This week’s SI also features an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Mike Conley Jr. and the Memphis Grizzlies. Senior writer Lee Jenkins spent seven days with the Western Conference contenders as they devised a game plan for the Thunder, bounced back from a devastating defeat—and got their hair cut just right. Conley is featured on a regional cover, the first SI cover for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Jenkins takes readers through the Grizzlies’ preparations for Game 1, including reserve swingman Quincy Pondexter doing push-ups and power forward Zack Randolph reviewing Floyd Mayweather’s victory the night before. Jenkins writes, “The Grizzlies are heavyweights, not welterweights, an antidote to the go-go teams of the Western Conference and a throwback to the days when large men stood on the block with their backs to the basket.” (PAGE 36)
In Game 1, the Grizzlies, the league’s top defensive team, forgot who they were. Memphis allowed Kevin Durant to score 35 points and Kevin Martin to score 25 off the bench. They still had a chance to tie the game with 1.6 seconds left when Pondexter went to the line to shoot three with his team down three. He missed the first shot and Memphis lost. In the locker room after the defeat, Pondexter already had a Twitter account filled with awful messages. He said, “I let down my team.”(PAGE 37)
After every game, coach Lionel Hollins fills a note card with his thoughts for the following practice. Jenkins saw the card—it was filled with ways to slow Durant. “We have to treat KD the same ways as Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul,” Hollins said. “He can’t just dribble down the floor and see one guy. He has to see three guys.” (PAGE 37)
Jenkins also observed a team that is very close knit, from eating meals and seeing movies together on the road to Conley hosting a Warriors-Spurs watch party in his hotel room. “I’m in awe of what he’s doing,” Conley says as he watches the Warriors’ Stephen Curry. In the Grizzlies’ Game 2 victory, Conley finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Jenkins says that he delivered “a sequence as awe-inducing as Curry’s.” (PAGE 39)
The coaching staff has encouraged Conley to look for his own shot more often since leading scorer Rudy Gay was traded in late January. “I got a chance to show the world I can do the same things as those other great point guards,” Conley says. (PAGE 38)
With the Grizzlies back home with three days off before Game 3, forward Tony Allen took his daughter to school, Pondexter made his 38th community appearance of the season and Randolph got his weekly haircut at Christyles, where he stops in every Friday or Saturday and always before nationally televised games. Jenkins says, “On the road the Grizzlies are basketball players. At home they are husbands, fathers and dog owners.” (PAGE 40)
This week’s SI features a look by senior writer Chris Ballard at the top complementary shooters in this year’s playoffs who give elite scorers room to operate and one star—Stephen Curry—who doesn’t need anyone’s help to find room to get off a shot. The regional cover is Curry’s first appearance on an SI cover.
During the Warriors six-game first-round victory over the Nuggets, Ballard says that Curry “appeared to be engaged in one very long, extremely thorough heat check.” (Page 52)
Ballard writes that Curry is a different breed who not only creates his own space, “but he also thrives in the absence of it.” Along with some nudging from his sharp shooting father Dell and coach Mark Jackson, Curry has adapted to defenders playing him tight by shooting more quickly and from more difficult angels. This has led to Curry scoring 59.1% of his buckets unassisted this season. For comparison’s sake, Kevin Durant, another space creating shooter, was assisted on over half of his shots.
“It’s ridiculous the types of shots he makes in games,” says Jarret Jack, the Warriors’ sixth man. “And each he hits one, it only helps the rest of us.” (Page 53)
Ballard also profiles the floor spacers who open up the lane for their team’s primary scorers and simply wait for their moment to come. Ballard says “The NBA has been a shooter’s league for a while now, but never as much as it is today: a record 39.9 threes were launched per game this season.” (PAGE 50)
Think Mike Miller for the Miami Heat in last year’s clinching game 5 of the NBA finals. Says Ballard, “His job: Stretch the Thunder’s defense so it couldn’t collapse on James and Wade as they attacked the basket.” Miller and other floor spacers force the defense to make a decision: leave a star like James or Wade or hope the shooter cools off and misses open shots. Miller made 7 of 8 threes, and the heat won the championship.
