The Los Angeles Times' favorite sports stories from 2023 – Los Angeles Times

There are no shortage of year-end lists that employ metrics — unique visitors, page views, minutes spent — to measure the most popular stories of the year.
The most enjoyable lists, however, are less quantifiable and divined instead by the writers themselves and what they have found most rewarding.
The following 26 Times staff writers and columnists, listed alphabetically, joined sports editor Iliana Limón Romero sharing to share their favorite sports stories from 2023.

Kevin Baxter
Why this story stuck with me: We sometimes forget that journalistic storytelling can change lives. That’s what happened when L.A. Times photographer Wally Skalij and I went to Uganda last spring to tell the story of an undersized catcher named Dennis Kasumba, who lives in crushing poverty, and Paul Wafula, the selfless coach who refused to let Kasumba’s big dreams fail. Kasumba had applied three times for a visa to come to the U.S. and play baseball but had been refused each time. However when officials in the U.S. State Department and in the office of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni read of Kasumba’s desire and dedication, he was asked to apply again — and this time was approved. In the six months since that story ran, Kasumba has played against future major leaguers in the MLB Draft League in Maryland and against former big leaguers in the Baseball United league in Dubai.

Ben Bolch
Why this story stuck with me: This story showed that anything is possible if UCLA and USC can come together the way the rivals did in the wake of Bruins defensive coordinator Bill McGovern’s valiant fight against kidney cancer. This is a timeless tale of the human spirit enduring through tragedy.

Jorge Castillo
Why this story stuck with me: It tackled the subject everyone across Major League Baseball was discussing behind the scenes: Shohei Ohtani’s impending free agency and the Dodgers’ very obvious desire to sign him. Five months later, of course, the Dodgers finally landed Ohtani — more than a decade after they first tried signing him.

John Cherwa
Why this story stuck with me: Covering horse racing, there is no question that the two questions I’m always asked are “Why are horses dying?” and “Why can’t they be saved?” So, I set out to answer those questions in one story that ran during Belmont Stakes week. It came after a series of deaths at Churchill Downs surrounding the Kentucky Derby. Little did I know it would come before a very fatal meeting at Saratoga. One of the things that was most interesting to me as I reported the story was the existence of a surgery called arthrodesis, which is saving horses that previously would have been euthanized.

Mike DiGiovanna
Why this story stuck with me: Two of the biggest challenges in this profession are uncovering great stories that have never been told and finding fresh angles on subjects who have had volumes written about them. This is an example of the latter, an in-depth look at Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes through the eyes of his father, former major league pitcher Pat Mahomes, who provided insights and regaled in stories about his Super Bowl-bound son that I, and hopefully our readers, found intriguing.

Helene Elliott
Why this story stuck with me: I’ll choose this one as my favorite column this year. He trusted me to tell a fascinating but difficult story, one that should never be forgotten.

Sam Farmer
Why this story stuck with me: This is my favorite story of the year because of the exclusivity of the experience, as I was the first reporter given access to this special room at Augusta Golf Club. You don’t have to be a golf fan to find this subject matter interesting. And I found the rituals in history of the green jacket fascinating.

(Clay Rodery / For The Times)

Nathan Fenno
Why this story stuck with me: For years, I wanted to tell the story about what took place behind the scenes of the much-hyped federal investigation into college basketball corruption that became public in 2017. The headlines had focused on the college coaches caught up in the FBI probe. But why did the lead case agent vanish from the case after a key undercover operation in Las Vegas? He ended up facing a federal charge and losing his job after a booze-soaked escapade led the agent to gamble away $13,500 in government cash. The fuller story of the operation code-named Ballerz was messy, complex and showed how one day in Las Vegas stained the investigation.

Andrew Greif
Why this story stuck with me: I don’t think I’ve ever seen athletes I cover light up more for a question than the Clippers did when I asked them to describe the court they played on the most growing up. I, and fans who watch the NBA, see players as they are now — well-paid, highly trained, polished professionals. I wanted to physically locate the places that helped start them down this path, and they responded with some of the more introspective anecdotes than I could remember hearing in a long time. I certainly have an answer for the court that stoked my passion — my grandparents’ driveway in North Bend, Ore. The Clippers certainly remembered theirs, too.

Jack Harris
Why this story stuck with me: Often times, the best stories come when an athlete’s professional skill intersects with their personal life. Freddie Freeman is no exception. Amid a childhood trauma, Freeman and his father developed a routine that would launch him to the big leagues; and gave him a unique perspective on his swing. I thought Freeman provided a lot of insight into both his development as a player (and the motivations behind it), as well as the old-school lens through which he views the game.

Steve Henson
Why this story stuck with me: The longform feature on RJ Peete, a Dodgers clubhouse attendant who is autistic, is my favorite because of the overwhelmingly favorable response from a broad range of readers. Peete’s parents are well-known and freely admit that RJ’s remarkable assimilation into full-time employment, driving, and social interactions is in part a product of opportunities not afforded to most autistic people. Nevertheless, Dodgers players, coaches and other employees point to RJ’s relentlessly upbeat disposition and dedication to his job as inspiration. RJ Peete is a shining example of what an autistic person can accomplish given unconditional love and support from family and community.

Dylan Hernández
Why this story stuck with me: Every Jackie Robinson Day, the Dodgers like to tell everyone that they’re more than a baseball team, that they’re agents of social change. This has always felt like a cynical attempt by the team’s current owners to take credit for actions taken by previous management. Those suspicions were confirmed this year by the team’s clumsy handling of its Pride Night controversy. While the Dodgers’ iconic uniforms and home stadium have created an illusion of continuity, the truth is that the Dodgers of today aren’t the Dodgers of Jackie Robinson.

