Thursday afternoon in 1982 was magazine day. There had been a run of classic Sports Illustrated covers during this time period; Gaylord Perry’s 300th win;
a fantastic shot of Magic & Michael Cooper dancing
ahead of the their entry into the NBA finals; Dr. J
. polishing off the Celtics, on their way to the same prom. The following week, as SI was wont to do, you were expecting a dream cover of Kareem and Caldwell Jones locked in a death battle aside the rim. Instead you received a pre-heavyweight championship hype issue
where the Favorite, Larry Holmes, was hidden behind the fold and the great white hope, Gerry Cooney donned the top of the magazine. Kids today have no concept how huge this fight really was. Kids today have no concept how huge boxing really was.
Walking home from seventh grade that afternoon, you were expecting a pictorial resolution to Sixers/Lakers; expecting another cool cover to funtac on your wall; expecting something memorable. You open the mailbox. You get what you expected….just nothing like you expected. It wasn’t Mats Wilander winning the French Open (which would've made a sweet cover); it wasn’t the Lakers besting the Sixers, which was more a timing issue than a content choice; had one of the teams swept, surely the winner would’ve been crowned the lede of the week. This was the cover:
This is the story behind the June 14, 1982 Sports Illustrated SPECIAL REPORT Cover : The NFL Cocaine Expose by Don Reese:
M.V.Pieces is our 24/7 feature that highlights the best daily sportswriting on the web, around the clock. While the posts are (mostly) in real-time, let’s begin things with a look back at this forgotten article from 30 years ago this month. Don Reese, the Miami Dolphins' first round draft pick in 1974, allowed a promising NFL career to vanish through the haze of freebased cocaine and a dealing charge. The story that emerged in the wake of this self-expose we found just as compelling; a story of redemption, faith and everlasting love. While reading the outstanding posts from former NFL tight end Nate Jackson, which you can find here, here
I instantly thought of Don Reese. I remembered the power of the message, that this was important. This demanded my attention. I asked John Underwood, the Sports Illustrated senior writer assigned to work with Reese, if he felt this story was worthy of the cover. “Cover stories were often assigned as such,” Underwood said, “But I don't remember if I knew it would be on the cover. It wouldn't have mattered either way.” Reese, through an intermediary, had approached SI with the idea for this piece, as outstanding a longread as you could find. INSTREAM’s NBA writer,Jeremy Conlin, brought the article back to my attention and upon a second look, more mature eyes found the true narrative. I remembered many of the details of Reese’s arrest, conviction and temporary resurgence with the New Orleans Saints. What escaped my 11-year-old heart was the undying affection Reese possessed for his wife:
I want to be...O.K. I'll tell you exactly what I want to be. I want to be like my wife. With her morals, and her sense of responsibility. To Paulette, marriage meant giving herself to me and the family, in every way…. It's a goal worth striving for, because I have no doubt she'll be there if I make it.
Don Reese passed away from cancer on September 18, 2003 at the age of 52. He and Paulette were married for 33 years. You can find the article in its entirety here
on the SI Vault website, a wonderful vehicle when you long to step into yesterday.
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Sports Illustrated Article