Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing of 2017

These were the best pieces I read in 2017.

Honorable Mentions

A Team Of Their Own – Jessica Luther [Bleacher Report]

When The Levee Breaks – Spencer Hall [Every Day Should Be Saturday]

How SB Nation Profits Off An Army Of Exploited Workers – Laura Wagner [Deadspin]

The NBA’s Secret Addiction – Baxter Holmes [ESPN the Magazine]

Who Is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez? – Roberto Jose Andrade Franco [Deadspin]

How Did The Lakers Get Here? The Inside Story Of The Buss Drama – Ramona Shelburne [ESPN.com]

The Power Struggle At Georgetown Goes Back To A Petty, 50-Year old D.C. High School Hoops Feud – Dave McKenna [Deadspin]

Why Richard Sherman Can’t Let Go Of Seattle’s Super Bowl Loss – Seth Wickersham [ESPN the Magazine]

What You Can’t – Colin McGowan [Medium]

The Top Ten

10. (tie) Judge And Altuve – Bill James [Bill James Online]

10. (tie) The Next Battle In The War Over WAR – Rany Jazayeri [The Ringer]

Dive into the debate dividing the sabermetrics community with the first piece from Bill James, one of the pioneers of the field of advanced analytics, and the second piece from Rany Jazayeri which contextualizes the debate and explains what it all means.  The short version is that Bill James believes WAR is a flawed statistic and backs up his case by comparing Aaron Judge and Jose Altuve’s MVP cases, despite their near equal WAR in 2017 (James believes Altuve was vastly superior).  It’s intellectually challenging but I found the arguments on both sides to be fascinating, especially since advanced stats finally feel like a normal part of the fan experience these days (in baseball, at least).  These are the kind of watershed moments that will define an entire field in the decades to come and I especially appreciated the second piece for breaking down the impact that James’ essay had on that community.

9. The Ratio Is The Triple Crown Of Bad Tweets – David Roth [Deadspin]

This piece is equal parts stupid and brilliant.  To understand it, one needs to understand the ins and outs of the user experience on Twitter in 2017.  Roth uses an incredible sports metaphor to explain the reactions certain tweets get from users on the social media platform.  I laughed out loud and find myself now tracking tweets using the idea from this piece.  One of the most memorable pieces I’ve read in years.

8. This Is For Boston – Isaiah Thomas [The Players Tribune]

Who better to explain the shock of the Celtics/Cavaliers blockbuster trade than one of the centerpiece players?  Thomas does a remarkable job of explaining his mixed emotions about the deal but the best part is the connection he describes with the city of Boston and how perfectly matched both player and city were together.  Here’s hoping the trend of athlete in-their-own-word pieces continues to produce excellent content into the future.

7. Sin City Or Bust – Don Van Natta Jr. & Seth Wickersham [ESPN the Magazine]

I don’t know how these two do it, but it seems like Van Natta and Wickersham are personally at the table taking minutes during the NFL owners’ meetings.  The piece is full of juicy nuggets and impeccably-reported details about the Raiders move to Las Vegas and how the seemingly inept Mark Davis outmaneuvered Las Vegas’ shrewdest businessman and the entire NFL to get a new city and stadium for his team.

6. Pat Riley’s Final Test – Wright Thompson [ESPN the Magazine]

A legend of sports writing meets a legend of basketball.

5. Fractured Friendship Of Aaron Hernandez And A Gangster Played Out In Bone-Chilling Court Scene – Dan Wetzel [Yahoo! Sports]

It’s hard to believe that the story of a former NFL player getting convicted of murder and subsequently committing suicide isn’t on the top ten list of craziest things that happened in the last year.  Dynamite columnist Dan Wetzel was there for the whole ride of the arrest, investigation, and court battles that ensued and it culminated in this remarkable piece about a courtroom confrontation between Aaron Hernandez and his former friend.

4. The NBA Is Lucky I’m Home Doing Damn Articles – Dion Waiters [The Players Tribune]

This piece came out within the same week as the Pat Riley article above. Despite the odds of going against the best sports writer in a generation getting unlimited access to a near impenetrable subject in Pat Riley, Dion Waiters beat the odds and had the more interesting piece of writing.  Kind of poetic–as he’ll explain in the article–what with a long-shot guy like him making the NBA and playing his Miami Heat team within inches of the playoffs after being written off as a bust.

3. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Lost So Much More Than A Fight – Roberto Jose Andrade Franco [Deadspin]

I learned so much about so many topics in this piece: Mexico, Boxing, Machismo, Masculinity, Julio Cesar Chavez, etc.  Please read this piece about what an athlete can mean to an entire nation and how the weight of that burden eventually falls to his children (unfairly or not).  It’s a sports history lesson and a cultural deconstruction of Mexican masculinity all wrapped up into one of the best pieces of sports writing this year.

2. Rodger Goodell Has A Jerry Jones Problem, And Nobody Knows How It Will End – Don Van Natta Jr. & Seth Wickersham [ESPN the Magazine]

These two writers are the Jerry Jones whisperers. Get all the juicy details from Jerry Jones very public dispute with Roger Goodell over the state of his contract negotiations.

1. Colin Kaepernick Has A Job – Rembert Browne [Bleacher Report]

Like it or not, Colin Kaepernick was the most discussed sports story of 2017.  This was the best piece written about him and Browne managed to do it all without getting any access to the quarterback.

