In This Week’s SI: Tide Lift Tuscaloosa, The Bulls Defense, Canucks’ Roberto Lungo, Novak Djokovic

Terror, Tragedy and Hope in Tuscaloosa 

With Apologies to Derrick Rose, the Bulls’ MVP Is Their Team Defense 

Roberto Luongo Scares the Puck out of Fans in Vancouver 

Novak Djokovic: The Face of Serbia’s Rebirth 

The Pacific Northwest: North America’s Soccer Hotbed

 The cover story of this week’s May 23, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated—on newsstands now—documents both the aftermath of the deadly tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa, Ala., on April 27 and how the Crimson Tide athletic community is helping in the relief effort.

When the most powerful tornado in the history of Alabama ripped through “T-Town” with winds of up to 190 mph, it caused damage that will take years to recover from. Senior writer Lars Anderson (@LarsAndersonSI), who lives in Birmingham and taught a sportswriting class at the University of Alabama this spring, spoke with several students and Tuscaloosa residents, each of whom has their own story from that tragic day. The outpouring of support from the Alabama athletic community has included but has not been limited to:

  • More than $1 million in donations to the relief effort from the school’s athletic department.
  • Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Javier Arenas, a member of the Crimson Tide’s 2009 national championship team, bought $1,600 worth of supplies and Tweeted that he would give it away outside of a mall.
  • 15 members of Alabama’s baseball team helped a mother of one of the six students killed search the wreckage for a white dress that the mother wanted to bury her daughter in.

Says football coach Nick Saban: “We can create a psychological escape for the people of this town. They have a great passion for sports, and we’ll be there for them.”

Sports Illustrated is helping with the recovery effort with an Alabama relief auction to benefit the American Red Cross. Users can bid on items such as a dinner anywhere in the continental U.S. with Peter King, two tickets to the 2011 Sportsman of the Year Celebration in New York later this year, classic Crimson Tide cover reprints and custom print photographs of Joe Namath and Bear Bryant signed by legendary photographer Neil Leifer. To bid on an item, click here. Items will be open for bidding between now and 2-3 pm EST on May 25.

To read the full online version of Terror, Tragedy and Hope in Tuscaloosa, click here.

On the Tablets: A podcast interview with Lars Anderson as well as video footage of the tornado’s aftermath and interviews with those affected in the Crimson Tide community.

TOM THIBODEAU: DEFENSE, CHICAGO STYLE – LEE JENKINS (@SI_LeeJenkins)

The Chicago Bulls are one step from their first NBA Finals since the Michael Jordan era, thanks not only to MVP Derrick Rose but also to Tom Thibodeau’s corralling team defense, which led the league in defensive efficiency, rebounding differential, opponents’ field goal percentage and opponents’ three-point percentage. Recalls former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy, for whom Thibodeau was an assistant coach with the Knicks in the late 1990s and early 2000s (page 42): “One day I asked him about individual defense and he started breaking down the stance on the ball, where your hand position should be, how far you should retreat after a jab step. He gave me a doctoral paper on it. He made me feel bad about my own level of knowledge.”

The preparation for Thibodeau’s first season in Chicago started with a procession of exhausting individual workouts during the summer. Recalls Joakim Noah: “I’d hide from him, and he’d still find me. I’d tell him ‘Thibs, I can’t do it again, I’m tired, it’s summertime, it’s Friday, let’s take it easy, let’s chill.’ He didn’t go for that.”

To read the full online version of Defense, Chicago Style, click here.

On the Tablets: Touch on any one of the five Bulls players on the floor to see what their defensive responsibilities are, plus up-to-the-minute video of the latest action from the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.

NHL PLAYOFFS: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND ROBERTO LUONGO – BRIAN CAZENEUVE

His team is the best in hockey, and most of the time so is Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. But his penchant for disastrous mistakes seems to always weigh on fans in Vancouver, even when his teammates on the Canucks’ powerhouse roster rise to his defense. Says winger Alex Burrows (page 46): “What the hell else does he have to do? I know: win a Stanley Cup. When we win people think the puck stops itself. No, it’s Roberto. I think he’s the best goalie in the world.”

To read the full online version of The Good, The Bad and Robert Luongo, click here.

On the Tablets: Three examples each of “Good Luongo” and “Bad Luongo” as well as a slideshow of the latest from the Eastern Conference Finals between the Lightning and Bruins.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: STARING DOWN HISTORY – S.L. PRICE

With the longest men’s winning streak of the Open era in his sights, Novak Djokovic is doing more than chasing history. He’s also serving as the symbol of Serbia’s rebirth. Says Vladimir Petrovic, Serbia’s ambassador to the U.S. (page 54): “Novak Djokovic is the single biggest positive p.r. this country’s ever had. He’s a positive face of the new democratic Serbia.”

