The special anniversary issue you hold in your hands has been 35 years in the making. Since SI's debut on Aug. 16, 1954, the world of sports has changed dramatically. In '54 there were 42 professional major league teams, only four of them west of the Mississippi and none in the Deep South. Today there are 102 major league teams, in all corners of the U.S. (and nine in Canada, compared with two in '54). The United States Football League, World Hockey Association and North American Soccer League, among others, have come and gone. Old arenas and stadiums have been replaced, and franchises have shifted. Remarkably, the only NBA game you could see in '89 involving the same teams in the same arena they used in '54 would be the New York Knicks versus the Boston Celtics at Boston Garden. Every other team in the league has either been born in the last 35 years or has changed its address.
This is an article from the Nov. 15, 1989 issue
SI has changed too—for the better, we hope. But unlike the Syracuse Nationals, California Golden Seals and Lloyd Free, at least we have kept our original name. Well, we should have, because it didn't come any too easily. In the months before our first real issue, two dummy issues were produced, the first of which was called The New Sport Magazine and the second, simply, Dummy. Around Time Inc. the magazine was referred to as either Muscles or Harry's Yacht, in honor of the company's—and SI's—founder, Henry R. Luce. The truth is, we didn't have a name. In keeping with other Time Inc. publications—TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE—Luce wanted something succinct, but Sport was already taken by a monthly magazine. McFadden Publications, the publisher of Sport, was willing to sell the name for $250,000, but Luce would go no higher than $200,000. In February 1954, when Luce sent a letter to TIME subscribers offering them a charter subscription to the new sports magazine for $7.50 a year, he did not know what it would be called.
Enter Stuart Scheftel. The stage is the Oak Room at New York City's Plaza Hotel, where Scheftel, a sportsman and entrepreneur, had a table. In the late '30s, Scheftel had put out a LIFE-sized monthly sports magazine called Sports Illustrated. The early SI was mostly for the country-club set, although it did pay heed to baseball and football, and it featured quality writing and photography. "We were beginning to turn the corner financially," says Scheftel, now 79 and the president of Fonawin, a telephone mass-announcement service that provides callers with the weather, lottery numbers and off-track betting results. "But because paper was at such a premium I had to choose between Sports Illustrated and another magazine I put out, Young America. So I stopped publishing Sports Illustrated.
"But in 1954, I still owned the title. I had been reading about this new sports magazine, and one day in the Oak Room I ran across Harry Phillips, an acquaintance who was the publisher of the new magazine. I said, 'Harry, I think the real reason your title is a secret is because you don't have one yet. Well, I've got one for you: Sports Illustrated.' I went away for the weekend, but when I got back, there were all these messages to call Phillips. He asked me how much I wanted for the name, and I said something in the low five figures. He called Henry Luce in Rome, Luce agreed and Phillips got right back to me. 'Agreed,' he said. I said, 'There's just one more thing,' and Harry said, 'I've always known you as a man of your word, and I don't want to go back to Luce with any more demands.' I said, 'All I want is a subscription.' He laughed, and to this day, I have been getting the magazine."
Scheftel has a chock-full rèsumè. He is the only American to have won the British Boys' Amateur Golf Championship, which he did in 1928. He and his brother once played a match against Bobby Jones and the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, and won 6 and 4. "Wales was all over the course," says Scheftel. He covered the Lindbergh baby kidnapping for The New York Times and served with the Psychological Warfare Division of the U.S. Army during World War II. He was a director of the New York Post and ran unsuccessfully for Congress and for mayor of New York. For the past 44 years he has been married to actress Geraldine Fitzgerald.
And what does Scheftel think of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED? "Well, not much at first. I told Phillips that in the beginning. I thought it should be a LIFE for sports. But over the years, I've watched it grow and improve. I think it's gangbusters now. I still feel a certain pride of ownership whenever I read it.
"Do you want to know something funny? I once had the rights to the title People, but I let them lapse."