College basketball editor John Papanek knew for seven months that Georgetown would be our No. 1 team for the 1984-85 season. But it was not until late October that he hit on a cover idea. "Overwhelming favorite, Washington, D.C., second term," says Papanek. "We had to get the Hoyas with President Ronald Reagan." After half a dozen phone calls between SI's house and the White House, all was set. On Nov. 12, photographer Lane Stewart and assistant Phil Jache began setting up in the White House Map Room two hours before the 4:15 p.m. shoot. Papanek and picture editor Barbara Henckel joined them at 2:45. John Thompson and Patrick Ewing were expected shortly after three for test shots, mainly for Stewart to adjust his lights and cameras to allow for the difference in height between Reagan, 6'1", and Thompson and Ewing, 6'10" and 7 feet, respectively.
There would be glitches in this, our first cover with a president in office. Ewing was momentarily detained at the White House gate because he carried no identification—other than the full Georgetown uniform he was wearing. Fortunately he was recognized by one of the guards. Then Ewing, Thompson and picture researcher Eric Godwin were held for 20 minutes because there was no one available to escort them 100 feet down a White House hallway. When they finally got to the Map Room, Stewart was nervous because Ewing wasn't smiling for the test shots. "Patrick, you're scaring me to death," said Stewart. "I'll smile when I'm ready," said Ewing.
Reagan strode into the room at precisely 4:15, and after greeting Thompson and Ewing—he'd met them after the Hoyas won the NCAA title—he grabbed a velvet-covered chair and pulled it between the two, as if to stand on it. Ewing beamed.
Papanek then tossed Reagan a basketball, which he handled deftly. Asked if he'd ever played, Reagan said yes, on the junior varsity at Dixon (Ill.) High School. Then, nodding over his shoulder toward Ewing, he added, "I was smart to switch to swimming."
November 26, 1984
Reagan vainly tried spinning a ball on his finger, and each time it fell to the floor, he recovered it smartly with a couple of crisp dribbles. At one point Stewart asked him to pose as if he were taking a shot while Ewing pretended to block it. "What do you mean pretend?" Reagan shot back.