What An Opportunity

A sample platter of stories that matter

In Sports on November 22, 2013 at 10:51 pm

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I sat on my couch and thought: I’ve read a lot of good sportswriting this week, but no single piece stands out as clearly the best.

Thus, I decided to change up the format this time around for The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week – a weekly column aimed at exposing the best piece of sports literary journalism I have perused each week. This time, it’s going to be a sample platter of sorts – a rundown of four of the most well-written, intriguing pieces I have read this week. And the spectrum varies – there are stories about both basketball and football, funny pieces and serious pieces, but it is all golden.

1. If you’ve read this section before, you know how much I love Bill Simmons. So it should come as no surprise that he made the list yet again this week. This time, though, it isn’t for one of his patented weekly NFL picks columns (though his picks are included in a sidebar). It is for this piece: All Hail Megatron.

I have to admit I was thoroughly excited to see Simmons had written something longform on one single topic, and he didn’t disappoint. His case for considering Calvin Johnson one of the greatest receivers of all-time – already!!! – is well-articulated and thoughtful. Here’s what I respect most about it: Simmons defends his argument with anecdotes and stats. He saw Jerry Rice play in his heyday, and he’s seeing Megatron play in his. But he doesn’t just talk about what it was like watching each of them play (though that does help, too). He provides stats. Lots of ’em. Enhanced stats. Prediction stats. That takes effort. Simmons may be a genius, and he may be a comic, but he grinds hard to be good at what he does. This piece is an example of the goodness of Bill Simmons.

2. Back to Grantland! Check this piece out – The NFL’s Modern Man.

If the artwork (at the top of this column) doesn’t hook you, the story will. Connor Barwin is a linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s also a – well, as the story puts it, “bike-riding, socially conscious, Animal Collective–loving hipster.”

Author Robert Mays does a stellar job capturing Barwin’s essence – he’s a hipster, sure, but not in a pretentious way. He’s really just a down-to-earth dude who likes indie music and happens to be huge and play football. Mays clearly spent some time with Barwin for this piece – they even had pizza! – and he did a great job telling the eclectic story of an eclectic man. I highly recommend it.

3. From football to basketball! Women’s basketball…err, men’s basketball…err, both at the same time? That’s right: This New York Times story discusses the Mixed Gender Basketball Association, a professional basketball league incorporating male and female athletes into the same game.

Crazy, right? I thought so, too. But the more this piece went on, the more we got to hear from John Howard about the pros and cons and possibilities of implementing this kind of basketball association, the more I wanted to see it happen. This story probably happened in a day – Harvey Araton probably went to the New Jersey for the tryout and wrote the story shortly afterward (perhaps even the same day, on deadline). It’s impressive writing, but nothing glamorous. It’s just a tremendous topic, and it’s something I expect to hear more of in the future.

4. Last, but never least, Kyrie Irving’s handle. Last year, when he broke Brandon Knight’s ankles, I think America became aware of the greatness that is Irving’s ball-handling ability. I remember being in shock when he led Duke as a freshman over my Michigan State Spartans. He was 18 years old and he went off! Thirty-one points! It was so painful, but I knew Irving was something special.

But where did it all begin? How did this kid – remember, he’s still just 21 years old – get so darn good with the basketball? As a basketball apologist, I’ve asked myself that question many times since his emergence. Bleacher Report provides the comprehensive answer here: Kyrie Irving Reveals His Ball-Handling Secrets.

I have to say, Bleacher Report has truly improved as a sports journalism outlet since its addition of several big-name sportswriters – Bleacher Report adds Howard Beck; expected to go after more writers with big-money offers.

And if that topic doesn’t interest you, you should at least check out the greatest thing Kyrie Irving has ever done: the Uncle Drew commercials. Buckets.

Recent entries of The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week:

Nov. 16, 2013: An explosion of color

Nov. 8, 2013: Is it time to rethink America’s game?

Oct. 30, 2013: A blast-off of creativity

Oct. 27, 2013: Reflections on a cold-blooded feature

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  1. […] I read this week” – as you have probably seen on Gentlemen of Sport quite a bit, with my weekly The Best Sportswriting I Read This Week section. If sportswriting isn’t your thing, I appreciate you tolerating my incessant […]

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