Emoni Bates’ legend is growing.
Bates, a high school basketball phenom at Ypsilanti Lincoln, was unveiled as Sports Illustrated’s latest cover subject on Tuesday.
The story, written by former Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg, chronicles a day in the life of Bates, the 6-foot-9 sophomore megaprospect who already is drawing comparisons to Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James.
The Free Press conducted a Q&A with Rosenberg on Tuesday for more insight on the story — which can be read in full here — including why Bates was chosen to be on the cover, the comparisons to NBA greats, and why he thinks Bates will reclassify and attend Michigan State.
The prestige that comes with being on a Sports Illustrated cover is off the charts. Why did SI choose Emoni Bates for this cover?
We had several discussions about it. I was wary, as the story implies. But I felt comfortable with it after talking to enough basketball people that I trust, and editor Steve Cannella felt comfortable with it, too. Ultimately, the answer is this: We are not overhyping Emoni Bates. I know it looks like we are. But he is truly one of the best 15-year-old basketball players ever, perhaps the best. This does not mean he will be one of the best 25-year-old players ever. But this is like when SI put LeBron on the cover in 2002: Bates is already far enough along that it would be very surprising if he does not become an NBA All-Star.
There are myriad players who have struggled with such early exposure (obviously, LeBron didn’t). What makes you think Bates is equipped to handle it?
Three reasons. One is that his skills are projectable. I grew up in New York, and I remember NYC phenom Felipe Lopez being touted as the next Michael Jordan. It turned out that Lopez was a fantastic athlete but not a very good shooter or creator. Bates is already a great shooter and playmaker. The second reason is that Emoni’s passion for competition is incredible. He loves to work. And the third reason is that, even though his father, E.J., is very much hands-on, the push is really coming from Emoni. He isn’t doing this to please his dad. His dad is helping him achieve his goals. With every great athlete I have seen, that desire has to come from within or it doesn’t work.