Thoughts On Bill Simmons

Kurt —  May 21, 2009

Sports Guy Bill Simmons — likely intentionally sparking an easy-to-rile fan base with comments in line with his personal biases — yesterday ticked off the Lakers fan base with his chat.

Normally this blog doesn’t wade into these waters — and in a few hours a game 2 post will be up — but friend of the site Dex had comments that I thought just deserved a wider audience. These are some of the best breakdowns of his work I have seen anywhere, so here are Dex’s thoughts.

Simmons is at his best when (a) reminiscing about a movie or television program from his adolescence, (b) covering a spectacle, e.g. the NBA All-Star Game, and (c) writing quick, general analyses of a given sport, team, player, controversy, etc. As a journalist, he shines most brightly doing (c). As your funny, articulate college roommate, assuming you get along, his (a) and (b) stuff can be very entertaining. But as soon as the issue becomes personal, i.e. he’s covering one of his home teams or their nemeses or, worse, both, (c) goes out the door while (a) and (b) glom into the kind of inch-deep blather that, well, you’d expect from a suddenly emotionally charged college roommate. If the emotion is anger, you get sulkiness and sneering. If it’s joy, you get sneering and bathos. Hide-your-head-in-embarrassment-bathos; he is perhaps, in this context, the most sentimental sportswriter living. His Kobe piece for ESPN The Magazine was dreadful. It read like the work of a cocky, glib freshman in his first week of Introduction to Critical Writing. “Kobe is so selfish, you know how I can tell, my friend who’s a Knicks fan emailed me that he was and my other friend who’s also a Knicks fan called me and said that he was and when I was talking to my dad about it he agreed with them both! And also I read that someone said that he was in a BOOK, if you don’t believe me. Yes, a real book, published and everything! TWO books.” Etc. etc. He spent a few seasons passionately condemning Doc and Ainge for their cowardly, desperate tactics, but when those tactics finally paid off, in the form of a motley Dream Team, he leaped shrieking girlishly onto the bandwagon. Once it collapsed under all that sweaty weight (as it was bound to; shoddy means shoddy; sin comes home to roost; etc.), Simmons evinced the classic reaction. Self-hate can only be dispelled through humility. But humility, you can’t really learn that from Karate Kid. Someone should vivisect that Kobe piece. It rates a D, D-, tops.

And then there is this brilliant diagnosis of Simmons thoughts on Kobe.

Simmons hates Kobe (yes, Bill, you hate him; it isn’t a crime — it’s okay, in sports, to hate your arch-nemesis; the man who, even in defeat, makes the recent, short-lived achievements of “your” Celtics paltry and jerry-rigged by comparison; “your” Celtics; and the entire state of Minnesota’s; and New York’s; and wherever else Ainge and Doc rousted an aging star with no roots in Boston whatsoever and signed him with the understanding that he could move the hell back to his actual city as soon as they’d won a championship.

But who’s championship was it? It was basically Garnett’s, wasn’t it? — Garnett the Timberwolf, who shall always be a Timberwolf, and never, ever not look incongruous in his baggy green costume — think of Malone and Payton in L.A., only fifty times worse — for I haven’t seen many moving tributes to Paul Pierce, or Ray Allen, or Doc Rivers, or Rondo, with glistening eyes as they softly caress the trophy. No, this championship was about Garnett finally winning one after years of ignominious failure in the state that made his name and fortune.

So — here you are, pretending that an aging miscellany of bounty hunters and frustrated uprooted veterans qualifies as an actual Celtics team. No matter that they’ve no ties to Boston, that you haven’t cheered for them from youth to manhood — come on, those green jerseys speak for themselves. No matter that Pierce, without this dramatic intervention, without the team nobly tanking half a season on the chance that mediocrity and incompetence (and quisling surrender) would be rewarded, — no matter that he would have wasted his career on one of the great clownish franchises of the NBA — see, he’s got that ring, and that’s what matters. And it’s inspiring to see Doc weep into the microphone about injured players this, injured players that; LA’s loss of Bynum, who was just coming into his own, was quite a terrible blow itself, but not apparently the kind that a coach can point to as the reason for his lumpish departure from the playoffs.

Phil Jackson seemed dry-eyed, but then again he and Doc have such different styles. Phil is calm, humorous, self-deprecating, but all business; he can articulate why his team failed on a given night. Doc’s style, which is endearing, is to smile desperately into the cameras beslimed in sweat and give the other team credit because his guys kind of sucked, which in no way says anything about the character and excellence of his guys.

I’m digressing, it’s too late in Chicago, where the songbirds sing all night. In short, Simmons, Kobe is beyond your comprehension. You recognize that you once had someone like him in Bird, and you recognize that you shall not see that again in your lifetime. In a Boston jersey, I mean.

You reveal your hand when you accuse Kobe, la de da, of reacting to Bynum’s second injury with nought but self-interested rage and frustration. Your evidence for this? Kobe’s inscrutable face in those horrible minutes after their collision. I suggest he was suffering agonies of a complexity far, far more profound than your armchair diagnosis allowed, which apparently you arrived at by interpreting a few quick glimpses of Kobe’s taut and haunted face — in the manner of, yes, a hater.

Come on, Simmons, we’re all haters to an extent; that’s why rivalries are thrilling and glorious or thrilling and tragic depending. Your Kobe piece was maybe the weakest apologia, the timidest defense, I’ve seen since I was grading papers written by freshmen who didn’t give a damn. If by chance you read this, I fart in your general direction; let’s take the claims in your ESPN Bryant piece and scrutinize them a little.

For example, your response to Kobe’s masterful performance in the Garden, which had three-fourths of the crowd on their feet chanting “MVP” in the exuberance of having witnessed something close to sublimity, was not merely flimsy as a cobweb, but a hilarious contradiction of what you’d demanded of him prior to 81. Let’s do this, Apollo, you can batter me around a little, I’m nothing. You’re Bill Simmons, with a mailbag and a book and TIVo, a diploma. I’m Dex with a homemade Kobe Bryant t-shirt. Come on, fight me a little. You accused Kobe of some pretty hard things in that ESPN article. Come on, let’s see you go a couple rounds with someone who’ll hit back. I’m sure you’ll maul me, you’ve got nothing to lose except your reputation as a fanboy hater.