All postseasons are great, but the traditions, desperation and facial hair of the NHL playoffs set it apart, says award winning writer Steve Rushin in this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands now. The national cover story is accompanied by two SI covers that feature action shots from each conference final matchup, the Boston Bruins vs. Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings. Adding to the allure of this year’s playoffs, the final four is made up of the last four Stanley Cup champs.
“And so it goes, on a nightly basis for eight consecutive weeks, the speeding and the bleeding, making the Stanley Cup playoffs the most intense short-term spectacle in all of sports, a symphony for foghorn, swallowed whistle and dentist drill,” says Rushin. (PAGE 34)
Rushin explores the traditions that set the NHL postseason apart, such as playoff beards, sudden death overtime games (22 so far in this year’s playoffs), gruesome injuries, fans throwing seafood on the ice and players refusing to buy into the hype of their success and injuries.
In addition, the stakes are so high and the play is so fast and physical that coaches and players often refer to the pace as “urgent.” This leads to a lot of violent hits that still surprise and entertain many. “The violence inherent in the playoffs, obscured by the pace and grace of the game, still comes as a surprise,” says Rushin. (PAGE 34)
Rushin believes that the best traditions are ones that put the spotlight on others, like the postgame stick salute to fans and the handshake line between teams at the end of a series. “As the rest of the world abandons it in favor of the knuckle-bump or the finger-shoot—as Purell-pumping stations appear anywhere that human contact cannot quite be avoided—a few men have drawn a line against our increasing alienation. And that line is the playoff hockey handshake line,” says Rushin. (PAGE 36)
With all three California teams making the NHL playoffs this season, and two of them—the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks—in the midst of a Western Conference semifinal showdown, senior writer Austin Murphy takes a look at the Golden State’s thriving hockey landscape in this week’s
Murphy finds that much of hockey’s popularity in California is due in part to the Sharks, Kings and Ducks being committed to developing young talent right in their backyard. The Sharks, playing in their ninth straight postseason, including trips to two of the last three conference finals, oversee a score of traveling club teams for boys and girls, ages eight to 18.
“By growing the game at a grass roots level, the Sharks are also minting fans for life,” says Murphy. “Since the NHL planted the team in San Jose 22 years ago, this high-tech hub has morphed into a kind of Hockeytown 2.0.” (PAGE 46)
The Sharks play in front of sellout crowds at the “Shark Tank”, which Murphy says has turned out “to be one of the loudest, most inhospitable pits in the league.” (PAGE 48) Their older fans love to play hockey too, as Murphy finds that San Jose is home to the largest adult hockey league in the country with 5,000 skaters and 165 teams.
The Kings and Ducks also have invested in youth hockey. The 2010 draft had a total of four California kids selected—all of them products of what is now the Los Angeles Jr. Kings Hockey Club. Anaheim has poured $12 million into its youth program since 2007, the same year they won a Stanley Cup.
The state’s franchises each “has invested heavily in the sport,” says Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “When you watch national championship games—bantams, pewees, midgets—the teams from California, especially Southern California, are always at the top of the heap.” (PAGE 46)
Though the Sharks struggled on the ice its first few years in the NHL, they did well at the gate and with merchandise sales thanks to the business community. “With all the corporate support they had coming in, you knew hockey was going to be a home run in that city” says Jack Ferreira, the former Sharks and Ducks general manager who is now special assistant to Kings G.M. Dean Lombardi, who also was G.M. for the Sharks from 1996-2003. (PAGE 48)
“From the NHL down to the squirts, the hockey boom in California is massive and irreversible,” writes Murphy. “Players and coaches who come to the Golden State tend to stick around. They can check out any time they like, but they never leave.” (PAGE 49)
Manny Pacquiao Has Given up Gambling, Drinking and Infidelity, How Will That Affect His Boxing?
In This Year’s Stanley Cup Finals, No Player Has Shown as Brightly as Kings Goaltender Jonathan Quick
The U.S. is in Position to Sweep the Decathlon for Just the Second Time in Olympic History
U.S. Soccer Coach Jurgen Klinsmann Is Transforming the Game in America
(NEW YORK – June 6, 2012) – Texas Rangers centerfielder Josh Hamilton is on pace to have one of the greatest seasons in major league history, but one night earlier this year could have altered everything. Hamilton’s battle with drug and alcohol addiction had wasted five years of his career and an alcohol relapse in a Dallas bar in late January gained national attention. His family, teammates, the Rangers organization and most important Hamilton have moved on from this worrisome moment, but the difficult journey Hamilton faces every day is the cover story for the June 11, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now. This is the second time Hamilton as appeared on the cover, the first was on June 2, 2008.
