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Friday, January 3, 2014

My Favourite Reads from 2013

Last year, I started trying to keep track of some of the favourite things I read over the course of the year. Most definitely, this is a subjective list, so it tilts towards my tastes.

With only so many hours in the day, I have to pick and choose what I'll even get around to reading (and I surely miss many things), but over a year, there are still a lot of fascinating, illuminating, funny, interesting, tragic or devastating stories that catch my attention.

I'm no Richard Deitsch, the Sports Illustrated media writer who always seems to be finding great stories on the web; in fact, Deitsch's recommendations make up a decent part of this list, but these were my favourite reads from 2013, ranging from light-hearted and humourous to some heavy stuff.

I've broken it into three categories, Sports, Entertainment and Other, which basically encompasses the real world, away from the fun and games.

SPORTS
The Best Hockey Player I Ever Played Against
Forgive me for including one of my own; a fun story for me, to look back at some of the best players I competed against in my much younger days as it appears that the best of them is highly unlikely to resume his NHL playing career.

My Life as a Young Thug - Mike Tyson, New York Magazine
I recently watched Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth on HBO and this essay covers some of the content in that show, what it was like for Tyson to grow up as a delinquent in Brooklyn (Brownsville and Bed-Stuy), eventually to be steered towards the heavyweight championship by late trainer Cus D'Amato. Seeing the HBO show, Tyson is much more self-aware than I would have ever expected.

The Gangster in the Huddle - Paul Solotaroff with Ron Borges, Rolling Stone
One of the biggest sports stories of the year centered around Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez being charged with murder and this story provided a lot of the background with respect to how Hernandez ended up on the wrong path.

Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building - Wright Thompson, ESPN.com
Michael Jordan remains a compelling figure, well into his retirement, and with unusual access, Thompson provided a portrait of a competitor who is still adjusting to retired life.

Exit Sandman: Baseball bids adieu to Mariano Rivera - Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated
Interesting recollections from other major leaguers as well as a great story about what Rivera did for a family from Kansas City.

The Founding Fathers of Fantasy - Patrick Hruby, Sports on Earth
I'm not sure I ever expected to see stories about the origins of Fantasy Sports, yet between this one, about a fantasy football league that started in Oakland in 1963, and the 30-for-30 documentary on the first Rotisserie baseball league in 2010, there is actually some history behind what has become a multi-billion-dollar business...one that, near as I can tell, attracts only the best and the brightest.
 
Verbatim: Stats guru Jeff Sagarin - Andy Glockner, SI.com
Part Two
Not everyone will be fascinated by insights from one of the first sports stats/rankings gurus but a rare Sagarin interview was interesting to me.

Meet the World's Top NBA Gambler - Scott Eden, ESPN the Magazine
Getting a little of the inside story on a pro hoops gambler, Haralabob Voulgaris, who was a panelist at the 2013 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

Theater of Pain - Tom Junod, Esquire
Football players suffer for their careers. This one's a starting point.

Jason Taylor's Pain Shows NFL's World of Hurt - Dan LeBatard, Miami Herald
Had no idea that Taylor was going through some of these things, including playing while he had a catheter taped under his arm to fight a staph infection. "Players play. It is who we are. We always think we can overcome."

Brad Johnson paying physical price for long NFL career - Robert Klemko, USA Today
Current players should all be checking out the effects on guys who have been through the battles already.

Slow Getting Up - Nate Jackson, TheMMQB.com
An excerpt from Jackson's book, Slow Getting Up, about the grind of being a fringe NFL player.

What It's Like to Get Whacked - Austen Lane, TheMMQB.com
Any time you can get a look inside the locker room, particularly for something as life-changing as being bounced from the job, it's a fascinating read.

Breaking Real Bad: Inside the Sam Hurd Drug Case - Michael McKnight, TheMMQB.com
I remembered reading that Hurd was charged in a drug trafficking case, which sounded like an incredibly bad decision, but even with bad decisions, there's more to the story.

Why Sports Gambling Should be Legal - Brian Tuohy, Sports on Earth
It's preposterous to me that this is still an issue and I find a lot of the arguments against to be disingenuous.

20 Minutes at Rucker Park - Flinder Boyd, SB Nation
Boyd tracks street-baller TJ Webster as he makes a cross-country trek, by bus from Sacramento, in the hopes of impressing in the open run at Rucker Park in Harlem.

How the U.S. hockey team was named - Scott Burnside, ESPN.com
Okay, I'm cheating because this was from January 1, 2014 but, since my list is going up on January 3, 2014, take a look at how the U.S. men's hockey team was selected. Fascinating behind-the-scenes dynamics that revealed some not-so-flattering things about the decision-makers, even moreso than the players that they critiqued.

ENTERTAINMENT
Good Will Hunting: An Oral History - Janelle Nanos, Boston Magazine
Some have argued, over the past year, that oral histories are played out, but not me. I love the background information and for one of my favourite movies, I definitely like them apples.

