Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Peter Gammons analyzed the might-have-beens and should-have-dones with the players and managers of the Mets and the Red Sox.