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Wolff Whistles


There has always been a certain romance to the national sportswriter, but Alex Wolff was the global sportswriter, in mind and Diamond-status practice. Save for Antarctica, Wolff has trod every continent at least three times over to deliver some of the clearest, most pitch-perfect goodness to enrich these pages over the last four decades. He combined an intellect that was unsparing and brutally honest with a generosity that encouraged, launched and advanced numerous A-list careers in this industry. He is good people—the best, really—and he is retiring after 36 years at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (though be assured that his byline will surface here again). It would be unjust and unsatisfying to allow a single voice to celebrate such a singular voice. This is just a tiny sample of those—inside and outside of SI—upon whom Alex has left the most lasting marks.

STEVE RUSHIN (2006 National Sportswriter of the Year, SI contributing writer): I owe my career to Alex. In the summer of 1985, we struck up a correspondence and discovered a mutual love of writing, pickup basketball and Earth, Wind & Fire. I'd write stories for journalism classes at Marquette and send them to Alex. He handed one of my pieces (on the pool player Willie Mosconi) to SI senior editor Bob Brown, who published it as I was graduating. Alex also introduced me over the phone to chief of reporters Bambi Wulf, thus earning me a three-month temp job upon graduation.

So Alex got me a job, but he also put me up, rent-free, in his vacant apartment on East 48th Street for that entire summer of 1988. He wrote me a two-page survival guide to SI, as well as a guide to his neighborhood: where to eat, where to buy groceries, when and where I might see Kurt Vonnegut (who lived in the building next door), Keith Hernandez (just around the corner) or Katharine Hepburn (a block away). I knew then that I wanted to be this guy Alexander Wolff when I grew up, and all these years later that hasn't changed.

Chris Ballard @SI_ChrisBallard • Sep 30

When I was in college, I wrote a letter to @alexander_wolff. I was nobody; he'd just written the cover story. He called back w/n a week...

CHRISTIAN STONE (editorial director, Sports Illustrated Group): I got to SI in 1992. I was awed by the sheer volume of excellence, but most resonant for me was Alex's annual Final Four story, in which he was tasked with producing close to 3,000 words on a deadline that was basically 8½ seconds after the buzzer sounded. Granted, some of the story was prewritten, but you would have thought we had given him two months to write the piece. And he did this year after year, boosting the verbal SAT scores of young readers everywhere while making "legerdemain" sound like the most natural, perfect, maybe the only choice of word to describe, say, a point guard's brilliance.

Aimee Crawford @AimeeJCrawford • Sep 30

I count myself lucky to have worked with the great @alexander_wolff, one of the world's best writers and human beings.

L. JON WERTHEIM (deputy managing editor, SI): When I started at SI in (gulp) 1996, executive editor Peter Carry pulled me aside and encouraged me to pay meticulous attention to the work of a senior SI writer whom I admired. So it was that I began going through Alex's pieces with a highlighter and scissors, seeing how you structured stories, inserted voice while avoiding hot-take-dom, used vocabulary as a means of authority, wrote a poignant feature one week and a tirelessly reported investigative piece the next. And, of course, meeting him and seeing his menschdom firsthand only heightened my respect and fondness for the guy whose work I had been parsing like a Kremlinologist.

Seth Wickersham @SethWickersham • Sep 30

Drove 2 hours in college to hear @alexander_wolff give a talk, and he was nice enough to have lunch with me after. A true gentleman retires.

JACK MCCALLUM (senior writer, SI, 1985--2008): I'm at Alex's house in Cornwall, Vt., and I see a case of wine that was sent from Gregg Popovich, who is a noted oenophile. I asked him about it. "Oh, he really liked the Patty Mills story I did," said Alex, referring to a long story he had recently done on the Spurs' backup point guard. "Man, I did a whole story on Pop and never heard a word," I said. "And the worst thing? You don't even drink."

ALEXANDER WOLFF (senior writer, SI, 1980--2016): That Popovich private-label red is called Rock and Hammer. It's a name that toasts two characteristically Spurs virtues, time and hard work. If I put in a lot of both at SI, it was in the company of the most devoted and talented colleagues anyone could have. To every one of them I will—and not just to please Jack—raise a glass.