The Panic Room
While NFC West powerhouse teams San Francisco Forty Niners and Seattle Seahawks have made bold moves to boost their roster for the upcoming season, the Saint Louis Rams find themselves relying heavily on young raw talent, which made Day 1 of the 2013 NFL Draft crucial for the rising team. In a Sports Illustrated exclusive in this week’s magazine, Senior Writer Peter King gives a behind the scenes look at how the Rams managed the franchises most important day of the year with a little gambling and a lucky golden coin.
Included in this draft day timeline is:
- The Rams desperate deal making that ensured their acquisition of the No. 8 pick in the draft and the subsequent drafting of West Virginia receiver-returner Tevon Austin, “a durable lightning bug and the most dangerous player on the board,” (PAGE 50) writes King.
- The dramatic decision making process that led to the Rams trading their No. 22 overall pick in the first round for the No. 30 pick, a move that potentially put securing their favorite prospect, Alec Ogletree, in jeopardy. Ogletree’s agent Pat Dye warned, “you better not get cute or you’ll lose him.” (PAGE 51) The Rams got him at No. 30 still.
- A breakdown of the sweat-educing stressful environment that was the climax of a nine month scouting process, an environment that “felt like Wall Street,” (PAGE 54) said Les Snead, the Rams General Manager.
It’s springtime in Washington, D.C and the streets are bustling once again. The Nationals are a contender with Bryce Harper batting .360 and the Capitals are in the playoffs, against the long odds set by their dreadful start. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Sarah Kwak finds that Capitals star Alex Ovechkin’s new comfort zone off the ice has helped revitalize his game on the ice. The result: he is happy and the Capitals soared into the postseason.
It was love at first sight for Ovechkin when he met tennis star Maria Kirilenko at the U.S. Open in 2011. “Destiny…I believe in destiny,” says Ovechkin (PAGE 58). Despite living thousands of miles apart, he in D.C., she in Moscow, the long-distance love affair has helped the 27-year-old Capitals captain change his hard-partying ways. “I don’t think [the relationship] changed my personality, but it’s changed my lifestyle…no more crazy stuff like I did in the summers…I don’t want to do [the crazy stuff] because I know she’s going to not be happy about it,” says Ovechkin (PAGE 58).
Ovechkin’s revival has, of course, been fostered by his trusting relationship with first-year coach Adam Oates, who took over after Dale Hunter stepped down last summer and who stunned the league (and Ovechkin) by moving his star from left wing to the right. “But the real [cause of his] transformation has been the coach and the change of position…Adam was convinced he could make [Ovechkin] a better player…and he had the evidence to back it up,” says General Manager George McPhee (PAGE 59).
Oates explains the move was about increasing the right handed Ovechkin’s touches. He wanted to diversify Ovechkin’s game by giving him different looks at the net. “I wanted my best player to have the puck more…and I felt playing on his off side, there’s only so many times he can get the puck. I thought on the other side, I could double the opportunities he could get touching the puck,” says Oates (PAGE 60).
Just three games into the season, Ovechkin had no goals and just one assist while looking extremely uncomfortable on the ice. “I was not happy about it because I played my entire life on the left side,” says Ovechkin (PAGE 60). After the star committed to the switch, Washington won 15 of its last 19 games.
Ovechkin isn’t exactly a candidate for the Selke trophy as the league’s best defensive forward, but McPhee sees a better all-around player who learned to commit at both ends of the ice. Is it destiny? Alex Ovechkin certainly believes in that.
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
Only five million of India’s 1.2 billion people play basketball, making it the largest untapped hoops market in the world. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, senior writer Pete Thamel takes an inside look at basketball in India and how the NBA’s plan to penetrate this potentially lucrative market centers on the success of a 7-foot teenager from the Punjab named Satnam Singh Bhamara.
Satnam didn’t play basketball until age nine, when he was already 5’ 9” and was simply told to try the game due to his height. He picked up the game quickly and earned a scholarship at India’s premier basketball academy. He is now playing and going to school on scholarship at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. At age 17, he is a 7’1 ½”, 300-pound basketball prodigy with size 20 sneakers. Thamel writes:
“He can shoot with both hands, he never brings the ball below his waist after a rebound, and he can reliably hit free throws.” (PAGE 68)
Satnam’s father Balbir, also more than seven feet tall, never played basketball since he had to work on the family farm. He tells Thamel: “The things I couldn’t do in my life, I want Satnam to do.” (PAGE 68)
Thamel finds that the NBA shares the lofty ambitions for Satnam that his father has, as league executives envision Satnam becoming an Indian icon and international basketball ambassador, much like Yao Ming did in China a decade ago. Both the NBA and IMG understand the potential of India’s large young population. “It’s the largest untapped basketball market in the world,” says Bobby Sharma, IMG’s senior vice president for global basketball. “If Satnam’s potential gets him to the NBA, that’ll be good for a lot of people—especially Satnam.” (PAGE 69)
Almost half of India’s population is under the age of 24, so marketers and the NBA think now is the time to tap into basketball in India. “I just see it as unlimited in terms of its potential,” says NBA commissioner David Stern. NBA league marketing partners, such as Nike, Adidas and Coca-Cola, have signed up to help grow the game in India. India is “a top priority,” says NBA International president Heidi Ueberroth.