Rangers manager Ron Washington knows the cost of bad choices, as he tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season. He and Hamilton talk frequently about temptation, the game, people and what it means to be a man. Washington says, “Sometimes he can’t sleep at night. This is when the demons start to come out of him, and he needs someone to talk to. Sometimes it takes 20 minutes up in here, and sometimes we take a half an hour. Then he leaves, and I’m cleansed and he’s cleansed.”
Senior writer S.L. Price spoke with Hamilton’s wife, Katie, about the battles and the two relapses Josh has had over the last four years. Katie, who like Josh is a born-again Christian, credits their faith for saving Josh’s life, their marriage, his body and talent for the moment when he could return to baseball. After all she has been through with Josh, it would be easy to write off what happened in January, but Katie says, “People that don’t know me probably think I have some kind of co-dependence issue, like I get my value in helping him. Absolutely not. I fully expect him to be the man and husband that God has called him to be. I should never have to assist him in this.”
As Hamilton continues to put up what could be historic numbers, through Sunday, he was hitting .354 and leading the majors in homers (21), RBIs (57), OPS (1.138), total bases (142) and slugging percentage (.728), for him, it will be his faith and hard work that keeps him going every day (page 36).
THE FIGHTER FINDS PEACE – CHRIS MANNIX (@ChrisMannixSI)
Manny Pacquiao was on top of the world. And as the face of his sport, a world champion and a congressman in his home country, the Philippines, he had every reason to be. But in life, Pacquiao was on a path to destruction. Gambling, drinking and infidelity almost derailed the boxer’s life. His gambling turned so bad that even though Pacquiao was earning $25 to $30 million per bout, he was still forced to go to his promoter, Bob Arum, for cash to pay his debts. Arum has to wired hundreds of thousands of dollars to casinos five or six times. Arum said, “[Manny] had one of the worst gambling habits of any athlete I’ve ever known. He was addicted to it.”
After his wife Jinkee told him she wanted a divorce, he knew it was time to change and nine months ago when he found God, he finally was able to turn his life around (page 58).
Now, with a bout against the undefeated Timothy Bradley scheduled for Saturday, Pacquiao, and those around hm, say he’s in a better place—that he is at peace. Trainer Freddie Roach says Pacquiao’s killer instinct is still there, saying, “His boxing is as consistent as it has ever been. He’s not the same fighter he was five years ago, but he is still better than everyone else.”
JONATHAN AND THE AMERICANS – MICHAEL FARBER (@MichaelFarber3)
When the Stanley Cup is won, commissioner Gary Bettman will hand the trophy to New Jersey’s Zach Parise (Minneapolis) or L.A.’s Dustin Brown (Ithaca, N.Y.). For the first time both finalists have U.S. natives as captains. In addition, this marks the first time that both general managers – the Kings’ Dean Lombardi (Ludlow, Mass.) and the Devils’ Lou Lamoriello (Providence) – are U.S. born. In Game 2 both teams dressed six American players in their 20- man lineup, ratios that far exceed the overall NHL percentage of American players (24.2%).
In a coast-to-coast series brimming with U.S. born stars, no one has shone as brightly as the Kings’ soft-spoken goaltender, Jonathan Quick. Hailing from Connecticut, Quick may prove to be a once-in-a-generation goalie. On the ice his low stance obscures the bottom of the net while his skill and reflexes safeguard the upper portion of the net (page 46).
L.A. defenseman Willie Mitchell said, “This is my second year here, and he’s one of the best goaltenders I’ve ever seen. He’s also one of the best teammates ever because he’s such a selfless guy.”
FASTER, HIGHER, STRONGER – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)
The winner of the Olympic decathlon receives the unofficial title of World’s Greatest Athlete. In London the U.S. has three men who could all vie for the gold. Ashton Eaton, 24, may be a little young but has been deemed the greatest decathlon runner ever. Bryan Clay is 32 and while he may be too old, he won the gold at Beijing and is the second-best thrower in event history. The last is Trey Hardee who at 28 is in the prime of his career and is the most consistent across all 10 events (page 62).
The U.S. has an opportunity to sweep the decathlon for just the second time in Olympic history. The other was in 1936. Said Chris Huffins, Olympic bronze medalist in the decathlon, “We have three very talented guys in stable training situations, and the European-combined-event factories—the Czech Republic, Germany, the former Soviet countries—do not have that one guy. This is our time.”