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Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing of 2016

These were the best pieces I read in 2016.

Honorable Mentions

A Guy Like Me – John Scott [The Players Tribune]

Cam Newton Is Changing The Definition Of Southern Gentleman – Spencer Hall [SB Nation]

The NFL Has An Age Problem – Kevin Clark [The Ringer]

What Happened To Robert Swift? – Chris Ballard [Sports Illustrated]

After The Process: Meet Sam Hinkie 2.0 – Chris Ballard [Sports Illustrated]

Long Time Coming: End Comes For David Blatt’s Bumpy Cavs Tenure – Brian Windhorst & Dave McMenamin [ESPN.com]

The Art Of Letting Go – Mina Kimes [ESPN the Magazine]

Rory McIlroy Doesn’t Know What He Wants – Kevin Van Valkenburg [ESPN.com]

Farewell, Champions Of Havana – Brin-Jonathan Butler [Roads & Kingdoms]

The Top Ten

10. The Writer Who Was Too Strong To Live – Dave McKenna [Deadspin]

A remarkable obituary written for a talented sports writer whose alcoholism prevented her from reaching the heights of the profession.  It’s a deeply moving piece, not for the weary-hearted.

9. How The Daily Fantasy Sports Industry Turns Fans Into Suckers – Jay Capian Kang [The New York Times]

There were several pieces this year written about the downfall of the daily sports industry but this was the first piece I read that specifically discussed the structural designs of the business model that led to its collapse.  Kang is an ultra talented writer/reporter but this was my favorite piece from him this year due to its timing and intelligence in seeing an emerging issue before anyone else.

8. Zero Tolerance For Domestic Violence Will Only Make It Worse – Diana Moskovitz [Deadspin]

Moskovitz had a hell of a year writing for Deadspin this year and has carved out a corner  all her own with her in-depth coverage of the intersection of sexual assault, domestic violence, and sports.  This was her opus. She eloquently writes about the perils of effectively treating and preventing domestic violence in sports.

7. Holding The T – Tad Friend [The New Yorker]

I never thought I would enjoy an essay about the little-known sport of squash as much as I did this piece.  It’s really about so much more than that though.  The author writes about overcoming the effects of age on his body while simultaneously gaining knowledge and passion of the sport in his old age.  It’s also a charming piece about being a dad and loving sports for no apparent reason.

6. The Crossroads Of Hoosier Hysteria – Mark Titus [The Ringer]

I say this every year, but my favorite sports articles always have an element of the author’s own story included in the piece.  Titus is an Indiana-born basketball junkie who discusses the perilous future of basketball in the hoops-obsessed state of Indiana.  Only a person who was born and raised in that part of the world could write about the topic this well.  Highly recommended for basketball fans of any kind.

5. Hooked For Life – George Dohrmann [Huffington Post]

We all know the NFL is an evil profit-hungry corporation who refuses to believe in science when discussing player health.  Did you also know they’re using tobacco-style marketing to try to hook children while they’re in elementary school?  There seems to be no depth too low for the NFL these days and this depressing piece is especially horrific.

4. Buffalo – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]

Spencer Hall writes an essay each year to kick off the college football season and this year’s was especially memorable.  He somehow links the brutality of the sport of football to American bison and the Wild West.  Just read it.

3. The Incredible Tale Of Mark Cuban, Chandler Parsons, And The Friendship That Threatened The Mavericks – Tim MacMahon [ESPN.com]

Incredibly reported pieces like this one are a modern rarity due to players’ continued reluctance to speak with reporters and the media.  MacMahon somehow unearthed this story about Chandler Parson’s tenure in Dallas and his bromance with owner Mark Cuban.  This actual story does not disappoint.

(tie) 2. What Happened When Venture Capitalists Took Over The Golden State Warriors – Bruce Schoenfeld [The New York Times]

The Warriors are, without a doubt, the most interesting story in sports these days.  It didn’t seem fair to include just one story, so how about three?  The first details the incredible egos involved in the creation of the team.  Watch how many people try to claim credit, but pay particular attention to the owner, Joe Lacob.  To say he jinxed the Warriors chances at the greatest season of all time is the understatement of the year.  You will not believe what he said on record in this piece which was written mere weeks before the team’s historic collapse in the NBA Finals.

(tie) 2. Golden State’s Draymond Green Problem – Ethan Sherwood Strauss [True Hoop]

Draymond Green is by far the most interesting player on the Warriors.  Whereas Klay is shy and Steph is aww-shucks bashful, Draymond is a fire-breathing dragon who doesn’t shy from the spotlight or controversy.  This piece was written in the months following the NBA finals loss and details all the personality quirks and minor controversies the team has to deal with to keep Draymond inspired and playing well.

(tie) 2. You Won’t Believe How Nike Lost Steph To Under Armour – Ethan Sherwood Strauss [True Hoop]

This piece has nothing to do with the team but was my favorite Warriors-related sports article this year.  Learn about how Nike screwed up their chances to get Steph Curry on the cheap in one of the most astonishing failures in sports business history.  You will not believe how badly they messed up signing Steph before he broke out and became a two-time MVP superstar.

1. The Secret History of Tiger Woods – Wright Thompson [ESPN.com]

The best sports writing of all-time requires athletes who are the best of all-time.  Combine the best modern sports writer in Wright Thompson with a once-in-a-generation icon like Tiger Woods and you have the best sports article of 2016.  A captivating piece with all kinds of details about Tiger’s golf career that you never knew about.  If you read nothing else, make sure you read this piece.

