Senior writer Frank Deford's profile of University of Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson Jr., which begins on page 94, is substantively no different from any other feature that has appeared in these pages. "All of the events are true, and the quotes were spoken to me or reported to me just as in any typical SPORTS ILLUSTRATED story," says Deford. What makes the piece atypical is the way in which it's told: as a stage play.
Why the play? "I chose to do it this way simply because Coach Richardson's life has been so expressive and dramatic," says Deford. "I felt that the travails and tragedy—and the triumphs—would be more vivid in this form."
To that end, incidental events were telescoped in time, composite scenes formed, transitional and narrative dialogue created. Deford also fashioned some of the speeches made by dead people, but, he says, " Richardson approved the words as consonant with the thoughts of these people he knew so well."
The role of playwright is a new one for Deford, but he has never been one to shy away from such a writing challenge. In his 26 years at SI, he has covered everything from the Super Bowl to Little Irvy (a whale), and his credits away from the magazine include four novels, two biographies and four screenplays. Two of his books have been adapted for the screen. Alex, The Life of a Child was an ABC Golden Showcase Presentation in 1986, and Everybody's All-American, which is now being filmed in Baton Rouge, is scheduled for release to theaters at the end of the year.
In football season Deford also finds time to appear regularly on NBC's NFL Live!, and last spring he made his debut as a movie actor—he has a nonspeaking part as a bartender in Trading Hearts, which will also reach theaters later this year. Deford wrote the film's original screenplay, and he recently completed another one, for HBO, on the life of the young Joe Louis.
Lest anyone think that Deford has been neglecting his work for SI, in January the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association selected him as its National Sportswriter of the Year for the fourth time in a row. And last Wednesday the Washington Journalism Review announced that in its fourth annual readers' poll Deford had been chosen ahead of 276 other writers, from such publications as TIME, Newsweek, The New Republic, The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, as the Best Magazine Writer in the country. Now, that's quite a performance.