From R.A. to LeBron, PacMan to Zito, Lin to Ryan: ESPN The Magazine’s ‘Interview Issue’ covers the bases

Jeremy Lin and James Harden on the cover of the “Interview” Issue.

ESPN The Magazine’s “Interview” Issue, which starts hitting subscribers’ mailboxes today and newsstands Friday, highlights some of the top newsmakers in sports over this past year.

On the eve of its release, The Mag’s Deputy Editor Ed McGregor, who led the charges on this year’s issue, shares some background on how it all came together:

How do you determine who is featured in the Interview issue?
We aim to fill this issue with the newsmakers of the year in sports. In fact, throughout the year research sends me regular updates on major happenings in a variety of sports. I compile all of those and, sometime in September, I went through everything to create a list for discussion with Chad [Millman], Editor in Chief, and my “Interview” crew, [Senior Editors] Raina Kelley and Aimee Crawford. Then the list evolves and changes, based on who we think are the most interesting people and what are the most interesting stories.

Are there athletes or newsmakers who didn’t make the cut? If so, why not?
Yes, there are always athletes who don’t make the cut, mainly because some new event happened, like Barry Zito starring in the playoffs after so many years of struggle in San Francisco. That was a revelation, and Tim Keown’s interview with Zito is just as revealing.

For those you reached out to, were there personalities who declined an interview?
Yes, some people decline, sometimes based on timing issues, sometimes based on circumstance. For example, we pursued Melky Cabrera, Lance Armstrong, Jerry Sandusky. It’s all about shooting for the biggest newsmakers.

This is the second year The Mag has produced an “Interview” issue — what are some key differences between your first and second editions?
I’d say the main differences were volume and the quality of those interviewed. Last year we did 17 interviews; this year it was 30. And the names keep getting bigger: LeBron, Matt Ryan, Manny Pacquiao, Jeremy Lin and James Harden, Brad Keselowski. The other key this year was the level of cross-platform cooperation with our TV counterparts. Several of our interviews have already, and will continue to run on ESPN, and our interviewers included Michael Wilbon, Jeremy Schaap, Andy Katz and Tim Kurkjian. It was a true team effort.

Can you identify the three most surprising interviews in the issue and explain why they surprised or impacted you the most?
I have several favorites so it’s hard to pick a few. I love Tim Kurkjian’s interview with Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and his former pitching coach [and current ESPN baseball analyst] Orel Hershiser. R.A. and Orel detailed the painful process of Dickey becoming a knuckleballer several years ago, the key to his becoming the best pitcher in the National League this year. There was a lot of raw emotion in this interview. I also love David Fleming’s interview with John McKissick, the 86-year-old high school football coach who recently won his 600th game. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and the piece is full of heart and wisdom. It’s a surprising delight. And, finally, Jeremy Schaap’s interview with Manny Pacquiao is like a sparring match, with Schaap continuing to pepper Manny with questions to get real answers. It’s masterful.