The cover photo was taken in Florida and presents Balotelli as a Christ-like figure, arms spread out as he appears to walk on water.
Other sports stars to have appeared on the magazine’s cover include basketball player Michael Jordan and Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps, both from the US.
The magazine described Balotelli as “the most interesting man in the world” of football who “represents the New Europe”.
The absurdity of his national identity – that he was born in Italy, plays for the national football team but was barred from citizenship until he was 18 – does not escape Sports Illustrated.
Balotelli was born to Ghanaian parents and raised by Italian foster parents, although not formally allowed to become an Italian until adulthood.
“That’s a stupid rule. I spent 18 years in Italy, and I was not Italian yet. That's why I hope all the guys that are like me and living this are going to be Italian before I became Italian," the AC Milan striker told the magazine.
Italy’s integration minister, Cecile Kyenge, is currently trying to overhaul the immigration law to ensure children born in Italy can gain citizenship.
“Now there are a lot more [immigrants] coming, so I’m not alone anymore,” Balotelli said.
Yet despite being famed for his football prowess, he has not escaped prejudice and criticized the way racism is handled in football.
Racist chanting at football games in Italy is rife, yet AC Milan will be punished if players walk off the pitch in protest. “For this stupid rule I will stay on the pitch,” Balotelli said.
He is committed to helping stamp out racism however he can, and as the first black player to represent Italy in a major tournament he is already pushing boundaries.
Sharing his admiration for the US president, Balotelli appeared unaware of the similar promise he holds for Italy: “Obama can be like a new start for everyone. Just the fact that he's black and he's the first one."