Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An Editorial Letter for Bill Simmons, ESPN

Bill Simmons, ESPN Columnist and Celtics fan, was clearly in shock when he wrote this ....

... so I've decided to help him fix it -- the task an editor would have performed, if ESPN had any.

Paragrah 1: I had trouble stomaching the 2008-09 Lakers for the same reason I've never bought Tom and Katie or Hillary and Bill. It always felt like something of an arrangement to me. Let's try to pull this off. It will put us in a better place. We can do this. I can tell the difference between "These guys love each other" and "These guys put up with each other for a few months because of the carrot dangling at the end." At least I'd like to think I can.

This becomes: "I Hate the Lakers." Fair enough, he's a Boston guy, but if you can say the same thing with a short sentence rather than a long sentence, you will usually improve your text. As we already know that Simmons is a Celtics fan, this is arguably superfluous; however, we will include it in anyway, to set tone for the remainder of the essay.

The second paragraph, beginning with Ultimately, does it matter? It doesn't matter, as Simmons clearly suspected.

In the third and fourth paragraphs, through "so we can say we were there to witness it," Simmons asks if Kobe has changed, and swears on the souls of his children.

Here Simmons violates the principle of authority. This is an important principle in writing: examine the sentences "He stood perfectly still" and "He stood still." They mean the same thing. "It was utterly dark" and "It was dark" -- again, they mean the same thing. A writer who is confident of his work will make the simpler statement: a writer who is not will reach for unecessary emphasis.

A man who swears on the souls of his children, in a trivial matter like sports, doesn't merely suspect he's lying: he knows it, and hopes you don't.

Next Simmons asserts that we are all in this together, which is untrue. Some of us, for example, are Lakers fans; and some of us are Celtics fans. The Celtics recent 20 year stretch of mediocrity was a matter of great joy to me; I believe Simmons does not share this emotion. I believe, in fact, that Lakers success pains him, and Celtics success pleases him. Understanding this ESPN essay as the work of a man dealing with substantial pain brought about by a Lakers championship, we can perhaps extend some generosity to the unfortunate Simmons ...

Midway through the fourth paragraph, Simmons shares with us that he envies those who saw the great players of the 60s and 70s in their primes. If not eloquent, this is at least clearly stated and imparts new information: it stays. Likewise his brave admission that Kobe Bryant's fourth championship has propelled him into the ranks of the 10 best players in NBA history.

In the fifth, sixth, and seventh paragraphs, Simmons shares with us that he is not yet 40, and that the comparisons of Kobe to Michael Jordan strike him as unreasonable; and that constant praise of Kobe makes him uncomfortable. We will accept the first two as reasonable statements; the latter is clearly a Hemingwayesque use of repetition, since he returns to it repeatedly. We will therefore include it, as a stylistic matter not wildly detrimental to the smooth flow of the text.

In the 8th paragraph Simmons asserts that he is smarter than the average audience of a basketball game. This is possibly true once we factor in data that Simmons does not share within this particular column -- namely, that Simmons is a Clippers season tickets holder. I will concede that Simmons is most likely brighter than the crowds at and audiences for the basketball games he most frequently attends, but perhaps Simmons makes too much of this? I, for example, am taller and stronger than the friends of my 10 year old son....

As a two year season ticket holder, he writes in the column linked above ... without any evident shame or embarrassment.

Much as the first paragraph of this piece can be accurately condensed to "I Hate the Lakers," the 8th paragraph might becomes "I am a Clippers Season Ticket holder," or even, "I am smarter than most Clippers fans."

In the ninth paragraph, Simmons asserts that the Lakers were a good team, and that other teams had problems that prevented them from being as good. While a true statement, it's trivial in context: this is true of every championship team, every year. (One must, again, make allowance for Simmons' Celtics neurosis; he notes Kevin Garnett had a knee injury that damaged his team's playoff chances; but fails to note that the Celtics lost to the Lakers both times this year while Garnett was healthy; in the first game, snapping a 19 game Celtics winning streak; and in the second game, on the Celtics home court, snapping a Celtics 12 game winning streak.) Nonetheless it should probably be included in the edited essay as it is one of the few arguments Simmons actually presents.

