Junior Seau’s Death Has Left Many Unanswered Questions
Floyd Mayweather Turns in His Best Performance
The NHL Playoffs Have Russian Players Front and Center
I’ll Have Another Wins the Kentucky Derby in Stunning Fashion
Kobe Bryant’s Excellence Derives from Both of His Parents
(NEW YORK – May 9, 2012) – Junior Seau was a beloved figure in San Diego and one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. His suicide last Thursday left those who knew him best stunned, confused and searching for answers. Seau appears on the cover of the May 14, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
Senior writer Jim Trotter (@SI_JimTrotter), who covered Seau and the Chargers as a beat reporter in the 1900s, spoke with close friends and former teammates about who Seau was on and off the field. Seau grew up in the Oceanside section of San Diego, played professionally for the Chargers for 13 seasons and lived in San Diego until his death. His loyalty for the community was evident in his foundation, which since 1992 has dispersed nearly $4 million to aid disadvantaged kids and young adults in San Diego County, through programs such as Gangbusters (page 38).
Said former Rams and Bears lineback Pisa Tinoisamoa, “That saved my life. It had people around me and help set me straight…. June [Seau] was behind that. I saw him on my birthday last July, and he came in playing his ukulele and singing Happy Birthday. I didn’t get to tell him personally what he meant to me, but he knew. He saw the success I had, and he was proud of me. Whenever I saw him, he would talk about how good I was. He was always positive. That’s why everyone loved him. They felt they were friends with June. He had that status about him, but to us he was just a man of the people.”
Seau led by example. He was the first to the practice facility in the morning and provided helpful advice for his teammates. Seau ignored pain and insisted that if you could walk, you could play.
Former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson said, “I feel awful that Junior didn’t feel he was close enough to anybody that he could say, ‘Look, something isn’t right.’ He didn’t feel there was anybody, and we all need someone we can go to and say, ‘There’s something going on with me.’ That’s the sad thing, but that’s who Junior was. He didn’t want us to know he was hurting on the field, so off the field he certainly wasn’t going to say anything.”
Senior writer Peter King reflects on a time when he watched Seau play a game in 2000 with a severely pulled hamstring. Because Seau’s pain threshold was high, King held Seau to a higher standard, something King would think twice about doing again.
To download a high res image of the cover click here
On the Tablet: Video piece from senior writer Jim Trotter on Junior Seau and a slideshow of Seau through the years.
ALMOST PERFECT – CHRIS MANNIX (@ChrisMannixSI)
There is genius in Floyd Mayweather, a Picasso at work inside a sculpted 5’8’’, 147-pound frame. Last Saturday night Mayweather delivered possibly the finest performance of his career, overcoming a bloody nose and comfortably outpointing Miguel Cotto with his precision punching and impenetrable defense (page 52).
Mayweather’s genius extends beyond the ring. He promotes his own fights as the head of Mayweather Promotions. He assumes all the upfront risk, and thus controls every revenue stream. His previous eight fights generated more than $446 million in revenue, a tribute to his brilliant marketing. Mayweather understands that his empire depends on more than just hype. He understands that the “0” on his record means everything. Mayweather said, “I am carrying the promotion and it’s putting asses in the seats. I know I got to back up what I say.”
ANOTHER WAY TO WIN – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)
The 138th running of the Kentucky Derby had a thrilling finish and made for a wonderful story. An undervalued horse, ridden by an unknown jockey, roared to unexpected victory and now I’ll Have Another and his team have their sights set on the elusive Triple Crown. I’ll Have Another was purchased for $35,000 in April 2011 by Doug and Dennis O’Neill and J. Paul Reddam. After an up and down year, which included a convincing loss at the Saratoga Hopeful Stakes, he was a long shot to win the Derby (page 48).
But his trainer had a plan, and I’ll Have Another closed out the race in dramatic fashion, defeating Bodemeister. Dennis O’Neill, who beat cancer five years ago, said “A day like this makes it all worthwhile”.
On the Tablet: Video slideshow of the jockey room.
THE RUSSIAN QUESTION – MICHAEL FARBER
The 2012 NHL playoffs have been filled with intensity and excitement, but many of the biggest story lines have been about the missteps of players from the former Soviet bloc. The Predators’ Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn missed a team curfew and were suspended for Game 3 and scratched for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals. Alexander Ovechkin, a two-time Hart Trophy winner, has seen significantly less ice time in the playoffs. Ilya Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $51 million contract with Philadelphia in the off-season, has been inconsistent for the Flyers (page 56).
There have been a few bright spots, but mainly, it’s been an uneasy postseason for Russian players. Some believe it could have an impact on the Edmonton Oilers, who have the first pick in this year’s NHL draft, and will likely choose Nail Yakupov. Terry Jones, a columnist for the Edmonton Star, tweeted last week, “The way the Russians are going in Stanley Cup playoffs, Oilers better give a real, real, real, real good hard think about Nail Yakupov, huh?”
