If you’re still a fan of Bill Simmons, he’s making the rounds promoting his 700 page new book, creatively titled “The Book of Basketball.” He sat down talked exchanged emails communicated (I doubt Bill could be troubled to actually write things anymore) with Jason Pinter of the Huffington Post to discuss all things wonderful about his past, present, and future work.

If you’re sensing a bias in this post already, congrats. I’ve had a problem with Simmons for about 5 years now. He’s the closest thing to the TV show Entourage that I’ve ever seen, widely accepted as being great, but now absolutely mediocre. (The only difference is that Simmons was once great.) Way back when, Bill Simmons was once the guy you incessantly checked for, that you watched the Red Sox or the Patriots pull off/lose a close one and immediately thought, “I wonder what Simmons is going to say.” He turned a dozen people I know into Red Sox fans (though I can’t decide now whether that was a hard thing to do). Now, look at the guy.

He’s spent the last 4-5 years complaining that ESPN isn’t letting him be him, even though they give him carte blanche to continue to recycle old ideas for the past 8 years. He’s taken long breaks from writing about sports to write books about his old columns about sports, and found a way to still feel like the common “sports guy” all while shoving it in his readers faces that he know hangs out with Hollywood celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Corolla. Has he told you that he’s in a fantasy football league with Don Draper yet? (If no, you must not listen to his podcasts.)

Simmons, who has made a living slaughtering athletes for being so far removed from reality is nearing their same stratosphere. He’s been actively trying to be a screenwriter for about 5 years. One of his first efforts, predictably called “Chasing A-Rod,” was being pimped by ESPN and pushed at LivePlanet (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon’s company) which cut down considerably on all his Affleck and Damon Good Will Hunting jokes. The script was a rambling mess about the Red Sox’s pursuit of Alex Rodriguez before he was eventually traded to the Yankees. It was probably only pursued by ESPN as a favor to Simmons, as there really isn’t a less feasible movie to make than a fictional recreation about players and people that are all still alive and on TV, but hey — Bill was their guy!

From that day forward, Simmons has been trying to write his way out of sports, lusting to become as important as the people he interviews during his Podcasts or critiques in his columns. Even in his HuffPo interview, Simmons talks openly about his aspirations to write a TV show.

I always wanted to create a TV series. I thought I pulled it off with something I wrote in 2007 for HBO, only they killed it, and right after they killed it, everyone who killed it got fired for being bad at their job. So does this mean I can’t create a TV series, or does this mean I had horribly bad luck pitching it to the wrong people?

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Yep, that’s Bill Simmons. Reminding the employer that could relegate him to working for Sportsline or, that he almost sold a show to HBO. Still, ESPN sticks with Simmons — allowing for tantrums like the one he threw when they hired Rick Reilly, or the one where he decided to restart his own personal website, to get out from underneath the black hand that pushed him from anonymous Boston blogger to pop culture guru.

Today’s interview with the Huffington Post (you don’t think the old Simmons would’ve shredded this imposter?) brought about another round of boiling bitterness, as Simmons pondered just how he got to the place he’s at. When asked if he’d be where he was if he started his career 10 years later, here’s what Bill had to say.

I graduated college in 1992 and didn’t reach a sizable audience with my column for nine solid years. If I had started ten years later, or ten years sooner, everything could have happened sooner obviously. But if I had started fifteen years later? I don’t know. Younger writers gravitate towards blogging and I’m not sure that would have necessarily been a good thing for me. You don’t have to work at building an audience because, really, you can get a wad of traffic from established blogs right away with just one post. You’re training yourself to think in shorter, more immediate bursts into putting real thought into what you want to say. And you’re reading other bloggers constantly, which isn’t necessarily the best way to get better as a writer.

When I was younger, I was something of a journalism/book/short story junkie and read every conceivable type of writer. I had hundreds and hundreds of books; I had every issue of Sports Illustrated and Inside Sports since 1974; I had two decades of clippings from GQ, Esquire, The National, New Yorker and other places saved in manila folders. Now, if there had been an internet back then … would I have done all that? Probably not. I would have been surfing the ‘net all day like everyone else.

