The Wide World of Internet Sportswriting

(Note: Sorry for the roughly 48-hour absence. Blame it on Post-Kwame Stress Disorder and some level of March Madness. Just know that I weeped like I was Adam Morrison at a screening of Failure to Launch after that horrible game Wednesday. In fact, I might force myself to forget it ever happened. Wait... done.)

If you haven't read Chris Ballard's long treatise on internet sportswriting in Sports Illustrated yet, stop what you're doing and find it. Find a log-in, visit Border's. Just do it immediately. I read it online yesterday (along with the lengthy online Q&A with Bill Simmons, who happens to be my most frustrating idol), then re-read it in the hard cover that came in the mail. (Deadwood bonus: A photo of Simmons that was apparently taken after The Guy got back from "Extreme Makeover: Jack Bauer's Torture Chamber Edition," a hilarious Coliseum shot of SBNation/AthleticsNation grandmaster Blez, and a frightening sidebar on baseball-writing god Aaron Gleeman. Also, a picture of refined Illinoisan hipster Will Leitch of Deadspin, who can't seriously be 30, as his caption suggests.)

My opinion was formed before I read Henry Abbott's piece on True Hoop, but it's pretty similar - Ballard aims for the point and misses by about 30 feet. Blogs aren't about replacing traditional media; they're about offering a different perspective and a new opportunity. I don't want to run Sam Amick and Joe Davidson out of business. In fact, I want them to get more resources out of their corporate overlords, like a blog and an extra body and even a bigger paycheck. They deserve it - the Kings matter to a lot more Sacramentans than some of the other beats The Bee spends more resources on do.

Until that's fixed, and until The Bee's sports editors figure out the Web, there's a vacancy to fill. People want intelligent conversation and humorous banter about the Kings. That doesn't happen on talk radio, that doesn't happen (without a whole lot of stressful sifting) on message boards, and it doesn't happen on newsprint. It can happen on blogs, and I think the relative explosion in commenters and diarists here at Sactown Royalty can attest to that. Today's sports fan wants more than what most newspapers are offering - they want Simmonsian armchair commentary, Peltonian statistical analysis and Deadspinesque irreverancy. It's not in the 'C' section. It's all on the Web.

Ballard quotes Portland GM John Nash as saying: "I think blogs are a curse. They're not held to the same standards as the newspaper. They're often musings or impressions and frequently filled with error." Blogs are a curse? You know, Grant Napear said on his radio show earlier this week that Kevin Garnett would've been better off financially if he'd went to college for a year, because he would've been the 1996 first pick while he was the #5 pick in 1995. Okay. KG made $1.6 million in 1996, a year Napear would have him making $0. Had he been the 1996 Draft #1 pick, he'd have made $2.3 million in 1997 versus the $1.7 million he made as a sophomore. (Note: Allen Iverson was the top pick in 1996. Would KG really have been guaranteed to be picked over AI with a year of college? I doubt it.) So in the time the 1996 #1 pick made $2.3 million, the 1995 #5 pick made $3.3 million. Over the life of the 1996 #1 pick's 3-year rookie contract, the 1996 #1 pick's made $8.9 million. By that time, KG had made $19.4 million. Tell me again how KG could've made more money sooner by going to school for a year?

This may seem tangential, but I swear there's a point: Talk radio is often musings or impressions and frequently filled with error. Is talk radio a curse? (Don't answer that.) No, because humans and errors go hand in hand. People stretch reality to prove a point. People ignore things to prove a point. People err. It's human, as someone once said. (I think it was Snoop Doog in Starsky & Hutch. He might have gotten it from somewhere else.)

Labeling the blogosphere and web sportswriting as a whole as riddled with inaccuracy is blatantly ignoring the errors that play-by-play guys, radio hosts, deadwood columnists and beat writers all make. The difference I've seen with the web is two-fold: statements are documented, so facts can be checked out, and rational web-writers typically rise to the top. Not to get all commmie, but the web is a meritocracy. Few web writers get tons of hits because of who they are; they get tons of hits because of what they do. Look at Kurt at Forum Blue and Gold or Jeff at CelticsBlog. These guys don't even have last names! But they have huge and passionate audiences, precisely because they are insightful, rational, smart, creative and DAMN GOOD at what they do.

Why does Marty McNeal have a column in The Bee? Because he put in his time as the beat writer. Why does Grant Napear make six figures do TV and radio for Maloof Sports and Entertainment? Because he's worked long and hard in the market. Why does Chris Ballard write for SI? Because he got opportunities and made the most of them.

A headline on the cover of Weekly World News the other day read: "Computer Virus Spreads to Humans." Obviously, WWN is as accurate as J.P. Batista from 65 feet. Does that mean all newsprint is a curse, because a handful of tabloids print outright lies? No, of course not. So because some gossip website like On the DL prints too crazy to be true stories of baseball players gone wild, should all blogs be treated like a VD? No, of course not.

Judgment, people. We have it for a reason. Not everything you read or hear will be true. Over time and experience, anyone with a functioning brain will figure out who they can trust and who they can't. It's common sense, right?

Why, then, is the wild wild Web so damn scary to people?

Because it's competition. Because it's foreign. Because it's the seemingly easy introduction to the game of new voices who haven't spent 15 years slaving away in front of a Powerbook in a smoke-stained hotel room in Milwaukee. I haven't paid my dues, so why should I have an audience? Who the hell am I, right?

It's scary. (It shouldn't be, but Henry covers that very well at the above-mentioned link.) I don't blame them. People are afraid of change.

Simmons is a completely separate entry, one which I hope to get to tomorrow morning. In short, he's the paranoid deadbeat father of the rising generation of web sportswriters. He's like the Beastie Boys, when in the 1990s they renounced their older party anthems. He's like a 2002 Michael Jordan, and the sportsblogosphere is Kwame Brown. (Maybe soon we'll play the Kings and have a career night.) He's the militia commander who breaks down the gate to the castle, only to look back at his adoring followers who helped him achieve victory and spit on them as he reigns from his throne. He is, quite seriously, a bad man.

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