The Wager

by: Michael Shields

Coming to terms with “The Sports Guy”…..

Hate is a strong word.

Not only is it a strong word but it is also commonly used flippantly, without respect to its true meaning and its power. The word, ideally, should be concealed up ones sleeve to be revealed at the opportune moment. Held back until the words meaning truly defines the feeling churning inside you. Instead, it can be found used to describe feelings towards opposing sports teams, celebrities or media personalities that are not personal acquaintances, or even for menial disruptions throughout one’s day. I bumped my toe on the coffee table again, I fucking hate when that happens.

Hate is defined as, strictly speaking, intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injured. I may be reading into the definition some, or taking a hard literal stance, but it seems to me hate is something that should be directed at true evil. Reserved for the lowest of low, the filthiest most repute rotten corrupt smut of malevolent uncleanliness. That to me doesn’t fit when we are discussing our feelings towards polarizing figures such as Kris Humphries, Kanye, or even the Boston Red Sawx.

With that said, and all that high horsing behind us, let me get to the crux of the matter at hand…the reason we are all gathered here today. I am here to admit that I am part of the problem. I am no better, and possibly worse, than anyone in this matter and I have axe I grind on the daily. I am hear to admit, openly and with vehemence, that I…..

….I hate Bill Simmons. I hate “the sports guy.”1

Fucking despise is more like it. He is not my guy. He takes arrogance to new heights and bleeds of bias to one city. He “likes messing with people”2 and his tone defines condescending both when your hear him speak and in the written word. If you have a question he has an answer and that answer is right3 and dissenting opinions are not welcome, or scoffed at if they find their way into the room. I have cringed through countless Simmon interviews on the family of networks where he blatantly uses his encyclopedic knowledge to purposefully demean others and make them feel stupid about their opinion. This type of interaction is not a conversation; it’s a competition, and no way to talk to another grown man.  When you look up snarky in the dictionary you will find a picture of Bill Simmons.4

I am aware that I may be misconstruing hate and jealousy here as this is a man with five flat screens adorning the walls of his office, all of which are bumping sports all the time, which he is paid to watch and then to write about it. This is his job. This is what he does for a living. This makes me envious yes, but the hate runs deeper than just coveting another man’s well-earned position in life. It’s more complex.

I don’t dwell on my hate as the only one who would suffer from actively stoking the fire of meaningless aversion would be me, but I don’t camouflage my disdain when the words Bill and Simmons come up. Never have. Although, I should. I should have kept that shit to myself to prevent the chickens from coming home to roost. And roost they did. Roost like a mug.5

A friendly wager was all it was. And over what matters so very little.6 What matters is that my adversary in this bet was all too aware of my hate, a hate he did not share. He was also aware that because of this hate I was abstaining in reading Simmon’s 968 page basketball7 compendium, The Book of Basketball.8 If I lost this wager my penance was that I would read The Book of Basketball cover to cover.  My adversary in this bet was as cruel as he was cunning.

Part of me wanted to read it of course. I even owned a copy9 and I knew the thing was chock full of knowledge and behind the scene stories of many of my favorite players, idols of mine. And being forced to read to a bookworm is like a culinary junkie10 forced to a meal upon loss in a game of chance. But, ignorance is bliss and a necessity if one desires to hold onto hate. It’s essential. Close-mindedness is a crucial tool in brewing the perfect pot of discord. The less you know about someone the easier it is to dislike that person as you never fully get to know them, to see things how they see things, and to understand them. Knowledge, in contrast, is power. And I was afraid, as silly as it may sounds, that if I read The Book of Basketball I would understand Bill more.11 I would sympathize with his viewpoints and be awed by his knowledge. This knowledge, this in depth look into basketball through Bill’s eyes, could cause me to…..actually…..like him.

If never was I forced12 to read The Book of Basketball I would never know that he has strong admiration for The Wire13 and that he considers Friday Night Lights “the greatest sports related drama ever.” I wouldn’t know of his relationship with and high opinion of Gus Johnson.14 I would never have read his chapter devoted to “the secret” of basketball where he clearly outlines the reason great teams are great15 and I would also be naïve to the existence of Danny Biasone and never would know exactly why the shot clock is set at 24 seconds.16 I would never have laid eyes on his perfect comparison of the history of the NBA to the history of the American comedy scene.17 I wouldn’t have been vindicated with the inclusion of Ray Allen and Joe Dumars in his list of the 96 greatest players of all time, a list that fittingly places Dwayne Wade at #2818 and Scottie Pippen at #24, all players whose contributions I value with the pronounced regard. I wouldn’t have been keen to two huge confessions which I can I fully appreciate. The first is that one of the reasons Bill wrote The Book of Basketball was to make sure that fans fifty years from now couldn’t just flip through an NBA guide and gather that Vince Carter was a worthy basketball star.19 The second is when Bill comes clean about his shtick:

“I write from the fans perspective and play up certain gimmicks. I like the Boston teams and dislike anyone who battles them.  I pretend to be smarter than every GM.”

If I never lost The Wager and paid up in reading Bill’s basketball Bible, I would be blind to all these things that could humanize Bill and make me respect him, or at least his knowledge. If I managed to stay away I could have remained blissfully ignorant. Blissfully in hate.

Not all is lost however. The hate, after ingesting every factoid and anecdote Bill could squeeze into that beastly manuscript, may have diminished in scale but it is still a living, breathing entity. The Book of Basketball is ripe with all the intangibles that make Bill unlikable, to me at least. It’s ridden with them. His snarky20 tone of voice is audible throughout each and every page.