Djokovic’s pride in his homeland—as well as the steeliness that has guided him on his current winning streak—was shaped during the NATO bombings of 1999. Rather than holing up in their apartment, the Djokovics went to the Partizan Tennis Club in Belgrade, where Novak trained, and spent entire days hitting tennis balls. Recalls Novak’s mother, Dijana: “There was no way we are sitting at home and crying. So we are on the tennis court from 10 in the morning to 6, 7, 8 p.m. Also our two other kids [Marko and Djordje] are practicing during the bombing. You are practicing and listening to sirens, but it was the only way. We were trying to find some way to get out.”

To read the full online version of Staring Down History, click here.

On the Tablets: Video of Djokovic imitating the serves and/or tics of other players on Tour.

SOCCER: A PACIFIC PASSION PLAY – GRANT WAHL (@GrantWahl)

The best rivalries in North American soccer are in the Pacific Northwest between the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps. It’s a competition that dates back to the North American Soccer League—more than two decades before Major League Soccer was established. All three teams competed then with the same franchise names, leaving a mark on the former and current fan bases. Now the region has quickly transformed into an MLS hotbed, highlighted by record attendance and intense matches. Seattle coach Sigi Schmid says (page 50): “Any other rivalry in this league has sort of been a created rivalry. This rivalry has history. It’s been there the last 30-plus years, and that makes it the best rivalry in the league.”

To read the full online version of a Pacific Passion Play, click here.

On the Tablets: The weekly Sports Illustrated soccer podcast with Wahl as well as SI.com’s Jen Chang and Jonathan Wilson. Plus, a visual history of professional soccer in the Pacific Northwest.

SI PLAYERS MLB POLL

Who is the nicest player in baseball? (page 13)

Jim Thome, Twins DH….21%                 Johnny Damon, Rays DH….5%

Raúl Ibañez, Phillies OF….7%                Joe Mauer, Twins C….4%

Mike Sweeney, Retired 1B….5%

Facebook Fan Picks

Thome….29%

Derek Jeter, Yankees SS….18%

Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 2B….11%

FAST FACTS: Yankees OF Curtis Granderson and SS Derek Jeter also received 4% of the players’ vote…. Among the top 25 vote-getters, only one pitcher, Oakland’s Craig Breslow (1%) was named, while nine first basemen were cited…. Pedroia was No. 3 in fan voting but received only two player votes (1%).

POINT AFTER: TOUGH LOVE FROM DR. PHIL – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)

Senior writer Phil Taylor has been baffled by how the NBA playoffs have turned into one big therapy session. He’s been captivated by the games yet at the same time annoyed by hearing so many players and teams sort out their emotional baggage. So Taylor does his best to channel the real Dr. Phil in humorous faux conversations with four postseason participants, all of whom with their own set of issues: the Celtics’ Glen Davis, whose own coach said he couldn’t “find” him during the playoffs; the Lakers’ Andrew Bynum, who has a firsthand account of Los Angeles’s trust issues; a tearful Brandon Roy of the Trail Blazers; and the Heat’s Chris Bosh, weighing in on his role as the neglected member of Miami’s Big Three (page 64).

To read the full online version of Tough Love from Dr. Phil, click here.

Scorecard Essay: Everybody Loves Sportscasters – Steve Rushin (@SteveRushin)

This fall America will get three new TV shows based on the life of ESPN anchors. There have been a number of sitcoms about sportswriters—including The Odd Couple and Everybody Loves Raymond—but the new age of media lends itself well to an update of that tried and true formula. Steve Rushin previews the fall lineup while also looking back at the old standbys (page 12).

To read the full online version of Everybody Loves Sportscasters, click here.

THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 20)

• Myles Andrews (Long Beach, Calif.) – Track and Field           • Conlin McCabe (Brockville, Ont.) – Rowing

• Danielle Etrasco (Massapequa, N.Y.) – Lacrosse                    • Cody McMillion (Hopkins, S.C.) and Ariana Mato

• J.T. Poston (Hickory, N.C.) – Golf                                             (Davie, Fla.) – Equestrian

• Megan Smith (Olathe, Kans.) – Track and Field

Follow Faces in the Crowd on Twitter @SI_Faces.

INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS (page 28)

  • Baseball: Hot in Cleveland – At the season’s quarter pole on thing is clear: The Indians are for real.
    • On the Tablets: Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) weighs in on the Jorge Posada situation.
  • Olympic Sports: Sweet 16 – The U.S. has found its next teen phenom in the pool, Missy Franklin, who’s poised to make a huge splash.
  • Golf: Painful Thought – Another injury-related setback heightened speculation that Tiger Woods’s best days are behind him.

THIS WEEK ON THE TABLETS

  • SI Digital Bonus: Worthy of Really High Fives – In this feature story from the June 18, 1984, issue, Curry Kirkpatrick recaps a French Open where Ivan Lendl won his first major and Martina Navratilova (sort of) captured the Grand Slam.
  • Scorecard: The Man in Full – Touch to read an excerpt from George Vecsey’s Stan Musial: An American Life and listen to an interview with Vecsey.
  • Scorecard: Video of a Home Run Derby between the late Harmon Killebrew and Mickey Mantle.
  • Scorecard: Off the Record – This week’s must-see moments in sports video.

-SI-


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