Here at Awful Announcing, and across the sports media world, we spent a lot of time talking about TV. And while TV is a fun and dynamic medium (and, more importantly, pays the bills) we sometimes forget the less-heralded heroes of sports media: the writers. So with that in mind, we’ve launched a feature in which we recap the highlights of the past month in of sportswriting, including some recommendations for stories you may have missed.
Quick disclaimer: Obviously I have not read all sportswriting of the past month or even all notable sportswriting. If I were to read every piece that was recommended in my Twitter feed, I’d never sleep, so it’s not only possible but also likely that I’m missing some really good stuff. With that in mind, don’t treat this feature as a comprehensive documentation of the month’s sportswriting. Think of it as a series of recommendations from a regular guy who likes to read.
If you’re interested in finding the best writing on a week-to-week basis (on sports and non-sports topics), stop what you’re doing and subscribe to the Sunday Long Read, a newsletter compiled by Don Van Natta and Jacob Feldman. I also get great recommendations from Jared Diamond and Mike Vorkunov’s weekly newsletter and from Richard Deitsch’s weekly column on SI.com.
OK, with that out of the way, let’s recap the month in sportswriting. It was a good one.
Sportswriter of the month: ESPN’s NBA team
I know this is cheating, but there wasn’t a single sportswriter who stood out for having an exceptional month in March. The month’s real MVP was the entire NBA team at ESPN, particularly at ESPN, the Magazine.
March began with Ramona Shelburne’s thorough dive into the Buss family, through the eyes of Jeanie. In the middle of the month came Tim Keown’s insightful profile of Russell Westbrook. Later on we got “The Tinderization of today’s NBA” by Tom Haberstroh and “The NBA’s Secret Addiction” by Baxter Holmes, both of which were fun off-beat stories that revealed small but rich parts of the NBA culture.
Those stories, all from one outlet covering one sport, were all among the best sportswriting March had to offer.
Best blog post:
Tim Tebow’s throwing mechanics are as bizarre as ever; by David Roth, VICE Sports
The only sensible way to write about Tim Tebow’s baseball career is to mercilessly mock it, as David Roth does here. Because seriously, just look at the photo of Tebow throwing.
Best oral history:
The New Testament: An oral history of Mike Trout’s greatest moments to date; by Ben Reiter, Sports Illustrated
The quotes in this piece make Mike Trout seem less like a baseball player and more like Sidd Finch-type mythical being. It turns out Trout isn’t just good as baseball, he’s also good at golf, video games and pranks. Not parking, though.
The month in sportswriting news:
- FanSided CEO and founder Adam Best is leaving the company.
- SB Nation named Elena Bergeron its first editor-in-chief.
- ESPN baseball reporter Adam Rubin announced he was leaving journalism, then revealed that ESPN had let him go, possibly due to cord-cutting.
- A Kentucky basketball writer tweeted a video of Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall’s intoxicated wife. The NCAA made him take it down.
- Bill Simmons called out former colleague Jonah Keri on Twitter. We’re still not really sure if he was serious.
- Jamie Mottram, founder of USA TODAY’s For the Win, is leaving Gannett under somewhat mysterious circumstances.
- NASCAR writer Jeff Gluck and Philadelphia 76ers writer Derek Bodner are crowd-funding their journalism, which could be the future of sports media.
- Sports Illustrated laid off NFL writer Greg Bedard as part of what seems like perpetual downsizing.
Stories of the month:
The gentrification of college hoops; by Tom Farrey, The Undefeated
That rags-to-riches narrative people in basketball love to talk about? Turns out its somewhere between outdated and downright mythical.
Bob Huggins has no plans on changing, whether you like it or not; by Dana O’Neill, ESPN
Even the most curmudgeonly guy has a soft side, and Bob Huggins proves to be a fascinating case study in this profile.
Throwing in the chair: The increasingly bizarre and sad legacy of Bob Knight and Indiana; by L. Jon Wertheim, Indianapolis Monthly
I went into this piece thinking how irrelevant Bob Knight seems in 2017… which turned out to be exactly the point.
When it’s baseball forever; by Tyler Kepner, New York Times
A simple and almost poetic ode to baseball, through six men who have been part of the game a long, long time.
The Great Communicator; by Katie Baker, The Ringer
This is a nice profile of Terry Francona, a grizzled baseball man who’s also one of the game’s top innovators.
“You sure you’re ready for this?;” by Eli Saslow, ESPN
Eli Saslow one of the best writers in America, brings to life Yoan Moncada, who is precocious on a baseball field and something else off of it.
How Dodgers GM Farhan Zaidi became one of the most coveted minds in baseball; by Andy McCullough, Los Angeles Times
A simple but detail-rich profile of one of baseball’s best—and most interesting—front-office executives
Out at home, by Bruce Schoenfeld, ESPN
Did you know there are few Dominicans of Haitian descent in American baseball? Did you know that of those few, most don’t publicly admit to having Haitian heritage. Bruce Schoenfeld went to the Dominican Republic to explore why that is.
This is the Rough N Rowdy, where a forgotten town dukes it out every year; by Wesley Lowery, Washington Post
This isn’t a sports story, per se, but there’s a (compellingly unique) sporting event at the center of it.
How black Utah Jazz players have embraced Salt Lake City; by Marc Spears, The Undefeated
I now can’t watch a Utah Jazz game without thinking of this article.
How did the Lakers get here? The story inside the Buss drama; by Ramona Shelburne, ESPN
Just a couple weeks after the Lakers massively overhauled their front office, promoting Magic Johnson to team president, Ramona Shelburne had put together this deeply reported piece that doubles as a behind-the-scenes look at Lakerland and a profile of Jeanie Buss.
The Beard: James Harden Untangles His Life And Game; by Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated
No NBA player is really an MVP candidate until he’s been profiled by Lee Jenkins. This Kardashian-infused piece on James Harden is crisply written and full of access-fueled insights.
And my three favorite pieces of sportswriting from the month of March…
3. Barry Bonds, Pac-Man and the greatest baseball fun fact of all time; by Sam Miller
I promise this is the most fun article you’ll ever read about an inane baseball fact.
2. The voice of the Tar Heels, Woody Durham, lives with a painful silence; by Andrew Carter, News & Observer
This is a three-part masterpiece on the cruel irony of a man known for his voice losing the ability to speak. The broad narrative is irresistible, but this story really shines in its details.
1. The NBA’s Secret Addiction; by Baxter Holmes, ESPN
Not every story has to be weighty and serious and important. In this piece, Baxter Holmes turns the most trivial subject matter—NBA players’ favorite pregame snack—into a brilliant must-read. The anecdotes are hilarious, the quotes are delightful and the descriptions of different players’ PB&J preferences are unbelievable. This is a wonderful feature.