Visions Of Grantland: Bill Simmons’ Lost Opportunity To Do Something New

  • Dave Levy

One of Simmons’ sounding points throughout the last 11 months since LeBron James Capital-D Decision was that he always was kind of disappointed that LBJ passed up making his own legacy in either Cleveland or Chicago or New York to join his “rival” of Dwyane Wade as a teammate. As The Sports Guy wrote last July on the afternoon before James’ Greenwich event:

13. I think it’s a cop-out. Any super-competitive person would rather beat Dwyane Wade than play with him. Don’t you want to find the Ali to your Frazier and have that rival pull the greatness out of you? That’s why I’m holding out hope that LeBron signs with New York or Chicago (or stays in Cleveland), because he’d be saying, “Fine. Kobe, Dwight and Melo all have their teams. Wade and Bosh have their team. The Celtics are still there. Durant’s team is coming. I’m gonna go out and build MY team, and I’m kicking all their asses.” That’s what Jordan would have done. Hell, that’s what Kobe would have done.

Simmons had signed a four-year extension with ESPN in 2007, and before that wrapped up, he extended again as announced last May. Roughly around the beginning of June 2011, Simmons had the option of being out on his own, with no one to tell him that he couldn’t make a snide comment on Twitter about an ESPN personality or use expletives as adjectives on his podcast. He stayed and brought his friends to come play with him at the Worldwide Leader.

In staying with ESPN and creating Grantland, Simmons is not LBJ (if I wanted to carry it out, I’d argue that he’d be more Wade, but I’m not going to, because it isn’t the right fit). What I will say, though, is that Simmons’ lowercase-d decision does somewhat appear to be the easy way out. ESPN seems like a safety net where even risk – at least for him – wasn’t that risky.

As Jason Fry argued in that above-linked Deadspin piece on his extension, Simmons was at the top of the sportswriting world from a numerical standpoint. Millions of followers on Twitter, a NYT top-seller, the beginning of 30-for-30: he honestly could have done things in the media world about which independent bloggers and podcasters can only dream. He may have lost some people in a new channel, but there is more than enough ground support for him to imagine that he could still be more than successful in a new venture.

Why stay with ESPN? Simmons could have down more than own a property in name. He could have built a Grantland empire anywhere away from Bristol’s supervision; this wasn’t a revolution in technology, after all. Yet he chose to stay under it, once ESPN handed him the central role and ability to forge the vision in Grantland.

Is it truly his to own and coddle? If so, why not try something new instead of rebuilding Page 2 on a white background?

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