I’ve been writing its history in the form of churlish, triannual blog posts over the course of the last few years, but the transition of Bill Simmons from ordinary-bro sportswriter to nightmarish egobeast has been working itself out in print for all to see for some time now. For those of us scratching away at the margins of the writing game — making very little money; getting, like, edited — Simmons’ life seems pretty good. A lot of that is just his (yooge) paycheck, but also the fact that he apparently can just wave into print whatever he wants. GC lets me do that here, of course, but my lifestyle is a few (dozen) frills shy of Bill’s. Also, everything I write is perfect.
But while I do envy BS’s security, I think there’s something basically good-for-you about getting edited: it’s not necessarily fun, but the thing that comes out with your name on it is usually better for all that, and easier to be proud of. And, of course, it reminds you that your first drafts aren’t perfect. Presumably, someone is editing Simmons — we know this because he gets incredibly pissy/pissed on the few occasions when his stuff gets spiked — but not hard enough that he doesn’t get to run a 9,000-word exchange with (um) Malcolm Gladwell. Although that might not be the best example, since every one of those 9,000 words is perfect. For instance, these from Gladwell:
What’s [Nick] Faldo’s favorite band? Joy Division? Or some kind of obscure Welsh thrash band too hard core for American radio?
Or these from Simmo:
I tackled the All-Time Black/White Finals on Page 1,448 of my book in the second footnote. You haven’t gotten there yet. Just know that I refuse to count foreigners as white guys, and you can’t make me.
Sorry, nowhere to cut.
But every writer, me included obviously, believes that they’re handing in something really good in most drafts. That’s born of the rush that comes with finishing something you worked hard at, and maybe if you do it enough times — and get the adulation that BS has gotten over the years — that (usually fleeting) euphoria starts to stick. Self-esteem’s great, but Simmo’s recent work, even egregiously phoned-in columns like this one, come off peremptory, condescending and curdled — tossed-off, but with the understanding that the readers will accept his off-tosses with proper reverence. The reason why, it seems, is this: Simmons would really rather not be writing them. As he reveals in an interview with Slam’s Myles Brown, what he’d really like to do is direct. The Minnesota Timberwolves, in particular. Yeah, the team has problems, but, Simmons says:
I have some ideas on how to rectify [them], but I™m not sharing them out of sheer spite because it looks like the TWolves won™t even consider my candidacy despite the fact that thousands and thousands of fans e-mailed their team president about me this week. Did thousands of fans e-mail them urging them to hire David Kahn or Rex Chapman? NOOOOO!
Here™s a classic example of why NBA teams are dumb: Even if they bring me in for an interview, at the very least, that becomes a national story. So they™d be spending like two grand on business class plane fare and a hotel for me, then two hours of their time going through the charade of interviewing me (assuming they had no interest). Isn™t that two grand well spent? This goes back to what I™m talking about: You have a struggling small market franchise that has no foothold at all in its region, and they won™t even considering spending two grand to get their fans talking? Fans are pretty easy to manipulate”we like wondering about shit, arguing about shit, and so on. It really don™t take that much…
I don™t want to just repeat the point, but small market teams need to connect with their fans and keep hustling and figuring out ways to make headlines and drive local interest in their team. Who™s better for that purpose than me? A sports columnist turned GM? Name me one move the TWolves could make this summer that would generate more local and national headlines than hiring me, short of scheduling sex orgies for fans after home games or something. You can™t. Their job is to sell basketball to the city of Minnesota”a city that, by the way, has turned on the team and barely supports it”and build interest in the team nationally, which can only be done by taking chances that nobody else is taking. It™s a job for a smart person who also loves basketball. That™s what people don™t seem to understand.
As a Nets fan (from the city of New Jersey) who has been incessantly bombarded with the most insulting of in-game bullshit out of the recognition of how easily manipulated I am, let me affirm that that approach to fans always works. You know what else works? Just getting on your own shit.
I love basketball and I am competitive as hell. That™s really it. I just spent the last 12 years of my life continuing to push the envelope and take chances. Every time somebody told me I couldn™t do something, it made me want to do it more. I think I™ve had a really interesting career and I haven™t failed once. Shit, I forgot about my cartoon. OK, I failed once. But I built an audience with a successful online sports column before anyone else, and I built a national audience as a mainstream sports columnist before anyone else, and I built an audience with a sports podcast well before anyone else. Those are three pretty good œwell before anyone elses right?