My arrival

Was thinking earlier today that I’ve never written a post here about how I landed at Sports Illustrated.

Hence, this …

In 1996, I was covering high school wrestling for The Tennessean in Nashville. I’d started my professional career two years earlier, as the paper’s food and fashion writer, a match made in ludicrous hell. Eventually, after bouncing to music and cops, I made it to sports and, specifically, preps.

My guiding dream was to one day write for Sports Illustrated. Why, when I was 13 or 14 I actually promised my mother that, eventually, I’d be an SI staffer.

“It’s nice to have dreams,” she said, “but …”

But what?

“But you have to be realistic.”

You don’t understand, I told her. I WILL write for Sports Illustrated. I know it.

I probably first officially applied to the magazine, oh, a year into my Nashville stint. I wanted to do it right; to make an impression. Hence, I designed my cover letter to look exactly like one of those LETTER FROM THE EDITORs that occasionally appears up front. I used a photo of me, matched the font, began the note with, “When Jeff Pearlman first applied for a job at Sports Illustrated way back in 1995 …”

Shortly thereafter, I received a relatively standard thanks-but-no-thanks note from Stefanie Krasnow, the magazine’s chief of reporters. She told me they had no openings, but that my letter was well received and, if I’d like, I could pitch some quirky story ideas for a now-defunct section known as advanced text (namely, pieces that, based on regional advertising, only ran in some of the magazines). Stefanie didn’t have to ask twice. I sent in ideas, then more ideas, then more ideas. They were all rejected—too broad, too isolated, too this, too that. In short, I was thinking inside the box, not out of it.

Then—inspiration. Back when I was a sophomore at the University of Delaware, one of the editors at our student newspaper, The Review, had an idea. His name was Alain Nana-Sinkam, and he’d enjoyed a brief stint on the Blue Hens basketball team. Alain told us he wanted to apply for early entry into the NBA Draft, just to see what would transpire. I loved it! Alain loved it. Dan B. Levine, the sports editor, loved it! And yet … it never happened. Not sure why; just floated away.

So, a year later, I applied. I’d never played college hoops; just a single of unremarkable track and cross country. I sent in the letter, announced I wanted to turn pro—and received calls from Rod Thorn and other NBA officials. It was great, and I wrote a brief piece for the student newspaper.

Now, three years later, I mentioned it to SI.

Bingo! Stefanie said it was on the money. So did other editors. I was paid, I believe, $1,500 to write my first SI byline but, of course, I would have done it for free. It remains a genuine highlight; seeing my name (my name!) inside Sports Illustrated. Actually, not just inside—atop a story! Shit! Wow! Me!. Here’s the link.

Shortly thereafter, Stefanie’s replacement, Jane Wulf, called and said there were openings in the bullpen (where the reporters worked). Would I be interested?

Would I?

She called again, a few weeks later, and offered me a position.

I sat in my den, in my apartment, and cried.

Then I called my mother.