Charlie Pierce is arguably the greatest living American writer, journalism division. He's almost certainly the most underrated. In addition to his stellar work at Esquire, where he ceaselessly skewers our increasingly absurd political process, he pops up from time to time at places like Sports Illustrated. This week was one of those times.
Pierce's remembrance of Pearl Washington, who died of a brain tumor on April 20, is among the most well-crafted gems of sportswriting I can remember. In it, we see a writer fully possessed of an understanding of moments, of Pearl's unique style, of the way sports moves us.
This paragraph, the piece's closing argument, is one of the finest evocations of the power of sports to bring joy I've read and lamentation for how we don't celebrate it today as we once did. It's Gheorghian in its essence, even if we could never write it as well Pierce. Read it and applaud:
"We’ve come in our time to demystify joy. We parse it, and sell it, and we manufacture it if we can’t find it any other way. It does not rise unbidden, the way it once did. It does not build, slowly and steadily. It is presented, whole and rounded, for our consumption. But once there was a time when its origins were a mystery, its sources vague and unclear. And, when it arrived, it lingered. I heard about what Pearl Washington could do long before I saw it myself. He had made me happy in the abstract long before I saw him drop the shot against B.C. or put every Georgetown player into the MixMaster as the Garden steamed around him. I did not have to be sold on him. His legend had sold itself. That was the way it was once, when word-of-mouth was gospel. That was the source of the happiness I always will feel that I had the gift of watching the basketball in the hands of Pearl Washington, dead of brain cancer on Wednesday, at the age of 52."