Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bill Simmons started watching the 2013 Red Sox in August, and hey, what do you know, a championship! Time to write about them like he had been paying attention all season (Part 1)

This article is actually an expose on Big Papi, rather than the 2013 Red Sox as a whole.  But they're one and the same for our (OW-UH) purposes.  And since Bill couldn't be bothered to watch the 2012 Red Sox after it became clear by early summer that they were not going to be the Best Team Ever, nor was he able to stomach the 2013 Red Sox until most of the way through the season when it became clear they would make the playoffs, he begins with 4,000 words about something exactly like Big Papi and the Red Sox: Bill Russell.

Tomorrow afternoon in Boston, Massachusetts, the great Bill Russell finally gets his own statue.

I'm just going to get this out of the way early and not go back to it (unless Bill does something really super terrible later on): Boston is a racist city that actively disliked Russell while he was leading the Celtics to like 12 championships in 13 years or whatever it was.  Racism.  Boston.  Potato.  Poe-tah-toe.  It still makes me laugh even though it's so sad.  But I don't want to go back to the well for that kind of joke 50 times throughout the course of this post, so that'll be it for now.

Details were scarce until recently. We know the statue will be unveiled in City Hall Plaza, that it stands about eight feet tall, that a talented local artist named Ann Hirsch created it.


We know President Obama passed through Boston on Wednesday and caught an early glimpse. We know Russell and his family will attend the ceremony — no small feat, because Russell is wired like a Sicilian mafia boss. He remembers every slight, every offense, every ill word, everything. Boston let him down for good a long time ago.

At least Bill acknowledges it.

He gave up on Boston. Gave up on the city. Gave up on the people. Bill Russell has spent the past four decades living in Seattle, on Mercer Island, about as far from Boston as you can get without falling into the Pacific Ocean.

When I spent the day with Russell last November, 


he maintained that he didn't care about Boston anymore. 

I think moving to Seattle is a pretty good hint that he's not bluffing.

Little clues throughout our conversation said otherwise. He remembered everyone mistakenly assuming that a budding Celtics dynasty would come to a halt in 1963, when Bob Cousy retired, as if the Cooz was the reason for those first six titles. He remembered playing more than one Game 7 in a Boston Garden that was only 70 percent full, and he definitely remembered Bobby Orr's Bruins selling out games in December and January. He remembered the reaction after Red Auerbach named Russell as his coaching successor, as if nobody could believe that a black guy — a black guy — could tell a bunch of white people what to do. He remembered the idiots who wrecked his new house, destroyed his trophies and defecated on his walls, because how would anyone ever forget something like that? He definitely remembered how Boston fans deified Larry Bird, how they put him on a pedestal for winning eight fewer titles than Russell did.

It seems Bill is trying to get into a semantics argument and say that "still being really angry at a city that never appreciated his greatness because of his skin color" is different than not caring.  You and I, since we have brains, know that you can be furious about something but not really, truly care about it.  You can just leave it behind and let it fade away.  Which sounds exactly like what Russell was doing, except that it's harder for him to forget all those things than it is for you and I to forget that the coach cut us from the 9th grade baseball team, because 1) as Bill just said, Russell is wired like a crazy person and 2) he was disrespected because of the way he was born; you and I were disrespected (read: told by the universe to give up) because we sucked at baseball.

These moments kept coming up, and they kept coming up, and by the end of it, I just assumed that Bill Russell would never return to Boston. That he would live the rest of his life and die in Seattle, and that would be it. 

And all they had to do to lure him back for a few days was PUT UP A FUCKING STATUE OF HIM.  What a faker that Russell is--always pretending like he was deeply hurt by racism!

We spent the first chunk of our interview in Russell's basement, with the six-time MVP standing in front of his trophy case and telling stories about everything inside it. A few months earlier, he had undergone a heart procedure and was still recovering from it. Someone close to him warned us, "Make sure he doesn't stand for too long — he's still a little weak."  Like a dummy, I became so enthralled with our conversation that I kept him standing for 90 solid minutes. 

Riveting journalism.  "I interviewed Bill Russell.  He was standing.  Someone told me to make sure he didn't stand too much.  Later, we sat."

I can remember exactly where we were — the left corner of his basement,

I FEEL LIKE I'M THERE!  Also, what the fuck is the "left corner" of a room?  Is Russell's house in a side scrolling video game?

at the tail end of a wall covered with framed photos, magazine covers and newspaper clippings. Russell had framed a Boston Herald article from June 1986, right after Bird won his third title — the summer when Larry Legend could have announced that he was walking across the Charles River and 50,000 locals would have scurried down there to witness it — 


when many believed that Bird was the greatest basketball player ever. 