Eaton, who many feel is the favorite because of his superior running ability, is trying to stay grounded. He said, “It’s important to not make the gold medal bigger than it is. But nobody ever says that about things that aren’t big.”
NOW IS THE TIME IN SOCCER WHEN WE DANCE – GRANT WAHL (@GrantWahl)
World Cup qualifying has begun and U.S. soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann hopes to transform the way the game is played in America. By using the latest medical technology and pushing his players out of their comfort zone, Klinsmann is shaping a new era of leadership in American soccer, both at the professional and youth level. As he looks to change the American soccer philosophy, he organizes team yoga sessions, pattern recoginition drills and consistent blood tests (page 52).
Klinsmann has his players participate in VO2 max screenings, which measure the body’s ability to transport oxygen during exercise to gauge overall fitness. Some players believe this is a good and interesting way to approach their training but some are a bit skeptical about the aspects of the blood tests, amount of blood drawn and the value of doing your own scouting report.
With a history of mixed results, Klinsmann is looking to other coaches like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski for inspiration and is trying to develop his players as complete people. Klinsmann said, “If you have a choice of seeing the Panama Canal or playing Xbox for two hours, we make that choice of the Panama Canal for you.”
SCORECARD: BACK TO HIS FUTURE – MELISSA SEGURA (@MelissaSeguraSI)
Brian Banks, a former blue-chip middle linebacker at Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High, has lost a lot in his life. In 2002, Banks was accused of raping former classmate Wanetta Gibson in a school stairwell. Banks lost his football scholarship to USC, spent five years of his life in prison and another five years wearing an electronic monitoring device strapped to his ankle. Last year, Gibson admitted that she had lied, and with the help of the California Innocence Project, Banks cleared his name. Now the 26-year-old hopes to revive his football dream and make an NFL team. Banks’ first tryout with NFL teams will be on Thursday, when he travels to Seattle to work out for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the man who recruited Banks to USC a decade ago (page 13).
Banks said, “The main thing for me is to reinvent myself as a person. I want to be known for who I really am and not what this system has labeled me as being. That starts with football.”
POINT AFTER: NOT-SO-HARD KNOCKOFFS– PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
HBO’s Hard Knocks has finally found a team for next season, the Miami Dolphins. But why should HBO stop there? There’s plenty of room for expansion in the Hard Knocks franchise all you need to do is look at the formula for other TV shows. Why not do a Hard Knocks Criminal Intent, focusing on the Roger Clemens trial? Or a Hard Rockers, following Ryan Seacrest, Randy Jackson and the gang as they judge the London Olympic Games? Says SI’s Phil Taylor, “A Hard Knocks appearance can either draw attention to a team that needs it or rehabilitate the image of one that’s getting the wrong pub. In fact HBO, ought to be considering building out the franchise, like Law & Order and CSI.” (page 72).
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- Golf (page 24): Open Questions – Sports Illustrated surveyed more than 50 Tour pros on everything from which major is the most fair to who beat Hogan in 1955. Survey questions include:
- Besides yourself, who would you like see win the U.S. Open – Phil Mickelson 22%
- Based on course setup, which major is the most difficult? – U.S. Open 87%
- What is your favorite U.S. Open course? – Pebble Beach 26%
- Your least favorite U.S. Open course? – Oakmont 15%
- MLB (page 32): Good As New – In the 8,020th game in Mets history, Johan Santana did what Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and every other hurler in the franchise’s history couldn’t: He threw a no-hitter. In just his 11th start after shoulder surgery cost him the entire 2011 season, Santana threw a career-high 134 pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals, striking out eight, walking five and creating a million memories for Mets fans. (@SI_BenReiter)
- NBA (page 28): These Kids Are Alright – No one in Oklahoma City’s core four is older than 23, hard to believe given the team is in its second straight Western Conference finals. The Thunder have showed that they have grown up since last year’s playoffs with their play this series. (@SI_LeeJenkins)
- NHL (page 33): Best Ever? – Nicklas Lidstrom combined extraordinary ability with superb durability. At 42 years old, he retired, capping off the greatest career of any defenseman. (@Rosenberg_Mike)
- Tennis (page 30): The Old World Order – Week 1 of the French Open, with so many European players playing through, proved that the center of the sport has moved to the Continent. The top eight seeds of the men’s draw were from Europe and 24 of the top 27 women’s seeds. (@Jon_Wertheim)
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page20)
- Summer Green (Milford, Mich./Brighton High) – Soccer
- Dom Kone (Bucksport, Maine/Colby College) – Track and Field
- Marie Kelleher (Glen Allen, Va./Virginia Senior Games) – Swimming
- Shawn Beam (Burleson, Texas/U.S. Bowling Congress) – Bowling
- Kate Baldoni (Newport Beach, Calif./Stanford) – Water Polo
- Christian Metzler (Woodbridge, Va./Pope John Paul the Great) – Track and Field, Soccer
Sports Illustrated Stanley Cup Prediction: Kings in Six
The Celtics Big Three Have One Last Shot at a Title
A Look at the Work of American Realist Master George Bellows
Matt Cain Voted Baseball’s Most Underrated Pitcher by His Peers
(NEW YORK – May 30, 2012) – Ten years ago, Sports Illustrated’s exclusive in-depth look at the use of performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball (MLB) led to a senate investigation. Former National League MVP and admitting steroid user Ken Caminiti told SI that he had used performance-enhancing drugs and believed that about as many major league players were using steroids as were playing the game clean. Senator Byron Dorgan opened the senate subcommittee hearing by citing the SI story as a call to action, a reason to decide whether any “legislative action is necessary.”