Toward the end of the ninth paragraph, Simmons asserts that the Lakers seem to him merely a very good team, and not a great one. This is nearly a meaningful statemtent.

In the 10th through 12th paragraphs, Simmons observes that Kobe's performance in the playoffs this year was almost identical to his playoffs performance last year. This is an accurate and legitimate observation. However, Simmons fails to note that Kobe's performance in the Finals round was one of the great performances in NBA History; the last player to average more than 32.4 points and 7.4 assists in a Finals was Jerry West, in 1969. This was a once in 30 years performance, and Simmons' inability or unwillingness to take note of it is striking.

In the 13th through 16th paragraphs, Simmons asserts that Kobe's once in 30 years performance was not really much better than his performance in the 2008 finals, since the improvement year to year was a mere 6.7 points, .9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists.

In the 17th through 19th paragraphs, Simmons explains that in addition to Kobe's improved play, his teammates also played better. He also asserts that the 2008 Boston Celtics were a better team than the 2009 Orlando Magic. One is tempted to give him credit for his final assertion in the 19th paragraph, that the Lakers "deserved to win" ... but unless the NBA is indeed fixed, this is yet another trivial statement that is true of all NBA champions since the league's inception.

In the 20th paragraph, Simmons selects various elements, while ignoring others, of Kobe's Finals performance, to support his argument that Kobe's once-in-30-years performance ... wasn't.

In the 21st paragraph, Simmons answers the question he opened with: "Ultimtely, does it matter?" He's still a Celtics fan, and it still doesn't. His conclusion is sound: he finds that Kobe has not changed. This is a point I would agree with; except that Simmons means it as an insult, when it is the highest of compliments for a player that has played at the highest levels since his entry into the league 13 years ago.

In the 22nd and 23rd paragraph, Simmons asserts that in previous years, Kobe's teammates were threatened by his individual brilliance; as opposed to the 2009 Lakers, who embrace it.

In the 24th paragraph, Simmons reiterates his distate for praise directed toward Kobe Bryant.

In the 25th paragraph, Simmons asks if the Lakers actually like one another.

In the 26th paragraph, he concedes that he does not know; and then appears to reverse field and conclude that yes, he does: the interaction between Kobe, his teammates, and Phil Jackson, seems inauthentic. (In this, Simmons, though he may not know it, is part of a tradition revered among Easterners for some generations now, to the effect that the citizens of Los Angeles are inauthentic, false, and shallow. It is only a minor amusement that Simmons appears to think this an original observation applicable principally to Kobe Bryant.)

In the 27th paragraph, Simmons reiterates his belief that the Lakers do not like one another and that any appearance to the contrary is, yes, inauthentic.

In the 28th pagraph, Simmons asserts that Kobe is an unusual player in NBA history, but that this is not due to his talent or accomplishments, but rather to his privileged upbringing (which, one assumes, is unheard of in NBA history) and to the circumstances of his career.

In paragraphs 29 and 30, Simmons asserts that Kobe is unlikeable, and adds that he does not like him. Also, the appearance of Kobe's wife and children after the end of Game 5 made him want to throw up.

In paragraphs 31 and 32, Simmons argues that Kobe should not have played in the Olympics, and repeats J.A. Adande's argument that Kobe should have because it gave him a chance to bond with his peers. Simmons now realizes that Adande was right, and adds that Kobe's bonding was inauthentic, a part Kobe had learned to play.

In paragraph 33, Simmons finds a certain detachment in viewing the Lakers championship, and finds, yet again, in a nearly charming return to form, that Kobe and the Lakers are inauthentic. (He also contradicts his statement in Paragraph 26, when asking himself whether the Lakers like one another: "I don't know. I couldn't tell." During the long journey of seven paragraphs, he's figured it out: they don't. "We can tell when a team connects as a whole. We can." One might call this inconsistency, dishonesty, or even growth: to be sure, seven paragraphs can be a long time for people with carpal tunnel.)

