Fonde Recreation Center

From the outside, the building blends into the rest of the foot of Houston's downtown skyline innocently enough, your average neighborhood recreation center. Seemingly. But head inside and you'll quickly find out that Fonde Recreation Center is where the best of the best in pickup hoopers in the Bayou City ply their trade. During the NBA offseason, it's not uncommon to find many of the city's NBA players, Rockets past and present, as well as many non-Rockets (Houston is an unofficial "second home" for many a professional player) keeping their skills sharp in some highly competitive pickup games. Additionally, Fonde has been home to youth basketball camps, youth leagues and local tournaments, like the one that native Houstonian T.J. Ford ran last summer for the first time.

Proof Rooftop Lounge

Touting a prime location and pouring strong drinks, Proof welcomes one and all to its rooftop getaway along the border of downtown and midtown. Dressed up or dressed down, the patrons who visit the bar above Reef Restaurant are free to mix and mingle in the shadow of the Houston skyline. The knowledgable bartenders are always ready to concoct one of their signature custom cocktails. Enjoy a friendly game of darts, play at the arcade or hustle your way around the billiards table. With just the right mix of lighting, seating, dance floor and beautiful people, a fun time is guaranteed.

Truth be told, there are probably about a dozen categories across multiple sections of the "Best of" issue for which Texans defensive end J.J. Watt would qualify. To call him merely "Texans defensive end" feels like you're short-selling Watt. Oh, sure, he is the very best at what he does in all of football, sacking quarterbacks 20.5 times and knocking down 16 passes in 2012 on his way to NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. But in record time, Watt has become so much more than that to Houston. In just two years, he has become a fixture at charity events, a 300-pound angel to kids all over town, from the six-year-old girl whom he "pretend married" for a day when he saw her sobbing on a viral video, to his befriending and helping raise thousands of dollars for the Berry children, who were orphaned in a tragic car accident in 2011 (before Watt had even played a down as a Texan) that left two of them confined to wheelchairs. J.J. Watt, the big kid from Wisconsin, has become a Texan, in both the football and the very literal sense of the word. The best Texan.

In every city that has won a championship, there's an announcer whose voice is synonymous with that climb to the mountaintop (or in the case of the Houston Rockets, multiple climbs to the mountaintop). On television, that voice belongs to legendary play-by-play man Bill Worrell. Since finishing his days as a University of Houston baseball player in 1966, Worrell has been one of the finest broadcasters in the history of the city, a true pro's pro. Having assumed play-by-play duties on television for the Rockets before the 1986-87 season, Worrell has seen everything from the highs of those two championships to the unfulfilled promise of the Yao Ming/Tracy McGrady era to, now, the renewed hope brought forth by the tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard. Along the way, he's worked with and deftly steered former players handling analyst duties like Calvin Murphy, Matt Bullard and Clyde Drexler, a skill that is much more difficult than the silky-smooth Worrell makes it look. He does it with ease. If the Rockets are able to reach the summit of the basketball world one more time, it will be a whole new generation of Rockets fans for whom Worrell narrates these great memories.

Properties inside the Loop are so small — and made smaller when enormous houses are built right up to the lot line — and so expensive, few city dwellers are able to have the luxury of a backyard pool. That's where places like Love Park come in. Nestled between 12th and 13th near North Shepherd, the public pool is clean, well-maintained and often quiet even in the summer months when suburban public pools are overrun with kids.

Eleanor Tinsley Park

If you're a runner, a jogger or even an avid fan of sauntering, you realize the value of a good place to engage in a little forward locomotion. With plenty of shade and enough greenery to admire, Eleanor Tinsley Park is a great place to get your jog on. The place isn't as packed to the gills as Memorial Park, but there are enough fellow runners on the trail so that you aren't slogging through the Houston heat and humidity alone — there's always that extra little drive that kicks in when someone else tries to pass you. As long as you don't hit this trail up after dark, it offers a view of the Houston skyline and enough hills on some paths to give you a real workout if you decide to get ambitious.

Technically, does former Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy work for a national outlet? Yes, his work on ESPN and ABC does extend beyond the boundaries of the 713 (and 281 and 832 and whatever that new area code is). But since coming to Houston in 2003, Van Gundy and his family have chosen to call Houston home. Even after he was fired in 2007, Van Gundy chose to remain in Houston because he and his family love this city. So if there's a national commentator who is truly the best at what he does (not just here but anywhere), whose opinions I would listen to on any topic, not just NBA basketball, are we going to claim him as our own? You betcha! Now please, Jeff, just don't go back into coaching. Our NBA television-watching experience needs your candor and your insight.

You can fancy them up with electric motors and throw on a helmet to up the safety factor, but having a true zen go-kart experience involves gas engines and the wind in your face. Combining a fun course that includes plenty of turns and room to maneuver with ride prices that won't break your wallet, Speedy's is the best place in town to try and reach go-kart nirvana. Whether you're a casual racer riding a traditional kart or a real speed freak hitting the track in a super-kart, you'll hit another level of racing bliss before you know it.

With more than 12 miles of trails within Houston's version of New York City's Central Park, Memorial Park is the closest thing inside the city limits available to a mountain biker looking to ride that fancy bike to its intended use. Ranging from beginner to intermediate to advanced, the trails are marked and color-coded for easy use. The harder trails are mostly loose gravel and dirt, so be sure you can handle yourself before taking them on, or you'll risk serious injury.

With the advent of the Internet, the sample space of writers who qualify under the definition of "sports columnist" — a writer who offers up opinion to go with razor-sharp analysis — has most certainly expanded. No longer is this category a two- or three-person race among those who offer up opinion down the right side of the Houston Chronicle sports page. No writer in the city combines passion for her area of expertise with analysis, opinion and hard work better than Stephanie Stradley, whose "Texans Chick" blog has been a fixture on the Chronicle's blog page for seven years. If you're looking for advanced analytics and, more important, actual layman's translation of them, Steph has it. If you're looking for an off-the-wall interview with J.J. Watt or a picture of rookie DeAndre Hopkins in a prayerful pose, Steph has it. If you're looking for the media member who's asking Gary Kubiak smart, tough questions on Andre Johnson's workload or the perceived vanilla-ness of his offense, it's Steph. Now let's just hope the Chronicle cutbacks don't deprive us of her phenomenal work for good.

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