Despite the title of this column, I don’t blame Bill Simmons one bit for trying his hand at television. When he took ESPN’s offer to work on NBA Countdown, he wanted his unique voice to reach more basketball fans, and he wanted to prove that a non-former player could hang with the cool kids who could speak from personal experience. Simmons had (and still has) many lumps as a TV personality, but it’s not like his time on NBA Countdown was a disaster. Well, a few moments were disasters. This one still makes me cringe more than The Situation at the Roast of Donald Trump.
Simmons’ departure from ESPN in 2015 meant that two things would happen: One, he’d continue to take shots at ESPN like a salty ex-girlfriend for months and months. Two, Simmons had his own show on HBO after getting paid a boatload of money, reportedly between $7 and $9 million per year.
Now that Any Given Wednesday has been canceled, it’s safe to say that HBO overpaid for the man who has consistently (and fairly) criticized NBA general managers for dishing out horrible contracts. Simmons will still have value to HBO sports going forward, but now Simmons’ best case scenario is that he and his contract become Rashard Lewis almost a decade ago, whose contract was rightfully panned by Simmons himself. Lewis got a contract that made no sense and was a huge overpay, but he still was a valuable part of an Orlando Magic team that did well enough to make the 2009 Finals. That’s what HBO is hoping for out of The Sports Guy right about now.
Bill Simmons’ mistake was not in taking his shot at TV. His mistake was almost completely abandoning his writing. Simmons seems to have forgotten where his bread is buttered. Let me ask you this: When you think of Bill Simmons and what he does now, is the first thing that comes to your mind “sportswriter?” For me, I now think of him as a TV guy who also runs a website. When your fans don’t think of your best skill when they think of you, that’s a problem, and it’s a problem that Simmons created for himself. He should have been writing last fall when he didn’t have TV show, his own columns need to be a bigger part of The Ringer, and he should have his own section on the top heading of the website like he did with Grantland. But his writing has become an afterthought, which is where Simmons deserves the most blame.
On last week’s Any Given Wednesday, Simmons did a bit on curses in sports. You should watch it here to know what I’m talking about, and the fact that it’s only 2.5 minutes makes up for the fact that it’s pretty bad. Simmons listed off the four biggest remaining curses with the undertone that it’s pretty easy to get fans to buy into any curse. Fittingly, the fourth curse that Simmons listed was actually fake. On TV, it was horrible. It didn’t work at all.
In writing, however, that would have been pretty funny. Bill Simmons was masterful with those relatable stories, tangents that somehow made sense, and creative arguments that always proved his point, like the one with curses. But his tone plays much better in writing than on TV. His proof that curses are easy to create would have been fantastic at the end of a paragraph, but it didn’t play at the end of a TV segment. Simmons’ still has at least 80-90% of the same smart, funny, and influential tone that he always did, but now you can’t find that tone in the medium that it actually works for. That was his one giant mistake throughout this whole ordeal, not giving TV a shot.