Thamel notes the many challenges to growing basketball in India, from not having adequate facilities to competing against more popular Indian sports like cricket, soccer and field hockey to the lack of a professional league that encourages kids to play and eventually earn some money playing the sport. Officials must also close the talent gap and find players like Satnam in remote areas outside of the cities. As it stands now, Thamel writes that “the Indian National team would struggle in the middling America East Conference.” (PAGE 72)
While he currently projects to be no more than an end-of-rotation NBA banger, his upside in India is enormous and he understands his potential influence. Satnam says: “Even after I retire, I want to make sure there’s a young generation that continues the popularity of basketball in India.” (PAGE 69)
Says Stern: “It doesn’t depend ultimately on whether Satnam Singh is the next Yao Ming…although that would be nice.” (PAGE 70)
Click here to listen to Pete Thamel discuss whether India can develop as a basketball power on the Inside SI Podcast with Richard Deitsch.
Most Unique Visitors to Website Among Several Of Digital Superlatives
Monday, April 29, 2013 become the most trafficked day ever for SI.com, powered by the exclusive first person essay by NBA center Jason Collins which announced he was gay. Nearly 4MM UVs (3.713) visited SI.com yesterday which bested the previous record of 3.663 UVs on February 9, 2010, which was a convergence of the Winter Olympics and the launch of the annual swimsuit franchise.
Also yesterday, SI.com mobile recorded its highest UV and PV day ever, with 740K daily UVs and 1.5MM PVs. PVs were up 3x’s the average daily numbers and UVs were up 5x’s the average daily since the mobile relaunch in October 2012.
On Monday, the Jason Collins story generated 4.1MM social actions across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+. This is the most social interaction that SI has ever seen in a single day leading to SI being featured as popular/trending on Twitter, Instagram and Storify. On Twitter “Sports Illustrated” trended worldwide for an hour and “Jason Collins” trended worldwide for 16 hours and in the U.S. for more than 24 hours.
The all-time top 5 days for SI.com are:
- 4.29.13 3.713 UVs
- 2.9.10 3.663 UVs Winter Olympics/Swimsuit launch
- 6.26.07 3.612 UVs
- 2.14.12 3.198 UVs Swimsuit launch
- 8.13.08 3.014 UVs Summer Olympics
“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.
Another big week in sports has passed us by, so it’s understandable if you couldn’t get to all of the great content on SI.com from this past week. Inside SI has you covered. Here’s a sampling of some of the top stories and video productions from our outstanding team of talent from the past week:
Pete Thamel remembers Martin Richard and Lingzi Lu, whose lives were cut way too short due to the Boston Marathon bombing. He also takes a look at Dzhokhar Tzarnaev’s shocking change from role model to monster.
David Epstein remembers Boston Marathon bombing victim Krystal Campbell, a young woman who everyone seemed to love.
Steve Rushin writes eloquently on how Boston stood strong during a trying week.
Paul Daugherty on why the Reds owe it to Teddy Kramer, the inspirational Reds batboy with down syndrome, to aid him in more ways than one.
Austin Murphy has a message to coaches: Stop screaming and start teaching
Michael Rosenberg details why Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher is a low-major, low-risk pick. Turns out the Chiefs agreed, as he was last night’s No. 1 overall pick!
Peter King’s MMQB needs no explanation.
Richard Deistch’s weekly Media Circus column gave readers insight into the broadcast plans of ESPN and NFL network for the NFL draft and how they both agreed to not have their writers tip picks on social media.
Tom Verducci on why patience at the plate is no longer synonymous with winning.
Ben Reiter details 5 MLB players poised for a breakout according to scouts.
Ian Thompson on how veteran players are defining the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Phil Taylor says it’s time for Derick Rose to suit up and play.
Andy Staples on how NFL draft prospects were rated as high school recruits.
Stewart Mandel opines why the new College Football Playoff is still far from perfect. He breaks down the new playoff here.
Andy Glockner provides an update on NCAA basketball impact transfers.
Stu Hackel looks back at a shortened NHL season that was full of surprises.
Brian Cazeneuve says it’s odd to see summer come early for the Devils and Red Wings.
Jon Wertheim writes on Djokovic’s calendar Grand Slam chances and more in his Tennis mailbag.
Lars Anderson gives out his Sprint Cup season quarter mark awards.
Grant Wahl answers fans questions in his Soccer mailbag.
Gary Van Sickle takes you inside Augusta’s Ultimate Masters VIP Room
Loretta Hunt sits down with Georges St-Pierre to discuss his personal and philosophical side that came out in his new book.
Paul Pabst, producer of the Dan Patrick Show, ranks the top Hollywood QB’s. Also, watch Pabst and Andrew Perloff, from SI and the DP Show, debate the most elite quarterbacks in the world of film here.
Peter King breaks down the unusual maneuvers made in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Don Banks and Andrew Perloff look ahead to the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft
Former Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis looks back on the day he was drafted into the NFL.
Raising a top NFL Draft pick: Eric Fisher and his mom
Former Oregon Duck Dion Jordan, who was picked No. 3 by the Dolphins last night, stopped by the SI studios earlier in the week to discuss his NFL future, Chip Kelly, and the draft process.
From the red carpet at Radio City in New York, top prospects get quizzed on their knowledge of NFL Draft history.
Chris Mannix talks with unified Junior Welterweight champion Danny Garcia at Gleason’s Gym about his upcoming fight against Zab Judah at Barclays Center.
In a Golf Magazine exclusive, Graeme McDowell reveals his secrets for accurate tee shots