This Joint Is Jumpin': Derrick Rose’s New Knee

Derrick RoseA year and a half after he tore his left ACL, 2011 MVP Derrick Rose is back. But will he be as good as new? Rose is one of 12 top NBA players who are attempting to return from knee surgery. Vrentas writes, “According to a 2010 article in the Sports Health journal that tracked the league’s injuries through a 17-year period, no other body part causes more missed games in the NBA than the knee. As players continue to get bigger with each passing season, and as the game has become more acrobatic, their bigger and stronger bodies place a greater strain on the knee as they twist and turn and jump. This applies to ACL injuries as well as tears to the meniscus, the C-shaped piece of cartilage in the knee joint.”

Rose was criticized by fans and media for sitting out last season instead of making a speedy recovery as did Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who returned to play nine months after tearing his left ACL. “NBA players recovering from knee surgeries face unique demands, including an 82-game season,” writes Vrentas.  A sustained pace with dozens of sharp, abrupt movements; up to 12 minutes per quarter; and little margin for error in the essential skill of shooting. Returning to the court after knee surgery may take longer in the NBA than in other professional sports, like the NFL.” | SI writer Jenny Vrentas


The Post Man Rings Twice

Dwight Howard

Class is in session for Dwight Howard in Houston. The topic? Offense. Despite being a seven-time NBA All-Star and three-time    Defensive Player of the Year, Howard’s inside game is built on power and little else. That could change under the tutelage of the most balletic pair of old-school big men the game has ever seen: Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale. Writes Jenkins, “While Olajuwon methodically expanded his repertoire through 17 seasons in Houston, showcasing his speed with a balletic array of spins and counters, Howard’s routine remained fairly constant, forcing up those baby hooks.”

Olajuwon, who won two NBA titles with the Rockets, believes versatility is the one thing preventing Howard from being great. “You can’t have one move,” Olajuwon says. “It’s like having one outfit. I’m not going to wear the same thing to the party that I do to the gym.”

Howard worked with Olajuwon while he was with Orlando. Soon after Howard signed with the Rockets last July, McHale invited The Dream to once again become part of the team to help coach Howard and several of the team’s other big men, including 7-foot center Omer Asik. “How can we get Dwight better?” McHale asks. “That’s what we talk about. If we did nothing, and he played the way he has his entire career, he’d still be the best big guy in the NBA. But if Hakeem and I can give him a couple more tools, and he can master those, what a complement that would be.” | SI senior writer Lee Jenkins


This Week’s Sports Illustrated Cover Story: Exclusive Interview with Kobe Bryant

43COVv23_1PromoAs he recovers from the ruptured Achilles tendon that will delay the start of his 18th NBA season, Kobe Bryant reflects on how he became his generation’s greatest player in an exclusive interview with senior writer Lee Jenkins in this week’s SI. Jenkins writes, “In an age when athletes aspire to be icons, yet share the burden of success with all their best pals, Bryant looms as perhaps the last alpha dog, half greyhound and half pit bull.” (PAGE 35) Bryant, who makes his 17th appearance on SI’s cover, admits that he has some self-doubt as he comes off a potentially devastating injury at age 35.

“I have self-doubt,” Bryant says. “I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. You rise above it. . . . I don’t know how I’m going to come back from this injury. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be horses—. Then again, maybe I won’t, because no matter what, my belief is that I’m going to figure it out. Maybe not this year or even next year, but I’m going to stay with it until I figure it out.” (PAGE 35)

Bryant has adopted a title for the next chapter of his career. “It’s The Last Chapter,” Bryant says. “The book is going to close. I just haven’t determined how many pages are left.” (PAGE 35)

Bryant also discusses many of the challenges and opportunities that have allowed him to become a better player, including growing up in Italy. “I was lucky to grow up in Italy at a time when basketball in America was getting f—– up with AAU shuffling players through on strength and athleticism,” Bryant says. “I missed all that, and instead I was taught extreme fundamentals: footwork, footwork, footwork, how to create space, how to handle the ball, how to protect the ball, how to shoot the ball.” (PAGE 36)

