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What ESPN’s Bill Simmons Superdeluxe Media Empire Means for Facts, Fans and Sports
Posted on Jul 7, 2010
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.
(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:
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.
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