There isn't a hero more infuriating than Bill Simmons.
It's not a potential-wasting Lamar Odom type of madness Simmons embodies, nor so much a Chris Webber "how could make those bonehead mistakes?" caricature. The Sports Guy is more, as I described yesterday, like some sort of grassroots leader who helped spring a type of democracy on sportswriting, only to renounce and decry the new openness once he's at the top and getting profiled in the New York Times and Sports Illustrated.
His chat with SI's Chris Ballard makes it pretty clear about how The Guy feels about those who try to follow in his footsteps: He thinks they're dirt.
BS: Is that going to be in this column, in this story?
SI: I don't know, it may be. It's an interesting phenomenon: These people are spending their days predicting what you're going to write --
BS: I don't go there, I don't like to think about it. I've been there twice. I don't go there. It's weird.
SI: But is it flattering to have obsessive fans, these ardent fans? Isn't that part of the deal of being a celebrity?
BS: I don't feel like it is. A lot of the people who post on these message boards are different. For example, a guy who starts an "I hate Mitch Albom" site. I don't think that's an accurate representation of who Mitch Albom's average reader is. It's like if you're doing a story on Jewish people and you meet a Hassidic Jew. That's not a Jewish person, that's an extreme, whatever.
If you went on Sonsof -- whatever that board is -- and said, Here are some of his fans, I don't think that's an accurate depiction. I'm not putting them down or saying they're great. I just don't think my average reader would go on a message board and post about my column. I think my average reader is at work, or is a college student. I think the people who read me are the ones who came to my book tour -- they're all normal people.
As a refresher, here's what Simmons said when he and Isiah Thomas were preparing for The Brawl II (and which, strangely, is no longer available from ESPN.com, even with Insider access):
No one is saying the posters at SonsOfTheSportsGuy.com are average Bill Simmons fans, just like posters at Sons of Sam Horn are not average Boston Red Sox fans and posters at Netphoria are not average Smashing Pumpkins fans.
Yeah, some of the guys at SoSG are borderline retarded, and others are complete assholes. It's like that at any messageboard. But most of the regular posters seem to be sane and rational people that happen to be bonded by liking Bill Simmons. How is it weird? (Alright, so the thread titled "How hot is the Sports Gal?" is weird. Troubling, actually. But it's one of thousands.)
(For the record: I've lurked off and on at SoSG for several months, but have posted only once: Thursday, when I didn't see a link to the Ballard interview up yet. Of course, I looked in the wrong section, and there were already six pages of discussion on the Q&A. Go figure.)
In fact, as some posters mention in the thread discussing the Q&A, most of the discussion at SoSG has nothing to do with Simmons. It's about movies and the Celtics and Peyton Manning and DJ Gallo and Theo Epstein and Isiah Thomas and Chuck Klosterman and Dan Shaughnessy. These people have carved out a niche with the common thread being that they all like (or liked, in some cases) The Guy's writings.
And for all the talk about Simmons being a pioneer, don't you get the sense he really doesn't get it?
But some of these guys are just angling, just ripping everybody. Where do they think they're going to go from there? Do they think somebody at a major newspaper or magazine is going to be like, "Hey, this guy is attacking everybody and compared David Stern to bin Laden. Hey, let's hire him!"
I don't know Will from Deadpsin well enough to tell you what his career goals are. But I know he's a twice-published author, he was a founder of one of the greatest web magazines ever, and he gets 2.5 million page views a month. I'd say he's doing alright for himself. For Simmons to say that "that kid will make it someday" seems incredibly condescending. (Again, I'm not speaking for Will. This is how I see it.)
Simmons doesn't get that not everyone who writes a sports blog wants a column on ESPN Page 2. Not everyone wants 1,200 words in ESPN The Magazine. Not everyone grew up with the dream of working for SI or the Los Angeles Times sports desk. Personally, my dream job was being a political columnist for the Washington Post. I went to school taking journalism and government classes. At the school newspaper, I covered government and wrote 95 percent of my columns on politics. I don't want a job covering sports for a newspaper. That's not why I run a Kings blog.
Here are the reasons I run a Kings blog:
- Because there was a real vacancy when I started early last summer. Just about every team had a blog but Sacramento.
- Because I wanted to keep myself writing outside of work. My day-job saps a lot of creativity out of me. Having a daily outside writing exercise, even if it's about Jason Hart and defensive efficiency, is helpful to keeping my blood going. It allows me to refine my skills and keep my motivation high so I can continue to work on my other writing projects.
- Because I was disappointed in the existing online Kings communities, which range from slow-paced and pedestrian to hyperactive and shrill. If you can't find it, build it. Right?
- Because I can.
Because he started with nothing and made it to ESPN isn't why he's one of my writing heros, though. Not even close. He's one of my writing heros because of the way he writes, the style he's created. The running diaries, the constant gambling references, the hilarious inclusion of movie quotes and analogies to celebrity situations and bands. The criticisms of sports media. The criticisms of athletes and coaches and executives. I liked Simmons because he wasn't self-important like the deadtree columnists, who had to back up their opinions on players with facts and statistics. Simmons came along and didn't like Roger Clemens because he was the anti-christ. because as a Sox fan he felt betrayed by The Rocket's money-driven, motivational turn-around.
Those are the doors Simmons opened: He made it acceptable to be funny and brazen and irreverant. As Ballard points out, Simmons made it OK to be a fan and write about sports. He made it acceptable for a fan who saw clips of Kobe's game on TV to have an opinion on Kobe's game.
Apparently, though, that's OK for Simmons, but not for us:
The great thing is that the readers will decide who's a good writer and who isn't. And as long as Bill Simmons keeps the xenophobic crap-slinging out of his own columns (which he does, outside of the Curious Guy columns with Klosterman and Gladwell), I'll probably keep reading him.
That's the beautiful thing about the internet: Everyone can read whoever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want. It's completely democratic. The cream will rise, the dead weight will fall. We don't need newspaper writers or magazine columnists or talking heads or Bill Simmons to tell us who to read. We decide.
Long live sportswriting on the web.