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What ESPN’s Bill Simmons Superdeluxe Media Empire Means for Facts, Fans and Sports

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Posted on Jul 7, 2010
ESPN

By Mark Heisler

Kobe Bryant sits astride his world, just as he envisioned it like any boy growing up in a land where dreams come true, wanting only to be remembered as the best there ever was, fictional (Roy Hobbs) or real (Ted Williams).

Williams played in the middle of the last century when Bernard Malamud wrote “The Natural,” his book about the craziness one so gifted inspires.

Fifty years later, Bryant lives Malamud’s book every day. The NBA title he and his Lakers just won is his shot into the light standard setting off the fireworks in the movie version, proving his greatness forever, or until Nov. 1, whichever comes first.

Their world runs on its own calendar. A season feels like a lifetime, a four-year World Cup cycle like a generation.

It’s not about perspective, but, like all drama, suspension thereof. When the Dallas Cowboys’ Duane Thomas was impertinent enough to ask, “If it’s the ultimate, how come they’re playing it again next year?” before the 1972 Super Bowl, he was dismissed as a poor soul who couldn’t recognize the good thing he had.

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(Indeed, Thomas was out of the NFL within three years after becoming the game’s MVP, but was lucid enough to wind up living quietly as an avocado farmer in Southern California.)

Going bonkers, lionizing winners and dumping on losers is fun, even if the cycle is accelerating to absurdity and beyond with modern 24/7 reportage.

Eclipsed by young LeBron James, Bryant was ignored during the season, when he wasn’t being written off as “a degenerate three-faced narcissist” by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, who noted Kevin Durant had also passed Kobe, or was about to.

The playoffs brought outright denunciations in the local press with Los Angeles Times columnists Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers accusing Bryant of “pouting” in a first-round loss in Oklahoma City.

If Bryant was playing with a broken finger on his shooting hand and a sore knee, which would both require surgery, little was made of it until he emerged as champion of champions.

Bryant’s accomplishments have always been discounted after eight seasons in Shaquille O’Neal’s giant shadow, three more in eclipse after Shaq left, and a persona as prickly as Shaq’s was fun.

Titles Nos. 1-3 from 2000 to 2002—He played with Shaq.

No. 4, 2009—Maybe Kobe and LeBron can meet in the Finals next spring!

No. 5—How could we have doubted you, Kobester?

For the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of his career, Bryant’s fifth title of the decade broke his tie with O’Neal and Tim Duncan, stamping it as the Age of Kobe ... making it the first age named after a player who was shunned for most of it.

That’s today’s price of fame. Privileged as they are, today’s starry-eyed boys pursue their dream through a driving shitstorm.

In what would have been ironic but is now common, James received his second MVP trophy in a row before Game 1 of the Cavaliers’ second-round series against Boston.

Unfortunately, he then turned mortal, averaging just 27 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.2 assists as the presumed Dead Celtics Walking arose to stun James’ Cavaliers in six games.

The world announced a new consensus:

James was beneath contempt.

Ignoring James’ injured right elbow, Fox Sports’ psychologically attuned Charlie Rosen, a former Phil Jackson assistant coach, listed three possibilities for LeBron’s fall:

  • He himself doesn’t believe the overwhelming hype about his own game, and there’s an undercurrent of self-doubt working in his subconscious.
  • Or, he’s simply the king of chokers.
  • Or, his bags are already packed and he’s headed out of town.

Or maybe it was the elbow the stoic James acknowledged sometimes “locked up,” which would explain why he started going predominantly to his left and, on the few occasions he got to the basket righthanded, never made a strong move like his old runaway-train self.

If James’ seven-year career as a dogged competitor entitled him to any benefit of doubt, little was forthcoming.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski called him a “narcissist” who “quit on his teammates in Game 5 [which] made it easy for the rest of them—and James—to quit in the final minutes of Game 6 ... a young Alex Rodriguez, so insecure with himself and his MVP awards, so desperate to find validation in the courtship of free agency.”

Esquire’s Scott Raab, noting his Cleveland roots, said he expected James to abandon the city, and “if so, good riddance.”

