Behind The Scenes

ESPN The Magazine: Behind
Chris Paul’s Rivalry Issue cover story

Somehow, some way, every two weeks a magazine is made.

While some concepts are born weeks to months in advance, others come on the eve of close.

ESPN The Magazine’s Rivalry Issue (on newsstands Friday), is no exception. No matter the journey of each concept, feature, sidebar, photo, or chart, it’s all hands on deck at The Mag.

Below, several Mag staffers tell how the cover photograph — shot Jan. 24 in Culver City, Calif. — featuring L.A. Clippers’ point guard Chris Paul came to be.

Inside the issue — and on todayMag senior writer and columnist Howard Bryant explores the notion of how NBA rivalries can survive when stars like Paul are hanging, rolling, joking, texting, bowling and tweeting with the players they are supposed to hate.

Contributing to this interview were: Chad Millman (Editor-in-Chief); John Korpics (Creative Director); Scott Burton (Executive Editor); Ty Wenger (Senior Editor); Nancy Weisman (Senior Deputy Photo Editor); Ross Marrinson (Copy Editor).

FR: How was Paul selected to be the cover of The Rivalry Issue?
The Mag:
The generation of the idea was a group one which took place in a staff meeting discussing the issue. It was spawned out of a fascinating question: Can the NBA still build team rivalries when its stars are increasingly as close with players on other teams as they are with their own teammates?

Chris Paul joined the Los Angeles Clippers this season.

Paul seemed a perfect lens through which to look at that notion. Not only is he something of an NBA social butterfly, he’s also one of the most intensely competitive players in the league.
He seemed like a natural cover and quite frankly, our best option. Then the head pat with the Los Angeles Lakers happened after we interviewed him and it felt like we were catching him at the right time because suddenly, he had a real rival.

With all of this as a foundation for the story, we were also able watch the birth of the Lakers-Clippers rivalry right before our eyes.

FR: How receptive was Paul to the idea and the concept?
The Mag:
Per Senior Deputy Photo Editor, Nancy Weisman, the initial concept was to show Paul as a fierce competitor who likes and is liked by many players throughout the league. He was receptive to the idea once it was explained to him, and on set he liked a similar shot to the one ESPN The Magazine ran, although in this particular shot his face was intense not smiley, and on red (as opposed to blue).

FR: In Bryant’s profile of Paul on Page 40, there’s a chart that reflects the guard’s career scoring averages against his closest Twitter friends: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant. How did that idea come about?
The Mag:
When Executive Editor Scott Burton and Senior Editor Ty Wenger were discussing the first draft of the article, and how Paul was claiming in it that he played just as hard, if not harder, against his buddies. We realized that this was not only a provable (or disprovable) point, but one that we actually needed to vet. Our notion was that future NBA rivalries will live or die on the ability of star players—many of whom are as close to their opponents as their teammates—to compete ferociously against each other. They needed to use Paul as a test-case for that theory.

The piece was set to close on Thursday night. Wednesday night, we came up with this idea. Ross Marrinson, one of The Mag’s primary NBA researchers, jumped on it, and by 2:22 a.m., he came up with what ran as the finished sidebar.

Marrinson went through Paul’s Twitter feed over the last 14 months — roughly back to Dec. 1 of 2010. From that time forward, the players with or about whom Paul tweeted the most were James, Wade, Anthony, Gay and Durant. Plus, according to the narrative, Paul listed his closest friends in the league as being Gay, James, Wade and Anthony.

In terms of the numbers, we wanted to see how Paul’s performance differed in games in which he played against these guys. Does friendship affect performance? Can friendship and intense rivalry co-exist? These are the questions The Mag attempted to answer with the chart.

FR: Where’d you find the smiley face basketball?
The Mag:
Creative Director John Korpics said they originally thought the cover line would be something like, “Everybody Loves Chris Paul,” so he suggested painting a smiley face on a basketball to go with the line. Nancy (Weisman) organized the prop stylist who, according to Korpics “really nailed it.”

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