And again, it’s dangerous to have the ability to get an audience instantly. I started my old web site in 1997, when there wasn’t the quid pro quo system of “I’ll link to you if you link to me.” I needed to bring readers to my site every day — knowing that I wasn’t getting traffic from other places — and the only way that was happening was if I pushed the envelope and wrote angles that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. That constant fear of “I need people to keep coming back!” made me better in the end. So I was lucky and unlucky, if that makes sense. Remember, I gave up on writing in 1996 and nearly again in 2000 because I was so freaking frustrated, I wanted to strangle somebody. That can’t be a good career path.

It’s hard for me to find a place to start after reading this. If you don’t know any better, this sounds logical. But as someone who started a website 15 years after Simmons graduated from college, let me tell you unequivocally: This is complete BS. This ability to get an audience instantly? Ridiculous. All because we can share links with each other? Come on.

The fact that Bill Simmons’ forward to Book of Basketball is written by sociologist Malcolm Gladwell is beyond ironic. Gladwell’s recent book, Outliers, is pretty much the best way to explain Bill Simmons’ success that I’ve ever read. Is Bill a talented and funny writer? Absolutely. But did Bill’s career launch at the exact right time in history for him to become the breakthrough success that he is? Absolutely.

One of the big reason’s that Bill Simmons is where he is today is that he started pursuing his dream at the absolute perfect time for him to do so. Newspapers were at their height of arrogance — Boston papers especially — and there was no place for a young writer like Simmons to gain an audience except for the net. The internet was a place that was perfectly suited for a recent college graduate who had plenty of time on his hands and an unhealthy thirst for sports and commentary. And the style of writing Simmons mastered, a format that would only succeed in the early days of the internet, when people still paid by the minute to get online, was a perfect match. Often times probably dialed up the internet just to get on the Boston Sports Guy, only to print his column out and read it like they would the sports page. That’s the reason why his posts probably ran so long… he needed to pack as much in as possible, keeping his fans coming back for more.

Simmons can talk about his collection of books, short-stories and magazine clippings all he wants. I’ve got a closet full of baseball cards, that didn’t make me a big leaguer. Bill Simmons made it as a writer because he was one of the first to embrace the web and one of the first to embrace the humor and every-man qualities of sports writing. His serious stuff? Mediocre. His mail bags that answer the tough questions about Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-sun’s relationship. Very good.

I wish Simmons the best of luck on “The Book of Basketball.” If there’s a writing equivalent to Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, this most certainly is it. Only can a writer with as much built up goodwill and readership as Simmons get away with pumping out 700 pages of commentary on the NBA. Simmons’ original idea, “to blow up the Basketball Hall of Fame and reconstruct it like an Egyptian pyramid,” was so very Simmons. Clever, sports-talky, contrived… and fun.

But for the new Simmons, that’d never do. That’s why only he alone could discover “that there was no real way to compare players from different eras without a common theme in place.” Really? You needed to get started writing a book to figure that out? So this new quest for “common themes,” and trying “to figure out why some players are great than others that doesn’t just involve stats,” became a 700-page opus dedicated to basketball.

Expect 700 pages of hard-hitting insight befitting a weekend edition of USA Today.

This isn’t about railing on Bill Simmons or hating him for having millions of dollars and a readership that I’ll probably never come close to. It’s about pointing out the very unfortunate fact that Bill Simmons is the guy that he used to absolutely hate. When he decides to write, he can still put together a great column (his two-parter about his recent trip to Vegas is vintage Simmons). But today, Bill Simmons is more interested in his Twitter account (almost 1 million followers and 10 posts in the last 24 hours) and his social climbing podcasts. Looking for a “column?” The best you’ll get is a mailbag or some NFL picks.

For Simmons sake, I hope the book is good. Because if you’re a fan of movie history, check out what Heaven’s Gate did for everyone involved.

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2 Responses

  1. “Expect 700 pages of hard-hitting insight befitting a weekend edition of USA Today.”


  2. There is nothing better than a well-thought-out, well-argued hatchet job. Good post.

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