One afternoon in the spring of 1968, Greg Kelly, then a callow freshman at New York City's Xavier High and now an SI senior editor, arrived home proudly brandishing a copy of The Xavier, the school's literary magazine, which included a short story he had written. Sort of. When Greg's brother, Paul, a 12th-grader, scanned the story, he noticed something strangely familiar about it. "Hey, that's my story," Paul said.
It seems that Greg had discovered one of Paul's works in progress—at the time, his brother was an aspiring fiction writer—fleshed out some of its characters, polished it further and submitted it to The Xavier without Paul's knowledge. "I guess you could say that was my first attempt at editing," Greg says. "I also learned about the evils of plagiarizing."
These days Paul is a marketing consultant, but 42-year-old Greg is still touching up other people's writing. As our college basketball editor, he works regularly with senior writer Alexander Wolff, who covered Monday night's NCAA final (page 28). Kelly and Wolff form one of SI's longest-running high-low combinations. As a reporter at SI from 1983 to '87, Kelly often fact-checked and did research for Wolff's basketball stories. After a two-year stint as an editor at The Washington Post Magazine, Kelly returned to SI in '89, became Wolff's editor and resumed the role as one of Wolff's teammates in a weekly pickup hoops game. "AJ a player Greg is this black hole in the post who just lowers his head and shoots," Wolff says. "But in the office he displays his imagination and creativity, and he sees the whole floor as well as any editor I've known."
Kelly, who had to retire from playing basketball two years age because of chronic ankle injuries, watches hundreds of college games each season. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport and good instincts for which teams are hot. He showed the latter last season, when he had us correctly forecast in our '94-95 preview that unheralded UCLA would win the national championship. This season, alas, our preseason choice as No. 1, Kansas, lost in the West Regional final. "But we did pick Kentucky Number 2 and Mississippi State as Number 4," points out Kelly. "That's not bad."
After attending Monday's championship game at New Jersey's Meadowlands, Kelly returned to SI's Manhattan offices to edit Wolff's story. Because the game was played after the magazine's usual Monday-evening deadline, forcing us to hold the presses for our coverage, Kelly was under pressure to finish his editing quickly. But he wasn't cowed; he survived a far more stressful assignment two years ago, when he accompanied Wolff to the White House for an interview with President Clinton. Kelly arranged the interview, but when the moment arrived, his main responsibility was to operate the tape recorder. As Clinton began to speak about his affection for the Arkansas Razorbacks, the cassette jammed. "The leader of the Western world is sharing his thoughts, and I'm in a panic trying to wind the stupid tape with a pencil," Kelly says. "That experience says it all about why I was destined to be an editor."