Last Friday, some pretty big news broke in the sports world. Four-time NBA MVP LeBron James announced his exit from Miami — where he led the Heat to four straight NBA Finals — to head back to his humble hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.
LeBron didn’t announce his decision via a press conference like the average athlete. Then again, he’s no average athlete. Instead, he wrote a heartfelt letter to his fans, his home state, and the basketball world explaining his decision and made it public via Sports Illustrated. Once this broke, the weekly magazine had to decide on a cover image for its next issue. Of course, the natural thing would be to have LeBron grace the cover (he’s hit the coveted cover of SI 20 times in his career thus far), however, this wasn’t possible. LeBron was off to Rio for the World Cup final.
How do you represent the biggest sports news of the year without its main character? Brad Smith, Director of Photography for Sports Illustrated, gave Detroit-based food and travel photographer Joe Vaughn a call.
As Joe said, “everyone jokes about that dreaded Friday at 5 p.m. call,” however when it’s from Sports Illustrated, it’s a different story.
The news hit that LeBron was coming back to Cleveland, and there was a weekend assignment to announce his coming home. The issue closed on Monday afternoon. The challenge was how to tell the story of the homecoming, without LeBron. Creative Collaboration began with Brad and Sports Illustrated’s Creative Director, Chris Hercik. The concept landed on shooting LeBron’s coveted personal vintage jersey from the 2009 season. Plucked from the Cavaliers archive, the shot was taken late Sunday afternoon in the locker room at The Q in Cleveland. LeBron’s new number hadn’t been released at the time of the shoot. In the shot, his new gold jersey hangs behind the vintage jersey in the locker room to represent the future of his new team. Shots were color corrected and sent to Brad and Chris en route back from Cleveland, in time to make Monday’s press deadline.
The issue is below, which hit newsstands yesterday.
For Joe, this was a dream come true:
The thought of my name on the cover of a Sports Illustrated cover is something I dreamt of as a kid. Because I’m a geek, I guess had to figure out another way to be on the cover. Take that junior-high PE teacher!