Russell Westbrook Could Be the Leading Man in the NBA Finals
Andrew McCutchen Discovers That Being the Natural Is Not Enough
Manny Pacquaio’s Controversial Loss in Las Vegas Dealt Boxing a Crippling Blow
Sharapova’s and Nadal’s French Open Victories were Achieved by Desire and Tenacity
The Extraordinary Adventures of the 1956 Hungarian Olympic Team
(NEW YORK – June 6, 2012) – A new era in the NBA has arrived and it has taken two men to deliver it. LeBron James, 27, and Kevin Durant, 23, are the key players of this post-Kobe era, and each is seeking his first title at the other’s expense. The last Finals to launch a new generation with so much anticipation and promise was the showdown between the Lakers and the Celtics in 1984, when Magic Johnson’s Lakers lost to Larry Bird’s Celtics over seven memorable games. A look inside the much anticipated match-up of the two best players in the league during this year’s NBA Finals is the cover story for the June 18, 2012, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
Unlike Johnson (a point guard) and Bird (a small forward), who rarely guarded each other, James and Durant will match up for a majority of their minutes, making for must-watch TV. The two players forged a friendship this past off-season. Durant spent four days in Akron working out with James, where they consoled each other about their shared troubles with the veteran Mavs, who had KO’d the Thunder last spring before upsetting the Heat in the Finals.
LeBron James said, “We pushed each other each and every day. I envisioned us getting to this point.”
LEADING MAN—CHRIS MANNIX (@ChrisMannixSI)
Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook may not be the biggest name in the Finals, but how well he runs the Thunder’s offense will determine which team goes home with a championship. Consider Westbrook’s job description: Don’t just score, create, and do it while keeping the turnovers down, the shooting percentage up and, oh, yeah, making sure the NBA’s scoring champ, Kevin Durant, is getting enough shots. Not since Allen Iverson has an elite point guard been asked to play such a multifaceted role.
Westbrook’s relationship with Durant has been dissected at a Kardashian level. Critics have wondered whether two alpha males can coexist, bringing up examples of discord (a well-publicized blowup on the bench in Memphis last December) and statistics (Westbrook’s hoisting up nearly as many shots as Durant in a bumpy 2011 playoffs) as proof that they can’t. What’s rarely cited is how Westbrook and Durant were inseparable during All-Star weekend or how the two routinely text each other about anything, from basketball to video games, late at night. Nor is it often noted that the duo scored more points per game (51.6) than any other tandem this season, or that when the game is tight, Westbrook defers: With a minute to play and the score within three points, Durant has attempted 37 shots, Westbrook eight.
Says Westbrook:“People keep trying to break me and Kevin up. But we just keep getting closer.”
BEING THE NATURAL ISN’T ENOUGH – JOSEPH LEMIRE (@SI_JoeLemire)
Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen was a naturally gifted high school ballplayer who was chosen 11th overall in a draft that has been hailed as one of the best in major league history. McCutchen cruised through his first two years in the minors, dominating Rookie and Class A ball, but the moment he understood what it was to be a professional occurred when he faced adversity for the first time. Struggling in Double A he recognized that for even the bluest of baseball’s blue chip prospects, his natural talent was not enough. After being presented with a list of flaws and recommended fixes, McCutchen looked his coach in the eye and said, “Let’s go do it.”
“Adversity is a great teacher,” says Pirates assistant G.M. Kyle Stark, who oversees player development. “Our philosophy here is that we’re trying to maximize what guys do naturally, so we want to see that before we change things.”
McCutchen is gunning to become part of an exclusive club: active players who have helped the Pirates finish .500. Pittsburgh is mired in a 19-year streak of losing seasons, but McCutchen sees reason to hope for the future of the organization. “Once that streak is beaten, you’re going to want something else,” McCutchen says. “Why not reach the playoffs and win the World Series? Why not do it all? Let’s open some eyes, man.”
WHAT WAS LOST IN LAS VEGAS—CHRIS MANNIX (@ChrisMannixSI)
After Manny Pacquiao lost his WBO welterweight title to Timothy Bradley, the boxing world was in turmoil. Last Saturday night, millions of boxing fans watched Pacquiao cruise to what appeared to be a comfortable 16th straight victory. Instead, the judges awarded a split-decision victory to Bradley, one of the worst calls in the history of boxing. Even boxing promoter Bob Arum said, “I’m ashamed for the sport.”
Lost in the controversy was an even bigger question: What’s next for Manny Pacquiao? The 33-year-old Filipino’s skills have diminished over time and fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. no longer has the allure it once did. The money will always be there but what boxing lost last Saturday may haunt it forever.
THE PLOT THICKENS (AGAIN)—L. JON WERTHEIM (@Jon_Wertheim)
Maria Sharapova has regained the top ranking and Rafael Nadal finally took down his chief rival, setting the stage for Wimbledon and the Olympics. The 2012 French Open represented seven rounds of gladiatorial Hunger Games. Yes, the champions—Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova—succeeded because they were able to pound a ball over a net with the greatest force and accuracy. In the end, though, they survived because they were driven by superior motivation, desire and tenacity.
Nadal rebounded to defeat his rival Novak Djokovic, who had defeated him seven straight times. The last time the two met, Nadal suffered a heart-wrenching six-hour marathon match at the Australian Open, a defeat that even his closest friends thought may deflate his spirit. The following evening Nadal calmly told them, “I lost last night, but now I know I can beat him again.”