ESPN2’s Skip Bayless gave James a “D as in Dog-minus” for his 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 6, insisting, as Bayless had in his inimitable veins-bulging style, it again showed “he’s Robin more than Batman, Pippen more than Jordan.”

Energizing the process, or turning it upside-down, fans now participate, writing blogs and posting comments and videos. If it’s more democratic, the old marketplace of ideas is now more like a withering crossfire of ideas, or emotions, however primal. With the ability to contribute anonymously, the dialogue is to discourse what road rage is to driving.

If nothing has changed—fans always ranged from mere chauvinists to those reverting to some evolutionary forerunner—everything is illuminated.

It’s no longer journalism, however overheated or comic. It’s the entire process of thought, resembling Freud’s id, ego and superego. The traditional press is the socialized ego. The blogosphere, where no one is accountable, or, often, even identified, is the naked id. The superego is the reader/viewer, trying to reconcile the two.


New and Improved Comments

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By John F, May 1, 2011 at 11:30 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sports is entertainment.  I watch sports to be entertained.  I know I read and listen
to Bill Simmons to be entertained and to laugh.  If I really want the facts about a
game or an athlete, I’ll search for a good article or recap, and I often do.  If I want
to experience the feeling of having watched the game with another fan or group of
friends, I’ll read a Simmons column or listen to his podcast.  There’s a place for
both.  What’s the problem?  Nobody is requiring anyone to click, listen, or like it. 
We have choices.

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By BruinMBA, July 9, 2010 at 10:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I liked Heisler’s attempt at the Freudian, but I think he messed up:

Yes, I can see the bloggers as the Id…no governor, no editor, raw and primal.

But I see the signed material as the sanitized, “we must obey society’s conventions and not offend!” province of the super ego.

Which makes us, the readers, as the ones representing the ego.

We’re the ones who have to ferret out the overheated hate and hype spewing from the bloggers…but also the fawning, sycophantic fawning of the fawning fraudsters that make up so much of the MSM today.

I’m pretty sure the fawning MSM that never asks any tough quesstions and never blasts public figures the way they deserve to be confronted for their actions bothers me much more than the bloggers who have zero access and thus are more likely to speak truth to power (ie, us).

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By christian96, July 9, 2010 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment

The King’s decision was just covered by ABC News
with Diane Sawyer.  There is something wrong with
America in general and journalism specifically.
That “something wrong” is again tied to “money”
in general and “advertising” specifically.

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Hulk2008's avatar

By Hulk2008, July 9, 2010 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment

Ask yourself why the top life-saving surgeon in the US earnreworks a tiny fraction of what modern pro athletes. 

We have plenty of journalism and hype.  What our so-called culture lacks is perspective.

I love sports.  But I love education and health and nutrition and secure living a bit more.  Let’s find a way to elevate doctors and teachers and honest police and well-trained military.  Hey !!  How about some decent politicians in that mix?

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RAE's avatar

By RAE, July 9, 2010 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment

How can you people possibly write SOOOO much vapid verbiage about such INSIGNIFICANT issues?

Get a life!

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By madmaxmedia, July 9, 2010 at 9:56 am Link to this comment

The article is only partly about sports, it is largely
about sports journalism (and journalism in general.)
It’s not about the sports corporate shell game, if
anything it questions it.

If you don’t like basketball, why even bother posting?

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By Bill, July 9, 2010 at 8:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The under appreciation of NBA mega millionaires, (even those that didn’t rape that hotel worker, the bloody towel was just the result of consensual rough sex, besides, she was a mental case) is a major societal issue.

All this blather about our crumbling economy, the long term poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico by Global Corporate greed, and our bankrupting permanent war imperialism needs to be ignored or at least put on hold in the deep freeze.

Until!

Until we fix this damn abhorrent under-appreciation of self -absorbed, self-important Sports multi-millionaires. 
It is the only priority that reflects the values of our Nation.

