Bill Simmons' Big Score
May 1, 2014 7:13 PM   Subscribe

Bill Simmons, Grantland boss and 30 for 30 executive producer, went from a little known Boston blogger to one of the most successful sports writers in the history of American media. Rolling Stone's Rob Tannenbaum took a deeper look at Simmons.
posted by reenum (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why didn't they name Colby Cosh when they quoted him?
posted by Old Man Wilson at 7:39 PM on May 1, 2014

I actually substantially agree with the full quote from Tommy Craggs in the Deadspin comments. I lost my taste for Simmons as a writer years ago, but his skills as an editor-in-chief have been a largely delightful surprise. 30 for 30 has honestly been remarkably good overall and not the season-by-season recap of Celtics glories I was anticipating when I first heard it. Grantland is more of a mixed bag, but they still employ a bunch of people I'm happy to see writing and who probably wouldn't have gotten a stage that big otherwise. I think it's probably fair to say that it changed sportswriting as a whole, and for the better. If those two are his legacy, he's done pretty well for himself.
posted by Copronymus at 7:51 PM on May 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

Rating Pearl Jam over Nirvana just because they've been around longer pretty much sums up why Bill Simmons gives me the shits.
posted by awfurby at 9:31 PM on May 1, 2014

I understand why many people don't enjoy or like sports; there's excellent arguments against 'em: it's boring and (usually) grown men playing children's games; the waste of resources/time/money/emotional-mental investment; and its status and effects on campuses/towns/culture. I've been angry about and in agreement with some of those arguments myself, and like many sports fans have done the God dammit why do I care so much about what is essentially a stupid game?

Yet for many, sports is like literature in that it's an escape from life, an escape that can be both easier to access and to understand than some other forms of culture. A book, a movie, a concert...these cost money, but it costs nothing to listen to a baseball game on the radio. Or cheering for a winning sports team when your own life isn't doing that great and the fan community can be very powerful draws.

But what I love most about sports, and what I suspect changes people from mere watchers to fans, is also what I love most about literature: a good sports narrative can be a microcosm of what it means to be human. Love, hate, failure, success, friendship, pain, money, tears, pressure, trauma, joy...a good game can hold all of this, and a good season certainly will. As I see it, the job of a sportswriter, and the finest sportswriters do it well, is to find that narrative and help us see it, explore it, or even bang us on the head with it.

One of the only writers Hemingway actually referred to in his writing was the legendary sportswriter Red Smith. "He was reading Red Smith, and he liked him very much." (From Across the River and Into the Trees) Red Smith is actually the writer who gave us the quote, "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein."

Bill Simmons is not a very good sportswriter when it comes to finding the narrative, but he is very good at opening his veins. His writing tends to be very personal, and thus accessible. I didn't enjoy his columns very much on Page 2 but I read them anyway due to that accessibility. However, when it comes to finding writers who do open up those narratives, he excels. Somewhere in there was the quote that this isn't a good age for sports writing, but it is for sportswriters. I have more problems with Simmons' imitators than I do Simmons himself (and I have to admit, I loathe Deadspin). Simmons, so far, seems pretty good at separating the wheat from the chaff and finding the genuine voices. A place like Grantland, open to all mediums, provides a stable place for those sportswriters to have space to open up the veins and find the narrative, and I admire him for it, and am thankful.

A few of Grantland's recent great hits (IMHO) (none by Simmons):

*A wonderful, new media type, 30,000 word piece on the Iditarod: Out in the Great Alone;

*Rocked: An oral history by players, analysts, fans, and others at Candlestick Park during the 1989 Loma Prieta-World-Series-interrupting earthquake;

*Katie Baker's awesome piece on a Russian hockey player returning home;

*Most of the 30 for 30 shorts, including Cutthroat on Clint Malarchuk's PTSD after getting his throat slit in a hockey game.
posted by barchan at 10:40 PM on May 1, 2014 [11 favorites]

Craggs really hits it out of the park on the difference between Simmons as writer (very full of himself, kind of coasting, definitely more focused on being on TV now) vs. Simmons as editor. Grantland is a sprawling variety of stories, about all kinds of topics, much like Simmons' columns, but as stories in their own right, written by people who have a solid handle on what they're doing. The fact that they're bucking the trends, doing longform, refusing to split articles into twenty pages with half a paragraph each, it's a breath of fresh air. I wouldn't say I'm interested in everything they put out, but the things that do catch my eye tend to be far and away better than most of the other things out there.

