Bill Simmons, one of the pioneers of online sports writing, has been a long time fan/critic of the NBA pregame telecast. He holds out the TNT gang, featuring Charles Barkley, Ernie Johnson, and Kenny Smith, as the gold standard (read here for more), while routinely challenging the ESPN lineup in whatever form it happens to be. Well, Simmons is finally getting his chance to put his money where his mouth is:
ESPN had never seemed to be able to find the right mix in its show that combined the knowledge, camaraderie, and revelry that is seen nightly during their TNT competitors' broadcast. They were reportedly attempting to bring Stan Van Gundy into the mix, but according to Stan, the league may have nixed that one.
Why is the timing right for Simmons?
"I nearly ended up doing it last year but Grantland just wasn’t ready yet — we had only been up for six months and we had half as many people as we have now," Simmons told SI.com. "We were working insane hours and I couldn’t have asked the others to pick up any more slack. I would have had to drink three times as many Diet Cokes as Mike Francesa," a New York sports-talk personality who is famous for pounding the beverage during his radio shows.
"We’re in a much better spot now and I couldn’t be happier with Grantland in general," Simmons said. "For me personally, it’s going to be such an incredible NBA season that I couldn’t resist being involved. Just seemed like a logical next step for me. Remind me we had this conversation when I’m working 80 hours a week next May and starting to look like one of the Walking Dead zombies."
ESPN is banking on Simmons' readership and popularity while hoping that his unique voice, coupled with Jalen Rose's honest take on issues, will help bring their show closer to what TNT has become. Simmons definitely has a certain schtick about him and he'll bring plenty of viewers for a while, but in the end the test for him will be the same test for anybody else. The test is this: is the show worth watching? Do you feel like you're hanging out with friends who are both knowledgable and engaging around any given topic, or do you feel like the commenters are just taking turns fake-laughing at each others' jokes?
My prediction: if Simmons opts to go the chummy/goofy route that he has repeatedly said destroys any worthwhile broadcast, the show will not be good. Honestly, if it devolves into something resembling he and Magic bantering over past Celtics-Lakers duels, then we're in for a rehash of "The Magic Hour."
However, Simmons does have something that he can bring to the table, and that is an extensive knowledge and vocabulary about the game's history. If he can bring THAT into focus, with Wilbon playing the straight man, Jalen playing the critical voice, and Magic just being Magic, then there might be something there to build on.
What do you think?