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Tom Brady

Fantastic profile of ESPN’s Bill Simmons

Rolling Stone profiles Grantland founder Bill Simmons

Simmons was raised mostly in Boston, where every loss is like a death in the family, and even at 44, he watches sports with the delight of a kid — albeit a kid who’s a multimedia mogul. During the NBA playoffs, which last nearly two months and end in June, he’ll be a fixture on ESPN and ABC, via NBA Countdown. His 700-page Book of Basketball, despite being fatter than Eddy Curry in the off-season, debuted at Number One on The New York Times’ nonfiction bestseller list. He goaded ESPN into making documentaries, which yielded 30 for 30, an excellent, Emmy-nominated series he executive-produces. His lively B.S. Report podcast, where he interviews jocks, actors, comedians college buddies, his dad, and Barack Obama, was downloaded 32 million times last year, and to keep him from bolting in 2011, ESPN gave him his own well-staffed website, Grantland. TV, books, documentaries, digital — it’s the sportswriter version of the EGOT.

“We have similarly thorough backgrounds when it comes to movies, TV, sports and other worthless things,” says his friend Jimmy Kimmel, who hired Simmons as a joke writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! “Bill’s very funny, he’s married pop culture and sports more than anyone else, and he built his own media empire from a little blog.”

That’s not just tickle-tickle buddy talk. Simmons started to accrue a huge following in 1997, when he began blogging on AOL’s Boston website in the role of an irritant and smart aleck, under the name Boston Sports Guy. Last summer, a Canadian columnist called him “an honest-to-God magnate” and “one of the defining figures” in digital media. All magnates have haters; Simmons makes it easy by frequently getting into feuds.

On NBA Countdown, Simmons plays a slightly exaggerated version of himself: a comedic troublemaker, “the wild card who doesn’t give a shit,” he tells me. “I’m part historian, part know-it-all, and part shit-stirrer. I don’t hold back – that’s the key.”

During a recent Countdown, he denounced Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson, whom Simmons has tagged as the most overpaid player in the NBA. “Joe Johnson did not deserve to be on the all-star team,” he says, so outraged and high-pitched he’s nearly yelping. “Even he had to be shocked he made it.” After the show goes off the air, Countdown host Sage Steele turns to him, shaking her head. “You,” she tells him, “are a psycho.”

The shit has been successfully stirred: Within minutes, Twitter is in flames. “Never hated a sports analyst as much as I hate Bill Simmons,” I read as I scroll through his mentions, followed by “I want to punch him in the face,” “He is such a douche” and “If Bill Simmons ever got in a car accident, I would be happy.” There are compliments, too, but, let’s face it, those are boring.

Simmons has 2.6 million followers on Twitter. Many can’t wait to tell him what an idiot he is. (The Simmons brand has a strong ripple effect: Even his wife, known as the Sports Gal, has 25,000 followers, despite not having tweeted in almost a year.) Sports Twitter is a mire of stupidity, homophobia, and violent threats. It’s probably the most inane culture on Twitter; at least on Politics Twitter, you occasionally come across a fact.

Simmons uses Twitter almost exclusively to promote and link to Grantland material. He doesn’t reply to people who think he’s a douche, or want to punch his face. He also writes fewer sports columns than he used to, partly because TV and movies occupy more of his time. The Internet gave him a career, an audience, wealth, influence, and fourth-row seats for the Clippers. But lately, Bill Simmons is kind of over the Internet.

And this is how it happened.

Once Simmons got an ESPN assignment, he quickly found an audience. But just as immediately, his relationship with the Worldwide Leader in Sports was full of conflict. “ESPN was idiotic,” says Simmons, who can match any athlete for self-confidence. “They fucked with my column for the first year, taking out jokes, and I was pissed off. They were rebuilding their site around me, but they were paying me nothing. So I had a meltdown: I didn’t turn in a column. I was like, ‘Attica! Attica!’ ” He laughs. “I was probably smoking too much pot.”

ESPN rewarded his work strike with a raise. “Bill likes to be in control,” an insider says. “In the early days, he was very upset about where they placed his column, versus where other columnists were. He’s a great advocate for himself and his brand.”

It wasn’t Simmons’ last fight with his bosses. They’ve suspended him from Twitter twice for tweets: for referring to Boston sports-radio hosts who worked for an ESPN affiliate as “deceitful scumbags,” and also for saying an interview that aired on ESPN was “awful and embarrassing.” Does he think they were right to suspend him? “No, I don’t.”

