LeBron James’ decision to come back to Cleveland is a monumental story for sports journalism. So how did SI get the scoop?
For Chris Stone, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, the possibility that the magazine might publish LeBron’s story arose Saturday, when he got an email from Lee Jenkins, a senior writer for the magazine. Jenkins didn’t mention the Heat star by name, but alluded to the fact that there was a strong possibility the magazine might be first with the news.
Although Stone didn’t comment about whether Jenkins reached out to LeBron or vice-versa, he said that the story was a result of Jenkins’ close professional relationship with James.
Jenkins has covered the NBA for years and nominated James for Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year award in 2013, when the Heat were fresh off a NBA championship and James won Finals MVP honors.
After Stone received the email, things moved quickly. Jenkins met James on Thursday and his editors had the story today.
“We didn’t know what his choice was until this morning,” Stone said.
Only a handful of the editors at Sports Illustrated knew that a story about James’ decision might be coming, said Paul Fichtenbaum, the editor of Time, Inc.’s sports group. He said he has “no idea” how the team kept the news under wraps.
“We were joking that we were all taking a blood oath,” Fichtenbaum said.
James did not place any conditions on Sports Illustrated before the story was published, and he was not compensated for the article, Stone said. He was allowed to see the story before it was published however, because it carries his byline.
The story was the result of a conversation between James and Jenkins, Stone said. Jenkins framed and shaped the story, but large portions of the piece were taken from James directly.
“There are big blocks of that story that are pulled from the conversations that they had yesterday,” Stone said.
James isn’t the first NBA star to come to Sports Illustrated to break big news. Last year, Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins went public with his sexual orientation in the magazine, becoming the first active male athlete in a major U.S. team sport to publicly acknowledge he is gay.