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By christian96, July 9, 2010 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

Blueshift—-I don’t care generally.  I watch the
NBA when the tournament rolls around.  I am very
competitive.  The NBA pits the best against the best.
As a counseling psychologist, I’ve asked myself many
times, “What influence has competition had upon
the behaviors and cognitions of myself and others.”
It has positive and negative influences.  We should
be teaching our children how to discriminate when
it’s time to compete and time to co-operate. That’s
part of the book I’m writing for children.

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By blueshift, July 9, 2010 at 4:43 am Link to this comment

Remind me: why do we care about any of this?

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thebeerdoctor's avatar

By thebeerdoctor, July 9, 2010 at 3:15 am Link to this comment

Strange that Truthdig, with all its “progressive” credentials, chooses to go along with that corporate shell game known as the NBA, to tell us how wonderful and under appreciated are their highly paid athlete actors. For so many others in this country, the NBA is some strange entity where the likes of Jack Nicholson and Spike Lee, prove by their physical presence, front row on the court, that they have truly “made it” by wasting ridiculous sums of money for their entertainment choices.
Of course for many millions in this country, the big time sports enterprises are as distant as water on the moon. The central usually unstated reason for admiring the athletes known as sports stars, is that somehow they managed to get inside the world of economic privilege. But thanks to the wonder of 24 hour television, even the great unwashed are rustled in to worrying about the latest millionaire athlete’s tribulations. And please note: ESPN cares about your participation!

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By christian96, July 8, 2010 at 5:17 pm Link to this comment

By christian96, July 8 at 9:08 pm #


Forget politics.  In less than an hour King James
will announce live on ESPN where he will be playing
NBA basketball next year.  This is better than the
Roman Coliseum.  What a country!  The King will be
making millions of dollars for puting a ball in a
basket.  Forget the unemployed.  Which coliseum will
be filled to capacity next year for every game?  We
will know in less that an hour.

Report this

By Hammond Eggs, July 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm Link to this comment

Why would Iran be a threat to Poland?

Let’s be clear that Poland is a stalking horse for the return of aggressive, anti-capitalist Bolshevism.  This is what H.R. Clinton tells Obama.  “We all know, Mr. Prezzy-dent, that terrorism is a straw man, or rather, a straw figure.  Poland, lying as it always has, between Deutschland and Russland, is the key to the continued domination of the American Empire. Today Poland, tomorrow the world. Keep that uppermost in your thoughts, Mr. Prezzy-dent.”
Obama is reading the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.  He thinks “Huh?”, then looks up, nods and says, “Thank you, Madame Secretary.”
“Mr. Prezzy-dent”, Clinton concludes, “I have detailed flow charts proving my thesis beyond a reasonable doubt.  I can show them - “
“No no, Madame Secretary, that won’t be necessary.”
This is the level of discourse within the Obama administration on any subject under the sun.  These are the great geniuses of subtle and nuanced thinking determining the fate of the United States and much of the rest of the world.

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By archambo, July 8, 2010 at 11:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anyone who truly believed the Celtics had a shot going into the 2010 NBA Playoffs was either lying or an idiot. Jumping off of this team’s bandwagon was just being realistic. They showed absolutely nothing worthy of praise or optimism towards the end of the season, hell, since Christmas. I see a high-horse galloping away in the distance, is that you?

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By Steve, July 8, 2010 at 10:31 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

First of all, nice job Mark Heisler. Contrary to the
subject of this article, Mark is one of the few
writers who I know actually knows more about
basketball than I do.

I used to really like reading Bill Simmons and still
find him relatively funny. But I don’t know, he has
his shtick and it’s sort of run its course with me
(sports fan anguish, movie references, his dad
passing out on the couch.) Is there any significance
to his popularity on ESPN? I don’t think so, he has a
unique voice and has found an audience, and I say
congrats to his success. Now if there 5 other blogger
guys like him that were really popular on ESPN or
other sports outlets, then I might start to wonder
what is going on. It reminds me of this famous quote-

“I saw someone peeing in Jermym Street the other day.
I thought, is this the end of civilization as we know
it? Or is it simply someone peeing in Jermyn Street?”
— Alan Bennett

Back in the day, we all had grandiose visions of the
internet revolutionizing the world and making it a
happier, more democratic place. That’s always the
dream of technology. But technology doesn’t change
people, it just enables us to do more of what we’ve
always done.