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Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing Of 2015

These were the best pieces I read in 2015.

Honorable Mentions

Silence At Baylor – Jessica Luther & Dan Solomon [Texas Monthly]

How They Do In Oxford – Kiese Laymon [ESPN.com]

The Meaning Of Serena Williams – Claudia Rankine [The New York Times Magazine]

Rousey Says She’s Down But Not Out – Ramona Shelburne [ESPN the Magazine]

The Story Behind Bob Beamon’s Miracle Jump And The Only Photo That Mattered – David Davis [Deadspin]

The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived On – Wright Thompson [ESPN the Magazine]

Star Tribune’s Amelia Rayno Adds Her Own Story To Teague Scandal – Amelia Rayno [Star Tribune]

Wizards Paul Pierce Speaks The Truth – Jackie MacMullan [ESPN.com]

The Rookie And The Zetas – Joe Tone [Dallas Observer]

This Is Why NFL Star Greg Hardy Was Arrested For Assaulting His Ex-Girlfriend – Diana Moskovitz [Deadspin]

Broke – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]

The Top Ten

(tie) 10. The World We Live In…Man Has It Changed – Curt Schilling [38 Pitches]

This type of piece didn’t exist five years ago.  In the past year or so athletes have demonstrated a remarkable shift towards owning their own stories, best evidenced in the Derek Jeter led website The Players Tribune.  In this piece, Curt Schilling details an account of his dealing with an internet troll who took things way too far by threatening Schilling’s daughter with sexual violence.  Schilling no doubt gets the last laugh but in the process is an examination of the unique way that fans’ relationships with athletes have changed given the advent of social media and 24-hour news cycles.  This piece evidenced the new sports media world that we live in better than anything else I read this past year.

(tie) 10. How Jason Whitlock Is Poisoning ESPN’s Black Grantland – Greg Howard [Deadspin]

The golden age of Deadspin has probably been over for a few years now, but that doesn’t mean the site can’t consistently do what it always does best with its role as the critic-in-chief of ESPN.  Greg Howard is proving himself as one of the best young sports writers in the country and will likely have his choice in jobs when he chooses to leave the site.  This incredible piece of investigative journalism details the story of the website The Undefeated.  The site was conceived in the model of Grantland except that it would specifically be oriented towards African Americans.  The concept is a great idea but it consistently failed to get off the ground in no small part because its creator Jason Whitlock proved to be an uninspiring choice to lead the effort.

9. Spygate to Deflategate: Inside What Split The NFL And Patriots Apart – Don Van Natta Jr. & Seth Wickersham [ESPN the Magazine]

The dumbest sports controversy of the year never smelled right.  There was the unprecedented punishment Tom Brady received for a seemingly harmless infraction and the idiotic way the football community was forced to pick a side on whether he deserved it.  Enter the two terrific writers who dug in and found out why Roger Goodell did what he did.  I won’t spoil the story, but thank the Lord for such talented writers like Van Natta and Wickersham for getting to the bottom of this story once and for all.

8. The Future Of Basketball Is Here, And It Looks A Lot Like James Harden – Kirk Goldsberry [Grantland]

Among the many innovations of Grantland, introducing Kirk Goldsberry and his unique style of sports writing was among the best contributions in the site’s history.  Goldsberry is a trained cartographer and geography professor who used his talents in an unprecedented effort to map data about the NBA into detailed analyses about the sport.  This is what happens when Moneyball meets sports writing.  It sounds complicated but Goldsberry is so incredibly intelligent that he is able to present his information in entertaining maps that are easy to understand for even the most naive sports fan.  This piece may as well be titled “The Future Of Sports Writing Is Here, And It Looks A Lot Like Kirk Goldsberry.”

7. The Cruel Tutelage Of Kevin Garnett – Jackie MacMullen [ESPN.com]

Kevin Garnett is a one of a kind athlete and among the best NBA players to lace them up.  Did I mention he is also insane?  Jackie MacMullen finds Garnett shifting into his latest, and, likely, last role in the NBA: that as a mentor to the next generation of NBA talent.  This is the kind of piece that was obviously cultivated over years of relationship between the author and the subject and MacMullen delivers with one of the best pieces of the year.

6. How Did Lamar Odom Fall So Far? – Ramona Shelburne [ESPN.com]

There were several pieces written by Shelburne this year that could have made the top ten but this one was my favorite.  She reached a certain status this year where anything she publishes is a must read.  In the days following Lamar Odom’s emergency room visit and coma, Shelburne got out on the road and put the pieces together about the days leading up to the 911 call.  What she found was a man broken by an unusually cruel life and his struggle to deal with the series of personal tragedies he’s had to deal with.  Shelburne somehow got the women at the brothel to speak to her about what Odom was up to even after the owner of the placed an unofficial gag order on his employees.  Here’s hoping that Odom recovers in full and is finally able to find some peace in his life.

