A senior writer for ESPN The Magazine debuts with a collection of his explorations of sports-world notables who reached—or are reaching—the ends of their careers.
Thompson’s abundant strengths as a long-form journalist are evident on nearly every page. He is a relentless researcher and sensitive interviewer, a writer who tries to understand the factors that made his subjects who they are—or were. In an essay about Muhammad Ali, for example, Thompson engages in a seemingly endless pursuit of one of Ali’s very first opponents, a man who vanished from the grid. The author pursues the end-of-career stories of Michael Jordan and, later, Tiger Woods and helps us see the connections between the two, who are friends. He also chronicles the lives of people far less celebrated—e.g., Tony Harris, a college basketball star whose paranoia sent him into the jungles of Brazil, where he was found dead. Wright is particularly incisive in his essays on coaches, including Bear Bryant (Alabama football), Pat Riley (NBA) and Urban Meyer (who just completed his final football season at Ohio State)—all three of whom have had to deal with the end of their glory years. There are some longer, more complicated pieces here, too—the story of the New Orleans Saints, the Super Bowl, and Hurricane Katrina—and of football at the University of Mississippi when James Meredith broke the color line in 1962. Thompson also deals with the rugged family dynamics of Ted Williams and, in a brief piece, the angst and celebration in Chicago when the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016. He ends with an emotional piece about his own late father. Though he’s sometimes a little quick on the draw with his identifications of motives and causes, his gritty determination makes it easy to forgive.
Richly researched and textured writing that reveals the humanity of the author’s subjects.