Some initial thoughts on Bill Simmons’ Grantland


So Bill Simmons’ “Grantland” launched today, with all the fanfare one would expect from an ESPN production. It’s a fine idea, longform sportswriting meant exclusively for the web, even if Yahoo! Sports did do it first with The PostGame. But I’m of the opinion that there’s always room for more good writing, and based on the talent Simmons has assembled for this venture, you’ve got to figure there’ll be plenty worth reading every week. Shoot, I’d read Chris Jones pontificating on the mysteries of the honey-do list, so to see him tearing into the AL East will be a treat.

If you’ve been following the Grantland story, you surely know what’s gotten us to this point and you don’t need a primer. If you haven’t, go read this New York Times profile,  and for the opposing perspective, read these interviews of Deadspin’s Tom Scocca and Tommy Craggs by Leitch at New York Mag.

So let’s get to it with a snap judgment: is Grantland a success? Most definitely. Must-read? Yep; I sucked all the articles on the site onto the iPad and plowed through them as the wife watched “Sex and the City” reruns. (She was just happy I was in the same room.) Groundbreaking? Well…we’ll get to that. Let’s just begin by touching on the first articles on the site:

-Klosterman’s “Three-Man Weave” is straight from the Best American Sports Writing school of American sports writing: a little-known event rendered momentous with some inflated wordplay. In this case, it was the story of a junior college in North Dakota beating another juco in a basketball game while only having three men on the floor. Well worth a read, though not particularly revelatory.

-From Jones’ “Back Into the Belly of the Beast,” I learned that Jones lost his virginity the same night I nearly broke my hand by punching a Charlottesville bar’s brick wall in frustration as the Braves lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays. I also may have to smack Jones in the face for putting a hex on Mark Wohlers. Overall, though, the best story of the bunch.

-Dave Jacoby’s “Reality TV Fantasy Draft” is exactly what it sounds like. Jacoby and I shared a panel at Blogs With Balls last year and have kept up since; I like his style if not necessarily his subject matter, so I’m glad he’s on board.

-Jonathan Adams’ “Gruntland Exclusive” is, I’m sure, very enthralling and enraging to fans of the New York Knicks, since it’s a portrait of a team about to crater, but since I haven’t cared about the Knicks since the days of Anthony Mason, I’m not the intended audience. Here’s hoping Adams stretches beyond NYC topics.

-Simmons’ own “LeBrondown, Part II” is a Simmons column ported over to a new site: in-jokes, stats, five-minutes-ago pop culture references that will age very badly, and a vast wealth of basketball knowledge. You already have an opinion on Simmons one way or another, and this one won’t change your mind.

-Andy Greenwald’s “The HBO Recycling Program” is a highly-overqualified-writing explication of a ridiculously simple idea: HBO uses a lot of actors in multiple roles. Fairly straightforward stuff here; would’ve loved some video embeds, but I imagine that rights issues scuttle that sort of thing.

-Oddly, the only piece that doesn’t work is Simmons’ own “Welcome to Grantland,” a too-long humblebrag that serves as both a statement of purpose and, in its story of the early days of the Jimmy Kimmel Show, a warning that if Grantland falls on its face, well, it may be us to blame: “Over the next 12 months, we realized that we needed to discard some of our edgier ideas; not because we didn’t like them, but because there was a reason nobody else was doing them. People like continuity with late-night shows. They don’t want to see new ground broken. They don’t want reckless chances and unpredictability…”

That, combined with the “we’re still getting started” lines later on, strikes me as the wrong tone to set here, the ringmaster saying, “We hope you enjoy the show, but if not, stick around! We’ll do something different! And if you still hate it, it’s your fault for not wanting anything new!” Defensiveness isn’t the way to go here. But that’s a minor quibble, one of very few I have with the site so far. (The sports and Hollywood blogs really should’ve been up and running with the launch, though.)

Hey, bottom line, I love the idea of Grantland. I have some doubts about its total execution; I wonder if the Deadspin guys were on to something when they put distance between themselves and the project. (Albeit clumsily; the infamous “pink gorilla” sabotage of Craggs’ ESPN interview had the strange effect of turning public opinion against Deadspin even though they’re morally in the right. If this is going to be an independent site, as promised, that’d be wonderful … but initial signs are that Grantland will be wandering in a far, but still fenced-in, acreage of ESPN’s pastures.)

Overall, though, congrats to Simmons for making his dream a reality. I’ll be back plenty … and not just to see when the first “Karate Kid” reference gets dropped. (Current guess: June 15.)

[Photo via Grantland, of course.]


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