After Michael Wilbon’s master class in semi-coherent hubris from a few days ago, you knew it had to happen. Some sportswriter, somewhere, would do something to demonstrate that he was more self-important than Wilby. Who would it be? That answer arrived today from The Surprisingly High-Pitched Voice of Guy Sports Fans Who Are Guys, Bill Simmons (above, left). At least Wilbon’s “I Am The Magnificent” moment came in an online chat; Simmons tucked his self-regard into a ramblin’ 3,850-word jam session of a column on Doc Rivers. The conceit of the column is that BSG is writing a career obit for Doc Rivers, with the date of his firing by the Celtics, the circumstances thereof and his replacement all TBA’ed. Not the awesomest idea, but don’t worry, it only lasts for roughly half of the article. Anyway, keep that structural conceit in mind when reading over this little tidbit, dropped in around the 2,200-word mark. One last bit of scene-setting: in the paragraph immediately preceding this one, he addresses the fact that the Boston Globe‘s Bob Ryan, a friend and admirer of Rivers, refuses to advocate Doc’s firing. Okay:
This speaks to a whole ‘nother issue: When I started writing columns for my old Web site and built a miniscule base of loyal readers, the local establishment (the Globe, Herald and WEEI) pooh-poohed me in a variety of ways. At first, they played the “nobody’s reading him” card. Once it became apparent that some people WERE reading me, they switched to the “he doesn’t matter, he doesn’t come into the clubhouse card,” which was funny because I wanted to infiltrate the clubhouses. Unfortunately, this was the late ’90s — when you told someone you wrote an Internet sports column, they reacted like you were selling knives door-to-door. Really? You get paid for that? I didn’t have a chance in hell of getting a press pass from any local team. Not being allowed in clubhouses was the best thing that could have happened — it forced me to think outside the box, write from the fan’s perspective, try to anticipate potential column ideas before everyone else and offer something different from newspapers. In time, I came to realize that you didn’t need a press pass to write an entertaining column about sports. So thank you, everyone who blackballed me.
Now it’s 2006 and I’m wondering if a press pass does any good. Unlike the old days, basketball reporters rarely get extra access anymore — it’s just the same herd of writers hovering around the same people, day after day, writing down the same boring quotes from the same group of bored people who just want them to go away. Unlike the old days, we can watch every minute of every game on TV. We can watch the postgame press conferences. We can watch highlights and sound bites on ESPN. We can argue about the team with other fans on message boards and blogs. By the time most newspaper stories are published, the news always feels a little dated. I’m telling you from experience — it’s possible to follow a professional basketball team without reading the local beat writers now. I do it every day.
(Here I have excised stuff about Patriots coverage in the Boston Herald and a sore thumb of a Spears/Federline reference) Thinking over the past 10 months of Boston sports, I can’t remember a single time when somebody with “inside access” helped elucidate something about the Red Sox, Patriots or Celtics that I couldn’t have figured out myself.
Smooth transition. I’ll say that, unlike GC (whom I may be misrepresenting, but considering that he nicknamed the guy “Sports Putz,” I’d guess not), I have actually enjoyed Simmons’ columns in the past. The fairly distant past, sure, but while his trademarked conceits have been very, very played-out for a few years now, I generally like his writing about the NBA best of all the stuff he does. It’s still rife with his patented corniness and the spunky self-importance seen above, but the guy does care about NBA hoops, which is something the average Joe Bro will not often cop to, currently. But the end-stage egotism above and a tendency to deploy the first-person plural when writing about the Celtics (“our best rebounding forward, Ryan Gomes”) reveal what has become so distinctly putzy about the Sports Guy. Even in his columns that actually deal with sports — as opposed to his opinions on “The O.C.” and the ones in which his fans beseech him to add “The Frisman Jackson Face” to his lexicon or whatever-the-hell — he’s no longer capable of/interested in writing about anything but himself.