YOU CAN get a lot of disingenuous humility with a plumage of awards, but not from Joe Posnanski (right). When he was named 2011 National Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association last week, his first thought was of all the writers he admires who have been so honored before him, like his SI colleague Peter King, who won it last year. "I was completely surprised," Joe said, "and then completely humbled to be suddenly on the same list as Peter." How do I know this wasn't just talk? Because I know Joe Posnanski, and I listened as he raved about the other SI writers who have won (20 times!) since 1982: Frank Deford, Rick Reilly (11 times!) and Steve Rushin. And I also know that this award is far from what Posnanski has defined as "Diloneism (dee-lo-NAY-izm), noun, the misguided belief that your success is directly attributable to what is actually your biggest weakness." (It's named for former big league outfielder Miguel Diloné, a successful slap hitter and run scorer who worked so hard to hit home runs that he eventually drove himself out of baseball.) In Joe's case his relentless reporting, nuanced writing and perhaps most especially his curiously named blog, Curiously Long Posts, connect with SI readers in such a direct way that it seems as if he's living next door.
IT WAS Neil Leifer's idea to photograph Muhammad Ali at 70 (Happy Birthday, Champ). Leifer, who covered 35 of his fights, remembers seeing Ali for the first time on an escalator going up to the weigh-in for the Floyd Patterson vs. Sonny Liston fight in Chicago some 50 years ago. Neil was shooting for SI; the then Cassius Clay was there to raise hell, shouting that he was the greatest, the next heavyweight champion. Leifer, two steps below him, remembers how tall the future champ was and how friendly and how easy it was to believe that he might just become who he said he was. "And that's what happened," says Leifer. You'll find Neil's memorable photos of Ali today, and many others, beginning on page 28.