As for 30 for 30, I hadn't really seen any of them, until I finally got around to watching (because I couldn't not watch) the Bad Boys. It was fantastic (narration by Kid Rock aside), and it made me remember when I actually liked Isaiah Thomas. That right there deserves some sort of award. And the fact that Simmons has matured to the point that he's praising the Bad Boys as being a seriously talented team, rather than the punks that beat up his idol, hey, that was impressive, too.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:28 AM on May 2, 2014

<sportshipster>He drives me nuts now, but back when he was the BSG on CityPages, he helped keep me from going nuts at a dead-end job. And his shtick only seems tired and played out because the whole sports blogging world started copying it. Well, that and the fact he started buying his own hype about 5 . . . (dear God, can it have been that long) 10 years ago.</sportshipster>

I wonder if anyone finally changed Phil Mushnick's diaper . . .
posted by yerfatma at 5:15 AM on May 2, 2014

I'm a little ambivalent about Grantland because I feel the pop culture stuff weakens the site and bleeds into the "proper" sports writers' work, but I will always check it out because it gave Charlie Pierce a place to write about sports after he and the Globe fell out.
posted by yerfatma at 5:18 AM on May 2, 2014

Yes, his columns got tired ages ago. I used to read every word, now I generally don't even both with a skim. I think he at least knows this privately, as his efforts are clearly in other places now. It is notable, however, that his podcast the B.S. Report has continued to be consistently good entertainment.

Also, as noted above, at least parts of Grantland have been an incredible addition to the web. There are issues, but in a web dominated by sites like Buzzfeed and Huff Post, we need more Grantlands.

His latest podcast interviews Jon Hamm, mostly about his upcoming movie Million Dollar Arm, of which Bill Simmons is an executive producer. Which made me think, apropos for this post, good god Bill Simmons has gotten so much bigger and richer than I ever thought possible when I was reading his Boston-themed columns on Page 2 so many years ago.

Unlike Deadspin and so many others though, I don't hate him for this.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:56 AM on May 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's also interesting to note that ESPN, who backs both Grantland and FiveThirtyEight, has evolved to become a spectacular bottom feeder in their mainstream outlet. It's great that Simmons (and Nate Silver) have enough clout to have the autonomy to not be forced to run a huge quota of Tim Tebow and Tiger Woods articles each week.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:04 AM on May 2, 2014

...a site built solely around that chuckling, incurious, cleverest-guy-standing-around-the-Phi-Delt-keg writing voice of his...let's just say a site like that would suck.

Great quote from the guy whose site thinks "piggy poop balls" and "telestrator dong" is the height of humor. (I still agree with him though.)
posted by Banky_Edwards at 7:45 AM on May 2, 2014

Brian Phillips on Grantland is a wonderful writer, his coverage of the London Olympics (which I lived through in person) grabbed the attention of both my girl and me, and Jonah Keri owns baseball writing at the moment.

I used to work on cable documentaries, and I was both jealous and impressed with the 30 for 30 concept and execution. I'm a grumpy enough get-off-my-lawn old man now that I welcome anyone bucking the slideshow click bait web trend and getting ambitious.

The fact that he hired Charles Pierce, one of my favourite writers, probably on the basis of the quality of the "mendacious, whiny little thin-skinned bag of breeze" insult Pierce directed towards him, makes me inclined to think higher of him than his writing.

Believe me, there is another level of arrogant dumb asshole boss out there to have in Media that you don't know on a name basis like Simmons. He can't be that bad
posted by C.A.S. at 8:28 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tommy Craggs' comment is indeed very astute, but I must write in defense of "piggy poop balls" now.

"Piggy poop balls" is an extraordinary split-second capture of one tiny, fortuitous moment which serves to remind one of the incomprehensible amount of other such remarkable moments happening with each passing second. How sad the realization that we'll never see the vast majority of them! How lucky that the trappings of modernity let us see this one!

Do not speak ill of "piggy poop balls" unless you are prepared to speak ill of sweet serendipity itself.
posted by superfluousm at 9:31 AM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's also interesting to note that ESPN, who backs both Grantland and FiveThirtyEight, has evolved to become a spectacular bottom feeder in their mainstream outlet.
And Grantland does these fantastic send-ups of them as well via #HotSportsTakes. But ESPN is so big now that it's not so much biting the hand that feeds them as diversifying the diet...
posted by rouftop at 11:11 AM on May 2, 2014

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