The best of Gary Smith: Picking the greatest stories of his SI career

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In his 32 years at Sports Illustrated, Gary Smith won four National Magazine Awards for his writing.

In his 32 years at Sports Illustrated, Gary Smith won four National Magazine Awards for his writing.

Commas. In the hands of an amateur, they can murder a reader. In the hands of a master, they create poetry. I've never seen a writer use the punctuation staple as elegantly as Gary Smith did, and no piece of sports writing has witnessed commas travel with more elegance than the tale of Jonathan Takes-Enemy, Crow Nation basketball legend. Here is but one graph: 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. Damn, that's perfect.

Richie Parker: Cover date June 24, 1996

Richie Parker: Cover date June 24, 1996

Writers and editors constantly marveled at Smith's ability to get deep into a story and uncover information that no one else could get subjects to reveal.

Writers and editors constantly marveled at Smith's ability to get deep into a story and uncover information that no one else could get subjects to reveal.

And that's the hard part.

Pat Tillman: cover date, Sept. 11, 2006.

Pat Tillman: cover date, Sept. 11, 2006.

In 2008, Gary Smith published an anthology of some of his best work -- Going Deep: 20 Classic Sports Stories.