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As cable sports programming from ESPN and its imitators has come to dominate the airwaves, print sports journalists have had to work harder than ever to find stories that aren't already overexposed; it is undoubtedly a mark of such a shift in focus that nearly all of this year's offerings come from magazines rather than newspapers—places where a writer can produce longer and more complex stories. "If there is a common thread to the stories I have chosen," Feinstein says in his introduction, "it is that they all involve some very good reporting." Of course, reporting this good is helped by the longer lead time magazine writing allows. As usual, there are plenty of stars and superstars in the collection: Tom Junod on Grant Hill, Tom Verducci on the downfall of former Mets stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, Peter DeJonge on the burgeoning rivalry between Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. But some of the best work in the book deals with people whose names mean little or nothing to the average sports fan. Rick Reilly offers a moving portrait of two devoted brothers, Shaun and Dion Stephenson, talented high school football players who wanted to serve their country and who fought in the Gulf War. Only one returned. Joel Reese traces the long, hard fall from grace of former Cowboys wide receiver Golden Richards, a victim of alcohol and underachieving. Tom Farrey goes behind the high walls of a prison to limn the world of penitentiary basketball.
When they say "the best," they're not kidding. A must for sports fans and for fans of excellent journalism of any kind.