Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"EVERYTHING YOU WILL READ ON THE NEXT 11 PAGES REVOLVES AROUND ONE PHOTOGRAPH": So begins Beyond the Game, the first collection of articles by SI's remarkable feature writer Gary Smith, a searing and heartbreaking collection of profiles of folks like doomed 1950s Yankees prospect John Malangone, whose piece begins with this blog's title, "Ali and His Entourage" and 1991's "Shadow of a Nation" -- a piece I can't think about without being sad -- about Jonathan Takes Enemy and his Crow high school basketball team in Montana, which begins:
I have not told you half that happened when I was young. I can think back and tell you much more of war and horse stealing. But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere. —PLENTY COUPS, Chief of the Crows, 1930

Singing. did you hear it? There was singing in the land I once more that day. How could you not call the Crows a still-mighty tribe if you saw them on the move that afternoon? How could your heart not leave the ground if you were one of those Indian boys leading them across the Valley of the Big Horn?

It was March 24, 1983, a day of thin clouds and pale sun in southern Montana . A bus slowed as it reached the crest of a hill, and from there, for the first time, the boys inside it could see everything. Fender to fender stretched the caravan of cars behind them, seven miles, eight -- they had made the asphalt go away! Through the sage and the buffalo grass they swept, over buttes and boulder-filled gullies, as in the long-ago days when their scouts had spotted buffalo and their village had packed up its lodge poles and tepee skins, lashed them to the dogs and migrated in pursuit of the herd.

But what they pursued now was a high school basketball team, 12 teenagers on their way to Billings to play in a state tournament. The boys stared through their windows at the caravan. There was bone quiet in the bus. It was as if, all at once, the boys had sensed the size of this moment ... and what awaited each of them once this moment was done.
Anyway, SI has just released a new compilation of his work, Going Deep, and the rarely-profiled Smith has sat down with the New York Times. “The more they let you in, the more glimpses you get about why they are the way they are, the harder it is to see them all one way,” he says, opening up at last. “Each person’s life is a problem to be solved, and I try to get a grasp of what problem they’re solving. You’re doing stories about people who do extraordinary things, and that usually comes out of extraordinary pressures and frictions. That’s what I try to understand.”

And then when you're done reading about Smith himself, read his 9/11/2006 piece on a true American hero, Pat Tillman, and ramp up your admiration even further.

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