Chris Paul has made the Clippers not only the hottest team in Los Angeles, but also a threat to win the Western Conference. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Lee Jenkins finds that the Clipper’s floor general has always been a natural leader and role model, both on and off the court.
As a young child Chris was destined to lead others. Paul was class president all throughout Middle School and High School. When he played Pop Warner his coach would put him at middle linebacker so he could instruct the rest of the defense. As a freshman at Wake Forest, Paul gave pregame speeches before the coaches. As a rookie with the Hornets in 2005, Chris was tagging along for captain’s meetings. “Chris was a once-in-a-generation leader,” says former teammate P.J. Brown (PAGE 82).
At 6 feet, Paul is nine inches shorter than the great Magic Johnson, but they carry themselves the same way, taskmasters disguised as cheerleaders. “These are people who have the ability to blend everybody around them together,” says teammate Lamar Odom (PAGE 82).
Paul’s contract expires on July 1, but associates insist he has not discussed signing elsewhere. “I’m here to build something different…I’m going to make this my new family,” says Paul (PAGE 82-83).
Unlike how the reported lack of camaraderie hurts the other NBA team in town, thanks to Paul’s leadership the Clippers rent out movie theaters on the road, go to UCLA games when they’re home and celebrate every birthday with cupcakes on the practice court.
Not only is Paul a tremendous leader, he can be raw and ruthless on the court as well. “He’s a pit bull…with a little man’s complex,” says Clippers guard Willie Green (PAGE 84).
Paul talks the entire game. “I played against John Stockton…That’s what it’s like playing against Chris,” says Thunder point guard Derek Fisher (PAGE 86).
Rajon Rondo, the Celtics’ starting point guard who was voted in as a starter to this year’s All-Star Game, suffered a torn ACL on Jan. 27 and has since watched his team play its best basketball of the year. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) takes a look at Boston’s floor general both on and off the court, and how the Celtics stellar play with Rondo injured will inspire him to work even harder to come back stronger.
Prior to being lost for the season, Rondo was averaging 13.7 points and a league high 11.1 assists per game. Jenkins finds that Rondo’s ability to think a few steps ahead on the court is due large in part to the fact that grew up playing Connect Four on his front porch with anyone who dared to challenge him. Back then and now, Rondo is the first to let his opponents know how well he is doing. Jenkins writes:
“Opposing point guards, weary of Rondo’s jawing and jostling, wonder if he is picking a fight with them or simply doesn’t like them.” (PAGE 58)
Rondo admits: “I’m not a great people person…I’m not trying to make friends on the court…we can talk in the summer.” (PAGE 58)
Yet, Rondo is a hit with kids in his community. For the past six years, Rondo spends time with children at the Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club in Dorchester, Mass. What do they do when he is there? Play Connect Four.
On the court, Rondo has racked up assist averages over the past two seasons not seen since Magic Johnson and John Stockton, as well as recording the most triple-doubles as the rest of the Eastern Conference combined.
“Everybody wants to score, score, score, score…So I want to pass. I like to be different. I could never be a follower.” Says Rondo (PAGE 60).
Rondo is always thinking three moves ahead and one would think he’ll take the same approach to his ACL rehab. Says Danny Ainge, Boston Celtics General Manager: “He’s the smartest guy in the room.” (PAGE 63)
Sports Illustrated today announced that Miami Heat and USA Basketball star LeBron James is the 2012 Sportsman of the Year. James who accomplished the rare feat of winning an NBA Championship, an Olympic Gold and being named league MVP and Finals MVP, joins an elite group of immortals such as Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky to receive this honor. James is just one of six professional basketball players to be named Sportsman including Heat teammate Dwayne Wade (’06); Tim Duncan and David Robinson (’03), Michael Jordan (1991), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1985) and Bill Russell (1968).
Annually, the magazine presents the Sportsman of the Year award to the transcendent athlete, coach or team who by virtue of their superior athletic achievement and comportment took us all to a higher place. The award debuted in 1954, and in describing the feats of the first Sportsman, Roger Bannister, the editors introduced the award’s guiding principle: “While the victory may have been his, it is not for the victory alone that he is honored. Rather, it is for the quality of his effort and manner of his striving.”
