Like a lot of people, I am a longtime fan of Bill Simmons. I have also long since tired of his repetitive shtick, his occasional bouts of self-seriousness (like when he pitched himself as general manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and I bet without a hint of irony, no matter what he later said), the Boston stuff, his myopic pop culture knowledge and his long-entrenched habit of making sweeping generalizations while acting like they are common sense and anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong and if you disagree, oh, here’s a reference to “The Karate Kid” to tide you over, now let’s move on to a discussion of gambling and porn.
But this isn’t going to be a post decrying Simmons. The Internet is full of such posts, and countless sports fans have had countless variations of the same argument. He still has talent and still has his voice, and what he did for online sportswriting cannot be overstated.
Yet it’s interesting to read this Deadspin dispatch from the New Yorker Festival, taking notes on an occasionally-tense chat between Simmons and his foreword-writing pal Malcolm Gladwell.
That tension can be best represented by one of the many “now let’s talk about movies” diversions, in which Gladwell argued that the Coen brothers were some of the few film directors to have produced more than three truly great movies. Simmons disagreed.
“That’s why I don’t read Slate.com,” he said, and a confused, troubled hush fell over the room of New Yorker subscribers. “A certain kind of person likes a Coen brothers movie.”
“The certain kind of person who likes The Big Lebowski,” Gladwell countered, “is the certain kind of person I like.”
Yes, that alone should do it for me. But I also know I shouldn’t be remotely surprised that someone like Bill Simmons is derisive about the Coen Brothers (who HAVE produced more than three truly great movies, which many directors HAVEN’T done, but that’s besides the point right now). When you’ve read as much Simmons as your average ESPN reading sports fan has, you don’t expect anything approaching depth or intelligence from his take on pop culture. (Still: Referring to “A Serious Man” as “artsy-fartsy?” Really? He’s a highly-paid writer with an oft-praised sense of pop culture. “Artsy-fartsy.”)
The dispatch also looks at the most interesting aspect of Simmons these days: He clings to his regular Joe, average sports fan persona, while cashing checks from ESPN that are believed to be well north of seven figures and speaking at events like the New Yorker Festival. He writes bestselling books about the NBA, but doesn’t mind making sweeping statements that will be disproven and that he will never mention again. He seems to want to be the guy he was when he started out, but isn’t that guy anymore. There’s a disconnect that he never mentions, but that provides an interesting undercurrent to everything he does.