For writers Curry Kirkpatrick and Alexander Wolff, coverage of the Final Four actually began last summer with their work on SI's special college basketball issue for 1985-86. While visiting Duke in August to interview Mike Krzyzewski for a feature on protégés of Bob Knight, Wolff was "struck even then by Coach K's quiet confidence in his system and players. He must be the least surprised of anyone by their success."
As for Kirkpatrick, he went out on something of a limb by predicting that LSU would make it into the Final Four. Kirkpatrick's prophesy, offered up before the Bengals encountered a ton of adversity, including chicken pox, was made after he, Wolff and reporter Greg Kelly had low-rated the SEC in a debate on the strength of the various conferences. The SEC then proceeded to send four teams as far as the Sweet Sixteen. Well, no one's perfect.
Kirkpatrick had a bit of a rocky season. In early February a chunk of one of his vertebrae had to be chiseled away to relieve pressure on a chronically pinched nerve. Kirkpatrick spent a month recuperating at his Hilton Head, S.C. home, under doctors' orders to avoid heavy lifting and sudden movements. He cheated only a little, and it was work-related. Having bought his 4-year-old daughter, Chelsea, an indoor Larry Bird backboard-and-rim set for Christmas, Kirkpatrick couldn't resist going one-on-one with her. "The backboard is adjustable," he says. "Whenever we played, I would set it as high as it would go and dunk on her."
In his 20 years at SI, Kirkpatrick has established himself as something of a sartorial maverick. His latest look: a deep tan offset by dignified stubble. He scoffs at the obvious Don Johnson comparisons, though, saying, "I've been into pastels and no socks since that guy was in soap operas."
In the off-season, Wolff—he's the clean-shaven one with socks—wrote a sequel to his In-Your-Face Basketball Book. The Back-In-Your-Face Guide To Pick-up Basketball, co-written by Chuck Wielgus Jr., tells where the best pickup games can be found nationwide. It's due out in October. It was Krzyzewski, by the way, who put Wolff on to Durham's Morreene Park, which is included in the guide. "A nice suburban park with decidedly urban competition," is how Wolff remembers Morreene. "There were a lot of N.C. State T shirts around. I don't think Coach K would have approved."
Thanks to his research for the book, Wolff is well aware of the Reverchon Rec Center in Dallas, where games run around the clock. "If I'm visited with writer's block," he said before hopping a plane to Dallas, "Reverchon will be just what the doctor ordered." Mercifully, he remained unblocked, and his story (page 28) was written without the necessity of remedial Rec.
KIRKPATRICK (LEFT) AND WOLFF: ON THE JOB IN BIG D