The first chapter can be described in one word: braggadocios.21 Bill was fortunate in that in his youth he had the opportunity to witness, in person, the great Celtics teams of the 70s and 80s. The reason I know this is not because he recounts what he beheld with tact and respect to those less fortunate. No, because he brags like a spoiled kid at school the day after a big game his father took him to the entire first chapter. “And I was there!” “You can see me at the end of this one (on CBS), right before James Brown interviews Magic – I’m wearing a blue polo shirt and kinda look like Kirk Cameron during the second season of Growing Pains. Also, I look like a doctor just told me I have VD.”22 It is the most unbearable way to read about such amazing moments in time.

There’s more…

He refers to the Boston Garden23 as “The Garden” and Madison Square Garden as “MSG.”  Why? “Because it’s my book!”24 He, early and often, goes in on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar25 even going so low as to call him a “ninny.”26 He raves about the film Cast Away and even calls for a sequel.27 He believes he was the only one watching NBA’s Greatest Games with Dan Patrick on ESPN, describes himself as an “evil genius” for manipulating his wife through a lie, and he will crush your (well, mine) romantic view of what I thought was one of the most remarkable achievements in professional basketball, Oscar Robertson averaging a triple double for an entire season.28

I could go on and on.

But I won’t. It’s repetitive and too easy. And what’s the point. It’s clear I respect some of what Bill does and hate his personality and sense of humor.

He makes another point that I can get behind, something that makes me believe if he and I were in the same room we would possibly hit it off. He states that he could “get along with anyone on the planet as long as they like basketball.”29  I think he is right. In fact we would have much to speak on….my taking the time to write an in-depth piece about my negative feelings towards him could possibly one of these things. That would be entertaining, at the very least.

So, after 968 pages I think I will take my own advice. I think I will drop the four-letter h-word when the sports guy comes up. There are so many worthy things to talk about…many of those things are found in his book.

It’s clear to me that it is possible that the source of my anger was finding, actually locating exactly on a planet full of 6,840,507,000 people, the one man who does for a living exactly what I would love to do. It’s also clear to me through this exercise that I’ve learned a couple other things. I learned a whole lot I didn’t know about a game I love, and I learned that I actually won the bet.

  1. Let the foot/sidenotes begin! I will casually overuse the practical and enjoyable tool throughout this piece to offer the reader some insight into what it feels like to read Bill Simmons. His ‘Book of Basketball’ incorporates well over 1,000 footnotes making reading, an activity of leisure, laborious. []
  2. A direct Malcolm Gladwell quote from the foreword to ‘The Book of Basketball”. []
  3. And the answer most likely comes parlayed with a footnote showing the world how smart and witty he is – Note that we are talking about a man who is proud to break the “most Corey Haim references ever made in one paragraph in a sports book record.” []
  4. Just the type of bad joke Bill incessantly makes. []
  5. Slang common in Washington DC used to describe an action in the mannerism “like a motherfucker”. []
  6. I am embarrassed to even say but it involves fantasy sports. []
  7. My favorite sport mind you. []
  8. Self-righteousness knows no bounds. []
  9. A gift, my bank account was not depleted a cent in it’s acquisition I assure you. []
  10. I avoid the adolescent slightly demeaning word foodie like the plague. []
  11. I want it on the record right here and now that I am not reading Simmon’s book about the Red Sox, Now I can die in Peace. No way. No how. No matter what. []
  12. I pay up on bets….I dove right in. []
  13. I too place David Simon’s masterpiece on a pedestal. “All in the game”. []
  14. I could listen to this man, a sportscaster, call a game of cricket. []
  15. I buy into the idea fully. 1000%. []
  16. It is not an arbitrary number pulled from nowhere, mathematics and logic play essential roles. []
  17. Followed closely by a faulty and forced comparison to the history of porn. []
  18. The amount of breath I have squandered preaching about Wade’s unappreciated value historically is incalculable, a true all time great. []
  19. Bill slams Vince throughout the entire novel.  Vince must have fucked his wife or something….once again, this is the kind of bad joke Bill leans on like a crutch. []
  20. I cannot help but using this word recurrently, its so spot on. []
  21. A word I use so seldom that I am uncomfortable even doing so, but also spot on. []
  22. Yet another example of his uncompromising use of low-brow humor. []
  23. Or should I say The Fleetcenter, or TD Bank Arena, I get confused sometimes. []
  24. I find this as good a time as any to mention the most fitting and honest review of Bill’s book that I happened upon by Josh Levin of Slate where he described it as “an R-rated extension of the sports guy’s ESPN columns, a frustrating mix of spot-on insights and aggravating shtick.” []
  25. The novice basketball fan reading this should know that this man scored more points in the NBA than any other player….EVER. []
  26. The chills of embarrassment I get from even typing this word, even within quotes assuring the reader those are not my words, run from head to toe and back. []
  27. “Where Chuck Noland loses his mind and makes hookers wear volleyballs over their heads when he has sex with them, eventually starts killing them, then escapes police by living outdoors using his survival skills from the first movie”….I could only make this stuff up if I tried. []
  28. I have to hand it to him on this one, he puts it in perfect perspective and diminishes its implausibility….some. []
  29. I believe this to be true with film, music, and food as well. []

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