With the Miami Heat trailing two games to one against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, the team’s championship hopes and dynastic ambitions have come to hinge on Dwayne Wade’s injured knee says senior writer S.L. Price in this week’s SI. While Wade’s injury has contributed to slowing down the Heat’s momentum since entering the finals last week, Price finds that Wade’s strength throughout his life during personal issues has enabled him to play through extreme pain. However tough he is, his production needs to improve if the Heat have a chance.
“I can feel for him, but I can’t really understand what he’s going through. You appreciate when someone puts their body on the line each and every night when they’re not even close to 100 percent” says teammate LeBron James (PAGE 48).
The seemingly unstoppable and energetic Wade’s scoring average has plummeted since suffering a deep bone bruise against Orlando on March 6. His focus has shifted to hours of treatment before and after each game. Although uncertainty lingers about Wade’s performance, the player finds comfort from his mother, Jolinda Wade, praying for his knee. During the second-round playoff series against the Chicago Bulls, Wade yelled to his mom, “Ma! Come and touch my knee and pray on it” (PAGE 48), which she continued to do throughout the Eastern Conference finals.
“People don’t understand the pain that he’s experiencing… but he doesn’t let it stop him. He understands that the body he’s playing in now is not the body that he played in when he came to the league,” says Wade’s mother Jolinda (PAGE 49).
Aside from his injury, Wade also has been dealing with personal and legal issues surrounding his divorce during this year’s postseason play. His spirits, however, remain positive with everything he is going through. “Me, the last couple days I’ve been coming in, get my work in that I need to, and the last two games that I’ve stepped on the court, I felt better physically… Hopefully I can continue” (PAGE 49).
Wade’s injured body leads to another concern for the Heat after the finals: The possible break-up of the ‘Big Three.’ Lebron James can opt out of his contract with Miami and become a free agent after next season. Price concludes “the state of Wade’s knees figures to be a heavy factor in whether LeBron stays or ends up somewhere else next year” (PAGE 50).
LeBron James’s ability to contribute at a high level at all five positions places him among the most versatile players the NBA has ever seen. This week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, which features James on the cover, breaks down James’s stunning array of skills, position by position, with takes by Lee Jenkins, Chris Ballard, Ian Thomsen, Mark Jackson and Bill Walton. This is the 19th SI cover for James; the last time he appeared was when he was named the 2012 SI Sportsman of the Year.
Small Forward: Since every player requires a position, Heat coach Erik Spoelestra pencils in James at small forward. Often manned by the most versatile player on the floor, the three spot is where the 6′ 8″, 250-pound star seems to fit best. Jenkins says, “James performs all the job’s diverse duties: slashing inside for layups and stepping out for three-pointers, handling the ball and hitting the glass, accepting the toughest defensive assignments and smothering them.” (PAGE 32)
Point Guard: Warriors coach Mark Jackson, a former point guard for 17 years in the NBA, says James’s skills at the point are similar to Magic Johnson’s, if Johnson had possessed the ability to score 30 every day. “To me, he has the chance to be the leading scorer in the history of this game and one of the top five assists guys,” says Jackson. “That’s how special he is.” (PAGE 33) Jackson says that in addition to being an excellent passer, James uses his length and strength to disrupt opposing point guards on the defensive end. “Even if he had to play only point guard on both offense and defense, he’s my Number 1 pick at the position right now,” says Jackson. (PAGE 33)
Shooting Guard: When James entered the league, he struggled with his outside shooting—teams dared him to shoot threes as he often took off-balance shots. Since his days in Cleveland, Ballard finds that James has worked with a shooting coach to create a “calmer” shot, which has helped turn him into a better long-range shooter. Now, Spoelestra takes James off the ball for large chunks of time, which enables James to take more efficient spot-up jump shots.“LeBron James could be, would be and is an excellent shooting guard,” says Ballard. “He can drive, he can score and he can defend opposing twos.” (PAGE 34)
Power Forward: James recently developed a post-up game, in which he bangs and bruises like a power forward, writes Ian Thomsen. After working on post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon before last season, teams now fear James inside—a place where he is one dribble from the basket and one kick-out pass from finding a wide-open shooter. “When the time is right, James could yet become the league’s most challenging power forward, having both an unparalleled ability to pass out of the post combined with a touch that will stretch defenses out to the three-point line,” says Thomsen. “It’s shocking to be the best player in the world and continue to improve,” says Pacers coach Frank Vogel. (PAGE 36)
Center: Hall of Fame center Bill Walton says James, who has played some center in the Heat’s small-ball lineup, can handle the pivot for even longer stretches of time should his team need him to. “He’s an outstanding passer and has outstanding footwork, which are two things you look for in a center,” says Walton. “Plus, who could guard LeBron? What center is equipped to take on that challenge? He can post you up and take you outside and shoot effortless jump shots.” (PAGE 37)
With input from league scouts and executives, Sports Illustrated Staff Writer Chris Mannix put together a list of the one-one all-stars, scorers who excel at getting the job done on their own (PAGE 20).
1. LeBron James, SF, Heat
2. Chris Paul, PG, Clippers
3. James Harden, SG, Rockets
4. Derrick Rose, PG, Bulls
5. Joe Johnson, SG, Nets
6. Jamal Crawford, SG, Clippers
7. Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder
8. Kobe Bryant, SG, Lakers
Fans can join the debate on SI’s App for Windows 8. Launch the SI app for Windows 8 on your tablet or computer, then tap or click on the 8 Debate live tile in the app timeline. There, you can also watch exclusive video of Joe Johnson talking about going one-on-one.
By Paul Fichtenbaum, Editor, Time Inc. Sports Group
One of the most intriguing parlor games played here at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED begins in January, when our attention turns to the coming year and we think about the tantalizing possibilities the next 12 months could bring. As the events on the sports calendar slowly unfold, and distinguished moments, performances and achievements start piling up, a question inevitably starts to echo around the offices—whom should we be considering for Sportsman of the Year?
It makes for fun discussion and, yes, disagreement. But it’s not a topic we take lightly. The award, which SI has been handing out since our inception in 1954, honors those athletes, teams or executives whose accomplishments embody the spirit of sportsmanship combined with a high level of on-field success. Ask any SI editor or writer at any time of the year who their choice would be and you’ll likely initiate a thoughtful and pointed conversation. Opinions matter around here, and there are lots of them.
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