As MLB continues to expand its drug testing since the hearing, the focus has been on the tainted records and court cases that resulted from the Steroid Era. But the cover story for the June 4, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated looks inside the lives of ordinary players whose careers were defined by the choice they made, to cheat or not to cheat.
Senior writer Tom Verducci, who wrote the cover story in 2002, examines the playing careers of four right handed pitchers who were members of the Minnesota Twins organization in mid-to-late 1990s. They had similar skills and backgrounds. None were drafted by the Twins higher than the fourth round of the MLB amateur draft. One of the four, however, took steroids, and he was the only one who ever reached the major leagues. His name was Dan Naulty and his decision to cheat the game, his teammates and himself affected all their lives (page 38).
Naulty was 6’6’’ and 180 pounds as a senior at Cal State Fullerton, had a fastball that sat around 85mph and was drafted in the 14th round. After using steroids and other performance-enhancement drugs, he began throwing his fastball at up to 95mph and at one point weighed 248 pounds. He spent three seasons with the Twins, pitching in 97 games before being traded to the New York Yankees in 1999, where he won a World Series.
On the outside, he looked like many other major leaguers, but inside he was an emotional wreck from the steroids, the guilt of cheating and a drinking problem. Naulty hit rock bottom just after the World Series. After a night of celebrating with some teammates, Naulty asked his driver as they crossed the George Washington Bridge, “Tell me. Tell me if this is all there is to life. Because if this is all there is, just stop this car right now and I’ll jump…. I had no hope. I had sold myself that bill of goods so long that I believed it. But I realized at that moment I had totally destroyed my life. And I had destroyed countless other people’s lives. I was ready to die.”
Brett Roberts was the highest drafted of the four pitchers, and in 1996, the Twins invited he and Naulty to big league camp where Naulty beat him out for a roster spot. Roberts said, “It’s hard enough trying to make it in this profession. You want to make it on your own abilities and work ethic, and all of a sudden, when you think it’s an even playing field, you’ve got somebody cheating. I was very upset, knowing my chance to get to the big leagues was cut short. I was jealous, hurt, frustrated, angry . . . all that stuff. I guess I should have been suspicious. How can a guy go from 85 miles an hour to 95 in three or four years? As I look back on it, it’s so clear and obvious that I can’t believe I was that naive and incredibly stupid. All the signs were there.”
On the Tablet: Podcast with Tom Verducci and Richard Deitsch.
LAST STAND OF THE BIG THREE – IAN THOMSEN (@SI_Ianthomsen)
Despite a season plagued by injuries, the Boston Celtics have reached the Eastern Conference finals. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came together in Boston before the 2007 season and have since been known as the Big Three. After winning a title in their first season together, they have been consistently successful but haven’t won another championship. With Garnett’s and Allen’s contract set to expire at the end of the season, this is likely their last shot to win it all (page 58).
When Ainge traded for Garnett and Allen, he was reluctant to refer to his stars as the Big Three out of deference to Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who won three titles in their 12 seasons together in Boston. Now Ainge feels that the current trio has earned the right to be called Big. Ainge said, “When Kevin and Larry and Robert were healthy, they were extremely special. They just didn’t maintain it this long; Kevin and Larry weren’t the same players after their surgeries. When they were in their 20s, I’d give the nod to the Big Three of the ’80s. But in their 30s, I’d give the nod to the Big Three of today.”
