This Week in SportsIllustrated

Remember when SportsIllustrated used to be awesome?

Well, it isn’t awesome anymore. It is, still, pretty good and sometimes awesome, just not every time. So far as I can tell, it is suffering from ills similar to those many newspapers are suffering from:

  • A reduced news hole because of reduced ad revenue.
  • A staff of lower quality. SI has failed to retain many of its best and most popular reporters and columnists, and I’m not  just talking about Rick Reilly.
  • A misplaced agenda regarding the printed version — it is trying to be a quicker, punchier read while neglecting the thing that made it great in the first place: in-depth, well-reported, well-written stories and columns.

Anyway, this NEW! feature is not intended as a rip feature. Quite the opposite. I’m going to point out, on a weekly basis, what SportsIllustrated did well that week, as a public service to people like me, who have become increasingly discouraged by actually flipping through the magazine.

This week’s cover story

“Cleveland Rocks (No Joke!),” by Joe Posnanski.

Since it has a Posnanski byline, we can assume a couple of things:

1) It will be really good.

2) It will not be overly critical.

This piece is about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ pursuit of an NBA title, set against the backdrop of Cleveland’s disappointing sports history. Since Posnanski is from Cleveland, he wrote it in the first person, which I enjoyed.*

*We often play this little game in print reporting in which the reporter pretends he isn’t part of the story he’s telling by writing it entirely in the third person. Most of the time, this is the best way. There’s no reason to inject yourself into a 18-inch game story from a meaningless college basketball game.

But when you’ve spent a lot of time on something, talking to people one-on-one, and you’re carefully crafting the story not just to inform, but to entertain, move and provoke, in certain cases, it’s probably more true and more transparent to drop yourself in there. Not always, but occasionally, and only in the right hands.

My favorite line: “Municipal (Stadium) was uniquely designed so that no matter how many people attended, every person had a view blocked by a steel beam.”

This week’s back page column

A pretty good idea, executed well by Chris Ballard, who argues that what has happened with Allen Iverson over the last two seasons, especially set against what has happened with Chauncey Billups over the last two seasons, redefines his career.

The gyst is that teams have tended to be better after he left them, and worse after he arrived, which is true, except in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted him No. 1 overall in 1996 (although it would have been almost impossible for them to get worse).

It’s not a totally original idea. Point guards have been evaluated that way for years. But I hadn’t seen or heard anyone make that point, exactly, about Iverson. I mean, this guy won an MVP award and took his team to the Finals.

Anyway, it’s a thought-provoking column, which is what any good column is.

This Week’s Space Where Steve Rushin Should Be

An uninteresting Q&A between Dan Patrick and LeBron James. I feel bad ripping this, because I’ve produced some really crappy content in my career, but I also don’t have a page all my own in SportsIllustrated with my face at the top. And I get ripped by readers often enough, I guess.

But if Dan spent more than three hours on this page, from the time he first germenated the idea of, uh … asking LeBron James 14 questions (including, “What’s the next pregame skit you guys are going to pull off?”), to the time he called his friend Bob Costas for a one-liner on Manny Ramirez, I’d be amazed.

Say what you will about Rick Reilly, who has a lot of critics, but I say ESPN easily got the better end of that deal.

I think the best single word to describe Patrick’s “Just My Type” is “uninsightful.”

This particular edition was even worse, because LeBron James is painfully uninteresting as a person, or at least as the person reporters have been able to uncover.

Other stuff

  • In “The Pop Culture Grid,” Carlos Beltran sounds like a doofus. Q: A cougar is … Beltran: “I don’t know what to say.” Q: Last movie I saw in theaters … Beltran: “Wow, I don’t remember.” Thanks, Carlos.
  • A wonderfully concise Wayman Tisale obituary. Got enough of it in there, without getting breathy, as obits sometimes do. No byline.
  • A first-person story by former Colts coach Tony Dungy about his visit to Michael Vick while Vick was in prison in Leavenworth. Dungy wonders if a better upbringing might have kept Vick out of prison. Interestingly, he contrasts it with the upbringing of former K-State quarterback Josh Freeman, whose father recently contacted Dungy about looking after his son. Interesting, but preachy, and 30 percent too long.
  • A story about Michael Phelps’ return to the water after all the weed and stripper controversy. Not a lot of new information there, but it did provide a peephole into Phelps’ psyche, and I liked that the writer did it without going directly to Phelps, who is chronically full of crap.
  • A story by Tom Verducci about Randy Johnson. I didn’t read it.
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