ESPN is owned by the Walt Disney Company, and some of Simmons’ behavior — like, say, calling soccer “gay” or mocking people for being fat — makes him a far more troublesome employee than Mickey Mouse. Periodically, the two parties get annoyed at one another. ESPN president John Skipper once said working with Simmons was “about 99.8 percent great.” (“Working with ESPN is 99.1 percent great,” Simmons counters.) Convincing the network to do 30 For 30 required “a year of arm-twisting,” he says. When it was a success, and his basketball book had been a big hit, his contract was up for renewal. “I had a little leverage.” He told ESPN that he wanted his own site, or he’d leave and do it elsewhere.

Grantland’s success, like Simmons’, has resulted from good fortune as well as talent. Since 2002, Boston teams have dominated pro sports, tallying eight titles in twelve calendar years, including baseball, basketball, hockey, and football. No other city has ever had that kind of success, and it brought a lot of attention to Simmons. No wonder he loves Tom Brady so much.

“When we were launching, we didn’t realize technology advances would help us so much.” GIFs, Instapaper, wi-fi, embeddable links — all foster the ease of promoting a digital magazine. “The iPad has been a godsend — it’s probably the greatest thing that’s’ happened to Grantland. Nobody knew the fucking iPad was coming. I didn’t. We hit at the right time.”

In a recent month, Grantland, according to comScore, had 4.7 million unique visitors, which represents just a sliver of ESPN’s 62 million unique visitors and pales compared to Yahoo Sports’ 57.9 million. (Even Deadspin, the Johnny Lawrence to Simmons’ Daniel LaRusso, had 13.8 million.) But the site’s balance sheet isn’t the point. ESPN likely pays him more than $5 million a year, the insider estimates — not because of Grantland, but because Simmons is a guy with big ideas, a one-man vertical-integration engine.

Now that he oversees an empire, Simmons says he doesn’t care as much about Boston teams. “It’s not life-or-death anymore,” he says with a shrug. But that might not be true. His daughter loves L.A.’s hockey team, the Kings, so he took her to see them play his team, the Bruins. “Boston won, and I taunted her on the way home. She started crying. She was, like, six years old.” A few years later, they went to another Kings-Bruins game, and this time her team won. “She was yelling and high-fiving everyone,” Simmons says, “and she taunted me.” Of course she did. It’s in the bloodline.

In case you are wondering if Tom Brady has lost the common touch

His $20 million mansion has a moat.  Of course it kind of makes sense as Yahoo! Sports puts it.

And the moat should keep the mounted infantry attacks on the Patriots quarterback to a minimum, which should help Bill Belichick sleep better at night.

While Brady is extremely well paid, Gisele makes even more than he does (some have called her the last of the supermodels) so I am assuming the mortgage payments are going to be made.  That being said I remember being in Boston when he was first starting off his career and they had this magazine article about how he was just like everyone else.  I am just assuming that this is no longer the case, unless moats are much more common in your part of the world than they are in mine.

My week in review

On Sunday I decided to take the family to Waskesiu for the day.  We drove up through Prince Albert, past the Prince Albert Penitentiary and Riverbend Institution (Wendy was curious over where the Salvation Army has our prison barbecue) and then to Waskesiu (Mark thought we were headed to the cabin via Regina but in his defense, I had purchased him an issue of Transworld Skateboarding and he may not have noticed the forest through the many trees).

After eating at The Angry Taco, we wandered around the beach, did some shopping, and some exploring.  During most of the day, I had chest pains which I have had for months but had been telling myself, they were stress.  I have stress at work and for those of you who read Wendy’s blog, I have a lot of stress at home, depending on the state of her depression.  For the last month, I would walk the fifteen blocks home and be totally exhausted.  I have walked  back and forth from home to the Salvation Army hundreds of times and while I am walking up Caswell Hill, it isn’t as if I need to use climbing ropes for safety.  It’s a pretty tame climb.

On Monday morning I woke up with pain and I decided to go to Royal University Hospital’s Emergency Room to get it checked out.  I was hoping they would tell me it was stress but after my chest X-Ray, they told me it something more serious and I was being admitted.  So off to the 6000 ward I was sent with all of the other cardiology patients where I awaited my angiogram.  The first night was just annoying.  Wendy brought my noise cancelling headphones which makes sense but I sleep on my side so I knocked them off my head where I was greeted with snoring, snoring, and more snoring.  As soon I would fall asleep, I would knock off one of the heart monitor points which would sent a nurse scrambling in to see if I was dead and/or fix the points.  If I wasn’t doing that, I was rolling over and jamming my intravenous.  I was also woken up blood work techs and of course they needed to wake me for my blood pressure and temperature.  On top of that the blood thinner they gave me made me cold which all adds up to under two hours of sleep.  I don’t know why but in the silence of Monday night, I felt scared for the first time since Wendy was giving labour to Oliver.  Death has never bothered me that much but the idea of giving up on life prematurely because of stupid diet decisions and choices really bothered me.  My mom declined to have chemotherapy when she was dying of cancer because she didn’t want to go through it and I have always questioned that decision.  I don’t want Mark and Oliver to think, “Why didn’t Dad cut the McDonalds out of his diet and choose to be with us for some more years?”  I felt quite disappointed in myself.