Ballard notes other floor spacers in the playoffs, such as New York forward Steve Novak, San Antonio guard Danny Green and Hawks forward Kyle Korver. Teams are now featuring lineups with multiple wing shooters in at a time. After losing Russell Westbrook to injury, the Thunder have even stationed four shooters—Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher, Thoba Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson—in the same lineup with Durant.
Yet, nobody uses shooters as much as the Heath according to Ballard. This season, the Heat have even more floor spacers to join Miller in Ray Allen (a career 40.1% three-point shooter), Rashard Lewis (38.8%), Shane Battier (38.7%) and James Jones (39.9%). Heat coach Eric Spolestra runs a primary offense in which the entire team sets up on the perimeter to creating space for James and Wade to drive. However, due to the Heat’s depth, Miller, Jones and Lewis have barely played yet in the playoffs.
“They haven’t had to use Miller and Joes and Lewis yet,” says an NBA scout. “But I guarantee you, through 16 wins those guys will come in and make a difference. Even if it’s one for one series, or one game. That’s why they’re there.” (PAGE 53)
Only five million of India’s 1.2 billion people play basketball, making it the largest untapped hoops market in the world. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, senior writer Pete Thamel takes an inside look at basketball in India and how the NBA’s plan to penetrate this potentially lucrative market centers on the success of a 7-foot teenager from the Punjab named Satnam Singh Bhamara.
Satnam didn’t play basketball until age nine, when he was already 5’ 9” and was simply told to try the game due to his height. He picked up the game quickly and earned a scholarship at India’s premier basketball academy. He is now playing and going to school on scholarship at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. At age 17, he is a 7’1 ½”, 300-pound basketball prodigy with size 20 sneakers. Thamel writes:
“He can shoot with both hands, he never brings the ball below his waist after a rebound, and he can reliably hit free throws.” (PAGE 68)
Satnam’s father Balbir, also more than seven feet tall, never played basketball since he had to work on the family farm. He tells Thamel: “The things I couldn’t do in my life, I want Satnam to do.” (PAGE 68)
Thamel finds that the NBA shares the lofty ambitions for Satnam that his father has, as league executives envision Satnam becoming an Indian icon and international basketball ambassador, much like Yao Ming did in China a decade ago. Both the NBA and IMG understand the potential of India’s large young population. “It’s the largest untapped basketball market in the world,” says Bobby Sharma, IMG’s senior vice president for global basketball. “If Satnam’s potential gets him to the NBA, that’ll be good for a lot of people—especially Satnam.” (PAGE 69)
Almost half of India’s population is under the age of 24, so marketers and the NBA think now is the time to tap into basketball in India. “I just see it as unlimited in terms of its potential,” says NBA commissioner David Stern. NBA league marketing partners, such as Nike, Adidas and Coca-Cola, have signed up to help grow the game in India. India is “a top priority,” says NBA International president Heidi Ueberroth.
Thamel notes the many challenges to growing basketball in India, from not having adequate facilities to competing against more popular Indian sports like cricket, soccer and field hockey to the lack of a professional league that encourages kids to play and eventually earn some money playing the sport. Officials must also close the talent gap and find players like Satnam in remote areas outside of the cities. As it stands now, Thamel writes that “the Indian National team would struggle in the middling America East Conference.” (PAGE 72)
While he currently projects to be no more than an end-of-rotation NBA banger, his upside in India is enormous and he understands his potential influence. Satnam says: “Even after I retire, I want to make sure there’s a young generation that continues the popularity of basketball in India.” (PAGE 69)
Says Stern: “It doesn’t depend ultimately on whether Satnam Singh is the next Yao Ming…although that would be nice.” (PAGE 70)
Click here to listen to Pete Thamel discuss whether India can develop as a basketball power on the Inside SI Podcast with Richard Deitsch.