5. One Hundred Years Of Arm Bars – David Samuels [Grantland]

Consider this my official obituary for Grantland, without a doubt my favorite internet site of all time.  How Bill Simmons managed to convince the higher ups at ESPN to bankroll a website stacked with an unprecedented amount of writing talent remains one of the great mysteries of our time, but there is no doubt that the site more than lived up to the incredible hype, creating some of the most legendary pieces of sports writing of all time in its four short years of existence.  I miss being able to log into my browser after work and read what whacky, deep, imaginative piece of writing the site conjured up on that particular day.  The above piece was another story in a long line of them that could only have been created at Grantland.  Samuels chronicles the history of a particular style of Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu and how the martial art came to be.  I had no idea about its history and that the writer was able to fly around the world putting together the story meant it was only ever going to happen at Grantland.  RIP Grantland.

4. Beyond The Breach – Wright Thompson [ESPN the Magazine]

Wright Thompson is the undisputed champ when it comes to longform sports writing.  He had about five other pieces that easily could have made the top ten but this is the one that resonated most.  This epic piece looks into the role of sports in the rebirth of the city of New Orleans ten years after Hurricane Katrina.  The piece is unfathomably long and it’s a credit to Thompson’s talent that he was permitted to write such a behemoth for the print edition of the magazine.  The piece is more than worth the time it takes to read it.

3. The Boxer And The Batterer – Louisa Thomas [Grantland]

This is the most beautiful piece of writing on the list, hands down.  The title of the piece recalls one of the most famous pieces in sports writing history.  Thomas writes a profound essay on the contrasts of Floyd Mayweather, brilliant boxer, and Floyd Mayweather, serial abuser of women.  This is the type of piece you could only find at Grantland and Thomas tackles one of the most difficult sports stories of 2015 with the typical brilliance one came to expect while on that site.

2. How The NBA Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb – Tom Haberstroh [ESPN.com]

In the past five years there has been a shift in the way the game of basketball is played by the elite teams in the game.  Gone are the days of the triangle offense or post up isolations to skilled big men.  Welcome to the “pace and space” era where the three point is king and teams that fail to shoot the three at a high level are left in the dust.  This fantastic piece chronicles the history of the three point shot from its creation in the ABA to being the key offensive weapon of last year’s NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.  It’s remarkable to think that a shot once deemed to be a gimmick is now the most important aspect of the modern NBA offense.  This piece tells you how it happened and why it happened.  Perfect piece at a perfect moment in time.

1. The Education Of Alex Rodriguez – J.R. Moehringer [ESPN the Magazine]

The best piece of the year profiled A-Rod after his one year suspension from baseball for using PEDs.  Rodriguez tries in vein to become educated and give his children opportunities that he never had and Moehringer writes a brilliant profile that understands Rodriguez as a human being and father.  When all the puzzle pieces are finally assembled, it’s clear how Rodriguez became one of the most enigmatic superstar athletes in baseball history but also leaves you feeling sympathetic for him, which seems impossible.  To a certain extent, the best sports writing of all-time require once-in-a-generation athletes as the subject matter.  This piece will show you why.

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Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing Of 2014

These were the best pieces I read in 2014.

Honorable Mentions:

The Reinvention of Chris Bosh – Tom Haberstroh [ESPN]

P.K. Subban and Hockey’s Problematic Relationship With Players of Color – Harrison Mooney [Puck Daddy]

Can Jason Whitlock Save ESPN’s “Black Grantland” From Himself? – Greg Howard [Deadspin]

The Istanbul Derby – Spencer Hall [SB Nation]

The Immigrant Sport: What Ping Pong Means in America – Eric Nusbaum [Deadspin]

While The World Watched – Wright Thompson [ESPN the Magazine]

The Two Michael Sams – Joel Anderson [BuzzFeed]

Why Do People Hit Their Kids – Drew Magary [Deadspin]

The Top Ten:

10.  Money In The Bank – Dan O’Sullivan [Jacobin Magazine]

A brutal and fascinating look at how the modern wrestling industry came to be.  Take a dive into the self-perpetuating way that wrestling dupes its own stars into a way of life that is intent on leaving them with nothing.  Anyone who enjoyed the movie The Wrestler can’t miss this piece.

9.  Thirteen Ways of Looking at Greg Maddux – Jeremy Collins [SB Nation]

One of my favorite kinds of writing here.  Collins writes the kind of piece that only he could write.  He uses the greatness of Greg Maddux as a tool to explore sports, addiction, and his relationship with his now departed best friend.  It’s a devastating piece that will leave you captivated throughout.

8.  Together We Make Football – Louisa Thomas [Grantland]

The best thought piece of the year on football and the problematic relationship America has with the sport.  It touches on the Ray Rice saga, among many other topics.  It gets to the philosophical question facing all of us right now: how is it possible for us all to love and support such a savage sport?

7.  How Jon Jones Became the Baddest Motherfucker On Earth – Greg Howard [Deadspin]

The best profiles on athletes always are able to show the reader the distinction between the athlete as a public figure and the athlete as an actual human being.  Jon Jones’ awareness of this fact makes the piece all the more interesting as he gives Deadspin’s Greg Howard a rare look into how his brain actually ticks.  Did I mention Jones is the most interesting fighter since Tyson and Ali before him?

6.  Meet the Bag Man – Steven Godfrey [SB Nation]

I have an unwritten rule that every year the top ten has to include the year’s most fun piece.  Here it is.  Ever wondered how college players actually get paid?  This seems like the biggest no brainer piece ever for anyone interested in college football and yet I can’t recall any major sites ever profiling the guys who actually pay the players.  This piece is all kinds of fun, delving into the high stakes world of SEC football.  It also does a great job of killing the myth of amatuerism.

