As 2014 draws eerily to a close, I look back at all the reading I’ve done this year and pick out a solid 20 stories to recommend.
I am a college student, reporter gratis for my campus’ newspaper and employee of Syracuse University guest services, which doesn’t leave me with a ton of time. I’m also not a professional writer who has the luxury of reading obscure material from far-flung parts of the nation, so if you’re looking for exposes on New Mexican runners named “Caballo Blanco” – a great story told here – then I am not your man, unfortunately.
I have, however, read plenty of material from two magazines I subscribe to – Sports Illustrated and ESPN the Magazine. I read from other sources as articles are recommended to me, but for this article I shall stick to recommending SI and ESPN because that is what I know best. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a collection of the best stories I have read this year, ones I believe are worth your time. (Those in bold, more so.) Without further ado, here they are:
From Sports Illustrated:
“The Other Side of A Miracle” by Thomas Lake
- This is a powerful one-year retrospective at the 2013 Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama. The tragedy for Alabama fans, the triumph of Auburn, but more than that: The microcosm of Alabama state’s thirst for seriousness in football told through two sisters, whose tragic story unfolds to the reader.
“Inside An Agency” by Austin Murphy
- Blake Bortles plummet down the 2014 draft boards is captured by Murphy’s terrific piece. But the real story is the Jacksonville Jaguars skulduggery which included fudging their own draft board to feign disinterest in Bortles. Murphy’s reporting is stellar.
“The Comeback Kids” by Thomas Lake
- The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Class-A affiliate squanders an 18-1 lead only to lose in extra innings.
“Beísbol Prospectus” by Eric Nusbaum
- Guerrilla sabermetricians trying to locate the best talent in U.S.-embargoed in Cuba. Need I say more?
From ESPN the Mag:
“9 Exits on America’s Football Highway” by Wright Thompson
- 540 miles on America’s super highway through its second-largest state helps Thompson find the stories that make Texas football, Texas football. He travels through Odess, TX. the birthplace of “Friday Night Lights” to track down Boobie Miles, the cast-off Running Back from the book as well as two high school underclassmen on their journey to high school football greatness.
“A Family Kind of Town” by Joel Anderson
- Adrian Peterson is suspended from the NFL, his appeal denied and he is ostracized for punishing his child harshly with a snitch. Bring up these allegations in his Texas hometown and everyone shrugs. They’re still behind his back, because they spank their children’s backsides too. It’s the Texan way, they say.
“Held Up in Customs” by Kate Fagan
- Britney Griner forgoes the WNBA to play in China under the described tyranny of a coach who’s formerly of Korean military.
“I Am Not Very Good Yet” by Eli Saslow
- Joel Embiid came to America from Cameroon, started playing basketball, and – in the subsequent two years – flew up recruiting lists and draft boards until he was considered possibly the best player in the draft. And he’s just starting.
“The Man With 200 Teammates” by Eli Saslow
- Semi-professional basketball is tough. Vander Blue of the ____ (What team could he be affiliated with? He’s been with 15+ just this year) is one of those guys going through the cycle. Saslow’s reporting is superb in finding Blue’s tricks to game the system.
“Off Balance” by Andrew McNeill
- Matt Bonner, San Antonio Spurs Power Forward and off-court comedic genius, takes to Twitter to find a pair of shoes.
“Shadowed by the Hand of God” by Wright Thompson
- Set the scene: Argentina, pre-World Cup, struggles with whom to associate: Diego Maradona, the country’s hard-partying world champion, or the little, quiet, assassin in Lionel Messi, who has yet to bring them home a cup.
“Portrait of a Serial Winner” by Wright Thompson
- This piece as the best of the year from either of these magazines. I’ve argued with others who have read this if Thompson should have picked a different lede – for example, the fact that Suarez is a modern day Gatsby because of his girlfriend – but this is a sensational piece that digs at the core of following a story to verify an anecdote oft-associated with a player.
“Awakening the Giant” by Seth Wickersham
- Y.A. Tittle, the former Quarterbacking great, battles Alzheimers as he prepares for a family gathering.
One bonus, from Grantland
“Keyon Dooling’s Secret” by Jordan Ritter Conn
- Keyon Dooling’s shame from an incident when he is 14-years-old is triggered when a man touches him inappropriately in a Seattle bathroom years later. Dooling battles shame, regret and understanding as he fights to accept himself and advocate for others.