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The Best of StrongSide, 2023

We leveled up in Year Two.
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Let's celebrate a lot of really good words. Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We have reached that time of year when I shout out our best work, which one of the more daunting tasks of my year as well as one of the most fulfilling. Because our second full year of publishing was better than our first in just about every way, from the amount of pieces we ran to the quality of them to you all jumping on board with us even harder than you did in 2021 and 2022. And we covered our first championship run, too!

So let’s start this exercise with the obvious: Jamey Newberg and Zero Things. If you know, you know—and hopefully you bought the book, too. But one of my priorities this year was beefing up the Rangers squad around Jamey, and we did just that when Sean Bass came aboard—although, excellent as his baseball words were, his piece on his pal Norm Hitzges is what stayed with me most all year. Speaking of storytellers, I had a DM in Zach Buchanan’s inbox within an hour of seeing him on the open market. He’s been one of the best storytellers in the country for some time, and I have a feeling his story on the Rangers’ Bahamian phenom Sebastian Walcott will be gain a whole lot of lives should Walcott make good on his immense potential. Hell of a squad for a hell of a World Series year.

Speaking of titles—well, the Cowboys are trying, right? But Jake Kemp and Dan Morse are succeeding. It’s been an eventful year for Jake, to put it mildly, and while taking the mantles as our Cowboys morning after columnist ranks behind another notable professional development for him, it is very cool to watch him grow into the role each week with bangers like this. (Don’t worry, Mavs fans: he’ll be back on hoops duty whenever football season ends). As for Dan Morse, the man is so smart that he spent the summer interning in the Seattle Mariners’ baseball operations department. Thankfully he was back to slumming it with us in the fall, where his Cowboys Number to Know cemented itself once again as a must-read item to stay on the cutting edge about the conversation on this team.

Hoops? We’ve got plenty of that. Iztok Franko remains a genius; I had a prominent local columnist message me a few weeks back praising the column Iztok wrote on the Mavericks’ size deficiencies all the way back in March and how ahead of the curve he was of a conversation that’s becoming commonplace. Meanwhile, Brian Dameris always writes the best Dirk pieces, and his dispatch from Nowitzki’s Hall of Fame induction was a classic. But I’m most partial to his experience as a Mavs ManiAAC, and the heart he put into a story about a group of men whose purpose is far bigger than their bellies. Zac Crain on Tim Hardaway Jr.’s unlikely resurgence? Yup. Austin Ngaruiya, my co-host on The Only Mavericks Podcast, laying out his Dereck Lively II agenda months before the 19-year-old lit the American Airlines Center on fire? Double yup.

On the women’s side, Dorothy J. Gentry remains an institution on the Wings beat; her feature on Odyssey Sims was my favorite from her this year, and judging by the readership, yours too. Sam Hale and Justin Carter held it down on the analysis side for that squad—I dug Sam on Natasha Howard and Justin laying out the blueprint for a Dallas upset over the Aces (even if it didn’t happen). Special shoutout to the excellent Natalie Weiner, whom I’ve known for a long time and always wanted to work with, for an awesome dispatch from Final Four weekend in Dallas.

Hockey—oh man, hockey. It is a travesty that no independent outlet in Dallas employs a full time Stars beat writer, and while we can’t solve for that, what we have done is invest more than we ever have in Stars coverage. It helps, of course, when you have a dream team to pull it off. We started the year off in the best way possible: with Sean Shapiro dropping the definitive feature on Jason Robertson. We hit playoff form with Robert Tiffin setting the table for the postseason like only he can: funny, clever, incisive, and essential. And I could pull virtually any David Castillo piece because the man is so consistently good all year long. So how about his most recent, and all the ways the Nils Lundkvist conundrum is far bigger than the young Swedish defenseman?

A major goal in the second year of StrongSide was beefing up our rotation of enterprise writers. Mission accomplished. There’s the aforementioned Zach Buchanan, who was joined by fellow newbie Jeff Miller, a longtime pro around town and deliverer of a story I enjoyed a whole lot: Memphis Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins’ next-level love for his alma mater, St. Mark’s. Add that to Year One additions Jon Arnold—absolutely nobody around town was better equipped to profile Jesus Ferreira—and Mark Dent—who taught us all about how Dallas shaped Patrick Mahomes—and that’s a hell of a crew that can pop in to tell a great story.

Speaking of: we have an awesome crew in this building, too. Zac is Zac, and Tim casually solved the most important mystery of Mark Cuban’s impending sale of the Mavericks. Bethany Erickson did the most important journalism we ran on the site with her reporting on the rhabdo outbreak at Rockwall-Heath High School, which led to the UIL passing legislation to make students safer in the future. Brian Reinhart is one of the best food writers in the country; he could be one of the best baseball writers, too, if he so chose, as evidenced by all the parallels he noticed about the Rangers toppling the Astros just like the Washington Nationals had four years earlier. Kathy Wise’s pickleball opus wasn’t technically a StrongSide piece, but she’s the best, and it was so good, so we’re shouting it out here, too. Also meriting a shoutout: our D CEO comrades Ben Swanger and Will Maddox, who we’re lucky to have hopping in. Ben’s dispatch from training camp on Deuce Vaughn was one of our most popular Cowboys items this year, while Will continues to establish himself as an essential name in FC Dallas coverage—I absolutely loved his story on Bernard Kamungo, whose journey to Major League Soccer is truly one of a kind.

StrongSide does not happen without the legendary—he hates when I use that word—Mark Godich, who is my de facto right hand on the editing side after retiring from a distinguished editing career at Sports Illustrated, The Athletic, and The National. But the man can write a whole lot, too, such as this great reflection on TCU’s Cinderella run to last year’s college football championship game.

Finally, I did a lot of writing myself this year. For most of you, that probably means Clayton Kershaw—but I had the most fun throwing myself into cricket. OK, OK, the most fun other than writing about professional wrestling. Are we the largest magazine to run two different 7,000-word stories on pro wrestling this year? Almost certainly. But unraveling the truth behind Lance Von Erich’s misunderstood story and the last steps in Sting’s industry-defining story merited every one of them. And I had plenty fun writing columns, too, from appreciating DeMarcus Ware’s Hall of Fame brilliance to chronicling the experience of watching Lionel Messi in Frisco to writing the Holy Crap, the Rangers Won the World Series column.

It’s been a wonderful year for all of us here, because you all make it happen by reading us time and time again. We appreciate it more than you know, and we look forward to doing it all over again in 2024.

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Mike Piellucci

Mike Piellucci

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Mike Piellucci is D Magazine's sports editor. He is a former staffer at The Athletic and VICE, and his freelance…

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