The Fairy Tale and the Nightmare
On the sweltering morning of Nov. 26, 2016, Hélio Zampier Neto, a 31-year-old journeyman pro soccer player, awoke next to his wife, Simone, in the gritty agro-industrial city of Chapecó in Southern Brazil. In his mind rolled the remnants of a dream, images made fearsome by the thought of the coming hours. Soon Neto and his teammates on Chapecoense, the startling new force in the premier soccer nation's premier league, would board a jet for the first flight of a five-day, three-nation trip—the most celebrated journey of their lives. (continue reading)
In Oakland, Jon Gruden Is Ready to Grind
Jon Gruden has this idea for a story. It’s not his story—not yet—though it’s clear he’d like it to be. And maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise. He did spend plenty of time in the dark, alone, over the last decade, and that would set any man, even one who tries to “stay in two feet of water, don’t get too deep or philosophical,” to thinking. Then there’s the fact that at 54 you hear a lot about guys your age getting hit by cancer or heart attack, here one day and—boom!—gone the next. So, yeah, Gruden formulated this theory about purpose and fraudulence and death. He jotted down some notes and even a title, The Football Gods. (continue reading)
Cuonzo Martin, the Fight for His Life and Why He Took the Job as Head Coach of Missouri
Missouri? When Valencia Martin first heard, last March, that her brother had been offered the head basketball job at the state’s flagship university, she was hoping that he’d say no. Why not stay at Cal? Or pursue the far less fraught post at Illinois? “There was so much going on with Mizzou,” she says. “With all the racial tension, a lot of minority students were leaving. It really was a scary place for me. I was just, like, Ugh.” (continue reading)
I Feel Lost. I Feel Like a Child’: The Complicated Decline of Nick Buoniconti
They owned the lobby back then. Heads always turned. Men tried not to stare. Kids edged close. The women smiled wider, spoke a bit louder, and maybe their interest was innocent but they sure took the story back home with them, the one about—You won’t believe!—the big name they saw checking into the hotel. (continue reading)
Why Swimmer Katie Ledecky is so Dominant
A little girl at the doctor’s office, ear aching. Remember this image when you hear the name Katie Ledecky this summer, and you will hear that name a lot, usually surrounded by phrases like “greatest female athlete alive” or “11 world records” (that number could well change) or “shivers the spines of everyone in the pool.” You may also hear “balanced” and “self-possessed” and “enrolling at Stanford,” followed by mention of the 19-year-old freestyler’s close family and habit of saying a ready-room Hail Mary. (continue reading)
Let Rio Be Rio
It was hard to tell if the body on the median was dead. If not, it wouldn’t be a body anymore; it would not be an “it,” but revert back to being a “he,” with a name and a family who still had hope: Maybe a wife. Maybe some kids. But at this moment, sometime after 3:30 a.m. last Friday morning, on the well lit and quiet grass between lanes on Avenida Embaixador Abelardo Bueno, it lay heavy on its left side, as if one man’s struggle for comfort was abruptly done. (continue reading)
The Tank of Dagestan
It’s easy, self-serving and—who knows?—perhaps even right for Russia to blame the U.S. for its belligerent image, massive doping scandal and frustrating inability to dominate the world. But in one respect the Bear owes America, big time. It was Yankee ingenuity, after all, that cooked up the wondrous nickname, “The Russian Tank,” and no embodiment of fearsome agility, not to mention Putinesque aggression, was better dubbed. (continue reading)
The First Team of Olympian Refugees Will Be Competing for Dignity
They ran. So goes the first act of a refugee: a scramble for food or clothing, a grab of the nearest helping hand, flight. Were the soldiers coming to take territory? Coming for forced conscripts the way they did two years before, when Yiech Pur Biel’s father ran and never came back? In those first moments it didn’t matter; the soldiers were coming. So Biel and his mother, two sisters and younger brother rushed out of their home, five more drops in the human flood rushing into the scrubby forest outside the town of Nasir, in the northeast of what would soon become South Sudan. (continue reading)
Serena Williams is Sports Illustrated's 2015 Sportsperson of the Year
Real life? For Serena Williams that’s the easy part now. That’s how it works when you zoom—beyond tennis, beyond $74 million in prize money, beyond one of the greatest late-career runs in sports history—into celebrity hyperspace. That’s how it is when each “Come on!” is taken as a war cry by everyone from “Lean in” women to age-defying codgers to body-shamed kids to #BlackLivesMatter protesters to, yes, the voices of racial conciliation. The outside world accommodates. Real life does you favors. (continue reading)
Max Lenox's Amazing Journey to Much-Admired Army Hoops Captain
Here is a nightmare. On Feb. 12, 1992, at 2:34 a.m., a boy was born in a Philadelphia hospital. The mother, 25 years old and with five children already, had been an alcoholic since she was 14; during this pregnancy she had spent most of her welfare checks on crack. Hospital staffers assumed the worst: that the pus oozing from the newborn’s eyes indicated chlamydia, that the tenseness in his body was a sign of withdrawal. It was no shock when tests confirmed his exposure to cocaine. (continue reading)
The Writer and the Puzzle: Richard Ben Cramer Couldn't Crack A-Rod
This was 1981. Mark Bowden, American reporter, had just arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, for his first overseas assignment. He was sitting at a sidewalk table, jetlagged head aswim with black rhinos and African mystique, feeling alone, off-kilter: It was the Fourth of July. Now came headlights, the pop-pop of motorcycles; now men and machines jumped the curb and closed in on him and sputtered to a halt. A rider, grin framed by an explosion of hair and beard, straightened up and held out an unlit and fragrant joint. (continue reading)
How Barry Levinson's Diner Changed Cinema, 30 Years Later
For a little movie without special effects, dramatic reveals, or cutting-edge sex scenes—a movie about nothing at all, really—Barry Levinson’s 1982 comedy, Diner, caused a tectonic shift in popular culture. It paved the way for Seinfeld, Pulp Fiction, The Office, and Judd Apatow’s career, and made stars of Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Barkin, and Paul Reiser. Three decades later, S. L. Price reports how a novice director and his raw cast broke all the rules—and stumbled into genius. (continue reading)
"Miami has a history of bad deals, but I would rank this Number 1."