Reaching the final brought Sharapova the No. 1 WTA ranking, and winning gave her the career Grand Slam—singles trophies from each of the four majors—a feat that many other champions (Monica Seles, Venus Williams, Justine Henin, Martina Hingis) never achieved. An hour after the final Sharapova was still digesting her accomplishment. “No matter how many how punches I took, I’ve always gotten back up,” she said.
REVOLUTION GAMES – ALEXANDER_WOLFF (@Alexander_Wolff)
Charred automobiles and rotting corpses lined the streets as members of the 1956 Hungarian Olympic team made their way to the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. The team had more than just performance pressures on their shoulders as they traveled to the Olympics. Their home and their families were under attack as the Soviets invaded their homeland.
“The Olympics, the whole thing has lost its importance, its beauty, because of what’s happening back at home,” said a water polo player named Istvan Hevesi.
The Hungarian athletes’ greatest feat was beating the Soviets 4-0 in the water polo semifinals. Despite the team’s overall success, many of the athletes’ experiences were less than ideal. “All you’re thinking about is a decision you’ll be making that will affect the rest of your life,” said Hungarian diver Frank Siak.
That decision was whether to defect or return to a country under Soviet occupation. Those who decided to defect did so with the help of a young, struggling sports magazine, Sports Illustrated.
SCORECARD: DIFFERENT STROKES – LYNN SHERR
Every fourth summer, the pageantry and drama of the Olympics set our hearts soaring and ignites our imagination. “Wow! Look at those swimmers,” we say to ourselves, buoyed by their splashy, churning performances and bobbing, smiling postrace pool play. “Did you see Michael Phelps dolphin-kick his way to the finish? It just looked so . . . easy!” Careful. The next sentence is the tricky one. It so often goes like this: “I could do that.” Actually, you couldn’t.
Guest contributor Lynn Sherr writes, “Elite swimmers are different from the tips of their oversized hands to their flippersized feet, all of which scoop up oceans of water. They even walk differently.”
POINT AFTER: CASEY MARTIN’S VICTORY LAP– PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
The U.S. Open will feature a familiar name this weekend, Casey Martin. The golfer who earneda spot in the Open by winning a sectional qualifier last week is the same Casey Martin who was competitive enough to earn five top 50 tournament finishes in 2000 despite needing a golf cart to play. He waged a four-year legal fight to keep playing even though many fellow golfers opposed his right to ride. (The Supreme Court ruled 7–2 in his favor on Jan. 17, 2001.) But he’s also a different Casey Martin—no longer a member of the Tour, he’s now the Oregon golf coach, and at 40 far more intense about his Ducks’ performances than his own.
Casey Martin says, “The thing is, I don’t really play golf. At least, I don’t play rounds of golf very often. I’ll go out and beat some balls with my guys at practice, maybe get out there half an hour early and hit some shots, but I’ve probably only played 12, 15 rounds in the past year.”
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- MLB (page 30): Adapt or Die– Six weeks ago, the Angels were headed to oblivion. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, one of the most successful in the league, has turned things around. (@SI_BenReiter)
- Horse Racing (page 36): Rags to Riches – In Belmont without I’ll Have Another, Union Rags delivered a victory that saved the day for racing. (@SITimLayden)
- Olympics (page 32): Running For No. 1 – Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake’s strong performance at the Adidas Grand Prix sets up an intriguing battle with his famous countryman Usain Bolt at the Olympics in London. (@SIDavidEpstein)
On the Tablet: Truth and Rumors
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 24)
- Bill Stanley (South Park, Pa./South Park High) – Track and Field
- Kimmons Wilson (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park Crew) – Rowing
- Chris Brown (North Chelmsford, Mass./Brandeis University) – Track and Field
- Shantana Kanhoye (Queens, N.Y./John Adams High)- Flag Football
- K.C. Wilson (Winter Springs, Fla./The Masters Academy) – Waterskiing
- Alli Cash (Overland Park, Kans./Shawnee Mission West) –Track and Field
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
Also in this week’s Sports Illustrated: the Mad Hatter of Baton Rouge, the evolution of Manny Pacquiao and the changing identity of NHL enforcersPosted: November 3, 2011
You’ve seen this week’s Packers and Cardinals covers, read our picks for the NFL playoffs and midseason awards, learned how food consciousness is revolutionizing sports, reviewed our plan for how paying D-I athletes could work and found out who NFL players think is the league’s funniest trash talker (come on down, Chad Ochocinco). Here’s what else is in the Nov. 7 issue, on newsstands now.
ALABAMA-LSU: WHAT WILL LES MILES DO NEXT? – AUSTIN MURPHY (@si_austinmurphy)
In Saturday’s megamatchup between No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, SI predicts that the Crimson Tide—behind 100+ yards rushing and a touchdown from Trent Richardson, “the best player on the field”—will win 17–14. But fans watching would do well to expect something memorable from Tigers coach Les Miles (page 100).
For all his eccentricities and penchant for on-field gambles, Miles is one of the top two or three college coaches in the country. In matching up with Nick Saban on Saturday, he’ll be going against one of his peers—not to mention his LSU predecessor. Says Chargers fullback Jacob Hester, who played one year for Saban and three for Miles in Baton Rouge: “Coach Miles got the most out of his players. He just did it in a different way than Coach Saban. He trusted us. I think Les Miles trusts his players more than any coach I’ve ever seen or been around. When he calls your number on a trick play or goes for it on a fourth down, the message he’s sending is, I believe in you.”
On the Tablets: Hotspots on the five most “Milesian” moments during the coach’s tenure at LSU, from his grass-eating episode during last year’s Alabama game to his series of clock management issues.