Pop Culture is no different than real life. Most love doesn’t last forever. Sometimes it’s time to let go. And, of course, the more you love something, the harder it is to admit that it’s over.
When a beloved Pop Culture figure starts to dim, there are three possible responses. One is to grow distant, pretend they no longer exist, like with an old girlfriend. This, however, is only possible if there isn’t still passion lurking… if there is, you’ll get sucked back in like Ron Swanson with a Tammy. Another is to get angry. Part of the reason why Nicolas Cage is so hated is that everybody is just so disappointed, confused about how we got from Moonstruck and Leaving Las Vegas to Ghost Rider and Drive Angry. And the third possible reaction is keep pretending that it’s just a lull, to hesitate when it’s obviously time to pull the plug.
Bill Simmons, along with Mike Royko, is undoubtedly the columnist to whom I’ve felt the closest. I started reading him around 10 years ago. I’ve enjoyed his books, his podcasts, his documentary series, most everything he’s done except that stupid cartoon. But I couldn’t deny a gradual but long decline in the quality of his writing. Friend after friend came to the end of the line, but like The Dilemma listening to Collapse Into Now, I held on.
In one of his now rare non-mailbag, non-chat, non-list columns, Simmons announced that he decided to buy L.A. Kings season tickets. He begins:
During the NBA’s latest “crucial” labor meeting in New York City yesterday, I was attending the home opener for the Los Angeles Kings 3,000 miles away. How were these two events related? Well, I bought season tickets for the Clippers in 2003, kept them for the past eight years … and added Kings season tickets a few weeks ago. They are now in direct competition for my Amex card. Next June, I will be eliminating one of them in the dramatic season finale of Things I Probably Shouldn’t Have Bought Anyway. The Kings have either seven, eight or nine months to win me over. And right now, their odds are better than I thought.
Ugh. I mean, ugh. This is pretty good evidence of Simmons’ break with reality re: how important he is to the NBA. As an NBA fan, I hate the lockout, it’s fucking annoying, there’s no reason for it, etc. But there’s very little chance that they’re really going to lose me as a fan… and there’s absolutely no fucking chance they’re going to lose a guy whose sports knowledge reputation rests entirely on being knowledgable about the NBA.
I bought tickets because I like hockey, but also, because I want to learn more about the sport. I want to hang out with some Kings and see if the “hockey players are the best dudes in professional sports” theory is actually true. I want to find out how much better the “hockey fan in-game experience” is than the other sports. I want to send Grantland staffers to games and make them write about what they witnessed. (Hence, our “Behind the Pipes” series; our seats are only a couple of rows behind one of the nets.) I want to find out answers to things like “How do you become an L.A. Kings ice girl?”, “How did Rocco’s Old-School Tattoo Balm decide to sponsor the L.A. Kings ice girls?” and even, “How can we get Rocco’s Old-School Tattoo Balm as a Grantland sponsor?” We even picked the perfect Kings season — it’s their best chance to win the Stanley Cup since Wayne Gretzky’s heyday.
You know what would have driven The Boston Sports Guy crazy as he sat on his couch and wrote about sports from the fans’ perspective? A multi-millionaire sports writer trying to pass off corporate tickets as his own in order to ingratiate himself. Part of Simmons’ charm was that he figured out how to use the Internet as a way to chronicle sports the way most people experience it. I’m sure that, maybe even to this day, he wrote out a personal check for his Clippers season tickets (I’m also equally sure he used them as a business expense on his taxes). As the years went by, and his money pile grew, the bitching about the cost became incredibly annoying, but whatever. But, “They are now in direct competition for my Amex card”? That’s as duplicitous as Valerie Malone.
True story: On Monday, someone from one of the two sides called me to discuss my admittedly hostile Friday column (and my opinions on the lockout in general). We talked for about 15 minutes about a particular point of contention, came to a middle ground on it, realized we both wanted the same thing — an entirely new NBA system — then spent the next 20 minutes wondering why this mutual epiphany hadn’t happened for the two sides that caused this lockout.
