Bill Simmons has been my favorite sportswriter for a long time. This may not seem like a significant statement, but believe you me, I’ve had a lot more favorite sportswriters than you might expect. For a long time, I wanted to be a sports writer. During that period, my favorite sportswriter changed daily depending which really great column caught my eye that week in SI, or on ESPN.com, or on whichever newspaper website’s sports section I was trolling. After I inexplicably aged out of sports fanaticism and became a casual sports follower, I settled in with Simmons, ESPN’s resident rambling “Sports Guy,” the guy who writes the books about Boston sports teams and basketball history. It must be said that, by the classical definition of a sportswriter – say Grantland Rice for instance – Simmons hardly fits in. He’s the class goofball, the long-winded 80s movie philosopher of the sports world who’s just as likely to liken Phil Jackson to Mr. Miyagi then to John Wooden. And I’ve loved him for that. Because Simmons isn’t a sports writer. He is a skilled writer who is very passionate about sports… and lots of other things.
Now he is editor-in-chief of his own highly publicized website, Grantland.com. This prospect thrills me, truly it does. It got some bad press at first because its soft open, which featured two articles, one about the Knicks, the other about Summer Movies, was, indisputably, pretty dreadful. Today, as the site officially opens its doors, it has its best foot forward. Simmons beautifully sets out his mission statement in his typical, rambling fashion, and the other writers have contributed a set of thoughtful pieces about pop culture and sports (every time this site is mentioned, it’s mentioned that the site combines these two things, which mystifies me a bit, because, aren’t they the same thing? Aren’t sports extremely popular culture?) that really give you an impression of what this site could potentially be – a big windfall for quality online writing. NPR asked today whether this might be a new direction for Internet writing – after all the web has hardly been kind to the sort of long-form, thoughtful, spread out writing Simmons and Co. hope to do – and praised the site for having the guts to go there, even if it doesn’t work out. It might not work out. Simmons, honest to a fault, admits that. But I hope it does. I am, after all, this sites ideal audience. This site is aimed squarely at people who say this:
“You know, I visit Entertainment Weekly’s website everyday, but I wish every time they published a sports story they didn’t jokingly have to imply that sports isn’t what they usually cover, ha ha… I’m not laughing. And I read ESPN every day, but I wish Simmons wasn’t the only one there who manages to realize that sports culture is part of a larger culture, a popular culture obsessed with film and Jersey Shore and Spiderman AND sports, that isn’t that far from Fenway for most online readers. I wish there was site that combined these facets…”
It’s here. This is it. It’s the Simmons ethos (Hey guys, talking about Jordan is not just for sports geeks, so sports geeks, stop acting like no one else talks about Jordan, and everyone else, stop acting like you don’t talk about Jordan!) writ large, and all I can say right now is that this site, on Day 1, achieved its first goal. It reached its target audience (me), and its target audience (me again) has decided to add it to his regular rotation of websites. So, let’s see what happens tomorrow.
Update: Day 2 on Grantland has provided what I now consider to be an essential, philosophical meditation on the paradox of DVR’ing sports events from writer Chuck Klosterman, who I know is very famous, but who I’ve never read before. This article not only makes me want to read more Chuck, it has essentially ensured that this site will become a permanent fixture in my web adventures until, I don’t know, Simmons and Klosterman murder my family or something. It would take that much. This is a website after my own heart, and my heart has been captured. It belongs to Grantland now.