In paragraph 34, Simmons finds that young championship teams, such as the 2009 Lakers, are inferior to elderly championship teams, such as the 2008 Boston Celtics. Also, the Lakers are inauthentic.

Let's speed along some; there's duplication in much of the following.

35: The media talked about Kobe too much. Positively.

36. Stories about things other than Kobe's brilliance were more interesting.

37. Several of the Lakers had something to prove in the Finals.

38-39. Unlike other extraordinarily wealthy families, the Buss family is odd, and he would appreciate it if the least competent Buss family member could be put in charge of the Lakers. ("I Hate the Lakers," redux.)

40-41. The Lakers were lucky to win a championship.

42-43. Phil doesn't really like Kobe. In fact, they are inauthentic, and Phil liked Jordan better than he liked Kobe, because Simmons doesn't recall Phil making a particular face between 1989 and 1998. Nonetheless, Phil and Kobe will probably put up with each other in order to win more championships.

44. Phil Jackson is the greatest basketball coach ever and Kobe is the most difficult player the NBA has ever seen, after Wilt Chamberlain.

45. He repeats paragraphs 42-43.

46-47. Simmons makes the not overdone argument that the last two years of Kobe's basketball career have been one of the most remarkable events in basketball history ... and then cheapens it with 11 other examples.

48. Simmons liked Jordan better than he likes Kobe.

49. Kobe is inauthentic but plays hard.

50. This championship is a remarkable individual achievement for Kobe.

51. Simmons dislikes Kobe, but does not really know him.

52. Kobe Bryant is one of the gods of the NBA, but Simmons wishes it were otherwise.

In its initial draft, Simmons' essay is 5,804 words long. Let's see if we can improve upon that with rigorous, or even severe, editing.


I hate the Lakers.

The Lakers are inauthentic.

Did Kobe change between 2008 and 2009? I swear upon the souls of my children I would admit it if he had. I am lying about this.

We are all in this together, though I am a Celtics fan and hate the Lakers.

I am jealous of everyone who watched Russell and Wilt and Cousy in their primes (that is, before Wilt became a Laker.) I wish I could have seen a young Doc flying around in half-filled ABA arenas. I wish I could have watched the 1969-70 Knicks in person. In Kobe's case, we already knew we were following one of the better basketball careers of all time. That fourth title propelled him into the top 10 and yanked the "Can't win without Shaq" monkey off his back; ultimately, the exact ranking doesn't matter. He's one of the best players ever. He has to be mentioned now, if only to dismiss him.

I am not yet 40. Kobe should not be compared to Jordan, or Dwayne Wade. Praise of Kobe makes me uncomfortable.

I am smarter than other people who attend Clippers basketball games.

The Lakers are a very good basketball team, but not a great one. Other teams this year had problems that prevented them from beating the Lakers.

Kobe's performance in the Playoffs in 2008 and 2009 were similar. [Ed. And his performance in the 2009 Finals was a 30-year wonder. We won't put this editorial comment toward your final word count.] Kobe's performance in the Finals included improvements of only 6.7 points, .9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists over his 2008 performance.

Kobe's teammates were better in 2009 than in 2008. The 2008 Boston Celtics were better than the 2009 Orlando Magic.

The Lakers deserved to win the championship. [Ed. Absent fraud, isn't this true of all sports contests?]

Kobe didn't play well during the 2009 Finals and had only one clutch moment during it.

Kobe has not changed. Phil Jackson criticized him in 2004.

Kobe's 2009 teammates were better and more complimentary to Kobe than his 2004 teammates. Kobe did not sacrifice; his 2009 teammates sacrificed.

I can't tell if the Lakers like one another. Never mind, yes I can. They don't. They are inauthentic.

