This Week’s Sports Illustrated: Fun and Games in L.A.

 Can Los Angeles Become the Sports Capital of the World? It Was Last Weekend

Chelsea’s Didier Drogba Excels in Soccer and Humanitarian Efforts

After Winning the Preakness Stakes, I’ll Have Another Looks Toward the Elusive Triple Crown

JR Hillenbrand Eyes Redemption at This Weekend’s Indianapolis 500

The Undefined Path of the Transgender Athlete

(NEW YORK – May 23, 2012) – Six playoff games in four days from their professional basketball and hockey teams, a baseball team leading its division by seven games hosting another division leader and 114 cyclists competing in the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California (the biggest bike race in North America) created a great sports weekend for sports in Los Angeles.

Senior writer Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) was on hand for all the madness. Jenkins talked with team executives, players, coaches, workers and fans to gain perspective on this time extraordinary weekend. New Dodgers minority owner Magic Johnson, who appears on the cover of the May 28, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated, said, “When fans fall in love with their teams, it’s not just because they’re winning. It’s also because they are part of their community. That’s where we lost our way a little bit. We need to sign autographs. We need to give to charity. We need to embrace our community again.”

Much of the action took place in downtown Los Angeles at the Staples Center, home arena for the Lakers, Clippers and Kings. It was a crowning moment for Tim Leiweke—president and CEO of AEG, which owns the Staples Center. He had imagined a weekend like this back in 1997 when AEG first announced its redevelopment plans for this area. When construction started, the surrounding neighborhood was filled with liquor stores and rent-by-the-hour motels. AEG transformed the space into a four-million­-square-foot entertainment district called L.A. Live, with 19 restaurants, two hotels and a public plaza. The hotels were so crowded this past weekend, even the Kings couldn’t get in (page 38).

Leiweke said, “I don’t think it is lost on Roger Goodell and the NFL owners what is going on. I don’t know if it’s a showcase or a defining moment or an exclamation point, but we have a chance to prove what we have been saying for years: ‘Of course football should be here. We have the infrastructure. We are built for this.’

On the Tablet: Time lapse video of all the activity at the Staples Center.

ONLY THE BEGINNING – ALBERT CHEN

Dodgers centerfielder Matt Kemp is one of the best baseball players in the game, but the fact that he is still learning the game is a scary thought for opposing teams. As a teenager growing up just outside of Oklahoma City, Kemp loved basketball and played on his AAU team all summer. Baseball was strictly secondary. By his junior year in high school though, Kemp realized that his build would limit his basketball potential, and he began to focus on baseball (page 46).

In many ways, Kemp is still new to the game. What the Dodgers see now is a player whose mental skills are catching up to his physical skills. Manager Don Mattingly said, “This game is not so much physical. It’s when the mental side and physical side connect, that’s the most important part. Everyone’s road takes them on a different path. And with Matt, we’re beginning to see everything connect, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

IN PRAISE OF DROGBA – GRANT WAHL (@grantwahl)

Last Saturday, Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich 4—3 in penalty kicks to win its first title in the prestigious UEFA Champions League. Striker Didier Drogba scored the equalizer in the 88th minute and later scored the winning penalty kick. Senior writer Grant Wahl reflects on a conversation he had with Drogba two years ago in Angola’s province of Cabinda in southern Africa (page 56).

In that interview, Drogba spoke of his humanitarian efforts to fund and build a hospital in his native country of Ivory Coast and his interest in helping the poor, especially in earthquake-torn Haiti. Even though Drogba is nearly done with his soccer career, he believes he has much more to do with his life saying, “I want to help with a lot of things: my charity, the hospital. I hope to keep learning. For me it’s important to open my mind. I love to meet people and listen to their stories.” 

On the Tablet: Champions League slideshow.

LET’S ALL HAVE ANOTHER – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)

A generation of American adults is nearing middle age without having witnessed a Triple Crown winner. It has been 34 years since Affirmed outdueled Alydar to take the 1978 Belmont Stakes and wrap up racing’s third Triple Crown in six years, a period that started with the great Secretariat in ’73 and included Seattle Slew in ’77.  Eleven times since ‘78 a horse has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but fallen short in the Belmont.  I’ll Have Another will be the next to try.  He won the Preakness the same way he won the Derby, by wearing down the speedy Bodemeister, this time just three strides from the finish (page 52).