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By FRTothus, July 8, 2010 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

“Hillary Clinton’s Latest Lies” (continued)

As soon as Washington got sanctions from the Security Council, the Obama regime unilaterally added more severe US sanctions. Obama is using the UN sanctions as a vehicle to which to attach his unilateral sanctions. Perhaps this is the “steel vice of oppression” of which Hillary spoke.

Why has the UN Security Council given a green light to the Obama regime to start yet another war in the Middle East? 

Why has Russia stepped aside? At Washington’s insistence, the Russian government has not delivered the air defense system that Iran purchased. Does Russia view Iran as a greater threat to itself than the Americans, who are ringing Russia with US missile and military bases and financing “color revolutions” in former constituent parts of the Russian and Soviet empires?

Why has China stepped aside?  China’s growing economy needs energy resources. China has extensive energy investments in Iran.  It is US policy to contain China by denying China access to energy. China is America’s banker. China could destroy the US dollar in a few minutes.

Perhaps Russia and China have decided to let the Americans over-reach until the country self-destructs.

On the other hand, perhaps everyone is miscalculating and more death and destruction is in the works than the world is counting on.

Like the Gulf of Mexico.

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By FRTothus, July 8, 2010 at 9:46 am Link to this comment

In response to this fluff piece, I thought I would pass along this Paul Craig Roberts gem, Hillary Clinton’s Latest Lies:
The BBC reported on July 4 that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US ballistic missile base in Poland was not directed at Russia.  The purpose of the base, she said, is to protect Poland from the Iranian threat.

Why would Iran be a threat to Poland? What happens to US credibility when the Secretary of State makes such a stupid statement?  Does Hillary think she is fooling the Russians?  Does anyone on earth believe her?  What is the point of such a transparent lie? To cover up an act of American aggression against Russia?

In the same breath Hillary warned of a “steel vise” of repression crushing democracy and civil liberties around the world. US journalists might wonder if she was speaking of the United States. Glenn Greenwald reported in Salon on July 4 that the US Coast Guard, which has no legislative authority, has issued a rule that journalists who come closer than 65 feet to BP clean-up operations in the Gulf of Mexico without permission will be punished by a $40,000 fine and one to five years in prison. The New York Times and numerous journalists report that BP, the US Coast Guard, Homeland Security, and local police are prohibiting journalists from photographing the massive damage from the continuing flow of oil and toxic chemicals into the Gulf.

On July 5 Hillary Clinton was in Tbilisi, Georgia, where, according to the Washington Post, she accused Russia of “the invasion and occupation of Georgia.” What is the point of this lie?  Even America’s European puppet states have issued reports documenting that Georgia initiated the war with Russia that it quickly lost by invading South Ossetia in an effort to destroy the secessionists.

It would appear that the rest of the world and the UN Security Council have given the Americans a pass to lie without end in order to advance Washington’s goal of world hegemony.  How does this benefit the Security Council and the world? What is going on here?

After President Clinton misrepresented the conflict between Serbia and the Albanians in Kosovo and tricked NATO into military aggression against Serbia and after President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the secretary of state, the national security advisor and just about every member of the Bush regime deceived the UN and the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, thus finagling an invasion of Iraq, why did the UN Security Council fall for Obama’s deception that Iran has a nuclear weapons program?

In 2009 all sixteen US intelligence agencies issued a unanimous report that Iran had abandoned its weapons program in 2003.  Was the Security Council ignorant of this report?

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s weapons inspectors on the ground in Iran have consistently reported that there is no diversion of uranium from the energy program. Was the Security Council ignorant of the IAEA reports?

If not ignorant, why did the UN Security Council approve sanctions on Iran for adhering to its right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to have a nuclear energy program? The UN sanctions are lawless. They violate Iran’s rights as a signatory to the treaty. Is this the “steel vice” of which Hillary spoke? (continued)

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