Sports Guy, Where Art Thou?

bill simmons moustache

Call it personal preference. Maybe it’s inability to embrace the mainstream. It could be disappointment or fatigue. Regardless of reason, what Bill Simmons became seems wrong.

Make it clear from the start. Simmons is popular, rich and cutting-edge. He’s been willing to explore the vague intricacies of sports and communicate them. His 30 for 30 series became a tremendous hit with gripping stories and fantastic film production. He regularly puts out podcasts that don’t tickle my fancy, which means little. His devout fan base will listen with each release. Mailbags upwards of 7,000 words draw the group of Simmonites into immediate and immovable attention.

He’s his own beast. Perhaps that’s what created the feeling within me. It’s not envy as there are many writers better than him, and I doubt I’ll be one of them. There’s no assault on his fans coming, as they consume what they love. Consumers in general enjoy what they want to enjoy, and that’s their prerogative with Simmons.

It all seems so different now. When the brilliance of Simmons stood at its finest peak, he cranked out hilarious, sincere and poignant pieces. His piece on the different levels of losing in 2002 still remains a personal favorite. There remained a tie between all sports fans and Simmons. His pain was yours at some point.

There were many pieces like the aforementioned that deserve a eternal bookmarks in the sports fan’s browser. The man – by my account – is a genius. He started as the fan (with a journalistic background) and made it to the top.

Without his work, I likely wouldn’t be a sportswriter. I’d also be willing to bet that a world without Simmons would be one without this website. He made blogging a “thing,” and fans across the globe – whether they knew it or not – reaped the benefits of his pioneering.

Some will argue that his undoing is the connection with the blogosphere. While fanboyism is rampant across the Web, I find it hard to put that blame on Simmons. He entered a black hole and created something, without any idea of the impact and ripple effect it would have.

At the point where I frequently threw remote controls over bad calls, it all read like beautiful sheets of music. When the desire to become a sportswriter took over, Simmons’ work lost much of its appeal.

The idea of Simmons pouring out several thousand words of answers that frequently tie pop culture and sports together irks me for different reasons. When his mailbags are read, I frequently wonder how people read them consistently. It’s tiresome, long-winded and casually off point. Where can one find the time to read about the Clippers’ bench resembling the cast of Survivor? The incessant pop culture connections don’t mirror what I remember soaking in when Simmons wrote.

Instead, he’s now connected the two entities: pop culture and sports. I thought those two things were supposed to stay separate. Maybe I’m out of touch.

bill simmons

Simmons’ editorial venture on ESPN, Grantland, churns out some of the best content the sports Web can offer. At times, it also produces things too far out of left field, all the while seeming to be too smart for its – and the reader’s – good. Still, when Grantland is good, it's really good.

Rarely do I find these valuable pieces written by Simmons, and that’s what I thought was his capability. There are few at their best that can hold a candle to him. At his apex, he could’ve written weekly columns for Sports Illustrated or the New York Times. My appraisal of his talent – while worthless – is high.

He’s considering stepping out of the studio after his run with ESPN’s basketball television programming. This doesn’t disappoint, as he never came off as a TV guy. His niche should be within the margins, where it’s capable of weaving together ideas that never seemed possible before.

Yes, it’s his life. He’s earned the right to cash his paychecks with his actions. Of course, this sounds like an argument of he-said-he-sold-out. I insist, there's no malice towards Simmons. The problem is that while we separate him from his ESPN overlords we spend so much time pining about, perhaps it’s time we group them together.

The life of Simmons’ writing isn’t what it used to be. The quality of his words seems less than before. Diatribes and similes fill in the blanks of what I once read as something so poetic and real. Maybe he really turned in to the Dennis Miller of sportswriting.

I’m not his advisor, nor should I be. There’s nothing to prevent Simmons from backing up trucks filled with cash while talking to Uncle Sal about last week’s potential bookie-thrown results. But at this point, he’s become the talking head that we all turned to him to avoid. Just because the appearance is different doesn’t mean the intent is. ESPN caught a fan base hook, line and sinker with the expanded role Simmons plays. He sells; people buy. His tremendous book sales have indicated that – and rightfully so.

The troublesome part in all of this is that he’s not what he could’ve been. Maybe I’m jaded – writers have been known to get that way – but I don’t think it’s the case. I think any rightfully sane person would hit the "X" on a tab with 3,500 words that provide little substance.

NBA junkies will always marvel at Simmons’ ability to put everything in perspective and connect it to a theory or pattern. The trade machine will endure, with more and more questions about what Kevin Love would really fetch if Seattle had a team and wanted him.

It all seems so trivial. I’d much rather read something that explores the agony and ecstasy that comes with being a fan. There seems to be a growing number of fans who have become disillusioned with Simmons. It comes as unsurprising. I’ve strayed far from his work. It’s not what I remember inspiring me and countless others.

There’s something to be said for the man who made himself out of what he wanted to do. It’s smart, driven and the American way. Yet, I wonder what could’ve been.

In the silly sadness that overtakes me as I smile thinking that a twitter handle switch from @SportsGuy33 to @BillSimmons represented much more than a name.

The Sports Guy is gone. I wouldn't bet on his return.

7 Replies to “Sports Guy, Where Art Thou?”

  1. I didn't know how to explain it but you nailed it on the head.
    Ive got no malice for him making it bigger, I just wish it was like the good old days. Like when your favorite band that no one knew makes it big.

  2. To comment on the actual piece, however, I say this.

    I probably wouldn't be a writer (or a guy resembling one trying to somehow form a career out of it) had it not been for Bill Simmons. Obviously, there were other inspirations, but Simmons is definitely one of the most important ones. I kinda saw some of myself in him, being that neither one of us are the greatest writers in the world, but his appreciation for whatever it is he writes about is beyond evident. Like Trible said, he drew you in because it felt like he was relaying what the everyday fan went through. And that type of connection is invaluable, and even rarer.

    Not every piece the guy drops I love, nor flock to. But he's earned that from me, one of those "Simmonites" I guess lol. That's just the nature of the game and a lot of the points Mark mentioned were spot on. Just like every jump shot doesn't fall through the net, nor will every piece I, Mark or Simmons writes will connect. The evolution of Simmons is sort of what we see in rap all the time though. The most accurate comparison I can think of is Kanye West. Both started with "humble beginnings" to grow and become this larger than life figure in their respective fields.

    The same way Mark described how Simmons doesn't do it for him much anymore is almost an exact comparison how many rap fans feel about Kanye West. "He doesn't rap about stuff I can relate to anymore," or "He's too far gone and can't escape the cloud of his own celebrity." Whatever the saying, some of it aligns with Simmons.

    So while I think this is an amazing article and one I'm sure a lot of people have been saying/tweeting for months now, I can also understand the disconnect.

  3. I won't say I disagree with you because I don't but I also don't really have a problem with the direction he's taken his career. I was never much of a fan of Simmons but I admired him for that reason. He had/has a loyal following and made something of himself just by being passionate about sports. That's enviable.

  4. I still enjoy his NBA writing and some of his other stuff when he actually writes. But yeah, the mailbags and the podcasts are a chore for me, as are the incessant pop culture references. However, he seems to be fully self-aware of it, and he also seems to understand the great stable of talent he has at Grantland, letting some of the better writers do the bulk of the writing.

    I definitely miss his Sports Guy columns, but it's a natural evolution for a guy who always wanted to be in the entertainment side as much as the sports side. I think you're right, the Sports Guy is gone for good.

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