5.  Pop and Timmy: Power Couple – Marc Stein [ESPN.com]

This is the kind of piece that can only be written after years of grinding it out on a particular sports beat.  In this case, it’s Marc Stein and the beat is professional basketball in the state of Texas.  Saddle up for years worth of anecdotes and confessions that Stein had been holding onto for this exact moment.  Throw in the fact that the Spurs won the title and this was easily one of the best pieces of the year.

4.  Neymar and the Disappearing Donkey – Achal Prabhala [Africa is a Country]

A fascinating look at the impact of centuries of imperialism, racism, and globalism on the modern identity of Brazil as told through soccer and, specifically, Neymar.  For thoe not as familiar with the sport of soccer, Neymar is the player poised to take over the world when Ronaldo and Messi start their decline.  If you’re a fan of the flat world theory or soccer or race, this is the piece for you.

3.  Decline of The Curve – Pat Jordan [SB Nation]

It’s hard for me to describe what makes Pat Jordan such a good writer.  There’s the fact that he was a former MLB prospect and has a treasure trove of stories on the times he crossed paths with the sport’s greats.  There’s alo the fact that he has made a hall of fame career as a writer while never working for any major publication.  He is sports writing’s best indie rocker.  In this piece he attempts to answer the basic question: what happened to the curveball?  And, as usual, he delivers

2.  The Sea of Crises – Brian Phillips [Grantland]

This is the kind of piece only Grantland could produce and why I thank God every day that it exists.  Phillips is an annual tradition on this list and this piece doesn’t disappoint either.  On the surface, it’s an article about him traveling to Japan to learn about Sumo, but it’s really so much more than that.  There are parts of this piece that I quite literally couldn’t believe actualy happened.  This is what happens when the unlimited resources of ESPN get behind a supertalented writer like Brian Phillips.  Pure genius.

1.  Jerry Football – Don Van Natta Jr. [ESPN the Magazine]

Once in a generation access + a once in a generation icon like Jerry Jones + a very talented writer = best piece of the year, hands down.

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Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing Of 2013

This is slowly becoming an annual tradition over here.  These were the best pieces I read this year, starting with the honorable mentions and finishing with the top ten. I openly admit a certain bias towards the pieces chosen.  The best pieces of sports writing, to me, involve one of two things.  The first is a personal element between the writer and the content.  The second is that the story involves a single piece of information that is so fascinating, so uniquely brilliant, that it vindicates the countless hours of life devoted to sports, the vast majority of which pay no dividends.  To the list…

Honorable Mentions:

The Trouble With Johnny – Wright Thompson [ESPN the Magazine]

Just a banner year all around for Wright Thompson, who asserted his place as the top longform sports writer on the planet.  You’ll see his name again on this list.  Thompson somehow talked his way into the Manziel family circle at the height of Johnny’s fame, before the disappointing season and close loss to Alabama.  It’s an interesting look at one of the most fascinating college football players of all time at his peak notoriety.  The reader walks away with a great understanding of why he is the way he is (hint: bloodline).

Jason Taylor’s Pain Shows NFL’s World Of Hurt – Dan Le Batard [Miami Herald]

We’ll always remember this point in history for the world finally waking up to the dangers of professional football.  This was the best story I read all year that delved into the topic.  It’s the kind of piece that is born out of years of covering a team and building relationships.  Le Batard has of course gained more fame for his on-air gigs at ESPN, but he reminds us all that he’s one hell of a writer too.

Man Up – Brian Phillips [Grantland]

Phillips’ declaration of war on NFL locker room culture is magnificent.  The diction and tone is likewise perfect.  There were several pieces written on the Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito conflict.  Phillips’ was easily the best.

Auburn Should Be Dead, Because We Watched It Die – Spencer Hall [Every Day Should Be Saturday]

Hall is the best college football writer and best sports blogger in the country.  There was no one better to write about the greatest ending to a college football game ever.  Hall’s wit, humor, and knowledge of the sport make him the perfect person to capture that perfect moment.

The Sports Cable Bubble – Patrick Hruby [Sports On Earth]

Hruby delivers with a superbly-reported piece on the reason this country’s cable bills have spiked so high in the last five years.  Can it last?  Will consumers somehow force the industry to change?  Hruby has all the details.

Qatar Chronicles – David Roth [SB Nation]

A five part series dealing with FIFA’s seemingly bizarre decision to award the World Cup to the wealthy Middle Eastern country.  If you don’t have time for all five parts, be sure to at least catch the first and the last parts which perfectly capture why the country was awarded the prized sporting event and just what it means to be Qatari.  Roth just absolutely crushed this.

Lost Soul – Chris Ballard [Sports Illustrated]

Perennial candidate on my lists.  He delivers with another great piece involving basketball, the sport that he loves.  Bison Dele, formerly Brian Williams, left the game during the prime of his career to explore other interests.  He then died under mysterious circumstances.  Dive into this story and see if you can figure out what happened to him.

Nick Saban: Sympathy For The Devil – Warren St. John [GQ]

Nick Saban just wants to coach football and doesn’t understand why we’re all so obsessed with cracking his code.  The way St. John uses the Rolling Stones to explain the enigma that is Coach Saban is perfect.

The Match Maker – Don Van Natta Jr. [Outside The Lines]

Was one of the most famous matches in tennis history actually fixed?  Yes.  Definitely yes.  Read about how Bobby Riggs put the fix in for The Battle of the Sexes.

