Athlete of the Week: Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- This week's Athlete of the Week is not exactly an athlete, but he's spent more than 30 years at Sports Illustrated writing about the best in the world.

His peers, guys like Rick Riley, took to social media to pay homage to Charleston resident Gary Smith, calling him the greatest of all time. There were so many tweets his name became a trending topic on Twitter.

Smith retired earlier this week and talked about his time in sports writing.

"There's a freedom in sports writing that maybe you don't have in news. You can play with stuff, play with words, push the envelope. Go out there and dance a little bit," he said.

Smith is comfortable moving in his own skin, and for 32 years he used that freedom to make sports fans feel not just comfort by true emotion.

"Gray is really how life is. Journalism tries to make it black or white really kind of sucks out all the juice and life. It's more authentic," he said.

Smith took his time investing in a story, whether it was good, bad, or ugly. There were infinite shades of gray that found clarity on paper on the screen. Smith never judged, just shed light on a story.

"These stories took two-and-a-half or three months. I would do four stories a year so I would really have that time to dig in," Smith said.

When Smith dug in, so did his readers, captivated by each line of a glimpse into a life that would grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Smith's stories were a rarity. He gave his audience depth a details in a 140-character world. The long form story was for another time, but the stories remain timeless.

"It's a whole different animal. I didn't have to deal with all these multi-platform things that people that write now deal with which I'm grateful for. Now you have to tweet while you're out interviewing, might have to do video tapes," he said. "You're scattered. I feel for people who want to do what I want to do. It may be hard to pull that off now."

The industry changed. The readers changed, he says.

"There's fewer and fewer people who have the time to spend that half-hour, 45 minutes really hunkered down with a story, which is what I was trying to do," Smith said.

This week, Smith is telling the sports world one more story through Sports Illustrated, saying his career is complete. But Smith knows it's just the end of a chapter in an unfinished book.

"Every moment of it, I was in to it all the way. I didn't go through the motions at any part of it. That's really nice. But it just felt like it was time, it was complete," he said.

It's just a little black and white for a career spent sorting through shades of gray. The result though is a lifetime of rave reviews that all paint a positive picture.