“This year there was an endless list of high-quality possibilities,” said Time Inc. Sports Group Editor Paul Fichtenbaum. “But LeBron’s stirring accomplishments on and off the court were impossible to ignore. He showed tremendous heart during times of adversity, and he delivered with relentless determination. Equally as impressive, although much less heralded, was his development of a hands-on educational program in an Akron, Ohio, school district which will have a profound and long-lasting impact on its students. His accomplishments embody the finest traditions of this award.”
The Dream Team’s Legendary Scrimmage: Michael Jordan vs. Magic Johnson
Royce White’s Fear of Flying Makes Him the NBA Draft’s Mystery Pick
Giancarlo Stanton Leaves His Imprint on Outfield Walls and Scoreboards
Drug-Free Cyclists Prepare for the Tour De France and Olympics
(NEW YORK – June 28, 2012) – Twenty-nine teams should be very afraid, because LeBron James has breached the championship levee, just as Michael Jordan did in 1991. Jordan was 28, and he won five more titles in the next seven years, even with a break for baseball. James is 27, and for the first time, he will get to play, as Heat president Pat Riley acknowledged, “with freedom.” LeBron making good on his promise to bring an NBA Championship to South Beach is the cover story for the July 2, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
James punctuated one of the best regular seasons in the modern era with one of the best playoffs, leading the Heat with 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists, while shooting 50% and guarding everyone from Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. In the series clinching Game 5 versus the Thunder he scored 26 points with 11 rebounds and 13 assists, eight of which led to three-pointers by five different teammates, accounting for 60 points in a 121–106 throttling of the Thunder.
“It’s time to make a new challenge. I’ve got to figure out what that is. I know I can get better. And I know I’m not satisfied with one of these. That’s the next challenge to do it again.” said LeBron James.
Senior writer Lee Jenkins points out that the championship could not have been won without a change in philosophy from one of the team’s best players. LeBron couldn’t carry the Heat if Dwyane Wade was going to claim the load.
“He basically looked at me one day and told me, ‘I need you to lead this team now,’ ”James says. “And then he did it during games. He’d say, ‘I need you to lead us right here.’ ” By the time the playoffs began, roles were defined. James was the headliner. Wade, suffering from an injured left knee, was the sidekick. “It was hard for me to do it,” Wade admits, “but it was easy for me to do it for the team.”
THE GREATEST GAME NOBODY EVER SAW – JACK MCCALLUM (@JackMcCallum)
The Dream Team, arguably the most dominant squad ever assembled in any sport, played 14 games 20 years ago, and their smallest margin of victory was 32 points. The toughest competition faced by the best team in basketball history was at a closed scrimmage in Monaco between sides led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. The details of the game remained a secret to the world for nearly 20 years, until now.
Most of the 12 names on the roster remain familiar to fans decades later, and all are members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. The common matrices of statistical comparison are simply not relevant in the case of the Dream Team, whose members could be evaluated only when they played each other. The video of that scrimmage, therefore, is the holy grail of basketball.
“You have a tape? Of that game? Man, everybody asks me about that Game. It was the most fun I ever had on a basketball court,” said Michael Jordan.
THE MYSTERY PICK IS ROYCE WHITE – PABLO TORRE (@SIPabloTorre)
Iowa State’s Royce White was the only player in Division I to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. College coaches around the country praise his all-around game, but his spot in this Thursday’s NBA draft remains a mystery. He has been projected to be a lottery pick or end up in the second round. The main reason for this is that White has a generalized anxiety disorder and suffers from a severe fear of flying, which worries many NBA executives.
White was allowed to drive to a few games last season, but in sit-downs with White, NBA officials have warned him that the pros will be less accommodating. The Heat informed him that they won’t allow a player to drive from even Miami to Orlando. White said, “It’s understandable. But in my head, I’m going, you want me to drive. You’re paying me millions of dollars to perform … the point is, we’re not all alike.”
Royce’s talent is not lost on his contemporaries as none of the projected top 15 picks have agreed to work out against White for NBA teams. During the second round of the NCAA tournament against Kentucky, a game that was close into the second half, White had 23 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. Projected No.1 pick Anthony Davis said after the game, “Royce was beating us by himself.”