Ryan Kartje
Why this story stuck with me: Seven months after he suffered sudden cardiac arrest at a summer basketball practice, Vince Iwuchukwu sat down with me and a few other reporters to discuss the day when he nearly died on the court. His personal story was harrowing enough on its own. But combined with the heroic response of USC’s training staff, which saved Vince’s life that day, it made this story one of the more stirring I’d reported in recent memory. Of course, I had no idea when I wrote it that just five months later another, much higher-profile freshman, Bronny James, would have a strikingly similar cardiac event, and that once again, the same trainers would save another life. The fact that they’d done it once before, with Vince, made a major difference.

Gary Klein
Why this story stuck with me: After chronicling the Rams’ historic post-Super Bowl collapse, the opportunity to examine why it happened offered a good challenge. The story was published immediately after the final game, so it included news — Sean McVay was in the midst of a crisis about whether he would return — and analysis.

J. Brady McCollough
Why this story stuck with me: For more than a century, the Pac-12 stood as the West Coast’s premier college sports conference, representing not just excellence in athletic pursuits but in all facets of campus life. Culturally, like its vast regional footprint, the league was known for proudly doing things its own way. Then, late in the summer of 2023, it was dead. It was an invigorating assignment to discover the key moments when the leaders of the league could have valued tradition and once-espoused values over short-term self-interest but chose the latter every time.

Jeff Miller
Why this story stuck with me: Reporting and writing this story allowed me to enter the world of old-school hip-hop, a place I never thought I’d go. The tales told by Daiyan Henley’s parents — Eugene and Stacey — were fascinating recollections from an L.A. I never knew and a reminder that behind every athlete there’s a journey to be shared.

Thuc Nhi Nguyen
Why the story stuck with me: Mom strength is real. Getting to watch Lindsay do two incredibly difficult jobs at the same time was so inspiring. And any day you get to work with our Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Christina House is a great one in my book.

Bill Plaschke
Why this story stuck with me: My favorite story of mine was the March 12 story on Kade West, the deaf and autistic basketball player whose appearance in a game for Cerritos College resulted in a forfeit of the game, a suspension of the coach, and essentially led to the end of their season. … I love this story because it is about the universal battle of good intentions versus bad rules and the emotionless bureaucrats who enforce them … and how, even when they lose, good intentions will always ultimately win. … Russ May, the Cerritos coach who gave one shining moment to the kid who had worked so hard for that moment, had no idea it would eventually cost them their season … but as a shining example of the resilience of true inspiration, May said he would do it all over again.

Chuck Schilken
Why this story stuck with me: My favorite story that I wrote this year isn’t actually a traditional story. I had a lot of fun digging up wacky content on all 30 MLB ballparks and then presenting it all with some cool photos and a handy map as well.

Bill Shaikin
Why this story stuck with me: Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is pushing a gondola to Dodger Stadium, where nothing happens three days out of every four during the year. The gondola would make more sense if people had a reason to go to Dodger Stadium every day. When project proponents said they had assurances the stadium parking lots would not be developed, I asked who could provide me with those same assurances. “Ask Frank.” I tried.

Eric Sondheimer
Why this story stuck with me: I had waited months for the opportunity to write about the amazing comeback of Nathan Santa Cruz of Venice. He almost died in a head injury on the opening football game of the 2022 season. I tried back then but his mom wasn’t ready to talk and he wasn’t either. I kept talking to others about his comeback. Finally, in the spring, he was ready. Patience won out and the chance to tell his inspiring story was worth waiting.

Broderick Turner
Why this story stuck with me: It was amazing to see Austin Reaves’ eyes light up when NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton called the Lakers’ guard name after Game 2 of the Western Conference playoffs against the Golden State Warriors. Their interaction was pure and fun to see. GP was praising Austin about how he liked his style of play. Austin was nearly speechless hearing this. It was one of those fun moments to capture.

Tyler Tynes
Why this story stuck with me: After spending a lot of time this year attempting to understand the psyche of the American boxer, I kept coming back to a vibrant memory of walking down an empty studio hallway in the outskirts of west London with a man whose boots were blessed by God. Any small silence was filled with a passionate Thierry Henry, singing a rendition of “Kalkile” by the Caribbean group Kassav’ hours before the Champions League semifinal. For as much as he espoused to me that week in Europe about his past, present and lingering pain, I’ll probably never forget one of the best Black ballers of any sport in human history, two-steppin’ to the sound of his youth, smile on his face, with a man he trusted to tell his oh-so-similar story of being denied, merely a few months before either of us knew he’d finally break through.

Sarah Valenzuela
Why this story stuck with me: This is my most cherished story of the year. While working on it, I was able to learn more about a culture within a culture and gain a deeper perspective on what it means to be an international sports journalist. I’ll always be grateful for the Japanese writers who trusted me enough to share even just a little bit of their stories.

David Wharton
Why this story stuck with me: In late February, an epic blizzard covered the tallest mountain in Los Angeles city limits — usually rocky and brown — in a dazzling blanket of white. Five friends rushed to Mt. Lukens on a Sunday morning and climbed the peak so they could have the unprecedented experience of skiing back down while gazing at the L.A. skyline. This story was one of those little gems that pop up unexpectedly and speak to the idea of sports as more than just million-dollar athletes in the NFL and NBA.

Dan Woike
Why this story stuck with me: I love process-driven stories and being able to dig on some of the key moments that led to LeBron James breaking an unbreakable record put the achievement in perspective. Little did I know at the time that the Lakers would soon turn their season around because at the time, this accomplishment seemed like the lone highlight in a disappointing year. Turns out, it wasn’t.
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