Tuesday was spent waiting.  I saw my cardiologist and other doctors who lectured me on my diet and weight.  Fair enough.  The other thing that hit me was they were on me because of how high my cholesterol and blood pressure was which was news to me.  They put me on Lipitor for probably the rest of my life and also Ramipril to help me deal with high blood pressure.   Wendy had to work Tuesday night so I was chilling out reading Fareed Zakaria’s The Post American World Release 2.0 when Cam Broten came by and chatted politics and life for a bit.  The best part of the visit was he brought up The Economist and a fantasy football magazine.  The next day this doctor comes in and looks at my reading material and says, “No wonder you are in here, you can’t relax reading The Economist  He picks it up and sees the football magazine and then without batting an eye goes, “Should I pick Manning as my QB with the neck problems or Brady with Ochocinco?”  Apparently global economic stress is bad while NFL fantasy league stress is good.  That’s why I am not a doctor.

Wednesday morning I was in for my angiogram.  They found a lesion on my heart as well as two partially blocked arteries and some blockage in another one.  The most concerning were the two arteries that are partially blocked as they aren’t bad enough to deal with.  Those mean that I need a drastic change to deal with or schedule myself a series of heart attacks, by-passes, and strokes in the coming years.

After having a 40 minute heart ultrasound and nurses tearing away connection point after connection point off my body, I was allowed to return home where I hung out with the boys before I fell asleep.  My right arm was useless as that is the artery they chose to get to my heart which resulted in some spilled milk but we survived as a family.  Mark fired up Netflix and showed Wendy the Arrested Development where GOB is CEO and going on and on about how much his suit cost.  At the hospital he goes to Wendy, “C’mon, I’m the guy in a $3700 t-shirt and you want me to get you a pop?!”.  It’s even funnier now that Wendy gets what he was talking about.  Even Oliver is going, “C’mon, look at my pants”.

Today I went to Indigo and bought a couple of cookbooks.  One is on eating Heart Smart, the other one was The Vegetarian Bible.  We have the Mayo Clinic cookbook and some other heart healthy eating books so I have some choices.  Low cholesterol diets can be summed up with one word, bland.  I had a chicken fajita tonight and they weren’t bad which is kind of pathetic but that is how food will be defined now.   After that I stopped by work to chat and after 30 minutes of that, I was too tired to wander over to the other side of the building.  Wendy drove me home (I can’t drive for a couple of days) and I have just been exhausted all day.  My proudest accomplishment has been writing this post and doing some dishes.  Other than that I have been sleeping and resting.  Oh yeah, thinking.  I have been thinking a lot as well.

Kyle Orton will do fine…

For those of us who are trying to tell ourselves that things in Denver will be fine without Jay Cutler and Josh McDaniels will be great, here is are some stats to think about.

  • Super Bowl wins for Mike Shanahan without John Elway: 0.
  • Super Bowl wins for Chuck Noll without Terry Bradshaw: 0.
  • Super Bowl wins for George Seifert without Steve Young or Joe Montana: 0.
  • Super Bowl wins for Jimmy Johnson without Troy Aikman: 0.
  • Super Bowl wins for Tom Landry without Roger Staubach: 0.
  • Championships for Paul Brown without Otto Graham: 0.
  • Super Bowl wins for Tony Dungy without Peyton Manning: 0.
  • Super Bowl wins for Bill Belichick without Tom Brady: 0.

Don Shula seemed to be the exception who proved the rule although in Miami, they did not have a RB or much of  a defense.   Not a lot of Super Bowl titles are won with the Trent Dilfers of the world.

The Jordon Cooper Voodoo Curse

It doesn’t matter who I pick in a hockey or football fantasy draft… they get hurt bad.  My starting QB in the jordoncooper.com fantasy football league is… Tom Brady.  Yeah, that Tom Brady.  My apologies to all of the New England Patriot fans out there.