I’ll Have Another faces his toughest challenge, the Belmont. The failures at Belmont have not been coincidental. John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones, which lost its bid for a Triple Crown in 2004, said, “You get to the Belmont at the end of a long campaign, with a bull’s-eye on your back. I know I felt a lot of pressure.”  

On the Tablet: A look at Triple-Crown near misses.

BACK IN CONTROL – LARS ANDERSON (@LarsAndersonSI)

JR Hillenbrand’s final-lap crash in the Indy 500 last year could have been a career-defining moment, for all the wrong reasons. The initial reaction from media and pundits was that he had committed the biggest blunder in the history of American racing.  Hillenbrand climbed from the ruined Panther Racing car that slid across the finish line in a hail of sparks and rode in an ambulance to the infield care center physically fine but emotionally broken.  But JR Hillenbrand handled his heartbreak with grace. After the race Hillenbrand refused to blame anyone but himself, speaking eloquently to all who had questions for him.

Hillenbrand said, “The worst feeling in the world as an athlete is not closing things out. But I knew it was in my hands how people reacted to me, so I wanted to be thoughtful and serious about it. I accepted the situation.” 

THE TRANSGENDER ATHLETE – PABLO TORRE (@SIPabloTorre)AND DAVID EPSTEIN (@SIDavidEpstein)

Playing fields have long been segregated on the basis of sex. But what happens to the athletes whose physiology doesn’t match their gender identity? Against whom do they compete? What obstacles do they face? And how are they being treated by sports’ governing bodies? One transgender scenario currently unfolding involves the U.S. Olympic women’s track and field team. Keelin Godsey, formerly known as Kelly, was born as a female and competes as a female but identifies as a male.  Godsey will continue to compete as a female, in hopes of making the team heading for London, but will later undergo sex reassignment surgery to make his biological and gender identities match (page 66).

The UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, which studies gender-identity issues, pegs the size of the U.S. transgender population at 700,000; how many are athletes is difficult to determine. The most contentious recent case was in November 2010. Kye Allums, a starting guard for the women’s basketball team at George Washington University came out before his junior year, making him the only open transgender Division I athlete. Allums said, “Yes, I am a male on a female team. And I want to be clear about this: I am a transgender male, which, feelings wise … I feel as if I should have been born male with male parts.

On the Tablet: Podcast with Richard Deitsch, David Epstein and Pablo Torre.

NBA PLAYERS POLL

Who is your favorite NBA announcer?

Charles Barkley                                     20%

Jeff Van Gundy                                     14%

Steve Kerr                                             10%

Reggie Miller                                         9%

Mike Breen                                            6%

[Based on 124 NBA players who responded to SI’s survey]

FAST FACTS: In Barkley, Kerr and Miller, TNT announcers landed three of the top five spots. ESPN is represented by Van Gundy and Breen (who also handles play-by-play for the Knicks on MSG). . . . Former Knicks star Walt Frazier, Breen’s broadcast partner at MSG, placed 10th, with 2% of the vote. . . . Bill Walton, whose bad back forced him to retire as an analyst for ESPN in 2009, placed eighth, with 3%, ahead of Shaquille O’Neal. . . In a similar poll on Facebook, Sir Charles ruled again, as he was named favorite by 52% of SI readers.

SCORECARD: SNOOZE CONTROL – DICK FRIEDMAN

Last week, during the Roger Clemens federal perjury trial, three jurors fell asleep. Senior editor Dick Friedman believes that this perfectly illustrated the boredom that some sports stories entail. Stories that he believes have been over-reported include the prospects for a Pacquiao-Mayweather “fight” and when will Los Angeles get an NFL team (page 15).

POINT AFTER: A STAT EVEN DR. NAISMITH WOULD LOVE– ROY BLOUNT JR.

Contributing writer Roy Blount realizes there are many basketball stats already, nevertheless, he invents a stat for a player who, based on his effective field goal percentage, makes more shots than he takes. Blount calls the stat Over the Top (OTT) (page 74).

INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS

  • MLB (page 33): Excitement in the Air – The Orioles currently have the best record in the American League, but their chances at contending may still be a year or two away. (@Joe_Sheehan)
  • NHL (page 35): Block Busters – The Rangers lead all postseason teams with 328 blocked shots. Some feel they are ruining the game, but for New York, it’s all about winning. Michael Farber
  • NBA (page 36): Help Wanted – With Chris Bosh injured, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade will have to play an even larger role for the Heat.

THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 24)

  • Bernie Montoya (Yuma, Ariz./Cibola High) – Track and Field
  • Stephanie Canfield (St. Joseph, Ill./St. Joseph—Ogden High) – Softball
  • Marvin Kimble (Milwaukee/Hamilton High) – Gymnastics
  • Ryan Skomial (Hartland, Mich./Hartland High) – Lacrosse
  • David Pless (Atlanta/Bates College) – Track and Field
  • Caitlin Racich and Summer Ross (Santa Barbara, Calif./Pepperdine) – Sand Volleyball

To submit a candidate for Faces in the Crowd, go to SI.com/faces. Follow on Twitter @SI_Faces.


Finally, It’s Hip to be a Clip – Lee Jenkins

For the first time since 1979, the Lakers’ little brothers (the Clippers) are finally relevant in Los Angeles, thanks to current commissioner David Stern.  Since the controversial acquisition of Chris Paul, the Clippers are the hot ticket in town with local television ratings up 150% and prices of tickets on the secondary market up 50% to 75%, all because players and fans now have a reason to believe in their team Sports Illustrated senior writer Lee Jenkins sat down to discuss the genesis of the story, what he learned, and if its truly,  “Finally Hip to be a Clip.” 

Inside SI: What interested you about this story?

Lee Jenkins: Whenever you have a long-suffering team experiencing success for the first time, or at least the promise of success, you have the backdrop for an entertaining story. The Clippers have finished with losing records in 29 of the last 32 seasons. They have wasted more draft picks, suffered more torn ACLs and made more curious trades than any team in pro sports. They make the Cubs look lucky. But the Clippers essentially remade themselves last month into one of the most dynamic teams in the NBA, signing Caron Butler, picking up Chauncey Billups, and most important, trading for All Star point guard Chris Paul. I wanted to retrace those steps and show how the Clippers became a credible landing spot for a superstar. With Paul throwing ally oops to Blake Griffin, the Clippers have earned their nickname “Lob City,” but they are producing much more than highlights. The Clippers could realistically contend in the Western Conference, this year and for years to come.

What did you learn about the Clippers that you may not have necessarily known prior to writing the story?

I grew up in San Diego, and when I was very young, the Clippers were competitive. Then something happened and they weren’t anymore, but I couldn’t remember exactly what it was. I learned their downfall began shortly after they signed Bill Walton – a San Diego native – as a free agent from Portland. In those days, Commissioner Larry O’Brien could award free-agent compensation where he saw fit, which is unthinkable now. It’s like the Heat signing LeBron James and having to send Dwyane Wade to Cleveland. O’Brien stripped three members of the Clippers core, and five years later, the team moved to Los Angeles.  Last month, another commissioner made another strange decision, only this one actually benefitted the Clippers. David Stern rejected a trade by the Lakers for Paul and approved the deal that sent him to the Clippers.

The Clippers have certainly had their share of difficulties over the years. Do you sense a cultural change within the organization?

For a franchise that has lost as much as the Clippers, it’s strange that so many members of the front office are the same. The owner has been there 30 years. The team president has been there 27 years. Several vice presidents have been there about as long. But three events really changed the culture and paved the way for Paul. 1) The Clippers built a $50 million practice facility that is probably the fanciest in the league and signaled to players that they were serious. 2) They won the 2009 draft lottery and selected Griffin with the No. 1 pick. 3) They hired Neil Olshey as general manager, even though Olshey comes from an unorthodox background. Olshey was a soap opera actor who made himself a workout guru for NBA players. He has a different perspective of the league and has pursued players who really want to be Clippers.

As a West Coast native I am sure you can provide some insight, is LA a divided city right now?

No, Los Angeles is a Lakers city, and it will take generations to reverse. In New York, the Mets would have to overshadow the Yankees for many years to change the dynamic, and the same is true here. But L.A. is a great NBA town, with room for two teams, and both the Lakers and Clippers are selling out virtually every home game. People are talking about the Clippers, even more than the Lakers, because their story is so new and their style so upbeat. The Clippers are a trend with a chance to become much more. The Lakers are still an institution.

