These were the best pieces I read in 2017.
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.