In the winter of 2001 teammate Rick Fox told Bryant in a players-only meeting that the team wants to feel like Bryant needs them on the court. Bryant responded by saying, “Sometimes I do shoot too much. It’s not because I see you open and don’t want to pass. I don’t see you at all. My mind is built on scoring the ball. That’s a weakness.” (PAGE 37)

After a year feuding with teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant learned that Shaq had been traded to Miami. “I was no longer a 20-year-old with 30-year-olds,” Bryant says. “My teammates were suddenly my peers. I couldn’t be the kid who was trying to demolish everything in his path anymore. My reputation was as this drill sergeant, and I had to make the conversion from on-court assassin to manager.” Bryant says he talked to Michael Jordan many times about how to impart motivation with love. “Getting other people to believe in themselves,” Bryant says, “that’s always been the hardest part.” (PAGE 37)

So how does he see this season playing out? “Maybe I won’t have as much explosion,” Bryant says. “Maybe I’ll be slower. But I have other options. It’s like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There’s a reason he’s still at the top after all these years. He’s the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time.” (PAGE 39)


Kansas Freshman Basketball Star Andrew Wiggins on Cover of This Week’s Sports Illustrated

42COVv23_nat_PromoAndrew Wiggins, a 6′ 8″, 200-pound versatile forward from outside Toronto was the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2013 and is widely considered the likely No. 1 pick in the ’14 NBA draft. The once-in-a-generation talent has Kansas fans in a frenzy, but it’s not the first time a first-year Jayhawk has had that effect, writes Luke Winn in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED—on newsstands now. Winn compares the arrival of Wiggins, who appears on SI’s cover, to the arrival of former Kansas greats Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. “The notion of what Andrew Wiggins could be, if he can cultivate a relentlessness to pair with his talent, is why he is being received differently—even at a school that’s won nine straight regular-season Big 12 titles and has two other potential first-rounders in guard Wayne Selden and center Joel Embiid,” writes Winn. “Even in a college town that’s seen this already, twice.” (PAGE 61)

When Wiggins arrived on campus in June, Kansans coach Bill Self told him, “If you handle this right, you could potentially have everything you ever dreamed of and go down as one of the most loved athletes to ever come through this university.” (PAGE 61)

The chase for Chamberlain was college basketball’s first truly national recruiting battle. Winn writes it had everything in the way of subplots: “Racial overtones. Boosters with fat wallets. NBA teams scheming for his draft rights. Spurned rivals, skeptical journalists and relentless NCAA investigators.” (PAGE 63) Chamberlain’s debut was in the annual series between the Kansans freshmen and varsity teams. Wilt led the freshmen to their first win in the 33-year history of the series.

Manning’s arrival in Lawrence meant more to Kansans than Wiggins’s does now, since many believe Wiggins will be a one-and-done player.  While Chamberlain’s Jayhawks could not beat North Carolina in the 1957 national championship game, Kansas coach Larry Brown was able to secure Manning’s commitment over the Tar Heels in 1983. At the time Brown proclaimed, “Danny Manning is the most complete young player I have ever seen. He’ll be the best.” (PAGE 62) Manning wound up graduating as the Big Eight’s career leading scorer, and carried the underdog Jayhawks to the ’88 national title.

Wiggins’s recruitment was kept very quiet. That’s because he not only got his athletic prowess from his parents (his father played in the NBA and his mother was a silver medal winning member of Canadian relay teams in the ’84 Olympics), but he also inherited a quiet and humble nature from them. “I wouldn’t really talk to college coaches,” he says of his recruitment process. For a time it was widely assumed he was going to either Florida State or Kentucky. “I was wide open,” Wiggins says, “but no one else was recruiting me.” (PAGE 64) Wiggins, who says he is used to the attention now, describes himself on this Twitter bio as “Just a average kid trying to make it.” “I used to be an average kid, when I put that up,” he insists. “But that . . . was a while ago.” (PAGE 61)