That being said, in your opinion, are the Clippers currently the strongest team in L.A.?

They’re very even, and at the end of this compressed season, I think the records will reveal that. There’s a good chance the Clippers and Lakers will meet in a playoff series, and I’d give the Clippers the edge, because the Lakers have no one who can keep up with Paul. The Clippers beat the Lakers in both pre-season games and again in the first regular-season meeting. They are not a perfect team, but given how quickly they were mashed together, they’ve adapted smoothly. Their defense has improved, center DeAndre Jordan has emerged, and they’ve won even when Paul has been injured. Lakers-or-Clippers is the great debate in L.A. right now, and when you review the history of the teams, it’s remarkable that the Clippers are in the conversation.


For the First Time Ever YOU Pick the Cover of Sports Illustrated By Choosing The Best Sports Moment of 2011

For nearly 60 years the cover of Sports Illustrated has defined the story of the day in sports. Upon its release, the iconic cover image stirs a spectrum of passionate dialog, debate, celebration, criticism and for those who believe in jinxes, fear.  But there has always been one constant in that the cover choice has rested in the hands of the SI editorial team. Today, that all changes. Beginning at 3:00 p.m. EST, sports fans can visit SI’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/sportsillustrated) to rank the top five sports moments from 2011 drawn from a selection of 15 images which correspond to the editorial staff’s selections for the best sports moments of 2011.  The moment that receives the most votes will be featured on the cover of SI’s year-end issue.  Voting begins today and will end on Friday, December 16th, the magazine cover that YOU picked will hit newsstands on Wednesday, December 21st.

Why is picking the cover a big deal?  Listen to what some of the great athletes who have graced the cover had to say:

“To be on the cover of Sports Illustrated it’s kind of a stamp of approval that you’ve made it,” said Sugar Ray Leonard who has appeared on the SI cover 12 times.

Read the rest of this entry »


Blake Griffin on this week’s cover; first Clippers cover in more than 11 years

Clippers forward Blake Griffin graces the cover of the Dec. 5, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. It is the fifth time that Griffin has made the cover and his first as an NBA player. For the Clippers, it is their first cover since Darius Miles appeared on the Oct. 31, 2000, issue.

The NBA and its players spent five months flirting with basketball apocalypse. Was it worth it? Speaking with senior writer Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins), commissioner David Stern assessed the new labor agreement: “It’s nothing anybody can see when they get back on the court, but we will be a better league over time. The league will be stronger and our fans will like us better if they feel the competition is better.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Blake Griffin: Dunk Machine – iPad Extras of the Week

There is food porn, which has its own Wiki page , guitar porn, apartment porn and, of course, porn porn.

Then there is this porn. Blake Griffin dunk porn.

The Clippers’ rookie is the subject of Chris Ballard’s entertaining profile in this week’s iPad issue.  Ballard, the author of the artfully crafted “Art of a Beautiful Game”, eschews the more conventional profile route and seeks out the small nation of ballers, scrubs and stars alike, who have been posterized by Griffin, among them Kevin Love, Manu Ginobili, Anthony Tolliver (who shares a particularly amusing tale of his personal posterization) and, of course, the Knicks’ Timofey Mozgov, who carries upon his shoulders this everlasting sorrow.  Even the generally laconic Griffin can’t help but delight in his oeuvre.  Supplementing the piece are additional video clips of Griffin’s signature dunks and a podcast with Richard Deitsch that offers the excellent story behind an excellent story.

Deitsch double dips this week, yakking with Peter King about his cover story on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, one of several revealing interviews in this week’s iPad.  Video analysis of the Super Bowl from Cris Collinsworth, Boomer Esiason and Phil Simms is included in the issue.  And in addition to profiling standout Washington guard Isaiah Thomas, college basketball writer Pablo S. Torre, in an iPad exclusive, interviews Thomas’s namesake, the NBA Hall of Fame guard who has been closely following the arc of the 21-year-old’s career.

Next week will offer plenty in the way of the Super Bowl, in addition to a look ahead to next season.  Maybe even some early spring training talk.  And in two weeks: the inaugural SI Swimsuit iPad edition.

- Chris Stone


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