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One idea can uplift the world—or upend it. The Mag examines the game-changing people, moves and moments in 2015.
Big ideas don’t always win. In fact, they often have a dark side. Ask Galileo, put on trial for suggesting that Earth orbits the sun. Or ask Robert Johnson, king of the Delta blues, who died penniless at 27. Do you thank men like Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans every time you turn on a light? No, because some jackanapes named Thomas Edison bought their patent (and thus, their bright idea). And so it is with the most impactful sports ideas of 2015—the year Ronda Rousey proved that ass-kicking women can be celebrated for being ass-kicking women (even in defeat), the year Stephen Curry proved that small ball crushes big men (long live the 3), the year Marshawn Lynch proved who really holds the power in the athlete-media dynamic (hint: It ain’t us). The ideas in this issue aren’t always nice. Some are downright chilling. But like them or not, they are all too big to ignore. Look for ESPN The Magazine’s year-end TV special, airing later this month.
On the cover: Senior writer Ramona Shelburne takes us inside the enigmatic world of Ronda Rousey in her first interview since the devastating loss to Holly Holm in November. In “It’s Not Just Whether You Win or Lose, It’s How Authentic You Are,” Shelburne examines how this year saw Rousey flip every script ever created for a popular female athlete: She’s called out Mayweather, refused to conform to traditional ideas of femininity—and was completely unapologetic about it, and her undefeated streak. And then she lost. Now, with a shocking upset under her belt, where does Rousey go from here?
In addition, senior writer Tim Keown goes deep with the Cowboys, examining the dysfunction and madness that has been this season mostly without Tony Romo: seven (seven!) straight losses; three games in seven weeks without a TD; two OT losses to below-.500 teams. And yet somehow they sat at 3-8 and only two games out of first place in the NFC East, so hope lived on in Cowboys Nation. What’s it been like on that sideline? http://es.pn/1IPEUbN
Issue Features and Highlights
The NBA—and Its Future—Belongs to Stephen Curry
NBA champion. MVP. Oh, and winner of an NBA-record winning streak to start the season. Not too shabby. We sit down with the NBA’s main man. By Sam Alipour
It’s Better to Be Hated Than Bad
Once again, the team NFL fans love to hate is winning—and winning, and winning some more. The working theory: The Pats are succeeding not because of motivation from Deflategate but because they stop at nothing to prepare for games, which has gotten them into trouble but also is the root of their true greatness. By Seth Wickersham
The Fate of Daily Fantasy Is All About These Bros
If you’ve watched any football this season, you’ve seen them: the brothers in the DraftKings commercial. They won a million dollars playing the game, got roped into a commercial for the company and have since become two of the most ubiquitous faces on sports television. Their names are Dave and Rob Gomes, and the story of how their commercial was made is a window into the story of Daily Fantasy: the exciting beginning, the meteoric rise and the challenges since. It’s also a look at how the advertising strategies of DraftKings and FanDuel have fueled the companies’ trajectories. By Mina Kimes
Athletes Control the Media. Just Ask Marshawn Lynch
2015 was the year of news conferences as events (think Marshawn Lynch and Steph Curry). Add to that the Players’ Tribune and the launching of ACE Media by the NFLPA, and athletes are more in control of the player/media relationship than ever. This story examines how the control-the-message movement is connected to the general direction in which narratives of every kind are moving—that having control of one’s own narrative is seen as a fundamental right (and moral duty) of athletes and non-athletes alike. By Kent Russell
We examine what the Royals did to win this year’s World Series and why other teams should follow their lead: everything from evaluating defense, to converting starters to relievers, to bullpen management, to situational hitting. The rest of MLB would do well to follow their lead. By Peter Keating
The Hackers Are Coming, and Sports Is Completely Unprepared
As told to Clint Emerson
Let’s just say the future of cheating in sports is about much more than deflating balls. The St. Louis Cardinals allegedly broke into the Astros’ computer system, marking what could be the tip of the cyber-security iceberg. Clint Emerson is the founder of Escape the Wolf, a firm that stress-tests the cyber vulnerabilities of multinational firms. Escape the Wolf has worked with franchises in the NFL, NBA and MLB, and Emerson details the susceptibilities teams face, which are numerous.
Emojis Are the Secret Weapon in Modern Roster Warfare
The Mag revisits the most interesting (and, well, weird) moment of the NBA offseason: when Doc Rivers and several of DeAndre Jordan’s Clippers teammates courted Jordan back from the Mavs in a bizarre series of events that started with an emoji war and ended with a happy ending for the Clippers.
Also in this issue:
- The Truth: The Miami Heat’s hoodied, silent protest of the killing of Trayvon Martin wasn’t an isolated incident, despite being considered such at the time. Nor was Derrick Rose’s “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, nor was the Clippers players’ takedown of Donald Sterling. Each laid the foundation for 2015, when college players exercised their voice and used their power. If one theme dominated 2015, it was the increased volume of the same phenomenon mirroring the country. Young people are making their voice heard, even the athletes who were supposedly too rich to care.
Paris Attacks: In “The Fear Is Real Now,” senior writer Wright Thompson paints a portrait of Paris one week after terror shook the city. Thompson shares his experience of the atmosphere in the city and what the threat of stadium terrorism means for the U.S.’s major sporting events.