North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

The Best Nonrequired Sports Writing of the Decade

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As I’m sure anybody who’s read any sports blog over the past few weeks has noticed, this was a great decade for sportswriting.

There has been more then a few lists of the best sportswriting this decade, most of them very good. This list is meant to complement those lists with stories that fell through the cracks for whatever reason (think of it as The Best American Nonrequired Reading for sportswriting).

As major outlets became more comfortable with the internet, they began to start putting features on the web, making it easier for readers to come across quality writing. ESPN launched it’s E-Ticket series of long-form stories (now rolled into it’s Outside The Lines brand) while Sports Illustrated put it’s entire archives up for free. Will Leitch’s Deadspin occasionally was home to longer, more R-rated pieces, perhaps too profane for the mainstream but often funnier and more interesting then anything in print.

Speaking of print, the New York Times launched a short-lived sports magazine called Play that was featured some of the best writing this decade. David Foster Wallace wrote for it, as did Chuck Klosterman, Leitch, Dan Shanoff and Michael Lewis. . Only running for three years, Play ended it’s run in 2008. It’s represented here more then any other magazine, which seems about right.

Enjoy the list.

Roger Federer as Religious Experience – David Foster Wallace

Wallace, one of the best writers of his generation and a major fan of tennis, breaks down the nuances of Roger Federer, of televised tennis and the 2006 Wimbledon final between him and Rafael Nadal. For my money, the best piece on the sport since John McPhee’s Levels of the Game.

The Boy Who Cried Cal – Tom Friend

I’d argue that the Kevin Hart story passed way to quickly. Hart was somebody who really wanted something – acceptance? popularity? – and he found the perfect way to get it. His story didn’t just encapsulate himself, though, it reflected that something is very wrong with college athletics, especially in the hype and pomp that surrounds just making a decision. His ultimately fake press conference, in my mind, raised bigger questions then why he did it. Why did people listen? Why was it a big event? Did it deserve the attention – TV coverage, a packed gym – that it got? And why was everybody so willing to believe him? Friend’s great story really examined these questions and painted a much fairer picture of Hart then anybody else had gave him.

Denial of Death – Gare Joyce

When four members of the Swift Current Broncos died in a bus accident in 1986, why did the town move on so permanently? Joyce find out why with a look at the tragic accident and the seedy side of minor hockey it uncovered.

Chasing Jose – Pat Jordan

An account of trying to catch up with Jose Canseco, mostly through second parties. In his quest to track down Jose for a magazine profile, Jordan uncovers an amazing amount of details about Jose’s life: his attempts at getting into movies, his unpaid debts and more. It’s brutal, it’s hilarious and, one suspects, completely true.

Dykstra’s Business: a bed of ‘Nails’ – Mike Fish

A riveting account of the rise and fall of Len Dykstra’s life as a financial planner, a magazine pub. A tremendous piece of investigative journalism by Fish.

Vote For Gilbert – Chuck Klosterman

Was there a more interesting athlete this decade then Gilbert Arenas? In so many ways, Arenas was the perfect example of the postmodern athlete who was at once amazingly talented and supremely self-aware. Klosterman was the perfect writer to capture Arenas at his most memorable.

Still Haunted by Len Bias – Bill Simmons

As shown by his latest tome, The Book of Basketball, Simmons’ strongest writing is always on looking back. This piece, one of his first for ESPN’s Page 2, looks back at Len Bias and what could have been. ”

The Kick is Up and It’s … A Career Killer – Michael Lewis

Lewis’s account of kickers, the only players for whom a single blown play can end a career (see Norwood, Anderson, et al), ranks as some of the best writing this decade, sports or otherwise. “…it is extremely difficult for a field-goal kicker to be a hero,” wrote Lewis. “He can perform a miracle, but the world will always find some way to shove him back in his place.” My favorite piece of the decade.

Honourable Mentions:

Murder By Cricket – Patrick Hruby

Higher Education – Gary Smith

Let Us Now Raze Famous Men – Jeff MacGregor

23 Reasons Why a Profile of Pete Carroll Does Not Appear In This Space – J.R. Moehringer

That Which Does Not Kill Me Make Me Stronger – Daniel Coyle


Written by M.

January 1, 2010 at 5:46 pm

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