This week’s SI features a look by senior writer Chris Ballard at the top complementary shooters in this year’s playoffs who give elite scorers room to operate and one star—Stephen Curry—who doesn’t need anyone’s help to find room to get off a shot. The regional cover is Curry’s first appearance on an SI cover.
During the Warriors six-game first-round victory over the Nuggets, Ballard says that Curry “appeared to be engaged in one very long, extremely thorough heat check.” (Page 52)
Ballard writes that Curry is a different breed who not only creates his own space, “but he also thrives in the absence of it.” Along with some nudging from his sharp shooting father Dell and coach Mark Jackson, Curry has adapted to defenders playing him tight by shooting more quickly and from more difficult angels. This has led to Curry scoring 59.1% of his buckets unassisted this season. For comparison’s sake, Kevin Durant, another space creating shooter, was assisted on over half of his shots.
“It’s ridiculous the types of shots he makes in games,” says Jarret Jack, the Warriors’ sixth man. “And each he hits one, it only helps the rest of us.” (Page 53)
Ballard also profiles the floor spacers who open up the lane for their team’s primary scorers and simply wait for their moment to come. Ballard says “The NBA has been a shooter’s league for a while now, but never as much as it is today: a record 39.9 threes were launched per game this season.” (PAGE 50)
Think Mike Miller for the Miami Heat in last year’s clinching game 5 of the NBA finals. Says Ballard, “His job: Stretch the Thunder’s defense so it couldn’t collapse on James and Wade as they attacked the basket.” Miller and other floor spacers force the defense to make a decision: leave a star like James or Wade or hope the shooter cools off and misses open shots. Miller made 7 of 8 threes, and the heat won the championship.
Ballard notes other floor spacers in the playoffs, such as New York forward Steve Novak, San Antonio guard Danny Green and Hawks forward Kyle Korver. Teams are now featuring lineups with multiple wing shooters in at a time. After losing Russell Westbrook to injury, the Thunder have even stationed four shooters—Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher, Thoba Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson—in the same lineup with Durant.
Yet, nobody uses shooters as much as the Heath according to Ballard. This season, the Heat have even more floor spacers to join Miller in Ray Allen (a career 40.1% three-point shooter), Rashard Lewis (38.8%), Shane Battier (38.7%) and James Jones (39.9%). Heat coach Eric Spolestra runs a primary offense in which the entire team sets up on the perimeter to creating space for James and Wade to drive. However, due to the Heat’s depth, Miller, Jones and Lewis have barely played yet in the playoffs.
“They haven’t had to use Miller and Joes and Lewis yet,” says an NBA scout. “But I guarantee you, through 16 wins those guys will come in and make a difference. Even if it’s one for one series, or one game. That’s why they’re there.” (PAGE 53)
Pittsburgh Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby continues to amaze by coming back from injury better than when he left, writes Michael Rosenberg in this week’s Sports Illustrated. Since returning from a 13 game absence with a broken jaw, Crosby, who makes his fifth appearance on the SI cover, has scored two goals and assisted on three more, including the game-winner in Sunday’s come-from-behind overtime win over the Islanders.
Despite missing 25% of the lockout shortened season, Crosby still finished third in the NHL with 56 points. Rosenberg finds that Crosby, still just 25 years old, uses his time off from injury to study the strengths and weaknesses of himself, his teammates and the rest of the league. “If this is how you succeed at work, we should all call in sick,” says Rosenberg (Page 38).
After missing 11 months with a concussion in 2011 and another nine months in 2012 due to the NHL lockout, Rosenberg writes that Crosby returned each time with an increased level of passion and improved stats. “I’ve always loved hockey, but I realized how much I really do love it,” says Crosby about his time away from the game. (PAGE 40)
Crosby’s work ethic while off the ice has turned him into the best all-around player in the NHL, according to Rosenberg. His teammates agree. “How complete he is, that is what separates him,” says teammate Matt Niskanen. “That and his drive. Lots of guys work hard, but he works harder. Lots of guys can skate fast, and lots of guys can stickhandle really well. He can do both at the same time and at a very high level.” (PAGE 38)
However, to many hockey fans—especially American ones, Crosby is unworthy of his seat atop the NHL best player throne once occupied by Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Crosby hears the boos and worse in every road arena. Rosenberg concludes that “Crosby is playing at such a high level now that his game should have the same effect on critics that LeBron James’s peaking game did the last two years, forcing them to applaud against their will.” (PAGE 42)
NBA veteran Jason Collins revealed that he is gay in an eloquent and thoughtful essay in this week’s Sports Illustrated. It proved to be a groundbreaking moment for sports and culture—and also for SI, since our magazine was chosen to tell this story.
Secrecy in the planning for this issue was extremely important to protect Jason and his personal story. I was brought into the process last Friday afternoon and was told to be prepared to design a cover, the essay and complementary articles by myself. Usually, I work with my talented team for every issue. While I truly did feel bad that my colleagues couldn’t work on this with me, I understood we had to keep this information tight. After the fact, my team completely understood. In fact, to keep this further under wraps, we had to have our team design other covers for this week’s issue. We now joke that these were our “Argo” covers—we actually had a few ones ready to go for our NHL playoff preview.