Art of the Deal Gone Wrong
Late on the afternoon of Saturday, Feb. 23, with the light going buttery and the sky a perfect blue, with temperatures in the 70s and a slight breeze rustling the palm fronds—precisely the conditions that supposedly distract South Floridians from matters such as civic decay and the woes of their sports teams—nearly 1,000 men and women filled the chairs set up on an indoor volleyball court at the University of Miami. Some could barely speak. Ron Fraser had been dead more than a month. They still didn't want to let him go. (continue reading)
Calipari's detractors delight in noting that he has always left town one step ahead of the sheriff
Too Slick, Too Loud, Too Successful
There was a time, early on, when it seemed easy to peg John Calipari. Back in the late ’80s he was just another pretty face, one more Pat Riley clone with the slick hair and dazzling patter, the just-so suits and shoes. Talent flocked to him, but he radiated a knockoff’s flimsiness: too much talk and an ambition about as subtle as sharkskin. Opposing recruiters wanted to beat him bloody. Opposing coaches tried to sabotage his hiring. Omens? His first game as a head coach, the scoreboard caught fire. You just didn’t figure Calipari for the long haul. (continue reading)
When the Iroquois Nationals travel ... they carry a mystique born of Hollywood imagery and pure novelty.
Pride of a Nation
The wood is alive, they say. Yes, a good stick talks to you when it's finished and agleam: begging to be picked up and cradled, demanding that you rake the nearest ball into the cow-gut webbing that with time becomes so sensitive, so responsive, that it can feel as if you’re carrying an egg in the palm of your hand. But Alf E. Jacques can hear the wood long before that, when what will become a lacrosse stick still resembles a shepherd's crook, and the drilling and sanding and shellacking are yet to be done. This one? He can all but feel it breathe beneath his blade. (continue reading)
Erratic Argentina Has One Weapon Every Opponent Fears: Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi is not happy. Why is not clear at first, because, as all Spain knows on this cool, sparkling November day, the 22-year-old Argentine soccer god should be ecstatic. Last night his club team, Barcelona, beat archrival Real Madrid before a home crowd of 90,000, and tomorrow looks to be even better: Word has leaked that Messi will be awarded the Golden Ball as 2009 European Footballer of the Year. His annual income, including endorsements, is $46 million. His team is dominating La Liga, the Spanish first division. His game is rounding into breathtaking form. (continue reading)
"Tiger gets physically ill when he's not telling the truth," Earl said.
Truth Or Consequences
A decade ago in the Southern California winter, Earl Woods sat in a suite at the La Costa Resort and Spa, speaking of fatherhood and death and the 24-year-old son he had raised, he was sure, better than any other man could have. “Tiger has never been punished,” Earl said. “Never been disciplined. Never had a babysitter.” (continue reading)
So here it is, the moment of truth. Just the two of them, at her place.
Your Words Against Mine
A man and a woman spend enough time together, this day is going to come. The way Jim Geary figured it, they’d had enough meals, seen enough movies, chitchatted enough already, so why wait any longer? Isn’t he the game’s newest star? Didn’t he bust into the elite faster than just about anyone, ever? Doesn’t he have that necessary drive, the tools, those empty killer eyes? Yes, he’s as cocky as an unbroken colt; lose to Geary and you might well hear him chuckle as he celebrates the power of “the Jimster.” Someday, he likes to announce, everyone will point and say, “There goes the best who ever lived.” Shouldn’t she know too? (continue reading)
I waited a few weeks and then called him again; Mr. Nader still had his man-I-was-in-Cuba buzz going.
