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The Visiting Team

June 14, 2004
June 14, 2004

Table of Contents
June 14, 2004

Ronald Reagan 1911-2004

The Visiting Team

Senior editor Hank Hersch admits he initially viewed the subject
of the globalization of sports (page 72) with a bit of
trepidation. How, he wondered, do you get your arms around a
story that's as much about the spread of NASCAR into France and
arena football into Europe, as it is about the sale of Shaquille
O'Neal jerseys in Shanghai? How do you sum up the state of a
phenomenon that was already gathering momentum in the early
1980s, when NBA commissioner David Stern began air-mailing
videocassettes of games to a TV station in Rome? "There had been
so much written about sports crossing borders and how wonderful
it all is," Hersch, a 19-year veteran of SI, says. "The challenge
for us was to cut through the hype and provide a fresh
perspective."

This is an article from the June 14, 2004 issue Original Layout

Hersch's first move was to send an e-mail to the staff eliciting
their thoughts and opinions on the subject. Two hours later he
received a 2,000-word reply from senior writer Grant Wahl
suggesting story angles to pursue, including the status of
basketball in Africa, American football in Samoa and soccer in
the U.S.

Because of the far-flung destinations involved, Hersch arranged
for Wahl to re-team with senior writer L. Jon Wertheim, his
partner on several previous projects, including a piece last
December about hazing on the football team at Long Island's
Mepham High and 1998's "Where's Daddy," about the shocking number
of out-of-wedlock children born to professional athletes. SI's
globalization team then began mapping out the four-part series
that kicks off in this issue.

Wahl's reporting took him to a basketball camp for big men in
Zaria, Nigeria, where the lights in the gym didn't always
function. Throughout his stay, players desperate to break into
the U.S. or European systems would swarm around him with their
e-mail addresses in hand. "So many players want to get out," Wahl
says, "and it's pretty poignant because the vast majority won't."

In Shanghai, where Wertheim met with more than a dozen sports
administrators, weak electricity was not the problem. "Everyone
talks about China being the next frontier," says Wertheim, "but
there was nothing frontierlike about places I saw. The scale,
excitement and buzz of Shanghai makes Manhattan look like a
country town." Wertheim also traveled to the tiny hamlet of Pori,
Finland, where, at an ice rink, he found a video game in which
kids could pit Kobe Bryant against Kevin Garnett. Back at his
hotel that night, he flipped on his TV and saw the New York
Islanders playing the Colorado Avalanche. "Even in the Wyoming of
Finland," Wertheim says, "you can get your American sports fix."

Whether or not that's an entirely good thing is one question SI
will explore over the coming weeks. In the meantime--and at the
risk of planting a maddening song in your head--be assured that
the once wide world of sports is a small world after all.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY (2) GOING LONG Wahl (in Seoul in '02) found NBA hopefuls in Nigeria.COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY (2) CHINA HAND Wertheim (at Wimbledon in '02) hit Shanghai.