NAME CHANGER, GAME CHANGER – ALBERT CHEN
Long before he became Giancarlo Stanton, the young Marlins slugger left an unmistakable imprint – on scouts, not to mention countless outfield walls and scoreboards. The outfielder was called up to the big leagues as a 20-year old along with the legend of having bludgeoned baseballs out of ballparks and into parking lots, golf courses and lakes. Before games opposing players and coaches linger to watch Stanton take batting practice. This past May, Stanton had historic month, hitting .343 with 12 home runs and 30 RBIs to become the youngest player since Joe DiMaggio to reach those totals in any month.
Stanton mashed 56 home runs after his first two seasons in the majors, only Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez had as many before age 22 in the last 45 years. His teammates call him by his nickname: Bigfoot.
“He does things no human should be able to do. The only guy I have ever heard players talk about like they talk about [Stanton] is Darryl Strawberry,” said teammate Randy Choate.
“People have said that homegrown power arms is the most important commodity in the game, but the middle-of-the-order, 30-home-run guy is becoming almost as valuable, given how few of them there are now,” said an American League G.M.
I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE – AUSTIN MURPHY (@si_AustinMurphy)
Cycling has been plagued by doping scandals for years, but recent USADA regulations have made cheating much more difficult. Today’s top cyclists are minutes slower than athletes in EPO’s heyday. And with the 99thTour de France and 2012 London Olympics quickly approaching, spectators are bound to see a more authentic competition than in previous Games.
“Performances are less predictable, more human and, – as a result, more exciting,” write Austin Murphy.
In this article, Austin Murphy evaluates the top Olympic and Tour riders. Despite injuries and training challenges, Brad Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, two Brits on a British-based squad called Team Sky should dominate the field at both major events.
“Ten days after the Tour, Wiggins will roll down the ramp at Hampton Court Palace, hard by the Thames, as one of the favorites in the Olympic 44-km time trial around London,” writes Murphy.
SCORECARD: RINGING MOMENT ON CENTRE COURT – S.L. PRICE
It can be argued that tennis at the Olympics holds little weight in the game. Majors aside, there are 10 other tournaments this year that count more in the rankings than the London Games. This time however, the normal math can’t apply, because the Olympics will be held at Wimbledon and Wimbledon is where tennis gods are made. It’s no accident that Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Rafael Nadal of Spain will serve as their nations’ flag bearers in the opening ceremony—and that Roger Federer is an odds-on favorite to do likewise for Switzerland.
If the Olympics are indeed the showcase for the planet’s best athletes, it’s only right that the three who’ve pushed the men’s game to unprecedented heights will be out front.
POINT AFTER: LIGHT FROM THE DARKNESS – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
Last week, Jerry Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts of sexual abuse, the two-week trial reminded us all of over again of the revolting nature of his crimes. But from that darkness came some light. A groundswell at the legislative level, university level and the grassroots level has emerged to fight back against pedophiles. Victims have been emboldened to come forward.
Dan Rost, a sophomore from Franklin County, Pa., along with three other students founded the One Heart Campaign to raise money and awareness to help fight child abuse. Rost said, “I had no clue how prevalent an issue this was until then. Then I did some research and realized this was not just a Sandusky issue, not just a Penn State issue, but a national issue. I decided I didn’t want to live in a culture in which this was such a widespread problem, so I decided to see what could be done about it.”
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- NHL (page 31): Value Added – NHL free agency begins this Sunday and some big names could be changing teams. But the player most likely to reap the richest rewards is a defenseman many hockey fans have never heard of. (@MichaelFarber3)
- MLB (page 30) East or Famine – With interleague play done for the year, the game’s balance of power tilts decidedly to the right side of the map. (@joe_sheenhan)
- Soccer (page 32) The Case for Cristiano – Lionel Messi may be more beloved, but the Euros confirm the claim of his rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, to the title of 2012 world player of the year. (@GrantWahl)
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 22)
- Matt Nesmith (North Augusta, S.C./North Augusta High) – Golf
- Danielle Aragon (Billings, Mont./Billings High) –Track and Field
- Bakawsu Kinteh (Suwanee, Ga./Lambert High) – Soccer
- Gina Medina Van Arsdall (Glendale, Ariz./Phoenix College) – Softball
- Dayton Silva (Manhattan Beach, Calif./MiraCosta College) – Surfing
- Gabrielle Clark (Chicago, Ill./Emory University) – Tennis
- Dillon Pottish (East Quogue, N.Y./Emory University) – Tennis
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.”
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