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Is Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball Blog Journalism’s First Essential Classic?

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News Bulletin: Richie Allen is no longer the only superstar athlete we can call a dick!

I consider myself to be a contemporary of ESPN’s Bill Simmons – an infinitely less successful contemporary, but if they ever start profiling passionate writers, who stop every ten sentences to make a joke about Beverly Hills 90210 or Kelly Leak of the Bad News Bears like they were the new "Beat Generation", I figure that I at least merit a footnote.

Bill just wrote a 700 page treatise on basketball. Ingeniously, he’s called it The Book of Basketball.

In my opinion, it’s a pretty brilliant piece of work. Essentially, it’s the hoops equivalent of The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract littered with penis jokes and other tomfoolery.

What older print journalists hate about this new “blog journalism” or whatever you want to call it, was best expressed by sportswriter Buzz Bissinger’s exasperated, grand mal seizure while discussing the Internet site Deadspin on HBO’s Costas Now.

I’m guessing this aside from Simmons would give most writers from Bissenger’s era permanent night sweats.

“Baseball player Curt Flood gets credit for standing up to the Man and paving the way for a new era of sports contracts, only (Rick) Barry did the same two years earlier. So why doesn’t he get the credit? Because Rick Barry was a dick. I keep telling you!”

Yes Buzz, thanks to “blog journalism” you can apparently now come right out and call Rick Barry a dick in a book published by a major corporation!

Can I picture the venerable Jim Murray, late great columnist of the Los Angeles Times, stooping to lower his craft by calling O.J. Simpson a dick back in the 1970s? No, but I’d bet my life that he probably said it on numerous occasions. I’m not saying that printing it would have saved Ron and Nicole’s lives, but exactly how much can you trust a media that convinced the entire world that O.J. Simpson was football’s answer to Mr. Rogers.

How many journalists came out after the Simpson killings and admitted that everyone on the inside always knew that O.J. was – er basically, always a prick? Those are the guys with the ethics I should trust?

Simmons writes like a quality stand-up comedian, a literate one with an opinion like Bill Hicks or Doug Stanhope. How many millions of words have been written about Richard Nixon over the past 60 years? How many were as bullshit-free and concise as Lenny Bruce and George Carlin? If you went to see George Carlin sometime in the early ‘70’s, he at some juncture said, “Isn’t Richard Nixon a dick?” and he was instantly someone you could trust. I dare you to find me a biography of Richard Nixon that fully encompasses his character better than that five word phrase.

Does Bill Simmons justify Perez Hilton and any number of other inane, untalented hacks that cloud up the Internet? In my opinion, if you have a brain, the cream rises to the top. Free speech wasn’t put in the first amendment so you could suddenly stop being as intelligent as a cocker spaniel.

How does that tired holocaust argument about too much free speech go?

"First they came for Rick Barry, but I wasn’t Rick Barry so I didn’t mind. Then they came for Michael J. Fox – and that was just wrong! Anyone who doesn’t respect Michael J. Fox isn’t fit to live!"

The true question is whether you can still take Simmons’ 700 page opus seriously, when at least a third of it is spent mulling over such seemingly irreverent things like what other career John Holmes could have chosen and whether Neil Walk was the hairiest player in NBA History.

In Simmons’ case, you absolutely can. Like a great Monty Python sketch, Simmons has enough command of his topic to convince you that he’s absolutely passionate and as knowledgeable about basketball as anyone that’s ever broached the topic, and that earns him the right to repeatedly call Kareem Abdul Jabbar, “a big ninny”.

Besides, what's the point of railing on Wilt Chamberlain for 20 pages without inserting at least as many jokes about his sexual encounters on airplanes? Simmons' one pretension being that he lacks all pretension even when he's trying desperately to make a serious point. If you're Bill Simmons it works.

Simmons’ brand of journalism, when it’s done well (and yes Buzz, I know that’s not very often) is the equivalent to the way really intelligent people exchange their thoughts in e-mails that are often as silly and profane as they are passionate, and people with a brain can appreciate both.

Jim Murray was a brilliant writer, but who knew more about the sports landscape that he covered, his readers or the guys lucky enough to have dinner with him?

The history of sports writing is filled with decades where nobody would be caught dead calling even Ty Cobb a dick. It’s also filled with wonderful stories that are complete works of fiction passed off as the God’s honest truth. Given the choice between romanticized false nonsense and hard, hilarious, guttural truth telling, I’ll take the truth every time. Besides, even Rick Barry knows that he’s a dick.

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About Brad Laidman

  • Why this book instead of God Save The Fan? This one may be better — although personally I respect Simmons the way many people respect the Beatles, because everyone else did — but Will Leitch’s book came first, and it’s about all sports, not just basketball.

  • brad laidman

    good pick – the simmons book is just amazing to me 700 pages filled with nonsense footnotes – an assumption that people know half the stuff that he is talking about without wasting time to fill them in – it’s a great book that I don’t think would have had a prayer of being published 10 years ago

  • Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball Blog Journalism is a classic example. It is a must read for the basketball lovers.The author have extensive knowledge in the techniques of the game. a must read for the newbies.