Roll With It

Ian Mackay was paralyzed 14 years ago in a bike accident, leaving the active 26-year-old with the physical abilities of an infant. Today, he’s traversing hundreds of miles in an Invacare TDX SP2. For Sports Illustrated, Joseph Bien-Kahn tells Mackay’s inspiring story and offers an account of his latest challenge: breaking a world record for the greatest distance covered in 24 hours by a motorized wheelchair.

Published: Sep 14, 2022
Length: 21 minutes (5,410 words)

Gary Smith, Master of the Sports Longform, Left at the Very Top. Why?

The latest in SI‘s “Where Are They Now?” series covers longtime staffer Smith, arguably one of the finest profilers the journalism world has ever known. His portraits of Mike Tyson, Andre Agassi, and other icons cut through the insularity of sports fandom to become the stuff of magazine legend. Now, Joseph Bien-Kahn heads to South Carolina to catch up with the man who famously took half the pay to go twice as deep — and then walked away from it all.

As I spoke to Smith and to his contemporaries, I felt myself searching desperately for Smith’s own demon within—the unseen bit of Gary Smith that had spurred him from the best job in the industry. When I asked Reilly, he said I was chasing a ghost. “We all were supposed to constantly hunger to get bigger and richer and more famous. He never had it,” Reilly says. “I was not surprised at all that he just kind of hung a Do Not Disturb sign on his life and started teaching people to be Zen and playing guitar and traveling.”

Published: Jul 12, 2022
Length: 14 minutes (3,533 words)

The Caretaker

Esther Lee’s physical therapy work is described by athlete clients like the Williams sisters and Shaun White as life-changing, going beyond muscles and into matters of the soul. Now, facing down death, Lee is learning to look within, too:

Not long after Esther began working with the Williams sisters, Serena was hospitalized for a pulmonary embolism in wake of giving birth, and then again for blood clots. Esther slept in a chair beside her hospital bed. “She never left my side,” Serena says. “And I never asked for that. That meant a lot to me.… She is such a caretaker. And beyond anything that I’ve ever seen, beyond anything you could write in a job description. There is no job description for Esther.”

Published: May 17, 2022
Length: 17 minutes (4,300 words)

How ‘Sex and the City’ Sent Me Down a Fake Baseball Rabbit Hole

“Lots of shows and movies include snippets of fake sports broadcasts as background noise. Yet this one had sounded conspicuously real. Instead of simply rattling off a score, the broadcast had included just the right level of specificity, all the textured banality of a random at bat. There seemed to be a whole booth involved instead of a lone announcer. And the rhythm was dead on—clearly, indubitably baseball. It was hard to imagine that the clip was fake. With all that attention to detail for just a few seconds of background sound? No way.”

Published: Feb 21, 2022
Length: 8 minutes (2,178 words)

This Basketball Season is Missing One Thing: Prince

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today—five years after his passing—to remember one of the most unique talents ever to be drawn to the game.”

Published: Apr 21, 2021
Length: 12 minutes (3,200 words)

The Next Cultural Battle: States Take Aim at Trans Athletes

Starting July 1, 2021, the Mississippi Fairness Act — signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves — will ban trans women and girls throughout Mississippi from playing school sports on women’s and girls teams.

Published: Mar 12, 2021
Length: 12 minutes (3,058 words)

USC’s Dying Linebackers

In 1989, USC had a depth chart of a dozen linebackers. Five have died, each before age 50. Football was inextricably tied to their mortality. These are their stories.

Published: Oct 7, 2020
Length: 24 minutes (6,000 words)

Love and Lhotse

James Morrison and Hilaree Nelson were brought together by death and loss but united in love — for each other, for self challenge, and for the mountains — in their attempt to become the first adventurers to summit Lhotse and ski down.

Published: Feb 6, 2020
Length: 20 minutes (5,207 words)

Inside the Toxic Culture of the Nike Oregon Project ‘Cult’

Mary Cain was a promising distance running star when she began training under the revered Nike Oregon Project long-distance team. But Mary says that the team’s coach, Alberto Salazar, often publicly berated her for her weight, causing her to develop disordered eating and spiral into self-harm. Several former Nike Oregon Project members have come forward to validate Cain’s allegations of abuse.

Published: Nov 13, 2019
Length: 15 minutes (3,772 words)

Sidney Wants to Be Someone Else

At age 25, Sidney Gilstrap-Portley had enough of his current situation in Dallas, so he became Rashun Richardson, a homeless teenager who escaped Hurricane Harvey. But Gilstrap-Portley’s gift—he was an athletic slasher and scorer on the basketball court—ultimately doomed the facade he tried to build as Richardson.

Published: Jan 23, 2019
Length: 23 minutes (5,990 words)