Try as I might, I can't really ignore the feud between new Clippers coach Doc Rivers and ESPN Sports Guy Bill Simmons any longer. Hopefully it will settle down at this point, because as much as I would enjoy seeing Simmons put in his place a bit, Rivers and the Clippers have absolutely nothing to gain from taking him on.
For those of you who missed it, Simmons, clearly upset about the crater where his beloved Boston Celtics used to be after Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded to Brooklyn, called Rivers out for "quitting on the Celtics" during the NBA draft broadcast Thursday night.
Shelley Smith, interviewing Doc in L.A. a bit later that night, asked him for his response, and Rivers replied "I would like to call him an idiot, but I'm too classy for that."
That led to an almost immediate and quite awkward segue back to the draft in Brooklyn where Simmons sat with
Reese Rece Davis and Jalen Rose. Simmons, looking a bit flustered, then said that Rivers kept changing his story.
It probably should have died there, but Rivers is big news right now, and people want to talk to him for lots of reasons. During two different interviews Friday, Doc was asked about Simmons. On radio station WEEI he said that Simmons had done everything he could to get Rivers fired in Boston.
Simmons responded to that accusation with the following:
The quote I just retweeted is an outright, 100 percent lie. I'd be careful, Glenn. Seriously. Stop talking. You are making sh*t up.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 28, 2013
Let's take a step back, shall we. In many ways, Bill Simmons is the patron saint of bloggers. He was a blogger before there was such a thing as a blog. He wrote on AOL when AOL actually mattered, if you can actually remember that. He's an outsider, he's snarky, and he's sports obsessed, particularly where Boston is concerned. So yeah, he was a trailblazer for bloggers and his rise to prominence on ESPN (from guest columnist to Page 2 Headliner to his own property in Grantland) and ABC (he's now part of the ABC/ESPN studio team for NBA games) has been impressive. He's living the blogger dream.
It's interesting that this flapdoodle transpired during the NBA draft, because when the broadcast started and I saw Simmons on the screen my immediate thought was "WTF?" One of Simmons staple NBA columns for years has been his draft diary -- his minute by minute reactions to the NBA draft, which are full of snark and vitriol and only semi-informed opinion. But it's one thing to call the GM that makes a questionable pick an idiot in a written piece the week after the draft -- it's quite another to do so on live TV on the network that has a multi-million dollar contract to broadcast NBA games.
This is Simmons problem, and on a much smaller scale the problem of any blogger who starts gaining acceptance and some level of credibility. You can't simultaneously be an outsider and an insider; you can't be a rabid Celtics fan proudly wielding your biases like a sword and also be a broadcaster expected to be taken seriously. Simmons used to be funny and maybe he still is for some, though his schtick has worn thin for me. But he's not an "expert" and he shouldn't be presented as one. When Billy Crystal makes a brief on-mic cameo at a Clippers game or Spike Lee talks about the Knicks, no one takes them seriously. Why does ESPN want us to take Simmons seriously?
Back to the feud.
Simmons is definitely coming across as a jilted lover here. Did Rivers quit on the Celtics? He's obviously leaving just as the team is going to get bad, but all indications (from the front office and from ownership as well) are that the decision is mutual. Obviously -- and Simmons knows this full well -- the Celtics have no interest in paying a coach $21M for three years of what will certainly be painful rebuilding. Is Rivers moving to a better situation in L.A.? Of course. Did he force his way out, quit on the team, or otherwise behave badly during the process? Not at all.
As for Simmons' accusation that "Rivers' story keeps changing" I'm not even sure what his point is there. I've followed the machinations of the past few weeks as closely as anyone. There have been lots of lies told along the way -- but I can't really think of any of them that came from Rivers. I'll readily admit that I have my own biases different than Simmons' and he is no doubt paying much closer attention to certain aspects of the story in which he sees inconsistencies. But is there ANY other journalist asking questions about holes in Doc's story? It doesn't prove that Doc was consistent of course, but it does indicate that no one really cares.
The tweet-threat -- "I'd be careful, Glenn" -- is strangest of all. What does that even mean? And calling Rivers out as a liar for saying that Simmons tried to get him fired, when we can all go back to Page 2 columns from spring 2007 and see how critical he was of Rivers at that time, is pretty weird. Is Simmons saying that Rivers is lying about the details of the claim? Something like "There was no letter" or "I never tried to get a meeting with the owners"? Because the spirit of the claim -- Simmons hated Rivers as the Celtics coach and let millions of readers know -- is not open to debate. We may not have proof that he sent a letter -- but we do know that he called Rivers' extension "a poop hot dog."
So Simmons is pretty clearly in the wrong here. And let's face it, he's loving every minute of this, and he's correct that Rivers should be careful, because Doc has fallen right into the Sports Guy's trap.
Rivers should never -- NEVER -- have engaged with this guy, and he needs to walk away from this situation immediately. Simmons' job is to create interest in what he has to say, to attract eyeballs to websites and TV screen. Rivers' job is to win basketball games. Whose interests are being served with this brouhaha?
Rivers is one of four active NBA coaches to have won a championship; he has coached over one thousand NBA games. Simmons is a guy who tries to say funny things about sports. The relationship is inherently asymmetrical, and by acknowledging Simmons, even if only to insult him, all Doc is doing is elevating his adversary's stature. He should never have responded to Smith's question, he should have left it alone at that point, and he really, really needs to leave it alone now.
Having said that, one wonders how ESPN/ABC feels about all of this. As a studio host for their NBA pre-game show, Simmons is a questionable choice, but I can see the appeal. The studio show benefits from a certain amount of snark and it can be fun in small doses. On the other hand, having him work the draft was a terrible decision. He's not an expert, three hours is too much Bill Simmons, and he's got to tread carefully on his A-material -- ripping teams for what he believes to be terrible picks. What if he thinks a pick is terrible but the real experts in the room tell him why it's smart? Writing a 10,000 word column you get the last word, but that doesn't always happen on live TV.
ESPN may be happy on one level for this mini-controversy, because controversy sells. But at the same time, it's not great that one of the most respected men in the NBA just called a member of their NBA studio crew an idiot. Perhaps more troubling, Simmons has behaved very much like a Celtics fanboy during this whole thing, not like a journalist. ESPN knew that's what he was all along, and I'm sure they've embraced it -- up to a point. If the network was ever concerned about Simmons' credibility as an NBA talking head, this has got to elevate those concerns to a new level.
Let's hope this is the last we hear of this feud between the Sports Guy and the Doc. Simmons of course lives in L.A. and is a Clippers season ticket holder, so he's not going away; but that doesn't mean that Doc has to engage him.