For this year's NBA preview issue we constructed Frankenshaq, the perfect center to take on the NBA's reigning monster, Shaquille O'Neal, and it fell to photo editor Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli (left) to collect the body parts. She combed her photo files as well as those at the NBA's library, trying to find images that were facing the right way and could be pieced together into a coherent whole. Says Lucarelli, who has been editing photos for SI since 1994, "It was like playing paper dolls; I was reverting to childhood."
Helping out with the pictures in the preview was staff photographer John W. McDonough (right), who, like many NBA centers, has had a run-in with Shaq. McDonough was sitting courtside a couple of seasons ago when Shaq, going for a loose ball, stepped on the photographer's right ankle. "My foot went completely numb," says McDonough, who was not seriously injured. ( Shaq later asked if he was O.K.) McDonough prepares for games as thoroughly as any player: He and his assistants arrive at an arena five hours before tip-off to rig seven to 10 remote-control cameras to supplement the shots he takes with his handheld Hasselblad and Canon. Says McDonough, "My goal is to make one really great picture a game."
In 1993 senior writer Jack McCallum (left) cowrote the book Shaq Attaq with Shaquille O'Neal, chronicling the player's rookie season in the NBA. For this issue he visited Sacramento center Vlade Divac, who because of the Kings-Lakers rivalry, says McCallum, "has emerged as a sort of foil to Shaq."
Senior writer Ian Thomsen (right) looks at the NBA's intriguing new big man, the Rockets' 7'5" Yao Ming. Thomsen tried to get time with the Chinese star in the opening days of the World Basketball Championship in August but says that because of the language barrier and the mob of reporters around Yao, "I fed him about as many questions as his guards fed him passes in the low post." Thomsen, who eventually interviewed Yao later in the tournament, believes that within a few years he will be a top player: "American players might snicker because Yao doesn't know how to dunk. But I think he'll have the last laugh."
SI's man in the middle is pro basketball editor Hank Hersch (left), who chose to put centers under a microscope in this issue because he sees a fundamental change in the role of the pivotman. "The only dominant center playing the position the traditional way is Shaq," says Hersch, who covered the NBA for a decade as a writer. "No one can figure out how to beat him at his game, so you're seeing other big men evolve in different ways."