Top Ten

(tie) 10. Nightmare In Maryville: Teens’ Sexual Encounter Ignites A Firestorm Against Family – Dugan Arnett [Kansas City Star]

This is a well-reported look into the evil side of sports.  A young girl is raped and abandoned on her own porch to freeze to death.  It seems an open-and-shut case until you learn that the accused is a football star in a football-obsessed town.  He also has political connections.  And somehow a helpless victim is characterized by her community as a dirty slut who had it coming to her.  Her family is driven out of town and her house mysteriously burns to the ground.  Travel to the dark side and feel the rage.  It’s amazing how those that we are supposed to trust can so thoroughly screw up in protecting the innocent.

(tie) 10. A Perfect Marathon Day-Then The Unimaginable – Kevin Cullen [Boston Globe]

Just the absolute perfect column on the tragic events that befell the city of Boston the day of the Boston Marathon bombing.  It captures everything wonderful about that city and its identity along with all the horror and tragedy that took place that day.  Boston Strong.

(tie) 10. Why NBA Center Jason Collins Is Coming Out Now – Jason Collins with Franz Lidz [Sports Illustrated]

One of the best sports stories in years.  This story merits a place solely for its courage and bravery.  Collins took a huge risk with this and he deserves all kinds of praise for being the first active player in one of the four major sports to out himself.  Bravo to him and Sports Illustrated for doing it the right way and completely owning the narrative.

9. When 772 Pitches Isn’t Enough – Chris Jones [ESPN the Magazine]

Jones is one of the top magazine writers in the game and I continue to love that ESPN convinced him to write for their magazine.  This piece on Japanese youth baseball gives a thoughtful look into the demands and pressures of youth sports through a lens we’re not at all familiar with.  If you ever played youth baseball or if you’re a parent who struggles with the demands modern youth sports place on children’s bodies, you cannot miss this one.

8. Peyton Manning On His Neck Surgeries Rehab-And How He Almost Didn’t Make It Back – Sally Jenkins [Washington Post]

I’ve had my issues with Jenkins, most notably her continued defense of Lance Armstrong. There’s no denying the greatness of this piece, though.  How a writer for a newspaper in D.C. finally got the full story on Peyton’s comeback is beyond me, but I tore through every single bit of information.  I think we all had an idea that Peyton’s career was at risk, but reading about him barely being able to throw a football is shocking.  Jenkins takes us all the way through each painstaking step in the recovery.  This story is a must-read, considering the record-breaking season and the beginning of the NFL playoffs.

7. Inside Major League Baseball’s Dominican Sweatshop System – Ian Gordon [Mother Jones]

One of the most important stories of the year.  It’s really kind of pathetic that most baseball writers in this country believe the great tragedy of that sport has to do with performance enhancing drugs.  Take a look inside the darker side of America’s pastime, one in which a team can get away with gross negligence, immoral labor practices, and even death.  Try to imagine everything wrong with the NCAA model and then amplify it times a billion and you’ll have an idea of just how poorly managed MLB’s relationship with the Dominican Republic is.  The muckraking done by Gordon for this story is worthy of all kinds of awards.

6.  Soccer Bleu – John Samuel Harphem [American Circus]

Most will probably skip over this article, given that it involves the sport of soccer and the country of France.  I beg you to read it.  It’s a great look at the danger of mixing sports and identity as told through the French national soccer team since their 1998 World Cup victory.  Harphem constructs a Hemingway-esque setting in which to tell the story of his experience of being an American following soccer in Paris.

5.  Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax – Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey [Deadspin]

This was one of the most fascinating sports stories of all time.  It’s kind of been forgotten about, given that the majority of Te’o’s games were played during the 2012 calendar year.  This story did technically break in January of 2013, though, and thus has to be included on the list.  That outlets like ESPN and the New York Times completely bought into the Te’o dead girlfriend story without fact checking is exactly why Deadspin has to exist.  Their ability to complete knock this story out of the park in a limited amount of time was remarkable.  The reporting, the writing–everything is just perfect here.  Standing ovation to Tommy Craggs for building Deadspin into a force.

4. The Pain And Pleasure Of Spring – Pat Jordan [SB Nation]

Remember when I said the best articles involve a personal element or a single piece of information that makes being a sports fan all worth it?  This one has both.  Jordan is a legend in the world of sports writing.  He recounts in detail his story of being a once prized baseball prospect who just didn’t make it.  The story about him making love with an elder woman is beautiful, but stay for the unbelievable description of what made Hank Aaron Hank Aaron.  I’m not qualified enough to critique a writer like Jordan. I do know that this piece about his love for spring training is beautiful.

3. The Book Of Coach – Seth Wickersham [ESPN the Magazine]

The biggest irony in all of sports is that Americans know almost nothing about the X’s and O’s of football.  This is partly intentional as the game of football has gone to great lengths to prevent fans from that sacred knowledge (likely in an attempt to avoid criticism, but I digress…).  So it’s really kind of awesome when we get a writer like Chris Brown over at Grantland or this story from Seth Wickersham which brought to light a book which almost no one outside of football coaches knew existed.  Did you know legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh attempted to write a complete manual to everything that was necessary to be a great football coach?  Neither did I.  Apparently it is the bible for football coaches, with very limited copies in existence.  Everyone from Bill Belichick to college graduate assistants profess its value.  While Walsh never really felt satisfied, this article gives a great look into the long, difficult road it takes to be a great football coach.  I love finding out about sports secrets like this book.  I’m guessing you will too.