As Wiggins prepares for his debut on Nov. 8 at Allen Fieldhouse, he tries not to think about the weight on his shoulders or next year’s NBA draft. “You’re just not going to get a reaction out of him, with things like the draft,” fellow freshman Wayne Selden says. (PAGE 66)


Kate Upton Joins the Braves’ Upton Brothers on This Week’s SI Cover

41COVv22_PromoThe MLB postseason is under way, and in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED—on newsstands now—senior writer Tom Verducci says it’s all about which team gets hot, because the playoffs are more random and chaotic than ever. Verducci writes, “With parity across the sport, no dominant team among 10 postseason entrants and four rounds of playoffs, welcome to Anybody’s October, a two-fortnight roll of the dice.” (PAGE 36)

SI’s Ben Reiter wonders if brothers B.J. and Justin Upton can get hot and power the Atlanta Braves to a World Series title. The Upton’s, along with SI Swimsuit model Kate Upton appear on the cover of this week’s issue. Kate Upton makes history as the first swimsuit model on the SI cover for a non-Swimsuit issue and joins celebrities such as Bob Hope, Brad Pitt, Stephen Colbert and Mark Wahlberg who have appeared on the cover.

***Visit SwimDaily.com for an album of photos and video from the Uptons’ cover shoot | Click here to view a gallery of SI celebrity covers

As for the Bravess World Series chances, Reiter acknowledges that they do strike out a lot and have been devastated by injuries, and their highest paid player (B.J. Upton) had a really bad debut season. However, in October that may not matter, since Atlanta demonstrated for extended stretches this season that the team can get as hot as any club in baseball. “No team has demonstrated the potential to get hotter than the as-whole-as-they’re-going-to-get Braves, their beleaguered centerfielder included,” says Reiter. “It will all come down to the timing.” (PAGE 46)

*** Click here for more info on Tom Verducci’s article and here for more on Ben Reiter’s article


Flaw of Averages

41COVv22_PromoThey strike out a lot and have been devastated by injuries, and their highest paid player (B.J. Upton) had a really bad debut season in Atlanta. But SI’s Ben Reiter says that might not matter in October, especially since for extended stretches this season Atlanta demonstrated that they can get as hot as any club in baseball. “No team has demonstrated the potential to get hotter than the as-whole-as-they’re-going-to-get Braves, their beleaguered centerfielder included,” says Reiter. “It will all come down to the timing.” (PAGE 46)

Although the Braves won 96 games and had the NL East locked up by mid-August, their regular season was very disjointed. The Braves’ No. 1 starter, Tim Hudson, was lost for the season in late July with a broken ankle, and outfielder Jason Heyward recently returned from a fractured jaw suffered in August. In all, 18 Braves spent at least 15 days on the disabled list. As Atlanta gears up to host the Dodgers, flaws include a pitching staff that, despite its MLB-best 3.19 ERA, does not feature an ace in the mold of Clayton Kershaw or Adam Wainwright, and an offense that has a propensity to strike out. Nobody struggled more on the offense than B.J. Upton, who batted just .186 with nine home runs, 26 RBIs and the major’s second-worst OPS (.561) among players who made at least 400 plate appearances.

Upton has been largely silent about his struggles, perhaps because he knows few will feel sorry for the franchise’s highest-paid player in history.  “You know what, man—it can wear on you over time,” he says. “In the midst of searching for things to get right, I kind of didn’t help myself. If I’d just stuck with what my body knows to do at the plate, I think things might have turned out a little better. Tinkering with the wrong things, when I should have left those things alone.” (PAGE 40)

A rival scout tells Reiter that the presence of B.J.’s younger brother Justin, who had a solid season (27 home runs, a .354 OBP, a 122 OPS+), has not helped him. “B.J. is in pull mode, trying to hit home runs like his brother, when he’s really a gap-to-gap guy,” the scout says. “Having his brother there puts pressure on B.J. to perform, especially when he’s making all the money.” (PAGE 42)

In the past, however, October has proved to be a fresh start for B.J. In 2008, when he was a 24-year-old Tampa Bay Ray, he had a bad regular season but then produced one of history’s great playoff performances. He hit seven home runs and drove in 16 runs, leading the Rays to the World Series.

