How’s this for the next great NBA tag team? One is 6’7” and 207 pounds and the prototypical NBA wing. The other lacks strength, can’t jump and is freakishly skilled. There has never been a backcourt like the Warriors’ Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, two young gunners whose shooting range astounds even themselves.
Writes Chris Ballard, “If Thompson is a classic NBA type, Curry is an outlier. While many stars are considered blueprints for the next generation—seven-footers who shoot threes, linebacker-sized point forwards—Curry is a throwback. No GM would scour the college ranks for slight, 6′ 3″ guards who fit the “Curry model,” because there are none. You could call him a small, scoring, hybrid point guard, but that’s not accurate. What he really is the best long-range shooter in NBA history.”
Both Curry and Thompson are NBA legacies. Dale Curry, father of Stephen, played 16 seasons in the NBA and is the franchise leader in points (9,839) and three-point field goals made (929) for the New Orleans Pelicans‘ (formerly the Charlotte Hornets). Mychal Thompson played 12 seasons in the league and won two titles with the Lakers. Writes Jenkins, “Ask the fathers how much of their sons’ success is genetic and how much is due to everything else, and they struggle to answer. Mychal thinks for a while, then settles on 50% genes, 50% other factors. Dell puts it at 25/75: “You can have a great skill set, but if you don’t work to develop it, it won’t get you that far.” Genetics aside, there has never been a pair of teammates like Thompson and Curry. | SI senior writer Chris Ballard
When Paul Pierce persuaded Kevin Garnett to play for the Nets—and for rookie coach Jason Kidd—it clinched the deal of the summer. Now the clock is already ticking on a group of highly paid but aging stars as they strive to lead the franchise to its first NBA championship and give new meaning to the Beastie Boys’ addage, “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” Writes Chris Mannix, “Perhaps the most persistent concern is what Garnett, 37, and Pierce, 36, have left, a question that was raised after the Celtics lost in the first round last spring. “Don’t read too much into that,” says then Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “When [Rajon] Rondo went down, we asked them to do too much. They went from trying to mesh into the team to having to carry it again. But Paul can play forever; he never uses his athleticism. And Kevin—as long as you watch his minutes—can still be Kevin Garnett.”
Kidd is as attuned to the modern game and player as any, even though he is lacking in procedural aspects and experience at the helm. Last season he was a veteran player. This season he will be the boss, but not so far removed from his fraternity of brothers in the locker room. “Unlike most first-year coaches, Kidd isn’t expected to develop talent, but rather to make full use of a surplus of it,” writes Mannix. “Kidd understands that on a team loaded with stars, he is potentially its biggest liability. Still, his philosophy will blend the approaches of the men he played for.” | SI senior writer Chris Mannix
A year and a half after he tore his left ACL, 2011 MVP Derrick Rose is back. But will he be as good as new? Rose is one of 12 top NBA players who are attempting to return from knee surgery. Vrentas writes, “According to a 2010 article in the Sports Health journal that tracked the league’s injuries through a 17-year period, no other body part causes more missed games in the NBA than the knee. As players continue to get bigger with each passing season, and as the game has become more acrobatic, their bigger and stronger bodies place a greater strain on the knee as they twist and turn and jump. This applies to ACL injuries as well as tears to the meniscus, the C-shaped piece of cartilage in the knee joint.”
Rose was criticized by fans and media for sitting out last season instead of making a speedy recovery as did Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who returned to play nine months after tearing his left ACL. “NBA players recovering from knee surgeries face unique demands, including an 82-game season,” writes Vrentas. A sustained pace with dozens of sharp, abrupt movements; up to 12 minutes per quarter; and little margin for error in the essential skill of shooting. Returning to the court after knee surgery may take longer in the NBA than in other professional sports, like the NFL.” | SI writer Jenny Vrentas
Class is in session for Dwight Howard in Houston. The topic? Offense. Despite being a seven-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard’s inside game is built on power and little else. That could change under the tutelage of the most balletic pair of old-school big men the game has ever seen: Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale. Writes Jenkins, “While Olajuwon methodically expanded his repertoire through 17 seasons in Houston, showcasing his speed with a balletic array of spins and counters, Howard’s routine remained fairly constant, forcing up those baby hooks.”