QUEST FOR THE CROWN – MICHAEL FARBER
The Kings have gone 45 years without winning a Stanley Cup, which ties them with the Maple Leafs and the Blues for the longest active drought in the NHL. During that time, the franchise has wasted some of the best offensive talent in the history of the game including Wayne Gretzky. They have failed to raise their status in the city of Los Angeles in large part because they have never won the Stanley Cup, but they have a chance to rewrite history for now and years to come (page 52).
Luc Robitallie, the franchise’s all time leading scorer and president of business operations said, “Thirteen million people here. We’re not a city. We’re a country. The way we make a dent is if we compete [for a Cup] year after year. But our best players—27-year-old captain Dustin Brown, 26-year-old goalie Jonathan Quick, 24-year-old center Anze Kopitar, 22-year-old defenseman Drew Doughty—are our youngest players. We should be able to compete for six, seven years.”
On the Tablet: Slideshow of the Kings over the years.
THE ART OF BOXING – ALEXANDER WOLFF
The savagery and spectacle of prizefighting a century ago are at the heart of an exhibit of works by American realist master George Bellows. On June 10, the first comprehensive retrospective of his work in 30 years, opens at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with further stops at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall and London’s Royal Academy of Arts next spring (page 64).
Said Charles Brock, curator of Bellow’s boxing work, “These are the greatest sporting images in American art. Bellows is an intensely serious and ambitious artist speaking to the entire history of art. His work can appeal on a popular level but aspires to the highest place in the culture” curator Charles Brock says of Bellows’s boxing work.” Senior writer Alexander Wolff examines his work which includes six oils and scores of lithographs and drawings.
MLB PLAYERS POLL
Who is the most underrated pitcher in the game?
Matt Cain, Giants 9%
Doug Fister, Tigers 8%
Ricky Romero, Blue Jays 6%
Dan Haren, Angels 4%
Vance Worley, Phillies 3%
[Based on 293 NBA players who responded to SI’s survey]
FAST FACTS: A whopping 98 hurlers received at least one vote—including four Cy Young winners (the Brewers’ Zack Greinke, the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, the Mets’ Johan Santana and, at ninth overall with six nods, the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez). . . . Combined career record for the top five: 264–233; combined ERA: 3.47. . . . Fister, who drew 16% of the votes from his own AL Central, is winless in five starts in ’12, but has a 1.84 ERA. . . . In a similar poll on Facebook, Romero led with 34%.
SCORECARD: A MATTER OF HORSE SENSE – TIM LAYDEN (@SITimLayden)
On Saturday, June 9, I’ll Have Another has a chance to become the first thoroughbred in 34 years to win racing’s Triple Crown, one of the rarest feats in any sport. Hundreds of thousands of people will be attendance and millions watching from their TVs, but the sport of horseracing has a number of problems going on that can’t be solved with one Triple Crown winner. Senior writer Tim Layden said, “It is only a moment, and the sport’s troubles will rise unchanged with the Sunday sun. But racing deserves that moment. Racing can again be great for a day” (page 15).
POINT AFTER: TO FIGHT CANCER, IT TAKES A TEAM – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
The California softball team is one of many sports teams, who are active members of the Friends of Jaclyn foundation, a nonprofit organization that pairs children suffering from brain tumors with teams, primary college. Barbara Wiggs, better known as Bebe, has been a fixture with the Golden Bears all season. As she continues to battle cancer, she is always around the team, providing a vast amount of inspiration. Said coach Diane Ninemire, “I hope we’ve given her half the inspiration she’s given us” (page 74).
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- Motor Sports (page 31): Great Scot – On the second hottest day in Indy 500 history, Dario Franchitti shot to the lead on the next-to-last lap to win his third 500 and enter the talk of IndyCar legends. (@LarsAndersonSI)
- MLB (page 34): Death, Taxes and Adam Dunn – White Sox DH Adam Dunn had one of the worst offensive seasons in baseball history in 2011, but he’s back on track in 2012, putting up statistics like his old self. (@SI_BenReiter)
- NBA (page 36): Market Watch – A look at free agents not named Deron Williams who will garner a great deal of interest this summer. (@chrismannixsi)
On the Tablet: Truth and Rumors
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 24)
- Megan Pinson (Fallbrook, Calif./Fallbrook High) – Rugby
- Allex Austin (San Marcos, Texas/San Marcos High) – Track and Field
- Maggie Fobare (Dallas/Hockaday School) – Lacrosse
- Brandon Newton (Ruston, La./Cedar Creek High) – Golf
- Jessica Simpson (North Canton, Ohio/Miami (Ohio)) – Softball
- Kyle Merber (Dix Hills, N.Y./Columbia) – Track and Field
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.”
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