“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black and I’m gay,” begins Jason Collins the 7-foot, 12-year NBA veteran who sat down with Sports Illustrated contributor Franz Lidz and Executive Editor L. Jon Wertheim to openly discuss his sexuality and why he is now making it public. Collins’s exclusive story is part of a Sports Illustrated cross-platform editorial package on the gay athlete. The issue hits newsstands this week and Collins’ poignant thoughts can be found here now on SI.com.
Collins’s essay takes us through his decision as well as reaction from family members and close friends. “I realized I needed to go public when Massachusetts congressman Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford, told me he had just marched in Boston’s 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I’m seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy,” Collins explains. “I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, “me, too.”
Also from the piece: “The strain of hiding my sexuality became almost unbearable in March, when the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Less than three miles from my apartment, nine jurists argued about my happiness and my future. Here was my chance to be heard and I couldn’t say a thing. I didn’t want to answer questions and draw attention to myself. Not while I was still playing.”
Collins’s decision to go public causes his family trepidation. “My maternal grandmother was apprehensive about my plans to come out publicly,” he says. “She grew up in rural Louisiana and witnessed the horrors of segregation. During the civil rights movement she saw great bravery play out amid the ugliest side of humanity. She worries that I am opening myself u up to prejudice and hatred. I explained to her that in a way, my coming out is preemptive. I shouldn’t have to live under the threat of being outed. The announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ’s.”
Also included in this package will be:
- First person reaction from Jarron Collins – Jason’s twin brother and former NBA player
- “Inside the Room” from Executive Editor, Jon Wertheim
- Editor’s Letter from SI Managing Editor Chris Stone – How this piece came together.
- Agent Arm Tellem on his inspiring client.
The Sports Illustrated cover has a legacy of leading ground-breaking conversations in sports including: a 1982 interview with Don Reese, the former NFL defensive lineman, who discussed the proliferation of cocaine in the NFL; SI’s 2002 cover calling LeBron James, “The Chosen One,” which is seen as his arrival on the national stage; a 2002 interview with NL MVP Ken Caminiti discussing steroids in Major League Baseball; Michael Phelps displaying his eight Gold Medals from the 2008 Beijing games; and the 2010 confession of former sports agent Josh Luchs discussing paying players during his 20+ year career.
Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant is tired and it has nothing to do with the grind of a long season—he’s grown tired of always finishing second. In this week’s Sports Illustrated, senior writer Lee Jenkins finds that the unsatisfied Durant, who appears on the SI cover for the fifth time, uses the success of rival Lebron James for motivation and analysis of advanced metrics to improve the chances of leading his team to an NBA championship. Durant tells Jenkins:
“I’ve been second my whole life. I was the second best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.” (PAGE 38)
Durant, still just 24, has no interest in joining the list of NBA stars who have languished in other player’s shadows. He tells Jenkins that he is motivated from afar by the success of James, last year’s MVP who’s Miami Heat defeated Durant’s Thunder for the 2012 NBA title. Jenkins, who also wrote the 2012 SI Sportsman of the Year profile on James last December, notes that the two stars take flak for their friendship off the court. However, Durant says: “I’m not taking it easy on [Lebron]. Don’t you know I’m trying to destroy the guy every time I go on the court?” (PAGE 41)
One area Durant has worked on is efficiency, as he has hired his own analytics expert to help him improve numerical imbalances in his game. After every game, he watches video with his private trainer Justin Zormelo. Durant tailors the next day’s workout to improve in areas where he struggles statistically. Over the past few seasons, the duo helped transform Durant from a scoring machine to a playmaker. Jenkins writes that Durant now better understands his sweet spots—both elbows, both corners and the top of the key. Says Thunder coach Scott Brooks:
“He knows he can score. He’s trying to score smarter.” (PAGE 38)
The Thunder lead the NBA in nearly every offensive category, even though they traded one of the league’s leading scorers in James Harden before the season. What’s most surprising is that the Thunder have improved in virtually every relevant offensive area with Durant attempting fewer field goals than at any time since he was a rookie. Durant also has set career marks in efficiently rating, assists and shooting percentage.
Jenkins says: “He wants what Miami has, and he’s going to seize it one meticulously selected elbow jumper at a time.” (PAGE 38)