I got to reading Bill Plaschke (pictured) of the Los Angeles Times during the year I lived in California right after college. I think he humanizes athletes better than anyone else. He finds the qualities that you and I share with them, and that's what makes his work so terrific. And while I have become jaded and cynical about pretty much all organized sports [a sentiment I came to long ago, too], this particular column showed what sports can do both to and for people.
There was a certain genuineness behind Magic Johnson's actions that day (provided Plaschke was telling it straight) that you just wish everyone in the public eye would WANT to display. Plus, I've always kept tabs on Magic because his announcement in November 1991 was a watershed day for my generation. It had nothing to do with sports, and everything to do with how pervasive the AIDS epidemic was.
One of the great thrills in my career was when I was sitting next to Michael Wilbon (another automatic read, but I see that paper daily) courtside at the NCAA tournament and Telander comes by and takes the seat on my right. Mike introduces us, and I couldn't stop thinking how lucky I was to be flanked by two guys whose work I'd read since college, and who approached their work in ways I wanted to emulate. Talk about thrilling for a 26-year-old idealist.