It’s not really Simmons’ fault. He went from being some random blogger, to being featured on ESPN.Com, to joining a late-night talk show staff, to writing two best-selling books, to producing an awesome set of documentaries, to having ESPN build an entire fucking website around his sensibilities. His hometown has won 7 championships, he’s made more money than he ever imagined, he has two kids and, by all accounts, a hot wife.
But, great success often comes with greater delusions. Where the NBA is concerned, Simmons has crossed into Crazy Roman Emperor Shit. He truly thinks that David Stern and Billy Hunter should be concerned that he thinks less of them. He truly thinks that he and his unnamed source solved the problem in 15 minutes (you know what other sportswriter convention is annoying? Stories featuring someone too important to be mentioned, who you’re supposed to trust as an unimpeachable source.) Most importantly, he truly thinks, “if they would only just listen to me, if they would only just put me in charge, everything would be perfect.” That’s an Olbermannian level of ego.
Note: I taped a BS Report with Live Nation CEO Nathan Hubbard that runs Thursday in which Hubbard lays out the perils of fan behavior this decade, not just for pro sports but for the music business, as well. It’s much harder to sell season tickets and mediocre seats in 2011 than it was in 2003. At some point, the players need to accept this.
Simmons knows that he just has to be patient, the players just don’t understand the world the way he does. He’s trying to be helpful, bringing experts on to the podcasts in the hopes the players will JUST LISTEN TO HIM, GODDAMNIT!
He’s gone from being a regular fan who wrote about what he saw, to being somebody who thinks he has (or at least should have) the power to change the story. As every writer from Norman Mailer to Bret Easton Ellis will tell you, becoming more important to the story than what you’re writing about is always a recipe for success.
I think Chicago should have two teams.
This is one of those things that Simmons likes to mutter on about as he creates a perfect NBA in his mind, where a mere sweep of his hand influences the motion of the ball. But, please, please just fuck off. As a Chicago sports fan, it’s much better on every level when the city has one team in a sport. Nobody in Chicago has ever expressed an interest in another basketball team. Leave us alone.
We need to create a league in which Orlando can offer Dwight Howard $25 million to $30 million more than anyone else (if he wants to leave that extra money on the table to play for a new team, so be it). We need to create a league in which Jose Juan Barea can’t make more than $16 million for four years, and only because that’s what a valuable third guard who doesn’t sell a single ticket should make. We need to give owners better checks and balances (because 80 percent of them have proven they’re too incompetent to handle a relatively free market), and we need to convince players that it’s not always a good thing to grab as much money as you can possibly get (because nothing turns off fans quite like overpaid and underachieving athletes). We need better ideas. We need to keep thinking outside the box. We need to stop looking so freaking old and stubborn and intractable and painfully self-unaware.
We all know how we feel about using “we” when referring to sports teams. Simmons is the royal “we” for an entire league! He’s not irrationally attaching himself to his favorite franchise. He’s putting himself in the middle of a corporate negotiation as if he’s part of the process. When you go from “I think” to “we” in expressing your opinions about something you’re not connected with, you’re as crazy as Ray Pruitt.
Right now? The door has swung wide-open for the Kings. As the clock counted down their 5-0 victory last night, I looked around and noticed that, incredibly, just about every fan had stuck around for the final minute. They chanted “LET’S GO KINGS! LET’S GO KINGS!” until the final horn, then skipped out of Staples Center happily, hoping this would finally be their year. And it might.
Me? I drove home thinking, Maybe I’m not gonna miss basketball as much as I thought. Life moves on. It always does.
Odds that Bill Simmons was picturing himself as Jake Gyllenhall in the movie version of the romance between him and basketball, a Peter Gabriel song blasting as the sun set behind the Hollywood Hills? I say at least 46.7%
After reading today’s column, I feel like the guy who wants to get a divorce, only to find his wife fucking somebody else. It’s a relief to know where we stand… we’re just not in the same place anymore… I’m sure we’ll remain friends, have a couple laughs from time to time. But, I need to move on, because you’re creeping me out like Nat.