Bill Simmons not only changed the landscape of sports journalism, he changed the way that all news is being reported. We live in a time and place where popular culture knowledge is expected, much like people breathing and masturbating. They’re all just things we know and do. Simmons’ style is easy to read, and contains a quality of a neighborhood bar fly who picks out good tunes on the Wurlitzer and who can spin one hell of a sports yarn over a Sam Adams. There is perhaps no other writer out there who is as polarizing as Simmons. Some people love him. Other people loathe him. And most people steal from him. There’s even a Sports Guy Column Generator.
At its height, a Simmons column gets 1.4 million readers and his podcasts are downloaded by another 21 million. Undoubtedly his readership is heavily influenced by his distinct style. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. Here are seven ways to write like either your favorite or least favorite sportswriter.
Do your research
While Simmons certainly has an informal style to his prose, he definitely backs it up with statistical analysis. If you ever watch a baseball game and the announcer tells you that “Martinez is batting .337 when there’s cumulus nimbus clouds in the sky, and he’s taken a pre-game dump,” Simmons would be the type of guy to have that statistical analysis at his disposal. His first foray into publishing found him pumping out The Big Book of Basketball: The NBA according to The Sports Guy, coming in at a whopping 700-pages. He probably could have gotten away with only ten words: Cousy, Russell, Chamberlain, West, Abdul-Jabbar, Maravich, Erving, Bird, Johnson and Jordan, but that’s not his style. He wants to convince you of a point using his words, and then nail it home using raw data.
Study the intricacies of Almost Famous
One of Simmons signature pieces is using movie/television quotes and applying them to the happenings in the sports world. After proclaiming the Cameron Crowe directed film, Almost Famous, as the best of the decade, Simmons did a two-part column, A Band-Aid for the NBA Offseason, using Penny Lane’s “blow for blow” tactics as the backdrop for the melodrama.
It seems rather fitting that Simmons led with a certain quote from Almost Famous: “Write what you want.”
Be a fan
Journalists are never supposed to be homers. Even in hometown rags there is an expected amount of neutrality when reporting on say, a certain quarterback, from a certain Midwestern city, whose protection affords him a fifty percent chance of getting killed like a lamb skin condom does.
Simmons isn’t neutral. He’s the anti-Switzerland. He wears his Boston-pride like a badge on his surely chowder stained Yaz t-shirt. This is particularly relevant because with the advent of blogging (a medium in which Simmons first gained a following) having a distinct opinion on something is what keeps people reading. Simmons has become to Boston what Spike Lee is to New York. He’s a recognizable face that will never break a sweat.
In the New York Times profile on him, they observed “Mr. Simmons may be the first sports writer to see the games purely from the view of the fan — and a very modern, unsentimental fan at that. As Mr. Simmons sees it, his job is not to get into the heads of the players, but into the heads of his readers.”
Write about your family
Some of the more poignant pieces written by Simmons are all very personal in nature, and in the world of man are referred to as “no I’m not, I just have something in my eye” features. Whereas documentarian Michael Moore puts himself in the midst of his subject matter, Simmons does the same. Whether it’s talking about his wife (the Sports Gal), his children (who are being raised in Los Angeles but are being trained to adore Boston), or his Dad, there’s a certain sense of voyeurism that goes into reading.
Try reading about the final days of his beloved pooch, Dooze.
Watch reality television
Outside of Bunim and Murray, there hasn’t been a bigger proponent of people bumping chapped genitals into one another on television than Bill Simmons. He even created a Reality Television fantasy league, in which points are awarded based on volume of upchuck, hookups and left hooks thrown. A Simmons column is every bit as much about Wes Welker going over the middle as it is about J-Woww going down on a gorilla juice head.
Use weird metaphors
On Boston Celtic Rajon Rondo:
I have spent as much time trying to figure out Rondo these last few years as either of my kids. He’s like a cat: Sometimes he jumps on your lap, sometimes you don’t see him for days, sometimes he goes down in the basement and kills mice for you, sometimes he’s kicking over his own kitty litter box, sometimes he’s inexplicably beating up a poodle, sometimes he’s hissing at your children … you just never know.
Live. Love. And breathe The Wire.
White people love The Wire. It’s like mayonnaise and designer dog breeds. Next to the weather and sports, The Wire is something that all men can talk about. Much like his Almost Famous column, Simmons went to the well one more time, this time using David Simon’s epic five-season masterpiece to describe the NBA playoffs. And to think, Simmons almost passed on it.
Another excerpt from another column:
“Now I’m wondering if I avoided ‘The Wire’ because its central themes — drugs, corruption, urban decay — were realities that I simply wanted to ignore. Instead of being haunted by a show like this, it was easier and safer to skip it entirely. Most people feel this way, I’m guessing; it’s the only conceivable reason why five times as many people would watch “The Sopranos” instead of a show that’s better in every way. See, when most Americans dabble in inner-city TV shows or movies for our ‘taste’ of street life, we’re hoping for the Hollywood version. We don’t want despair and decay, we want hope and triumph. We don’t want the zero-sum game of drug dealers killing each other, we want The Rock coaching juvie kids and turning their lives around in two hours. We want them to win the big football game, we want the movie to end, and we don’t want to think about these people ever again.”