Whether you’re a sports fan or just a history buff, looking back at sporting events has produced some of the world’s finest journalism. But it could be argued that no outside observers’ perspective can compare to being inside the heads of those who scored that game-winning point, series-winning run, or tournament-winning goal (or coached any teams that did). Which is why, with so many of our favorite sports still on pause as their leagues figure out how to resume competition, we realized getting lost in a good sports memoir could be the next best thing to spending hours watching a game itself. But with so many sports memoirs ghostwritten or scribbled in a hurry as a valedictory rite of passage, which ones are actually up to snuff?
To find out, we asked 17 experts — including sportswriters, broadcasters, and professors — for their recommendations. While their responses included memoirs written by many athletes who are household names, we also learned about stories told by others that the spotlight may have missed, and a few written by coaches or superfans with perspectives that are just as gripping as those of athletes who actually took the field. Read on for their picks, which we’ve organized by sport. In the tradition of our other reading lists, we’ve named any books with two or more recommendations as best overall. But we’ve also included titles emphatically recommended by just one person, for those who may want to dive further into any category.
Best tennis memoirs
Best overall tennis memoir
Three people raved about this memoir, which journalist Jonathan Eig, the author of Ali: A Life, says “may be the all-time best-written memoir by a major athlete.” All who recommended it praised the book’s “shockingly” candid nature, pointing out Agassi’s honesty is especially rare for an athlete who was one of the most popular of his generation. “Few autobiographies have dared to show athletes so naked,” writer Sam Diss, the head of content at London-based soccer magazine Mundial, says, adding that Agassi is “not writing this book to stick the boot into old foes or people who screwed him out of money.” Instead, Diss says he’s “passed over, gone clear, and reveals his trauma and grudges with equal parts pain and catharsis, in a way that doesn’t feel point-scoring, but freeing.”