Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My 10 Favorite Sportswriters Now

As a writer/journalist, sometimes I feel it's great to share folks who inspire you. I was raised to always pay respect to those who inspire you and I never stop giving props to those who make me want to pick up a pen and keep getting better at what they do.

I tend to favor folks who are reasonable yet passionate. They share information as well as come across as grounded. They aren’t caught up in themselves. They tell stories. I admit some of them are entertaining as well but from a strictly writing standpoint, these are the people I read to help me become a better writer.

Just to clarify, these are my favorites who are living now. I’ve mentioned before how David Halberstam influenced me as someone who loved context, loved to share history and could give you a full story without filler/BS. I also didn't mention perhaps the most recent influence on me, Bomani Jones, and I'll explain why in my next list of my favorite writers.

Jonathan Abrams – I’ve been reading Abrams since 2007 when he used to be the Clippers beat writer at the LA Times and I was a young cub at the LA Sentinel. He’s graduated to write for the NY Times and now Grantland and what I love most about his writing? No BS, no sense of self-importance. Just straightforward storytelling.

He’s written fabulous pieces such as the oral history of the Malice at the Palace and features on Stephen Jackson and JR Smith. He has a gift of finding the humanity in his subjects and make them more real and less caricature. For a guy who’s my age, I look up to him as a model of good reporting/writing and it doesn't hurt that he was recently featured in Rolling Stone as a guy to watch.

Will Leitch – Yes, he’s the father of Deadspin, a site I’m no fan of. He also changed my outlook on sports with his book “God Save The Fan” in terms of how I see sports, ESPN and other aspects of the sports industrial complex.

He’s writing for Joe Posnanski’s site Sports on Earth and his takes on sports, his Cardinals fandom and anything else are usually well argued, grounded in reality. His recent piece comparing sports and political fandom was dead on and I’ve noticed this trend amplified over the last decade. Despite what he created at Deadspin, he's one of the most insightful writers around right now.

Wright Thompson – If you’ve read some of the longer features on ESPN.com, I’d assume Thompson wrote most of your favorites. A recap of Guerdwich Montimere? (the former Florida hoopster who lied about his age to play in Odessa, TX).  An indepth look at Lionel Messi? That’s him.

He’s the new squire of Oxford (to paraphrase James Baldwin’s description of William Faulkner) and he subscribes to honest journalism that swims in streams of consciousness style. The man constantly teaches me how to write a long story that keeps folks interesting.

Charles P. Pierce – The grizzled veteran of Grantland (who also wrote for the Boston Herald, The National, Esquire and many more), Pierce writes like you’d expect more older folks to speak. Say what’s on your mind, do it your way and care little what people think. Except he writes with common sense to deconstruct myths we have on sports (when he’s not writing about his beloved Red Sox)

I love what he’s written on steroids in baseball, Kentucky’s road to the national title, and the Ozzie Guillen-Fidel Castro firestorm. He's one of my favorites at Grantland bar none. Speaking of which.

Bill Simmons – I have a love/hate relationship with him. At times I hate his anti-Lakers, pro-Boston bias. He comes off annoying and even more full of himself in the Grantland era. As he gets more exposure on TV, he sounds even more snide instead of the cutting edge guy I read in college.

Yet I’ll say it again. He’s been one of the most influential folks on my writing style, mixing in pop culture, analysis and personality. His influence over the past decade of sportswriting, for better or worse, has been immense. And when he writes brilliance like this or this or recently this? I remember why I respect him. He’s become more free on Grantland and when it works, he’s dead on.

Jemele Hill – Still enjoy reading her like I did the day I saw her first story on Page 2 in college.  Why? She tells it like it is. For my money, she’s the best female columnist on ESPN besides Jackie MacMullan and a reminder to never leave your style at home. She’ll talk to you like somebody’s momma on whatever issue she speaks on but it’s less condescending, more “let me put you on game”.

Holly MacKenzie – Holly’s a joy on Twitter and I’m not saying that because she’s the only writer on this list who follows me. From her positivity to her love of music and creativity, you can’t read her timeline without feeling better for it. She's written for Bleacher Report, Ball Don't Lie and now does reports for her native Toronto Raptors in Canada.

Like Abrams, she loves to find the humanity in her subjects and doesn't waste words telling a story. Whether it’s writing about DeMar DeRozan's growth or anybody else, she knows her stuff as well as anybody and I enjoy her work.

Dan Wetzel – I had to pick one Yahoo guy for my list and it was hard. Adrian Wojnarowski is no less deserving of this spot as perhaps the best NBA guy on the beat today. His columns are a must-read but his news tidbits are usually the first to break a story. (Same with Marc Spears too.)

But I’m going with Wetzel, whose 2012 work will no doubt be featured for years to come. His reporting on the Penn State scandal/trial was brilliant. His postgame Super Bowl column was storytelling at its best that made you feel sorry for Tom Brady while adding context to the Patriots’ surprising loss. I feel smarter when I read his stuff.

JA Adande – I’ve grown up reading Adande since he was a columnist for the LA Times. One of my saddest days as a journalist was reading his last column for the LAT as they began cutting folks out.

It doesn’t change the fact that Adande’s one of the best NBA writers around. When I read him, I see somebody who’s going to give straight talk, great insight and focus on his subject without making it about him.

Dave ZirinThe Chuck D of sportswriters, I respect Zirin for not just being provocative but using his space to raise awareness to global sports issues and give you context for labor disputes, college athletes not being paid and reminding you that athletes are simply workers on a higher pay scale.

He writes with edge and he angers folks but he knows his stuff. Bad Owners and Welcome to the Terrordome are must-reads, especially the former as it reminds you to never forget who really has the power and controls the game we all love. I always feel like I learn something new reading him and it appeals to the activist side in me.

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