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Editor's letter: The return of Rick Reilly

This editor's letter appears in the Mar. 7, 2016 issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.

Rick Reilly is back in these pages, and we are thrilled. It has been more than 400 issues since he wrote the Dec. 3, 2007, Life of Reilly, the back-page space that defined the writer and, to a large extent, SI for more than a decade. From 1996 through ’07, Reilly wrote all but a small handful of our back-page columns; in seven of those years he was named National Sportswriter of the Year.

I arrived at Sports Illustrated in the spring of 1992. Then, Reilly was as celebrated for his longform chops as he later would be for his back-page excellence. It was tear-it-out-of-the-magazine-tape-it-to-the-wall-and-nerdily-recite-it-back-to-your-coworkers good. His stories mixed urgency, humor, pathos and tragedy, often in the same paragraph. I had my favorites. We all did. 

On angry, well-traveled slugger Jack Clark, July 22, 1991:

​​This is the house that Jack Built. This is the 6,000 square feet of games and toys and affection that Jack Clark made for his four kids, not at all like the house he grew up in, not at all like the silent one his own father made. In this house in Danville, Calif., he is so much more like his mother, soft and flowing like whipped cream. Out there, playing baseball, he is so much like his father. Swings angry. Talks angry. Leaves angry. Next city.

On the living hell of being a first-year, or “knob,” at the Citadel, Sept. 14, 1992:

You ask permission to eat, leave, pass, cough, sneeze and scratch your nose. You serve everybody at mess and hope you can stuff in a forkful before mealtime has elapsed. You polish your shoes and your brass until midnight and then your French and chemistry until two, and you hope the guy who blows reveille dies in his sleep.

O.K., enough. Here’s how this week’s cover story happened.

In the summer of 1985, SI reporter Jill Lieber told Reilly, then a 27-year-old reporter for the Los Angeles Times, to submit his clips to SI assistant managing editor Larry Keith. “I read the clips in one sitting and immediately recognized that this was someone we should hire,” recalls Keith. A brief negotiation followed in which the Timescounteroffered, among other things, to make Reilly the successor to legendary columnist Jim Murray. Reilly came to SI, and so began a 23-year run before he left for ESPN, where he spent the last eight years.

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The summer of 2014 marked the 60th anniversary of Sports Illustrated, and senior editor Ted Keith was charged with identifying the 60 best stories in the franchise’s history. Ted used his interviews with 21 current and former writers as an opportunity to broaden the conversation with such questions as, “Hey, Rick, by any chance, would you ever consider writing for SI again?”

More than three decades after Larry Keith helped bring Rick Reilly to SI, Ted, the second of his four children, brought him back.

We have yet to define a specific arrangement with Reilly, but we settled on a story pretty easily. Like the rest of the one-third of this planet that isn’t covered by water, Reilly had become entranced by the Most Joyous Show on Earth, the Golden State Warriors, who are no longer a team so much as a movement. From their 53–5 record to the crowds they attract on the road to the trio of stars leading them, the Warriors recall the 1997–98 Bulls, with whom Reilly had traveled during the final months of the Jordan dynasty (May 11, 1998).

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At the center of this movement, of course, is the kinetic magic of Steph Curry. Reilly’s regard for Curry extends deeper than hoops. In summer 2013, Curry traveled to Africa as part of a delegation from Nothing But Nets, a nonprofit birthed in these pages 10 years ago, when Reilly wrote a column asking readers to donate money to fight malaria. It has since raised tens of millions and vital awareness of one of the leading causes of children’s death in Africa. 

Curry donates three nets for every three-pointer he sinks, the gift that keeps giving. Last Saturday, Curry dropped a little more ridiculous on an increasingly ridiculous season when, on the same night he tied an NBA record with 12 three-pointers in a game, he set the season mark for threes . . . with 23 games to go.

“It’s not going to last, of course, this team, this moment, this perfect bite of the basketball sandwich. . . .”

So begins Reilly’s story here.