The Best Sports Journalism Ever (According to Bill Simmons)

October 12, 2008 | 15 books mentioned 13 2 min read

I’m still fairly new to reading ESPN’s Bill Simmons (and despite his relentless Boston boosterism, I get a kick out of his columns). One reason is that he has some interests beyond the ballfield, quite rare for folks who make a living in sports punditry, and contained within his columns, you’ll sometimes find gems like the list of “best sports pieces ever written” that he dropped into his “Mailbag” this week.

The list is really terrific, and, as much because I want to remember it as I do share it with you, I decided to try to find links to some of these pieces online (or at least to the books that contain them).

Simmons put the list together after a fan asked him whether his recent footnote-adorned column on Manny Ramirez was in tribute to David Foster Wallace. Simmons said no, but that it was a meaningful coincidence. The reader mentioned Wallace’s famous “Federer as Religious Experience” as an exemplary piece of sports writing. Simmons agreed, but said that it is in fact superseded by Wallace’s “Tennis Player Michael Joyce’s Professional Artistry as a Paradigm for Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie, and Human Completeness,” (from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again) which Simmons calls “one of the single best sports pieces ever written.” He then shares his list of the rest of the best (with the first seven joining “Joyce” as the best ever):

So, literary sports fans, do you have any you want to add to this list? Share in the comments below.

See Also: The New New Journalists, Football Books: A Best Sports Writing Addendum

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.

13 comments:

  1. Gah! This is frustrating. I spent about an hour and a half on Saturday finding the same links. :) You've done it cleaner than I would have, and found all of the Talese links I couldn't.
    Here's the article I'm going to add when I link to here, about Bob Kalsu, the only professional athlete killed in Vietnam.

  2. Soccer?

    (Excellent) novelist Tim Parks wrote a book about following Serie A squad Hellas Verona around Italy for a season (as they tried to avoid relegation – unsuccessfully) with its hardest-core fans called *A Season with Verona,* that's terrific.

    Philip Ball, who covers soccer for The Guardian, wrote a book about Spain, Spanish history, and how it all plays out in Spanish football called *Morbo* that's even better.

  3. Moneyball is so much better written than that excerpt about Michael Jordan. You really get to know the players he profiles, and I teared up at the end.

  4. The best sports book I've read is CLR James' "Beyond a Boundary," which is about cricket but also about sports in general, imperialism, art, race, culture, and the human spirit. It was written in the sixties but still well worth reading, even if like me you have little interest in or understanding of cricket. Particularly worthwhile are his chapters on whether sports can be considered art (the answer is basically yes).

    Here's a great review by Joseph O'Neill (author of Netherland):

    http://www.powells.com/review/2007_09_11.html

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