2. Stroke Of Madness – Scott Eden [ESPN the Magazine]

All apologies to Dan Jenkins, but this might be the greatest golf-related article I’ve ever read.  Far too often the conversations in individual sports like golf comes down whether an athlete is “clutch.”  It’s a sad reality that most of us don’t spend any time with golfers beyond the four majors. We know of Tiger’s dominance and competitiveness, but is it possible that the single greatest accomplishment in his career was that he changed his swing THREE times while never really losing his place as the number one-ranked golfer?  It’s a worthy question and Eden does an otherworldly job of explaining just how difficult the process can be and why it’s so rarely attempted.  This story is packed with nuggets on the history of golf and the evolution of Tiger Woods’s swing.  Even if he never surpasses Jack’s major total, this article should do enough to explain why he is the greatest golfer who ever lived.  His obsession with the mechanics of golf and always improving are only surpassed by the subject of the final piece on this list…

1. Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building – Wright Thompson [Outside The Lines]

Let’s end this list where we started it, with Mr. Wright Thompson and one of the single greatest years by a sports writer ever.  This story on Jordan was all types of fascinating, dealing with his post-retirement life.  It’s amazing how keenly aware Jordan is of himself and his image.  Read his quote about his inability to go back to living a normal life and the expectations he now has because he’s Michael Jordan.  You know the stories about the competitiveness, but I came away far more impressed with his ability to analyze.  The most fascinating aspect of this piece, though, involves LeBron James.  Jordan has a maniacal obssession to break down James and find his weaknesses.  It somehow seems impossible to feel pity for a guy like Michael Jordan, but even he is unable to escape the nasty habit that history has of forgetting its elders.  He’s determined to not let us forget.

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Gen Y’s Best Sports Writing Of 2012

We’re coming out of retirement this week to discuss one of the site’s pastimes: great sports writing. There are obviously several of these lists already out there (check here or here, if interested), but these were Gen Y’s top picks.

Honorable mentions:

Marathon Man – Mark Singer [New Yorker]

Bizarre story of a man caught lying about road race results.

The Beautiful Game – Patrick Symmes [Outside]

The lesson, as always: no one takes their sport more seriously than soccer fans.

The Fun In Funeral: 2011 College Football’s Dark New Orleans Sendoff – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]

Would have made the top ten if not for Hall writing an even better piece this year.

The Death’s-Head Of Wimbledon – Brian Phillips [Grantland]

Just remember being so impressed when I read this.  Read all five parts.

The Unfair Significance Of Jeremy Lin – Jay Kaspian Kang [Grantland]

An Asian-American writer explains why Jeremy Lin matters

Ultimate Glory – Dave Gessner [Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour]

The best stories always involve a personal element from the writer.  Gessner spills his guts out on the page here and the result is awesome.

Who Is Sarah Phillips? – John Koblin [Deadspin]

Deadspin at their best part I.

The Making Of Homer At The Bat – Erik Malinowski [Deadspin]

Deadspin  at their best part II.

ESPN Entertainment Writer Has A Bad Wikipedia Problem – Isaac Rauch [Deadpin]

Deadspin at their best part III.

How ESPN Ditched Journalism And Followed Skip Bayless To The Bottom: A Tim Tebow Story – John Koblin [Deadspin]

Deadspin at their best part IV.

Top Ten:

(tie) 10. 120 Reasons Why Football Will Last Forever – J.R. Moehringer [ESPN.com]

This was one of the most unique pieces of writing I read all year.  I can’t quite describe what I like so much about it, but I guarantee that you’ll like it as much as I did.  Given all the research and tragedies that have occurred in the past year in football, I’m almost angry at myself for including this piece in the top ten.  Well worth it though.  A great, great piece of writing.

(tie) 10. On The Trail Of The White Horse – Christopher McDougall [Outside]

It might not surprise you to learn that I spend almost all of my free time reading about sports.  One of the pleasant surprises of plunging down that rabbit hole was my discovery of Outside magazine.  It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like in that they cover stories of those brave souls who challenege the limits of the human body.  Whether it’s running, rock climbing, etc, Outside is the place to go to read about it and has a shockingly good stable of writers to tell their stories.  This was my favorite story from them this year.  It’s well worth the time.

(tie) 10. Man In Full – Chris Ballard [Sports Illustrated]

I still believe that Ballard is the best longform sports reporter in the country, even better than his longform whizkid colleague Thomas Lake.  “Man In Full” was his best piece of the year and tells the story of a high school wrestling coach who battles a rare disease and in the process inspires a generation of young men in his community.  Get the kleenex ready, this one will tug on the heart strings.

9. The Malice At The Palace: An Oral History – Jonathan Abrams [Grantland]

Abrams is doing an extraordinary job with his longform NBA dispatches over at Grantland.  This was his best one yet and easily the best Oral History of any sports subject in the last 12 months.  I think the thing that is most amazing about this story is how happy the participants were to finally discuss and process the events of that night.  They seem to find some kind of release that enabled them to finally move on.  It’s seems impossible, but literally no one has ever approached the athletes who were there that night about discussing what happened.  The Stephen Jackson portions in particular are so, so, so good.  I won’t spoil anything, but you’re probably not shocked to hear that the one person who refused to be interviewed was the man most responsible: Mr. Ron Artest.  Hearing Jackson’s side of things, well, let’s just say the story becomes clear.

