You could sum up the year in sports with a roll call of champions, a listing of those who climbed the highest peaks. But that would leave the year's cliffs and valleys unexplored, an approach that would be especially inappropriate this year, says executive editor Charlie Leerhsen, who directed SI's look back at 2003. "Think about the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Lakers and Funny Cide," he says. "It's really been a year defined as much by who lost as who won." So for this issue SI asked its writers to follow their story instincts instead of the victory parades. In his piece on the year in the NBA, for instance, senior writer Jack McCallum describes the peculiar lot of Kevin Garnert, a superrich superstar who, as his doubters remind him, has yet to taste postseason success.
The year's end is also a time to take stock of one's life. Chicago Sun-Times columnist and former SI senior writer Rick Telander uses sports as a vehicle for reflecting on how he has grown from a college football standout (he was a second-team All-Big Ten defensive back at Northwestern in 1970) to a middle-aged adult with a noticeably aging body, a house in constant need of repair and four children running off to games of their own. His goal, he says, was to write about sports as most people experience them. He talks about his and his children's athletic adventures but not about his job of covering the pros. "When you get right down to it, my profession is basically irrelevant to my kids' and my sports endeavors," Telander says. "I could be a shoe salesman or a dentist or a truck driver. In this context, it really doesn't matter."
Trowling for the low and laughable is familiar duty for senior writer Steve Rushin, who returns with his annual year-end review of strange-but-true occurrences. Among the low-lights of 2003, he says, was Pittsburgh Pirate Randall Simon's taking a bat to one of the sausage mascots in the bratwurst race at Milwaukee's Miller Park. Rushin could have made 49 jokes about that one, he says, but limits himself to two. Illustrating the hilarity is artist Zohar Lazar, who is a natural match for this year's material: He paints in the style of old pulp-fiction covers, and he broke into the business illustrating sex columns. Lazar says his portrait of the world's most famous facially tattooed heavyweight fulfilled a dream: "I always wanted to paint Mike Tyson."
Rushin says the sheer quantity of misguided behavior provides him with a surfeit of material. "I'd like to thank all the little people who vomited on footballs and urinated on mascot uniforms," he says. "Those are the people who made this possible."