The Lakers are pretending to like one another in order to win championships. They are inauthentic.

Kobe is unusual because he came from a privileged background. We will never see anyone like him again, who came from a privileged background.

Kobe is unlikeable and has no friends. Also, I do not like him.

Watching Kobe's wife and daughters appear with him after the Lakers won the 2009 Championship made me want to throw up. A married man with children is atypical and inauthentic for an NBA player.

Kobe should not have played in the Olympics. Never mind, he should have. Bonding with his peers was good for him, though an act on his end, and inauthentic.

Kobe is inauthentic and unlikeable. In the last seven paragraphs I have realized that I can tell when people like one another. The Lakers do not like one another and are inauthentic.

Young champions like the 2009 Lakers are much worse than old champions like the 2008 Celtics. [Ed. - Please God don't let the Lakers win again next year, eh?]

I don't like it when the media says good things about Kobe, and I don't understand it. It's more interesting to me that various Lakers had something to prove in the 2009 Championships. It's more interesting to me that the Buss family is unusual. I wish the Buss family would put control of the Lakers in the hands of their least competent family member. [Ed. - Please God don't let the Lakers win again next year, eh?]

The Lakers were very, very, very, very, very, very, very lucky to win the 2009 Championship. Yes, seven verys.

Kobe and Phil are inauthentic and don't like each other. Phil liked Jordan better than he likes Kobe and I know this because I don't recall Phil making a face between 1989 and 1998. Phil and Kobe will tolerate one another to win more championships, because Phil is the greatest coach ever, even though Kobe is the biggest jerk since Wilt Chamberlain.

I really wish people would talk more about how Phil and Kobe are inauthentic and don't like each other.

The last two years of Kobe's basketball career have been amazing. It's only happened eleven other times that I can think of off the top of my head. Jordan did it twice.

I really liked Michael Jordan.

Kobe is inauthentic and I don't like him. However, he tries hard and has tried hard for 20 months, which is off the charts; it's only happened eleven other times that I can think of off the top of my head, and Jordan did it twice.

At this specific point in his career, Kobe Bryant shouldn't have been able to play as consistently well as he did. He shouldn't have been able to survive overtime periods in Game 2 (his 205th straight game in 20 months) and Game 4 (No. 207) and thrived in Game 5 like he was playing Memphis in mid-January. Basketball might be a team sport, but in this specific case, an individual's will stood out and made the accomplishment of the group seem ancillary.

I know that Kobe is inauthentic but don't know how inauthentic and probably never will.

But I do know this: What Kobe Bryant accomplished over the past 20 months ranks up there with anything that ever happened in the National Basketball Association. He walks among the NBA gods now. Like it or not. [Ed. - Please God don't let the Lakers win again next year, eh?]


890 words, not counting editorial comment. If not for Simmons' Hemingway-inspired use of repetition, it could have been less.

Bill Simmons, feel free to request feedback any time.


ditmars1929 said...

Your passion for the Lakers is most impressive. Truly. I feel the same way about the NY Yankees.

But we're more concerned with your writing, not that of Simmons, unless he morphs into a talented sci-fi author. What's up with AI?

Got your email the other day. Still can't believe what I said wouldn't be taken as a joke by a certain someone.

Hope things are fine, writing and family wise.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I roughly know that there exists a game called basketball (living on the other side of the world as I do), and I've heard that in Los Angeles there's a team that plays this game called the Lakers. There's one in Boston that plays it too apparently. But even I can tell that this guy is taking the phrase "journalistic impartiality" to a whole new level of irony.

Jeanne said...

Loved your post. I HATED this article by BS. His inability to be in any way balanced and fair is far and away his most annoying trait. I emailed him about this article, but I seriously doubt he will ever see it.

Thanks for putting into words all I wanted to say to Bill Simmons and for exposing his inconsistency and yes, stupidity.

Rob McDonagh said...

That was fun to read. Thanks for doing it. I would enjoy similar reviews of other writers, but I know the Lakers v Celtics angle was what made it worth your time.

