Longform’s Guide to the Best Sports Writing of 2011

Longform.org's guide to the greatest long articles ever written.
Dec. 15 2011 9:52 AM

Longform’s Guide to the Best Sportswriting of 2011

Scandal in Miami, an impostor in Texas, and the rest of the year’s amazing sports stories.

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This week, Longform.org will be counting down its list of the year’s best articles on Slate. For our full list—including the top 10 stories about sports, politics, tech, and more—check out Longform’s Best of 2011. Here now: our favorite sports stories of the year. —The Editors

Jay Caspian Kang • Grantland • June 2011

On the writer’s relationship with a breakthrough Asian athlete:

“It finally occurred to me that I had been ignoring the elephantine irony of this happy scene: I was born in Korea to Korean parents, meaning the only history I share with Ichiro is that on several occasions over the past thousand years, his people have brutally occupied my home country. Rooting for a Japanese baseball player because he fit in the same constructed minority category was like if an Irish ex-pat began rooting for Manchester United because the good people of China couldn't distinguish between his accent and Wayne Rooney's. And in most ways, it was a lot worse than that.”

Samanth Subramanian • Caravan • March 2011

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How Lalit Modi built a billion-dollar cricket empire—only to be exiled from his sport and homeland:

"Among people who know Modi, the opinion that he is motivated by money for its own sake or power for its own sake is rare. More frequently, I heard armchair psychological views of Modi’s outsize ambitions, all of which can be condensed into the phrase ‘I’ll show ’em.’ In these narratives, Modi aims for particularly spectacular success because he’s always trying to prove something—trying to banish the memories of his early failures as a businessman, trying to show that he doesn’t need his family’s network of support, trying to create a property superior to anything the Modi group ever built. The steepness of his ambitions came with its own degree of risk, but that was further compounded by his abrasive personality. ‘Lalit will either be a hero or a zero,’ a family friend said KK Modi once told him. ‘He can never be anything in between.’"

Charles Robinson • Yahoo Sports • August 2011

A booster, now in prison for a Ponzi scheme, goes public with details of how he spent millions on college athletes from 2002 to 2010:

"[Shapiro] said his benefits to athletes included but were not limited to cash, prostitutes, entertainment in his multimillion-dollar homes and yacht, paid trips to high-end restaurants and nightclubs, jewelry, bounties for on-field play including bounties for injuring opposing players, travel and, on one occasion, an abortion."

Michael J. Mooney • GQ • July 2011

On a high school hoops impostor:

“At Nimitz, Jerry never asked for a handout, which, of course, made people all the more willing to help. That summer, when school let out, some of the coaches recommended him for a job in the concession stand at the public pool. Melvon Anders supervised him. Jerry was popular with the teenage girls, a good employee—never late, never snapped at anyone, never had any money missing from his register. One dry-roasted day in August, someone asked him about his home, and Jerry pulled up Google maps on an iPhone. He showed a group, Anders included, a mountain in Haiti where he grew up. He said that most of his life was spent herding goats. They all listened dumbstruck. Goats? A hut on a mountainside? ‘Who were we to question his story,’ Anders says. ‘He was the first Haitian most of us had ever met.’"

6. Dave Duerson's Secret life and Tragic End

Gus Garcia-Roberts • St. Petersburg Times • October 2001

On an NFL player’s demise:

"He had sent text messages and left many handwritten notes, one of which simply read, "Please, see that my brain is given to the NFL's brain bank." He referred to a study center at Boston University specializing in the diagnosis of a disease, common in former NFL players, associated with dementia and depression.

Then Dave pulled the green sheets up to his neck and propped himself up on his elbows. He held a .38 Special handgun to his chest and pulled the trigger.

For Longform’s top five sports stories of 2011, click here.

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