If you follow sports, then you’ve probably heard of the Sports Illustrated cover jinx. If not, we’ll fill you in. The legend says that any athlete or team who graces the cover of the sports magazine will see their careers jinxed. Of course, Michael Jordan landed 49 Sports Illustrated covers and that clearly didn’t get in his way of success. And it’s pretty obvious that even if there is a curse, it has nothing to do with models, otherwise landing the cover wouldn’t launch them to model stardom virtually overnight, the way it has so many times.
Sports Illustrated started their extremely popular, annual swimsuit issues over 50 years ago, in 1964. They have turned models into supermodels and launched virtually no-name faces into stardom overnight, just by putting them on the cover – along with a little help from a tiny bikini, of course.
The fifty year span of the magazine’s tradition also very bluntly shows the evolution of society’s expectations and demands of the female body, maybe even some surgery along the way. The original covers are far less revealing than the modern day issues, but were still equally as risque, if not more, for the time.
Over 130 models have posed for the magazine since the first issue. That’s a lot of scantily clad women, each one beautiful or unique in their own ways, making it pretty hard to pick a list of favorites. So, we included the most memorable. From the first issue, to the best-selling, to the one that got the most letters, and the downright sexy… Here are 13 of the sexiest Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition covers of all time.
13. Babette Beatty – Swimsuit Issue #1
Number one, the issue that started it all. Graced by model Babette Beatty, the cover is credited with making the bikini (which was invented the same year) a viable piece of beachwear. Unlike most of the other models to make the cover, Beatty chose a different life than modeling, but still remembers the shoot very well. She said, “Of course, I had no idea I’d be on the cover of the first issue (which was merely a short supplement to the magazine) and of course, I had no idea it would become as big as it did.”
12. Maria Joao – Swimsuit Edition 1978
The 1978 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover featured model Maria Joao and to this day, still remains the issue that received the most letters, over 25 years later. Although Joao didn’t continue her modeling career, her good genes were carried on. Her beautiful and talented daughter, Jordana Brewster, is an actress who first appeared in the popular Fast and the Furious film, and she is set to reprise her role in the upcoming 2015 sequel.
11. Nina Agdal, Lily Aldridge and Chrissy Teigen – 50th Anniversary Swimsuit Edition
What’s better than having one sexy model in a bikini to grace the cover of your Sports Illustrated magazine? Three sexy models in bikinis to grace the cover of your magazine, of course. The 50th anniversary edition of the highly coveted Swimsuit Edition featured beautiful models Nina Agdal, Lily Aldridge and Chrissy Teigen. The three girls were actually meant to represent the past, present and future models of the popular magazine tradition. No one was complaining about the idea.
10. Brooklyn Decker – Swimsuit Edition 2010
Wife to the popular and successful tennis player Andy Roddick, Brooklyn Decker scored the highly coveted cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition again in 2010, making her a five-time cover model. Certainly not an easy accomplishment. But when asked to share her little secret, Decker swore she didn’t know. “I still don’t know the formula for the cover,” she said. “It’s luck, the perfect suit and perfect storm to get it.” We’re sure her long blonde locks and curvaceous, hot body has nothing to do with it, right?
9. All-Star Sports Illustrated Cover – Model Beach Party
What’s better than having three models in bikinis on the cover of your Sports Illustrated magazine? How about eight sexy models in nothing but bikini bottoms on the cover of your magazine. The 2006 Swimsuit Edition featured the likes of bombshells Elle Macpherson, Veronica Varekova, Rebecca Romijn, Rachel Hunter, Daniela Pestova, Elsa Benitez, Carolyn Murphy and Yamila Diaz. What’s even better? They entitled the All-Star Sports Illustrated Cover, Model Beach Party. Certainly a fitting name for the overly sexy lineup.