One quick point. I'm not sure if you know this or not, but Simmons moved to LA several years ago. Before he moved, he and his father attended every Celtics home game since at least 1975 (he has written about witnessing the Celtics-Suns 3OT Finals game). So what? I just think the "I'm smarter than other Clippers fans" would be more accurate if it also referred to Celtics fans.

PS I'm a huge Celtics fan, and I enjoy Simmons most of the time. His anti-Kobe stance is an exception. The anti-Lakers slant, on the other hand, I can relate to (*grin*. He was better at being The Boston SportsGuy (his gig before signing with ESPN) than he is at being The SportsGuy.

Dan Moran said...


Soon on AI War, but you have to give me room to enjoy this championship. They don't come along that often even for Lakers fans -- I'm going to post some pictures later of me and my sons taken 7 years apart.


I'm cool with Simmons' love of the Celtics and hatred of the Lakers. I share it, mirrored. But really, this piece was so striking and so lengthy, I thought a response appropriate. It took too long to write, though.

Dan Moran said...

Angelina Greenwood DeGraw writes to me that Simmons' essay could easily have been reduced to a twitter post:

"Hate Lakers. Kobe aint all that. Well maybe. But, no: Merely the same as always. Also: He's inauthentic. He's a god already so shuttup."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this decontruction of the laughable essay by Simmons.

See also this excellent essay on the same

Dan Moran said...

Yeah, that forum blue and gold piece is a first-rate piece of writing. My piece mocks Simmons; the FBG piece takes him seriously enough to actually demolish his arguments.

For those of you who are not Lakers fans, "forum blue" is what Chick Hearn used to have to call the color "purple," because the then-owner of the Lakers, Jack Kent Cook, thought the word "purple" had a hint of fairy in it, if you know what I mean.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand what is this "Basketball" you speak about?

Anonymous said...

It's amazing that nobody can write anything about Kobe without getting attacked. Nice letter hope you write one next year when Celtics win the championship.

Dan Moran said...

1, the Celtics aren't winning next year. Geritol can only do so much.

2, if Celtics fans were to line up and beg me to do to Garnett, Pierce, Alan, and Rondo, what Simmons tried to do to Kobe and the Lakers, I still wouldn't. I have standards.

Dan Moran said...

"I have standards."

... to quote Dexter. Man, that's a great show. I don't think I've mentioned this online -- best thing since Rockford, and more alike than anyone would expect at first blush.

Anonymous said...

BS is not a journalist. He is Celtics homer that is allowed to write about sports. The entire world knows that he hates the Lakers.

BS always fails to mention that Kevin Garnett is one of the biggest douches ever to play in the NBA.
Pick on smaller players (Anthony Peeler)? Check.
Backs down when smaller players fight back? Check. (Peeler again)

There is one underlying topic that doesn't get enough mention and would serve to put an end to the talk of Kobe being a "bad teammate". If you play to the utmost of our abilities, he won't be in your face.

Derek Fisher earned Kobe's respect by using every ounce of his ability. Imagine if you-know-who would have reported to camp in shape every year and worked on his game?

Anonymous said...

I liked this piece a lot. I am actually a fan of Bill Simmons, usually. But I find his pieces about the Lakers intolerable. I do not mind his dislike of the Lakers and of Kobe. I can tolerate his bias for the Celtics and his semi-subtle vitriol for the Lakers. But he carries it much too far. When he writes about the Lakers, I feel like I'm listening to a paranoid schizophrenic talk about their hallucinations. I thought your article beautifully deconstructed Simmons recent piece. Well done.

Anonymous said...

LOL @ all of these Lakers homers ^^^

this writing is a piece of crap, but because of your homerism it just hits the spot. Bill Simmons' column was completely valid and a rare media voice going against all the regular disproportionate praise in the mainstream media. Sad you can't see the difference.

As for the writer: this stuff is above your head. Your reading comprehension of the original Simmons' article is infantile.