Somewhat full disclosure. Gary Smith has been a friend for 25 years, since we met - of all places - at Fort Sumter.
I know him as a man who is a better father, husband and confidant than a writer - and he doubles as the best long-form sportswriter and magazine writer of the last four decades.
Upon the announcement of his retirement from Sports Illustrated there have been numerous "Best of Gary" lists compiled from journalists around the world in praise of Smith, 60.
So many rich choices, so subjective.
My top 10:
1. "Shadow of a Nation." A 1991 tale of basketball and survival on a Crow Indian reservation in Montana.
2. The lost classic profile of Al Davis in Inside Sports in 1981 was the finest ever done on the late Raiders owner. No one got Davis to open up like this.
3. "Damned Yankee." The 1997 story of former Yankees farmhand John Malangone spins around one haunting baseball photo.
4. "Running For Their Lives." The 2004 story about a high school cross country team in a town of Mexican migrants shows how much impact a coach can have on young lives.
5. "As Time Runs Out." Hanging out with a dying Jim Valvano in 1993. Perhaps Gary's best opening paragraph. For years, Mike Krzyzewski kept this story on a bedside table.
6. "Walking His Life Away." The 2004 tale of world-class race walker Albert Heppner. The most gripping last line in any Smith story.
7. "The Boys on the Bus." Gary assessed the impact of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist bombings through a bus ride to a high school football game with legendary Summerville head coach John McKissick and his Green Wave players.
8. "Ali and his Entourage." A 1988 masterpiece on the people attached to Muhammad Ali all those years.
9. "Aussies Rule." Yes, famously serious Gary has a sense of humor, too. This 1999 romp through Australian football and culture set the tone for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where Gary lived for a year while previewing the games.
10. "Hello, Trouble, I'm Dale Brown." A 1985 profile of LSU's always colorful head basketball coach.
Of course, you probably disagree on this top 10.
That's what makes Gary Smith so wonderful.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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