The Uncensored Oral History of 'The Hangover' - Matthew Belloni, Lacey Rose, The Hollywood Reporter
Not surprisingly, a fun read, that basically makes the case for the Hangover as a Las Vegas infomercial.

Soul Men: The Making of the Blues Brothers - Ned Zeman, Vanity Fair
I think the story here might be that I will read your oral history if it's about any topic about which I'm remotely interested.

Cinema Tarantino: The Making of Pulp Fiction - Mark Seal, Vanity Fair

Matt Damon Interview - Tom Junod, Esquire
A fascinating profile of a huge star, who is famous enough to hang with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, and tell a cool story about Bono, yet embrace that he can still do normal things like walk his kids to school.

George Clooney's Rules For Living, Tom Junod, Esquire
Great access for Junod, again, and the paragraph about Clooney's gags on Meryl Streep and Don Cheadle alone made it a fun read.

Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie - Stephen Rodrick, New York Times
If not train-wreck television, then how about train-wreck magazine reporting? Also, interesting to see a director, who is convinced he can get a performance out of Lohan as her career is swirling the bowl, like so many coaches who think they can turn around that mercurial talent.

The God of 'SNL' Will See You Now - Dave Itzkoff, New York Times
I've loved Saturday Night Live for a long time, not so much now, but it was cool to hear how anxious and nervous some have been when auditioning for Lorne Michaels.

The Perfect Life of Hugh Hefner - Chris Jones, Esquire
I can't imagine considering Hefner's current life perfect -- he's had some pretty great days, I'm sure -- but Hef and his routine was fascinating.

Wrestling's Greatest Shoots, Volume 1: Bruiser Brody vs. Lex Luger - David Shoemaker, Grantland
I like the way Shoemaker writes intelligently about pro wrestling which, on most days, isn't very intelligent at all. He covered five "shoots" (when something in pro wrestling goes off-script) over the course of the year, but it seems like there should be a whole lot more of these fascinating stories -- the underbelly of what can be an unseemly business.

When We Held Kings - Eric Raskin, Grantland
An oral history of the 2003 World Series of Poker, won by Chris Moneymaker, which really ignited the poker boom over the last decade.

OTHER
Invisible Child - Girl in the Shadows: Dasani's Homeless Life - Andrea Elliott, New York Times
I'm regularly crushed when reading about kids whose families struggle -- it's not like children ask to be born into these circumstances -- and this story about a talented, yet troubled, girl in New York City was very well done.

After Newtown Shooting, Parents Enter into the Lonely Quiet - Eli Saslow, The Washington Post
Eli Saslow writes some brilliant pieces, and spending time with mourning Newtown parents is a hard read, but I appreciate mourning loss and wish the best for all those shattered families.

In rural Tennessee, a new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck - Eli Saslow, The Washington Post
A story about poverty and helping starving children in Tennessee. A look at a world with which I'm, fortunately, not very familiar but, again, not easy to read about children facing such adversity.

Too Much of Too Little - Eli Saslow, Washington Post
One more from Saslow, showing how people on food stamps are costing more money because they invariably have health issues that are directly related to the dietary choices they make or, realistically, can afford.

Wildcatting: A Stripper's Guide to the Modern American Boomtown - Susan Elizabeth Shepherd, Buzzfeed
A first-person account of the not-so-glamourous, but sometimes well-paid, life of being a stripper in an oil town, Williston, North Dakota.

The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden - Phil Bronstein, Esquire
I realize there is some dispute over the veracity of the story, but it reads like a movie. Maybe something like Zero Dark Thirty?

The Manhunt for Christopher Dorner - Reported by Christopher Goffard, Joel Rubin, Louis Sahagun, Kurt Streeter and Phil Willon and written by Goffard. Also contributing were Joseph Serna, Kate Mather and Nicole Santa Cruz.
Amazing reporting about the former LAPD cop who went on a revenge shooting spree, killing police officers.

Carjack victim recounts his harrowing night - Eric Moskowitz, Boston Globe
There were a number of stories about the Boston Marathon Bombing, and the immediate reporting was excellent, but this piece was quite a slice of life in the Tsarnaev brothers' attempted escape.

Alfred Anaya Put Secret Compartments in Cars. So the DEA Put Him in Prison - Brendan I. Koerner, Wired
Don't do anything that will put you in the crosshairs of the DEA.

The Brand - David Grann, The New Yorker (February, 2004)
This classic story, about the Aryan Brotherhood, only came to my attention this year. Still extremely scary stuff almost a decade later.

The Serial Killer Has Second Thoughts: The Confessions of Thomas Quick - Chris Heath, GQ
A bizarre story about a serial killer who...isn't a serial killer?

What We lost: Remembering Newtown victim Jack Pinto
Got a little dusty reading about one of the Newtown victims, six-year-old Jack Pinto, who was really into sports.

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