On the Tablet: Slideshow of all-time great Russian NHL players.
WHERE DOES GREATNESS COME FROM? – CHRIS BALLARD (@SI_ChrisBallard)
You might assume that Kobe Bryant inherited his talent for basketball and his burning need for success from his father, former NBA and Italian league player Joe (Jellybean) Bryant. But Joe and Kobe are strikingly different, and while the son got some gifts from his father, he got his fire from an unexpected source, his mom. When Kobe was 14 years old he tried to dunk on his mom in a backyard game, and she leveled him with a forearm. Kobe said, “She would drop you. Oh, yeah, she was rough. My mom’s the feisty one. She has that killer in her.”
Joe Bryant has been married to the same woman for 38 years, and has close relationships with his children and grandchildren. He travels around the world, immersing himself in new experiences, and is generally loved by the players he coaches. After playing for 10 pro teams in three countries over 18 years, he has coached in the WNBA, the ABA, Japan, Mexico, Italy and now in Bangkok. Joe may never be great, but he is happy. Kobe Bryant may never be happy, and perhaps that’s what makes him great (page 60).
On the Tablet: Podcast with Richard Deitsch and Chris Ballard.
NBA PLAYERS POLL
Who is the league’s best pure shooter?
Ray Allen, Celtics SG 68%
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks PF 7%
Kyle Korver, Bulls SF 6%
Anthony Morrow, Nets SG 4%
Steve Nash, Suns PG 2%
[Based on 146 NBA players who responded to SI’s survey]
FAST FACTS: Warriors PG Stephen Curry also received 2% of the votes. He leads all active players in three-point percentage (.441), which puts him behind only Steve Kerr (.454) all time. . . . Allen is the NBA’s alltime leader in three-pointers attempted (6,788) and made (2,718) . . . . Knicks SF Steve Novak, who led the NBA in three-point shooting in 2011–12 (.472), tied for seventh in voting. . . . In a similar poll on Facebook, SI readers also had Allen (66%) and Nowitzki (16%) finishing 1–2.
SCORECARD: GLORY DAYS – CHRIS BALLARD (@SI_ChrisBallard)
Senior writer Chris Ballard’s book One Shot at Forever tells the story of the 1971 Macon High Ironmen varsity baseball team. The Ironmen represented the smallest school in Illinois history to play in the state finals before they lost to powerhouse Lane Tech. Many members of the team are excited about the book release, but a few still haven’t gotten over the loss (page 19).
For many athletes, high school is the only time they have an opportunity to achieve greatness, but often players remember the losses more than the wins. Ballard writes, “I’m 38 and I still dream about basketball games that I lost in high school (though never, strangely enough, about the ones I won). Likewise, when I get together with certain friends over beers, I know the conversation will eventually lead us back to some field or gym on some fateful afternoon.”
POINT AFTER: FOR PARENTS, A JUNIOR MOMENT – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
Senior writer Phil Taylor recalls the night six years ago when his then 14-year-old son, Ben, asked Taylor and his wife if he could play football. It was a question they had hoped wouldn’t come. Before deciding, they had to think long and hard about the positives and the negatives of the sport, including the delayed brain damage controlled violence can cause (page 68).
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- MLB (page 30): Out of Whack – Mired in a monthlong slump after signing a huge contract with the Angels, Albert Pujols looks to make adjustments and get back to being a star. Tom Verducci
- MLB (page 32): No More Mo? – Mariano Rivera’s storied career could come to end after he injured his knee in Kansas City last Thursday. (@Joe_Sheehan)
- NHL (page 33): Word to the Doctor – With NBC and its sister stations televising every NHL playoff game; the viewing audience is enjoying the eccentric vocabulary of announcer Mike (Doc) Emrick. Michael Farber
- NBA (page 34): Changing Fortunes – After a tough year filled with criticism, all the right pieces seem to be falling into place for the Miami Heat as the team looks toward an NBA title. (@SI_IanThomsen)
- NASCAR (page 36): – Danica Patrick is experiencing frustration during her first full-time season in stock car racing. (@LarsAndersonSI)
On the Tablet: Truth and Rumors
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page)
- Ariana Washington (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Poly) – Track and Field
- Donn Cabral (Glastonbury, Conn./Princeton) – Track and Field
- Rebekah Chenelle (Hebron, Conn./Cornerstone Christian School) – Equestrian
- Collin Olson (Apple Valley, Minn./Pioneer High) – Hockey
- Heather Stearns (Carrollton, Texas/Hebron High) – Softball
- Peter Williamson (Portsmouth, N.H./Dartmouth) – Golf