The link between sports and literature dates practically to the advent of the written word, as far back as the Epic Of Gilgamesh and its tests of strength or The Iliad with its ritualized funeral games. Ever since, the greatest writers among us have been inclined again and again to test their mettle with the stories of those who dare step into the arena. The relationship between writer and athlete is symbiotic and empathetic. Both seek to understand themselves by means of the most stringent test of wills. Both know failure as often as triumph — more often probably.
In an era of immersive access and on-demand highlight reels, it is tempting to think of the descriptive power of sportswriting as a romantic relic of bygone days. Who needs to be told what happened when they can see it for themselves, all day long, on any number of a dozen high-def screens they happen by? Our contention is the opposite. Great sportswriting has never been more important, or more vital to our connection to the athletes and games we treasure. To see a windmill dunk or a one-punch knockout from twenty-nine different angles is not to understand it better, or to know why it matters. Great sportswriting is about the bigger picture, the social context, the consequences and the sepia-toned nostalgia. It’s an awareness that the living history of the games is our shared legacy and communion.
Here’s a handful of the greatest sports books ever written, at least the way we see it. Hope you will dive in and agree.