July 15, 2024

Can Bill Simmons Win the Big One?

Simmons is the most prominent sportswriter in America. He’s also a Boston fan. During his early years as a columnist in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he was sustained by the angst of backing losers, above all, the Red Sox. More recently, with Boston’s various sports franchises prospering, he has sought poetic inspiration in the teams he hates, and, with the exception of the Yankees, he hates no team more than the Lakers.

“It’s sad how well I know this place,” he told me as we entered the arena on a Wednesday evening in early May, a few minutes before tip-off at the Lakers’ second playoff game against the Dallas Mavericks. We arrived at our seats near midcourt just in time for the pomp of pregame introductions. A huge white sheet covering the video screen dropped to the floor, and the strains of the Who gave way to the absurdly dramatic voice of the P.A. announcer: “The defending back-to-back N.B.A. champions, your Los Angeles Lakers!”

ESPN’s press presence at N.B.A. games is dominated by men who, in their slick suits and Italian loafers, seem to be taking their misguided fashion cues from the players themselves. Simmons, who is 41, was dressed more like a TV comedy writer — which he was, briefly, on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” — in a T-shirt, Jack Purcell sneakers, a baseball cap and blue jeans.

During the fourth quarter, the Lakers began to unravel. Simmons, until now relatively restrained, grew giddy, cheering loudly as Dirk Nowitzki reeled off a few quick baskets for the Mavericks. “I’m having too much fun,” he told me, standing up and pumping his fist after J. J. Barea, the Mavs’ backup point guard, improbably sliced through the entire Lakers’ defense. “I’m going to get punched,” he said gleefully.

Between cheers, Simmons hunkered down over his BlackBerry, not to check his e-mail but to post gloating messages on Twitter. “I don’t care if J. J. Barea is from Puerto Rico,” Simmons typed. “We need to put him on a dollar bill. He’s an American hero.”

Simmons’s joy at the Lakers’ collapse was magnified by the sight of his publicist, Lewis Kay, a lifelong Los Angeles resident and devout Lakers fan, who was sitting two seats away, monitoring his Twitter feed on his own BlackBerry. At one point, Kay glanced over, looking pale and seriously dejected. “I’d like to see you with a red ball gag in your mouth,” Simmons joked, snapping a photograph of Kay with his BlackBerry. “I’m going to tweet this!”

“That’s not nice,” Kay replied, sounding legitimately upset.

“Come on, you’ve won two titles in a row!” Simmons said. He went on to compare Kay to a guy who picks up women at a bar for two weeks straight, “and then strikes out once and complains about it.”

A little later, the Lakers’ defeat now a certainty, Simmons auditioned another tweet before sending it out to his more than 1.4 million followers. “ ‘We killed Osama and the Lakers in one week?’ ” he suggested. “Too far?”

With that, Kay was finally able to shut him down. “Over the line,” he said. “And I’m speaking as your publicist, not as a Laker fan.”

Jonathan Mahler (jonathanmahler@hotmail.com) is a contributing writer and the author of “The Challenge,” about the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case. Editor: Dean Robinson (d.robinson-MagGroup@nytimes.com).

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=569339b0821d5f9a515a47db56061b9b

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