As for working alone on this over the weekend, it presented a welcomed challenge by allowing me a return to my roots as a graphic designer. On Friday, all SI managing editor Chris Stone told me was that we were in the process of shooting photos of a professional athlete who is the subject in a first person essay in which he reveals he is gay. I immediately knew that we needed to run a cover photo with the athlete looking right into the camera since it was a personal profile written by the athlete himself. I wanted readers to be able to look right into his eyes when they picked up the magazine. On Saturday afternoon, I started getting photos in from Brad Smith, the SI directory of photography. I then worked on the photos on my personal computer at home, as nothing could be saved in our internal system. I began to layout the cover and 14 pages devoted inside the magazine behind close doors on Sunday and Monday morning in the office. The rest is literally history – the issue was well received and images of the cover have appeared everywhere.
I take great pride in being part of this monumental story. I couldn’t be any prouder that our magazine and website proved to be the perfect medium for Jason to come out as the first active professional team sport athlete who is gay.
More importantly, I think we gave Jason Collins justice in him choosing us to tell such a personal and impactful story. What a week!
- Chris Hercik (@Chercik), Sports Illustrated Creative Director
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black and I’m gay,” begins Jason Collins the 7-foot, 12-year NBA veteran who sat down with Sports Illustrated contributor Franz Lidz and Executive Editor L. Jon Wertheim to openly discuss his sexuality and why he is now making it public. Collins’s exclusive story is part of a Sports Illustrated cross-platform editorial package on the gay athlete. The issue hits newsstands this week and Collins’ poignant thoughts can be found here now on SI.com.
Collins’s essay takes us through his decision as well as reaction from family members and close friends. “I realized I needed to go public when Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy,” Collins explains. “I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “me, too.”
Also from the piece: “The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.”
Collins’s decision to go public causes his family trepidation. “My maternal grandmother was apprehensive about my plans to come out publicly,” he says. “She grew up in rural Louisiana and witnessed the horrors of segregation. During the civil rights movement she saw great bravery play out amid the ugliest side of humanity. She worries that I am opening myself u up to prejudice and hatred. I explained to her that in a way, my coming out is preemptive. I shouldn’t have to live under the threat of being outed. The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”
Also included in this package will be:
- First person reaction from Jarron Collins – Jason’s twin brother and former NBA player
- “Inside the Room” from Executive Editor, Jon Wertheim
- Editor’s Letter from SI Managing Editor Chris Stone – How this piece came together.
- Agent Arm Tellem on his inspiring client.
The Sports Illustrated cover has a legacy of leading ground-breaking conversations in sports including: a 1982 interview with Don Reese, the former NFL defensive lineman, who discussed the proliferation of cocaine in the NFL; SI’s 2002 cover calling LeBron James, “The Chosen One,” which is seen as his arrival on the national stage; a 2002 interview with NL MVP Ken Caminiti discussing steroids in Major League Baseball; Michael Phelps displaying his eight Gold Medals from the 2008 Beijing games; and the 2010 confession of former sports agent Josh Luchs discussing paying players during his 20+ year career.
This week’s Sports Illustrated features a truly unique national cover and an emotional regional cover, both of which lead into fantastic stories by writers Lee Jenkins and S.L. Price.
On the national cover, you’ll find a great photo of Kevin Durant—an image that features just him shooting a free throw with nobody else really in sight. Before we chose this image, we looked at as many photos of Durant as we could and there were so many awesome ones to choose from—photos with him driving to the hoop, photos of him against other elite players, shots from the finals last year, etc. However, in Lee Jenkin’s intriguing article inside SI, Durant opened up and spoke about himself. That’s why we chose a shot that solely centers in on Durant. In this image, he is so focused—his eyes are on the hoop and his hands are in perfect follow through motion from his free throw attempt. The photo was shot just with the spotlight on Durant. It proved to be very fitting. Also—SI managing editor Chris Stone came up with the great idea of running his incredible quote on the cover as well—the one where he says “I’ve been second my whole life. I was the second best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the finals. I’m tired of being second…I’m done with it.” It was a brilliant idea by Chris and works so perfectly with that image. Another memorable cover.
Chris Stone also came up with the idea of having a regional “Boston Strong” cover. Boston Strong proved to be the theme of the weekend after such a tragic week. The phrase is all about community coming together. And while it will certainly take a long time to get back to a sense of normalcy, things did feel a bit more normal at Fenway last Saturday—especially during the 8th inning rally. That’s when Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes started the rally with a double that eventfully led to a Boston victory. As he came into second, he flexed his muscles in what proved to be a perfect photograph—one that captured the moment. We added the text “Strong” underneath the Boston on his jersey so it reads “Boston Strong.” This is the type of emotional cover that I can see as a poster on someone’s wall, but one I wish I never had to design.
- Chris Hercik (@Chercik), Sports Illustrated Creative Director