Friday, January 18, 2008

Is Bill Simmons a Jinx; John's Picks

The other day after Bill Simmons wrote the column asking which was Boston's best ever team, the 1986 Celtics or the 2007 Patriots, I said he was "jinxing the hell out of them."
I know Dan isn't a fan of Simmons' work, we've talked about this and he said as much in the comments of that post, implying that he is part of ESPN's Bristol, CT-based East Coast Bias.

It's actually a little more complicated than that. See, ever since debuted Page 2 in November, 2000, I don't think I've missed a column by the guy who was then known as "The Boston Sports Guy." Back then, there were three writers I absolutely had to read every week that wrote for Page 2: Hunter S. Thompson, Ralph Wiley, and Bill Simmons. Hunter and Ralph both passed away, and now it's just Bill Simmons that I still read every week.

The thing is, there are two Bill Simmonses. There's the "Sports Guy," who has great composition skills, understands the intersection of sports and pop culture and navigates that intersection better than anyone. He's a populist writer who regularly features a "mailbag" column in which he prints his funniest readers' comments and questions and responds to them, and the feel is like a group of friends hanging around talking about sports, movies, and TV shows. One of the signs of a great writer is that he or she gives you a feeling of intimacy when you're reading them, so that even though you've never met that person, you feel like you're buddies. Bill Simmons is that kind of writer.

Here's an example of how that works for me. In 2002, I got married and moved from Los Angeles, where I was living at the time, to Connecticut, where the Professor was immersed in her graduate studies at Yale. Around that same time, Bill Simmons married the Sports Gal and moved from Boston to Los Angeles. His columns made a lot more sense to me now, since I had driven on Merritt Parkway, and I now knew who Mike and the Mad Dog were. Then we both had daughters within 4 or 5 months of each other. So even though I've never met Bill Simmons, I feel like I know him because of the shared experience as sports fans and fathers, all transmitted through his columns. This Bill Simmons is one of the reasons I wanted to have a Raiders blog.

The other Bill Simmons is the "Boston Sports Guy," and this guy is an insecure, boring, otherwise-regional hack. He carried the collective angst of New England's sports fans to a world that was otherwise able to ignore it. This is where his love of TV and pop culture comes in. Sure, everyone knows about Ken Burns and his 17-hour exegesis of the 1986 World Series Game Six Collapse, where all of Boston's literary icons pompously left the R's out of words describing their heartbreak. But to the average sports fan who doesn't watch PBS or listen to NPR, here came Bill Simmons writing about "The World's Strongest Man" and "The Real World." The teams from his hometown were losers: it had been 14 years (in 2000) since the Celtics had won a championship, seemingly cursed with the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Williams, and Rick Pitino trying to murder the franchise; the Curse of the Bambino was in full effect; the Patriots were losers who had never won anything.

Then, a couple of things happened. Walt Coleman created a Patriots Dynasty. The Red Sox came back from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS and went on to win their first World Series since 1918. And now the Celtics got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and have the best record in the NBA. It's quite conceivable that Boston could have all three major sports championships, which would be not only impressive but downright fucking irritating to the rest of the country. With all of this success, Simmons' Boston columns went from being anxious rants to obnoxious, gloating rants. And I don't blame him, I just don't enjoy reading them.

The 86 Celtics vs. 2007 Pats is the perfect example of this new, arrogant Boston Sports Guy. First of all, nobody outside of New England remembers anything about that 1986 Celtics team, except maybe that Len Bias died, and because of him black kids get sent to jail for longer terms over crack than white businessmen get sent to jail for having the same amount of cocaine powder. He writes that the defending champion Lakers team allowed themselves to be
be "'shocked' by the upstart Rockets -- with Sampson making the series-winning shot in Game 5 at Los Angeles -- to avoid what would have been a ritual beating by an unstoppable Celtics team." This is a bunch of crap. That Lakers team would rebound the following and beat the Celtics, and then repeat in 1988 for the first back-to-back NBA Championship in 20 years. Sure, people remember the 80s as the golden age of the NBA, and Lakers vs. Celtics was the main reason. But outside of New England, only racist white people rooted for the Celtics. And no matter what anyone from Boston tells you, that is the absolute truth. One summer in 1988, my friends and I were playing ball down at the local school yard. We were like 13 or 14 and there was this older man, probably in his mid-forties, and his son, who was 19 or twenty. We played with them because we need two to make it four on four, enough for a full court game on the short courts. When the older guy asked what team we were, I said the Lakers, and he said, "The Lakers are a bunch of Niggers. You want to root for white people. Be the Celtics." His son was kinda embarrassed, I think, because when we were talking later he said, "I like McHale, but I bet you'd rather be Worthy..."

Besides, it was Magic who joined Joe Montana and Wayne Gretzky on the cover of Sports Illustrated under the headline "They Dominated the Eighties."

Now, this Patriots is dominant. And they're probably good enough not be beyond Jinxing by Bill Simmons' column. But if you were going to write a column comparing a dominant team in one sport to a dominant team in another, wouldn't it be the 1996 Bulls team that won 70 games and had All Stars up and down the roster? Brady and Moss compare better to MJ and Scottie Pippen, with Rodney Harrisons' Punk Ass analogous to Dennis Rodman's Punk Ass. I'm just saying.

Anyway, in what is either a blatant ripoff of one of my favorite writers, or, if you're generous, an homage to someone I admire, here's an email I got from the Professor the other day that will segue into my picks:

Subject: Your Daughter and Your Dog are Disgusting

Lily pooped in her panties, which I noticed after she came into the kitchen and told me "poop!" She had a big old saggy load. I pulled off her panties right there in the kitchen and the turd log fell out onto the floor in front of the fridge. I took her into the bathroom to wipe and wash hands. In the meantime, Iggy smelled a tasty treat and hopped out of bed to go have himself a snack. By the time I turned around, he'd eaten half of Lily's turd. I yelled at him to quit it and he ran away, but it was like he had peanut butter stuck to the roof of his mouth that he kept trying to swallow but couldn't. He's outside now, washing his mouth out with soap. Fucking disgusting.

I'm running away from home today. You can raise these two yourself.

I should point out that we're potty training, which is why Baby Lily was not wearing a diaper. But the reason this email is relevant is because having to choose between the Patriots and the Chargers is akin to having poop stuck to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter. I can't think of two teams I hate more (I hate Denver and Kansas City as much). Anyway, I think New England wins but it's closer than everyone expects. 27-20.

Green Bay wins. I have to go. This has gone on too long and people are becoming exasperated with me.

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