Olajuwon, who won two NBA titles with the Rockets, believes versatility is the one thing preventing Howard from being great. “You can’t have one move,” Olajuwon says. “It’s like having one outfit. I’m not going to wear the same thing to the party that I do to the gym.”
Howard worked with Olajuwon while he was with Orlando. Soon after Howard signed with the Rockets last July, McHale invited The Dream to once again become part of the team to help coach Howard and several of the team’s other big men, including 7-foot center Omer Asik. “How can we get Dwight better?” McHale asks. “That’s what we talk about. If we did nothing, and he played the way he has his entire career, he’d still be the best big guy in the NBA. But if Hakeem and I can give him a couple more tools, and he can master those, what a complement that would be.” | SI senior writer Lee Jenkins
As he recovers from the ruptured Achilles tendon that will delay the start of his 18th NBA season, Kobe Bryant reflects on how he became his generation’s greatest player in an exclusive interview with senior writer Lee Jenkins in this week’s SI. Jenkins writes, “In an age when athletes aspire to be icons, yet share the burden of success with all their best pals, Bryant looms as perhaps the last alpha dog, half greyhound and half pit bull.” (PAGE 35) Bryant, who makes his 17th appearance on SI’s cover, admits that he has some self-doubt as he comes off a potentially devastating injury at age 35.
“I have self-doubt,” Bryant says. “I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I’m like, ‘My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don’t have it. I just want to chill.’ We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it, but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. You rise above it. . . . I don’t know how I’m going to come back from this injury. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll be horses—. Then again, maybe I won’t, because no matter what, my belief is that I’m going to figure it out. Maybe not this year or even next year, but I’m going to stay with it until I figure it out.” (PAGE 35)
Bryant has adopted a title for the next chapter of his career. “It’s The Last Chapter,” Bryant says. “The book is going to close. I just haven’t determined how many pages are left.” (PAGE 35)
Bryant also discusses many of the challenges and opportunities that have allowed him to become a better player, including growing up in Italy. “I was lucky to grow up in Italy at a time when basketball in America was getting f—– up with AAU shuffling players through on strength and athleticism,” Bryant says. “I missed all that, and instead I was taught extreme fundamentals: footwork, footwork, footwork, how to create space, how to handle the ball, how to protect the ball, how to shoot the ball.” (PAGE 36)
In the winter of 2001 teammate Rick Fox told Bryant in a players-only meeting that the team wants to feel like Bryant needs them on the court. Bryant responded by saying, “Sometimes I do shoot too much. It’s not because I see you open and don’t want to pass. I don’t see you at all. My mind is built on scoring the ball. That’s a weakness.” (PAGE 37)
After a year feuding with teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant learned that Shaq had been traded to Miami. “I was no longer a 20-year-old with 30-year-olds,” Bryant says. “My teammates were suddenly my peers. I couldn’t be the kid who was trying to demolish everything in his path anymore. My reputation was as this drill sergeant, and I had to make the conversion from on-court assassin to manager.” Bryant says he talked to Michael Jordan many times about how to impart motivation with love. “Getting other people to believe in themselves,” Bryant says, “that’s always been the hardest part.” (PAGE 37)
So how does he see this season playing out? “Maybe I won’t have as much explosion,” Bryant says. “Maybe I’ll be slower. But I have other options. It’s like Floyd Mayweather in the ring. There’s a reason he’s still at the top after all these years. He’s the most fundamentally sound boxer of all time.” (PAGE 39)
“My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries. Why it’s been left to me to smooth things over, I don’t know,” Dennis Rodman tells Franz Lidz in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED’s 14th annual Where Are They Now? edition, a special summer double issue on newsstands now. Rodman—who appears on his seventh SI cover and his first one since 1999—keeps himself busy these days by appearing nearly everywhere, from the papal conclave to zombie conventions to a “basketball democracy tour” in North Korea. The cover pays homage to Rodman’s May 29, 1995 SI cover.
“I’ll go anywhere that I’m needed,” says the Hall of Fame forward who won seven straight rebounding titles and two defensive player of the year awards and was part of five championship teams during his tumultuous 14 seasons in the NBA. “I’m living famous and living infamous and enjoying the whole crazy carnival to the fullest.” (PAGE 48)
The latest episode in “As the Worm Turns” took him to North Korea, where a stunt based on promoting basketball and democracy dreamed up for the season finale of HBO’s Vice afforded Rodman serious face and partying time with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s Supreme Leader. Rodman even serenaded the reclusive dictator—whom he calls “really awesome” and a “friend for life”—with Sinatra’s “My Way.”