8. Will You Still Medal In The Morning? – Sam Alipour [ESPN The Magazine]

You’ve probably heard the rumors about the rampant sex and partying inside the athletes’ village at the Olympics.  Now, for the first time, hear it straight from the mouths of the participants.  Just an all-around fun read on the debauchery that is the Olympics.  It’s also particularly fascinating to hear them explain how natural it all comes as a result of the intense amounts of time and training they put into getting to that point.  Can you really blame them for claiming their reward?

7. The Air Raid Offense: History, Evolution, Weirdness — From Mumme To Leach To Franklin To Holgorsen And Beyond – Chris Brown [Smart Football]

I think my favorite irony about sports in this country is the massive popularity of football and how little fans actually know about the game.  Sure, the casual NFL fan can tell you that Calvin Johnson is a better receiver than Chad Ocho Cinco, but very few could tell you the philosophy behind the Patriots passing attack or what exactly makes Jim Harbaugh’s teams so damn tough.  Enter Chris Brown who does the best job of any writer on the internet of explaining the X’s and O’s of football.  This piece in particular is one of his masterpieces as he draws on his wealth of knowledge and contacts inside the game to write the history of the most entertaining revolution in football of the last two decades.  A must-read if you are a fan of the rise of the spread offenses and passing in general.

6. Breakdown: Death and Disarray At America’s Racetracks – Walt Bogdanich, Joe Drape, Dara L. Miles, and Griffin Palmer [The New York Times]

I’m always a sucker for a good old-fashioned investigative piece, and there was none better this year than the Times’ look into the secret world of horse racing. Delve into this dark world and see the inhumane way in which horses are medicated and abused across this country to support a dying sport. It’s a sad but necessary wakeup call that action must be taken to protect the beautiful animals that make the sport possible.

5. Tom Brady’s Daze Of Disappointment – Dan Wetzel [Yahoo! Sports]

Wetzel is the best columnist in the country in the most traditional sense of the occupation. When you think of a classic sport writer capturing a game for his readers, Wetzel is the guy that should come to mind. In the minutes and hours following the Patriots loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl, watch him find a unique angle for a column and perfectly capture a moment in time, which is exactly what the columnist is supposed to do. So, so good if you’re a fan of old school sports writing.

4. Bury A Man, Keep A Statue – Spencer Hall [EDSBS]

The best sports blogger in the country is also the best college football writer in the country. I’ve said this many times, but it’s worth repeating again, Hall is this generation’s Dan Jenkins. Here is his best effort of the calendar year in which he tackles the delicate issue of Penn State following the Paterno/Sandusky scandal. Watch a master at work.

3. Poisonous Nostalgia – Brian Phillips [Grantland]

For all the writers with talent at Bill Simmons’ website, Brian Phillips is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch. Phillips made a name for himself at Slate and his popular soccer blog Run of Play, but watch him weave a perfect metaphor between Mad Men and Augusta National and what both of those entities teach us about society. When Bill Simmons popularized sports and pop culture writing over a decade ago, he had no idea that it could be done this beautifully.

2. The Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever – Michael Mooney [D Magazine]

Just plain fun, and kind of sad in a Kingpin, Big Lebowski sort of way. Follow the story of a Plano, Texas man who nearly completed the holy grail of the sport of bowling (completing three perfect games in a row). I won’t ruin it, but trust me, time well spent sitting down for this one.  Did I mention that Mooney is a master of the craft?

1. The Truth Is Out There – Patrick Hruby [The PostGame]

By far the piece that left the biggest impression on me this year. It starts out as a fan’s look into all of the best conspiracy theories in every major sport until, by the end, you’re questioning the integrity of every single athletic accomplishment of the last 100 years. Did Stern rig the draft lottery? Duh. Did the NFL willingly let its owners fix games for decades? Probably. Did NBC fix the 2008 men’s Olympic swimming results? Yikes (and yes, yes they did). Take a step into the darker side of sports where the only constant is money.

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CSU Hoops Starts Off Well on the Road

By Nick Childs

It didn’t seem like much of a road atmosphere at Magness Arena in Denver, Colorado as the CSU Rams took on the DU Pioneers.

CSU defeated DU and lead most of the game, especially throughout the second half. Both teams struggled somewhat shooting but the Rams dominated the boards.

DU couldn’t keep up with the size and strength of Colton Iverson and Pierce Hornung. Iverson, a transfer from the University of Minnesota, has been playing very well in his first few games for his new team and new coach. He also recorded his first double-double of the year this evening.

The CSU faithful came in great number and brought great noise. Athletic Director Jack Graham estimated that there were at least 1,000 CSU fans in attendance.

This is a big deal for CSU because they struggled in road contests last year despite being dominant at home.

The Rams are now 3-0 on the season but are still trying to really find their rhythm and identity as a team under first-year coach, Larry Eustachy.

Eustachy runs an up-tempo style on both ends of the floor and it seems to be taking a little time for the players to adjust, but they are doing so well and winning in the process.

Another great sight was Graham leading the CSU alumni sections in the fight song at two different times throughout the night. It’s obvious how much he loves and cares about this program, and that’s incredibly encouraging.

He is proud to be a CSU Ram, and so am I.

Later, nerds.

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