Bill Simmons is not going to be just fine. And no matter the situation, it really sucks getting fired. Even when you are at a company you don’t like, don’t respect, or really don’t need, it sucks getting fired. (I know from experience.)
So what makes me unequivocally believe that Bill Simmons is not going to be just fine without ESPN?
Lets start at the beginning…
Bill Simmons is a role model. Bill Simmons is an Idea Machine. Bill Simmons was fired by ESPN. Bill Simmons will not be just fine.
The world has changed, and Bill Simmons might be the only one in Media over 40 years old to realize it. This may be due the the fact that Bill Simmons helped change it.
Today, content is king. I can’t think of one person responsible for more content than Bill Simmons. If I try and think of the two biggest content creators today, the only names that come to mind are Bill Simmons and Disney. And Disney is an Uber-Corporation with access to George Lucas, Marvel Comics and an army of writers with a vault of licensed material. (Authors Note: I am long $DIS)
He made a name for himself with his writing. He combined sports with popular culture before anyone realized that sports IS popular culture.
He didn’t stop there.
He jumped on podcasts before podcasts were a ‘thing’, first creating the BS Report, then founding the Grantland Podcast Chanel (More on Grantland.com later)
He didn’ stop there.
He Developed and Produced ESPN’s: 30 for 30 Documentaries. My favorite one being BROKE, and my second favorite being ALL OF THEM.
Helped produce a Disney Movie staring Don Draper (If you watch every John Hamm role assuming its what Don Draper ended up doing after he left advertising all of his roles are that much better. You’re welcome.)
Then he broke away from ESPN.com and convinced the powers that be to spin off a second website combining Pop-Culture and Sports once and for all with Grantland.com
By this time, I had been following Simmons’ work for quite a while. The reason? I was truly inspired by his writing. That is not an understatement. When a new Bill Simmons article was published, I made time to read it.
Yes he is a Boston sports homer.
Yes he knows more about the 1990’s show 90210 than I know about anything.
Yes his articles are a minimum of 5000 words (may or may not be an exaggeration).
But the way he writes was so different. So unique. So inspiring to someone who also enjoys writing.
When I learned he was starting a new website, even I had doubts. I distinctly remember Googling ‘Grantland’ to learn more about his motivation. The only articles and blogs I could find at the time all argued over how long until ESPN admitted failure and pulled the plug on the project. Those articles are now scrubbed from the inter-webs.
Today, Grantland.com is leading the way with innovative ideas by young and distinguished voices that would be silent today if not for Bill Simmons.
Not everything Bill Simmons did was a success. He openly admits he struggles with his brief substitution efforts on Pardon The Interruption, and his time on ESPN’s NBA Pre-game and Half Time Show is not looked back on fondly. But he learned from these experiences and used these lessons on his next projects.
Grantland Basketball Hour was a very enjoyable show. In addition to his March Madness YouTube live streams and myriad other concepts he thought up, attempted, then improved on, or moved on.
Bill Simmons is an entreprenuer. He is an idea machine. ESPN will be just fine without him, but BIll Simmons will not be just fine.
Sure, there are pros and cons with working at a huge corporation. Despite the many public disputes they had, they worked well together. Very well. ESPN has Disney money behind it, and Bill Simmons knew the right way to spend it.
Many of Bill Simmons’ ideas will live on at ESPN. Grantland will continue to thrive, which is more a testament to Bill Simmons creativity and work ethic than anything to do with ESPN.
The Grantland Podcast machine that Bill Simmon’s established will also thrive. It has a head start against any competition and Simmons’ did such a fantastice job of developing each writer’s voice, that they now have a future in an industry that didn’t even exist a few years ago.
In today’s world, Idea Machines are the future. Whether they are creating entirely new categories (Grantland.com, Podcasting, YouTube Live-stream) , or combining two existing ones to establish something that feels new (Popular Culture and Sports). Corporations and businesses that succeed grow fast and then spend the next few decades trying to maintain their dominance and fighting off competition. This hurts innovation. In fact, it destroys it.
ESPN is Microsoft. BIll Simmons is Steve Jobs.
I would not be surprised if, like Steve Jobs, Bill Simmons returns to ESPN one day. They both work better together. I wish this wasn’t true because I root for Bill Simmons. But sometimes the pieces just fit better together than apart.
Right now, Simmons’ has remained silent. Some believe he is biding his time, while I fear that he is still ‘under contract’ with ESPN for a few months and they are trying to hurt his earning potential by keeping him out of the media until his contact expires.
Simmons’ has a fan base. Its more than just an audience. Its a community. In communities, the audience is heard, and is part of the conversation. ESPN has an audience. That audience is diminishing as people like me who grew up watching SportsCenter before school in the morning do not have the time to watch scheduled viewing any more.
But I make time for Bill Simmons. He gets that. Whether its a 5000 word article on how the 2015 Celtiics are really like the 3rd Season of Saved By The Bell The New Class (I made this title up, but doesn’t it sound like a Simmons’ article? Wouldn’t you read it?)
I also would never miss a 30 for 30 Documentary whether live, DVR or later on YouTube or iTunes.
I have also never missed a BS Report. Whether he is arguing with Adam Carolla over which film had a greater impact on American Nationalism, Fast and Furious 6 or Fast and Furious 7, or interviewing Barak Obama. That is RANGE. That is talent. That is rare.
Bill Simmons has rare talent. Being an idea machine is only half the battle. He also implemented his ideas. He tried things and when they failed, he used the failures to succeed in the next thing.
ESPN will be fine without Simmons. But that may be their biggest problem. When you are just fine, others become great. Others take risks. Risks that do not work out aren’t failures if you use those lessons in your next attempt.
ESPN failed by letting Simmon’s go. ESPN will be just fine.
Bill Simmons was fired by ESPN. That sucks because being fired, even from a job you hate, sucks.
Bill Simmons will be just fine if he just creates BillSimmons.com and continues to write his long articles, create his podcast and youtube videos and has the freedom to voice his opinions.
But Bill Simmons will not be just fine.
Bill Simmons is the type of person who won’t just do what he has been doing. He simply can’t.
Bill Simmons is going to be much more than fine. He will create, develop and inspire.
He will innovate. He will try new things and fail at some of them. But that doesn’t matter. He understands that. When you only concentrate on providing value to others, the money will follow. He understand that too.
But for the time being, I hope he is enjoying his vacation.
Even role models should take a vacation.
More Articles Related to Bill Simmons:
Deadspin: “Why ESPN Fired Bill Simmons”
Forbes: “After ESPN And Bill Simmons Divorce, What Is The Future For Grantland.com?”
Money.CNN: “ESPN Finds Bill Simmons’ Replacement”
SportsGrid.com: “Colin Cowherd Gets Emotional About Bill Simmons’ Departure”