Rodman on Kim Jong-un: “Fact is, he hasn’t bombed anywhere he’s threatened to yet. Not South Korea, not Hawaii, not . . . whatever. People say he’s the worst guy in the world. All I know is Kim told me he doesn’t want to go to war with America. His whole deal is to talk basketball with Obama. Unfortunately, Obama doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. I ask, Mr. President, what’s the harm in a simple phone call? Come on, Obama, reach out to Kim and be his friend.”
Rodman adds: “If I don’t finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something’s seriously wrong.” (PAGE 51)
Rodman, who is remembered as much for antics (head-butting a referee, kicking a cameraman, frolicking with Madonna and Carmen Electra) and appearance (tattoos, piercings, hair colors) off the court as for his defense and rebounding on it, also says what he thinks of Jason Collins, who recently came out in SI as the first active gay NBA player. “No big deal,” Rodman says. “If I was gay and had come out during my playing days, everyone would have said, ‘Yeah, so what? We already figured that.’ The truth is, in the pros, gays are as common as steroids.” (PAGE 53)
Lidz also found that the public expects Rodman to be on hand for numerous megaspectacles—and he obliges, as long as he is paid his usual appearance fee or if he is allowed to promote his new children’s book, Dennis the Wild Bull. Rodman has attended the Wife-Carrying World Championships in Finland, made hoops stops in Mexico, England and the Philippines, starred in reality TV shows, presided over the Lingerie Bowl and went to the Vatican City in March to help promote a website that allowed people to bet on who the new pope would be.
“If you ranked the 10 most identifiable people on the planet, I’d be Number 5,” Rodman says modestly. “I’d come in right after God, Jesus, Muhammad Ali and Barack Obama.” (PAGE 50)
***SI Video: SI caught up with Rodman at a horror convention where he was signing copies of his children’s book, and posing for pictures with his legion of eccentric and adoring fans. View video here.
“The deejay’s freakin’ seven feet tall!” somebody shouts at a nightclub in New York City last month. He is, to be precise, 6 ’11”. He is also Rony Seikaly, who played center for four NBA teams over 11 seasons. In SI’s Where Are They Now? issue, staff writer Ben Reiter catches up with the former NBA center, whose new career as a deejay has him playing thumping beats in front of throngs of sweaty bodies in clubs in New York, Ibiza and his adopted home of Miami. .
Seikaly, the musician, describes himself as “a progressive type of guy,” and his basketball resume corroborates the claim. Born in Lebanon, he moved to Greece at nine, played four years at Syracuse and, in 1988, was the first player drafted by the expansion Heat. When he joined Miami as the ninth pick, there were only about 20 foreign-born players in the NBA.
Reiter finds that Seikaly’s musical tastes were similarly ahead of their time. As a 14-year-old in Athens, he was unable to get into the clubs that played the dance music that he craved—he was deeply influenced early on by disco acts such as Barry White and Chic—so he installed himself as a deejay in his parents’ garage. Rony started hosting shows in his garage and charging $5 for admittance. With the revenue he gained from these mini concerts, Seiklay was able to continually upgrade his sound and light system for his venue which he came to call ‘Disco 17’.
By the time Seikaly reached the NBA, he had moved on to house music. He recalls teammates tilting their heads at the thumps emanating from his car. ‘Oh Seik, you’re still listening to this bull—-?’ Now, two decades later, house music has firmly entered the American mainstream, with acts such as Daft Punk and David Guetta having released wildly successful albums. Seiklay, who began producing his own tracks professionally about three years ago, has seen demand for his services grow in tandem.
These days, Seikaly is mostly concerned with realities of the present. “In basketball I was always looking ahead, and when it was all over with I was like, Wait a minute, that was fast,” he says. “With deejaying, I’m taking it in every day, every song, just enjoying the moment. It’s all about the music. I don’t care about people who aren’t in the club to listen—they’re there to pick up chicks, do other things. I love playing for people who love to listen, and that’s really it. I don’t know how long I am going to do this for. I’m going to do it until I don’t enjoy it anymore.” (PAGE 113)