Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008

Why We Chose Obama

His shirtsleeves were rolled up, and he flipped me a dog-eared basketball autographed by Lenny Wilkens. Should I pass it back, like it's a give-and-go? Or does one not do that with a President-elect? I decided simply to hand it back. We then sat down for our Person of the Year interview at Obama's modest transition headquarters in Chicago. Like a skilled point guard, Obama stayed focused, concentrating on the big issues confronting him and the American people.

David Von Drehle's masterly story on our Person of the Year not only sketches out what's on Obama's mind but also reveals new details about how and when he realized that his first 100 days had to start on Nov. 5, the day after voters elected him to become the 44th President of the United States and the first African American to hold the office. Von Drehle also tells us — with Obama's help — how we should hold the new President accountable. Beyond his mastery of the issues, Obama revealed a more personal note: a slightly rueful sense that the world was tightening around him, that he would no longer be able to take a walk or shop for groceries. He seemed to be girding himself for the loss of being simply a regular citizen.

Our cover portrait is by the street artist Shepard Fairey, whose roots are in the skateboarding world and whose early poster of then Senator Obama became the great populist image of the campaign. With this cover, Fairey has now created a new iconic image of the President-elect — a rich, multilayered poster that echoes but then expands on his original.

In keeping with the theme of citizen art, we open our Person of the Year package with a dazzling array of images culled from those created by thousands of individuals from around the world and posted on the image-sharing site Flickr. Obama always said his candidacy was not about him, but "you," and now, along with Flickr, we're helping give "you" a voice. The presentation of these images in the magazine reflects the extraordinary work of Time deputy picture editor Dietmar Liz-Lepiorz, deputy art director D.W. Pine, reporter Jeninne Lee-St. John and picture-desk assistant Diana Suryakusuma. I also want to thank assistant managing editor Michael Duffy and deputy managing editor Adi Ignatius for doing the heavy lifting on this issue. (See pictures of Obama on Flickr.)

The pictures of Barack Obama, from when he was a freshman at Occidental College, are far from street art. In fact, the negatives sat in a binder for nearly 30 years in the home of Lisa Jack, who took the photos of her then classmate Barry Obama. They are striking images of the young man who, as Obama says in Dreams from My Father, was still finding himself at Occidental.

Finally, make sure you read Craig Robinson's delightful memoir about his brother-in-law's skills on the basketball court. Robinson's sister Michelle asked him to vet her new boyfriend in a pickup game nearly 20 years ago. Robinson, now the head basketball coach at Oregon State University, was a star at Princeton under the great Pete Carril (I played for Pete too, but much earlier and rode the bench), who believed you could tell a person's character by how he played on the court. Robinson was relieved to discover that his future brother-in-law was a team player.

See the Six Degrees of Barack Obama.