As a rule, my friends hate Ralph Nader. The conservative ones consider him a publicity hound who has it in for corporate America, and the liberals blame him for putting George W. Bush in the White House. Whenever his name comes up, I’m the only one who argues Mr. Nader’s case, telling one side how I don’t want my kid to die in a flaming Corvair and the other that it’s not Ralph’s fault that Al Gore couldn’t win his own state. Besides, the more choices in an election the better. Battleground of ideas, and all that. But when it gets right down to it, I’d back Mr. Nader even if he drove naked in a flaming Corvair onto Al Gore’s front porch. (continue reading)
“Please don’t make me do this,” the woman says. “I can’t talk to foreign media.” She’s right in identifying you, at least. You are distinctly foreign and, notebook in hand and photographer by your side, obviously media, but what she hasn’t picked up on is this: Here in China you feel about as threatening as an infant. A first-time visitor from the U.S., you don’t know the language or mores; you can’t even begin to have a feel for subtleties three millennia in the making. You may as well be deaf, dumb and blind for all the good your senses have done you these past two weeks as you’ve tried to take the measure of a burgeoning nation preparing to stage the costliest, most anticipated, most transformative athletic event in history. (continue reading)
One-on-One with Obama
Here’s the beauty of pickup basketball: You may be a U.S. senator, a living symbol of racial healing and perhaps even the next President of the United States, but if you’re gliding in for an easy layup and each point is precious, I’ve got no choice then, do I? You’re getting hacked. So, yes, I’m hammering that arm and crashing headlong into your whippet-thin frame; and, yes, it’s a foul so flagrant, so absurdly desperate, that all you can do, body buckling, is laugh. Hey, it’s pickup. Everyone, even you, uses whatever he’s got to win. (continue reading)
Sportsman of the Year: Dwyane Wade
He hurled the ball high into the air, and it spun up and away and forgotten, the object that just moments before had been the most important thing in the building. Dwyane Wade began screaming. The clock ticked to zero, the horn sounded: But he knew already. He had known before anyone else in the arena that it was over, that his Miami Heat had come back yet again and won the 2006 NBA championship, that on this June night in Dallas he had, at 24, risen above his preordained peers to clutch the only prize that matters. The rest, though? He knew almost none of that. (continue reading)
The Life and Times of Rick Majerus
Something about the game: Was it the rat-a-tat of a ball dribbled on a wooden floor? The stink of sweat and morning breath mixed with drafty gym air? The thousands of shuffling feet on game night, the voices rising as tip-off nears? Yes, all that. But even more, it was the thought of those young faces looking at him, waiting. It was practice that brought Rick Majerus back. Because there he had the answers. Because there—in his watchmaker-precise breakdowns of what the fan later mistook for improvisation and flow—was where he lived. He learned this while bombing around the country the last three years, another ex-coach TV analyst with his face pressed against the glass, around basketball but not truly in it. Practice was pure. (continue reading)
The Lone Wolf
Between handshakes and hellos, with the cool clang of money and the pop and hum of the MGM’s endless night echoing in his ears, Mike Agassi stood in his good suit with a smile on his face and wondered how he was going to kill Pancho Gonzalez. Should he do it himself? Scrape up $20,000 and hire a hit man? It was 1981, in a Las Vegas still proud of its gangster soul, and Agassi had been on its front lines for years as a casino greeter. He knew people who knew people. It was only a matter of calculating the real cost, because Agassi had no illusions about getting away with murder. He’d spend the rest of his life in jail, he was sure. Then again, he’d have the satisfaction of seeing the man dead. (continue reading)
He stares at the screen. "That's the most ridiculous velocity I've ever seen."
You know the story. There was an accident, maybe something in the genes, maybe a drunken driver crossing the divide. An arm was lost or the bones didn’t form or the eyesight faded away. The upshot: Something vital is missing. It’s an adversity most of us cannot imagine, so we call it a tragedy. But now the victim has “overcome” it, now he is wearing USA across his chest and wheeling himself fast down a basketball court or drawing back a bowstring to launch a golden arrow. The moment provides an inspiring finale—It’s a triumph of the human spirit, Bob—but the central fact remains; the story always bends itself around what’s gone. (continue reading)
Pablo Escobar is dead, not forgotten. Neither is Colombia's old goalie.
Shadow Of Shame
The devil died in December, and thousands mourned. A shower of gunfire, and there was Pablo Escobar, a punctured corpse on a rooftop in Medellín, leaking just like every judge and cop and political candidate he disposed of without a blink. Escobar was the most savage entrepreneur of our time, a drug dealer without equal, and on the day of his burial so many went to thank him that his widow and children could not get close to the grave. (continue reading)
They feel their hearts beating. They are young, so no one says this is a moment to remember.
They are lucky. The morning’s freeze has given way, leaving the temperature cool but bearable. Still, they stamp their feet, sprout goose bumps, giggle. What do you expect? They’re naked, nothing but the sneakers on their feet to guard against the night, the mountain air, anyone watching. Their bodies tighten. Someone yelps, and they move at once, a pack of 15 young men running naked because this is a University of Wyoming cross-country tradition, because this morning brought the season’s first snowfall, because they are young and they can. (continue reading)