Reiter notes that for stretches this season, the Braves’ offense has actually produced at a very high level. In the month of July, the Braves were second in the majors in runs scored and ranked an acceptable 12th in strikeouts. They also had three winning streaks this season of at least eight games. “For two, three, four weeks at a time, it was like we were just playing slo-pitch softball,” says Braves hitting coach Greg Walker. “If that happens at the right time, watch out.” (PAGE 46)


Sports Illustrated NHL Preview: Blackhawks Will Repeat As Stanley Cup Champs

40COVv25blackSPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s NHL Preview—on newsstands now—breaks down the 2013-14 season with 20 pages of scouting reports chock full of analysis, 40COVv25pengstory lines and conference power rankings, as well as SI’s Stanley Cup prediction. Who will take home the most famous trophy in sports? SI predicts that the Blackhawks will defeat the Penguins and become the first team to repeat as Cup champs since the 1997–98 Red Wings. Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is featured on the national cover of this week’s SI, his first cover appearance. Penguins center Sidney Crosby (sixth SI cover) appears on a regional cover.

SI NHL Power Rankings

Eastern Conference (by Brian Cazeneuve)
1.    Pittsburgh Penguins
2.    Boston Bruins
3.    New York Rangers
4.    Detroit Red Wings
5.    Ottawa Senators
6.    Montreal Canadiens
7.    Toronto Maple Leafs
8.    New York Islanders
9.    Philadelphia Flyers
10.    Columbus Blue Jackets
11.    Washington Capitals
12.    Tampa Bay Lightning
13.    Carolina Hurricanes
14.    Buffalo Sabres
15.    New Jersey Devils
16.    Florida Panthers

SI’s Brian Cazeneuve writes: “It’s hard to pick against the defending conference champs, especially in the wake of their total domination of the Pens last June, but Pittsburgh has the most talent. They’re the favorites.” (PAGE 68)

Western Conference (by Sarah Kwak)
1.    Chicago Blackhawks
2.    Los Angeles Kings
3.    San Jose Sharks
4.    St. Louis Blues
5.    Vancouver Canucks
6.    Minnesota Wild
7.    Edmonton Oilers
8.    Anaheim Ducks
9.    Nashville Predators
10.    Winnipeg Jets
11.    Phoenix Coyotes
12.    Dallas Stars
13.    Colorado Avalanche
14.    Calgary Flames

Sarah Kwak writes: “The Blackhawks will benefit from playing in the weak (now that Detroit is gone) Central Division. Oh, yes, Toews and Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane (23 goals, 55 points), 24, are entering their prime. There’s no other pick. Not even close.” (PAGE 72)

SI’s Stanley Cup finals pick: Blackhawks over Penguins

SI’s Al Muir previews a breakout player, a coach on the hot seat and a hidden gem from the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions in the Eastern Conference and the Central and Pacific divisions in the Western Conference.

Metropolitan Division:
Breakout Player: Chris Kreider, forward, Rangers
Coach on the Hot Seat: Peter Laviolette, Flyers
Hidden Gem: Andrew MacDonald, defenseman, Islanders

Atlantic Division:
Breakout Player: Jonathan Bernier, goalie, Maple Leafs
Coach on the Hot Seat: Kevin Dineen, Panthers
Hidden Gem: Dennis Seidenberg, defenseman, Bruins

Central Division:
Breakout Player: Jonas Brodin, defenseman, Wild
Coach on the Hot Seat: Claude Noel, Jets
Hidden Gem: Kari Lehtonen, goalie, Stars

Pacific Division:
Breakout Player: Kyle Palmieri, forward, Ducks
Coach on the Hot Seat: Todd McLellan, Sharks
Hidden Gem: Mark Giordano, defenseman, Flames


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