Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Sports Guy on the Donaghy scandal

I've been meaning to say more about what makes Bill Simmons a terrific sportswriter, one I'm almost always eager to read, even though his analytical instincts drive me nuts. This column on the NBA refereeing scandal is Simmons at his best. This is a sports story that is all about fan psychology--the way everybody will talk about games next year, and nobody covers that angle better than Simmons.

Monday, July 16, 2007

How about the Sports Guy Race Theorists?

Back in March, Bill Simmons got himself in a little hot water by saying that this was an "astounding realit[y]" of the 2005-06 college basketball season: "Two white guys (Adam Morrison and J.J. Redick) were indisputably the two best college basketball players alive."

Perhaps Simmons thought that Boston sports fans have such a longstanding record of interracial harmony and good cheer that nobody would notice that you can't explain the logic underneath that statement without cringing. Hey, I've got a minute. Go ahead and explain to yourself why the joke is funny. I guarantee at least two cringes, or a cringe and a wince.

When readers called Simmons on the comment, he thoughtfully offered this olive branch: "For anyone who was offended, I'm sorry … not for the joke, but for the bug up your ass." Yes, it takes a lot of courage and integrity to go for the old "bug up your ass" line. Not to mention writing skill.

Bill Simmons is a skilled writer and often a skilled thinker, too, but his head seems to shrink when he tries to joke about race. Here is his reason number 929 why he loves sports:

The Utah Jazz

I will never get used to this: One of our most white-bread American cities roots for an NBA franchise named for a musical movement created by African-Americans. It's genuinely insane. You can brainstorm with your buddies all weekend to come up with a name for a sports franchise that makes less sense -- there's no way you're topping Utah Jazz. Not even with Dallas Indians.

Let's leave aside the lack of originality here--seriously, has anybody not heard this before?--and go to the hysteria of Simmons's resistance to the idea of jazz in Utah. Obviously, Utah Jazz an odd name, with the oddity stemming from the team's move from New Orleans to Salt Lake City. Probably nobody would have considered giving the name to a new franchise. But "genuinely insane"? There's no topping it, even with hypothetical names?

I find Simmons's adolescent excitement about an old joke revealing. Utah Jazz is an oxymoron only in the dull-witted logic of bad jokes, in which all Utahans are Mormons, all Mormons are white, and no white people play jazz. The fact that lots of people have played and do play jazz in Utah is a side point, though, compared to the revelation that in Simmons's imagination, a loose association between a broad style of music and a racial group has more force than anything else he can imagine. So I take up the challenge to think of team names nuttier than Utah Jazz. Simmons offers us a weekend, but I'll take five minutes:

Laramie Surf
Minneapolis Camels
Havana Barons
Miami Frost
New York Humility
Hartford Rebels
Cedar Rapids Mountaineers

It's not so hard--if you think about it.