8. Paulina Porizkova – Swimsuit Issue 1984-1985
The 1980s are when things really started heating up on the covers. Swimsuits got tinier, just as the rise of supermodels really started to take hold, and the shapes of women’s bodies became even more scrutinized. Paulina Porizkova landed the cover in 1984 and 1985, making her the second woman to be featured on the Sports Illustrated cover two consecutive times after Christie Brinkley. Porizkova was also the first woman from Central Europe to land the cover. In recent years, she has stepped in as a judge on the popular show, America’s Next Top Model, hosted by Tyra Banks.
7. Christie Brinkley – Swimsuit Edition 1979, 1980 & 1981
Christie Brinkley was the model to be in the 1980s. And with that blonde hair and those blue eyes, it was no surprise that Sports Illustrated loved putting her on the cover. But nearly thirty years later, Brinkley looks just as good as ever, and was still the one turning heads at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Party in 2014 – at 60 years old! “She looks phenomenal,” Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition senior editor, MJ Day, said. “She has the legs of a 30-year-old and the face of an angel. She’s what you aspire to look like at 60. She’s mind-blowingly beautiful.”
6. Petra Nemcova – Swimsuit Edition 2003
Beach beauty Petra Nemcova has scored her fair share of magazine covers over the years. In 2003, she landed the Swimsuit Edition and seemed to be on top of the world. But just one year later, Nemcova and her then-fiance, Simon Atlee, fell victims to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami, while vacationing in Khao Lak, Thailand. Atlee tragically drowned and Nemcova endured a broken pelvis and serious internal injuries, but survived by holding onto a palm tree for eight hours and being rescued.
5. Cheryl Tiegs – Swimsuit Edition 1970 & 1975
Cheryl Tiegs has long-since been called “America’s First Supermodel.” She was already a big name in the modeling world before Sports Illustrated even came along. But, clad in a white fishnet bathing suit in 1970, Tieg’s career soared to brilliant new heights and she again, landed the opportunity to grace the cover in 1975. She also scored the cover of Time magazine and landed a $1.5 million Cover Girl contract. Not too shabby for America’s first supermodel.
4. Irina Shayk – Swimsuit Edition 2011
As many of us know, Sports Illustrated has long-since been praised for shunning too-thin models and instead, going for models who are fit and curvy. But 2011’s cover gave a whole new definition to the words curves when model Irina Shayk nearly popped right off the pages. The beautiful and striking Russian model gained some impressive recognition for gracing the magazine and has been dating Portuguese soccer superstar Christiano Ronaldo since 2010. The two have an estimated combined net worth of $254 million.
3. Tyra Banks – Swimsuit Edition 1996 & 1997
It is hard to believe that it took until the year 1996 for Sports Illustrated to put an African American woman on the cover of its highly coveted Swimsuit Issue, but it’s true. Model Tyra Banks graced the cover, alongside Valeria Mazza and then got the spot again, only solo this time, in her red polka dot bikini, in 1997. Unfortunately, breaking the ground didn’t have a huge effect on what was to come. The next African American woman to make the cover wasn’t until Beyonce scored the spot a few years ago, in 2007.
2. Elle MacPherson – Swimsuit Edition 1986, 1987, 1988, 1994 & 2006
The aforementioned Elle MacPherson became known in the modeling world as “The Body” for having a pretty remarkable …. well, body. That’s probably how she scored the all-time record of five, count ’em, five Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition covers. The model/actress hosts and is the executive producer for the NBC series, Fashion Star and she is also the host of the popular shows, Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model. Additionally, Elle also gets the honor of having the best selling issue ever, in 1998.
1. Kate Upton – Swimsuit Edition 2012-2013
It feels like just one short minute ago, there was no word on who this Kate Upton girl was and what she was even famous for. Then, suddenly, she scored the insert of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover in 2011, and it’s been nothing but Kate Upton ever since. She made the highly coveted cover page in both 2012 and 2013. And even when she didn’t get the cover last year, in 2014, she still made the insert again. But, with assets like that, it’s really not that difficult to understand why.