I said I wouldn't do more racism jokes.  I said I wouldn't do more racism jokes.  /grits teeth

You know who disagreed with that argument? Larry Joe Bird. He maintained that Bill Russell was the best, that the 11 rings spoke for themselves. The headline of the piece said something like "Bird: Russell Still the Best." If you think it doesn't mean anything that Russell framed this article and put it in his basement, then you don't know anything about Bill Russell.

And since you've never met him and stood with him for a medium amount of time, you definitely don't know him like I do!  Hey did I mention I got to meet Bird at one point too?

And as we were talking about it, suddenly, his eyes went blank.


I was standing there looking up at Russell — remember, he towers over me by eight inches — 

Still more beautiful and expository writing.  Bill Russell is tall.  Also a nice humblebrag tucked in there; just so you know, Bill is over six feet.  AND HE PLAYS PICKUP BASKETBALL STILL HIS KIDS ARE CRAZY KOBE BRYANT USED STEROIDS EFF YOU MODE!

waiting for his next sentence to come. We had a camera crew watching us from a few feet away, along with a few other selected guests. 

Peter King was there, for some reason, asking Russell what his favorite Sam Adams seasonal was.

I thought Russell had dramatically paused before his next point, eventually realizing that he couldn't get his next breath. I can still see his face — dark and weathered, white beard, whiskers popping from the sides like snowflakes. I can still see his blank eyes. I remember panicking about 1.8 seconds before anyone else started to panic. Oh my god. We killed Bill Russell. Someone frantically pulled over a tall stool. We urged him to sit down. Russell asked for a minute. We stood there in silence, watching one of the greatest athletes who ever lived now struggling to breathe. Someone gave him a bottle of water and that helped.

Bill Russell is 79.  Everyone knows this (NO ONE DENIES IT!).  This is not even slightly interesting, and I would be shocked if Bill wasn't embellishing the amount of drama in the moment.  The guy is old; old people get tired just from watching TV, let alone talking.  Please, continue this riveting tale.  What happened next?  Did you continue the interview?

We decided to change locations, moving upstairs into Russell's living room, 

So, how about David Ortiz and those 2013 Red Sox?  What a playoff run.

where we had arranged one of those traditional interview setups with two chairs facing each other. Russell made his way up the stairs — slowly, painstakingly, to the point where you could feel every step — 

Copy and paste my analysis from above.  Also, that's truly horrendous writing.

before finding his chair and sitting down. The camera crew hustled to turn on the lights and set everything else up, 

And to turn on their cameras and set up the sound and stuff!  It was neat!  This is turning into a long-winded 2nd grader's story about a trip to the zoo, only less interesting.

and now Russell and I were just looking at each other. I was concerned. Really, really concerned. Russell was staring at me with glassy eyes. He was in another place. Just concentrating on his breaths. 


The room was dead silent, like a church, with everyone else fretting and talking in hushed-beyond-hushed tones. His friend Charlie kept telling us, "He's fine, just give him a minute, he's fine."

And then … BOOM! Bill Russell was fine. He sprang back to life. "I'm OK," he said, unleashing his trademark laugh, and I can still feel my own heart racing happily after he said it. 

I considered doing that thing that I often do with TMQ writing where I cut a paragraph off midsentence and fast forward to the next point, but I wanted to firmly establish for you how horrendous this article is.  So far, in like 1500 words, we have 1) learned that Simmons did an interview with Bill Russell 2) learned that one part of the interview involved Larry Bird praising Bill (what a shock that that made it into the article) and 3) had Simmons tell us what walking around a house with a 79 year old is like.  Jesus H.

We spent the next 90 minutes talking about his life. The interview ended and everyone shook hands. 

But what about Charlie?  You can't just bring in a new character and then leave us hanging!

Our crew started packing up. I sat down at Russell's kitchen table with my friend Hirschy, the biggest basketball fan I know, 

And we agreed that the Thunder at 7/1 to win the title this year is WAY TOO HIGH.  THANKS FOR THE FREE MONEY, VEGAS.

as well as someone who had helped arrange the entire day. This wasn't just one of the highlights of our careers; this was one of the highlights of our lives. We were trying to act like adults. We were trying to remain professional. 

Just take about 5 semesters of high school level English composition classes and you might get there one day.

We were fighting off the urge to repeatedly high-five each other while screaming "YES!!!!" and "WE DID IT!" A three-hour hang in Bill Russell's house? With Russell talking about anything and everything?

We thought he'd schedule the interview, invite us in, and then only want to talk about NASCAR!

"Where's Bill?"

Russell's voice.

"Where's Bill?"



I stood up.

"Come here. I want to show you something," Bill Russell said.

"It's the door.  Beat it, you fucking moron."


Anonymous said...

What demon was it that cursed the world with a QB whose last name is Luck and has built a reputation for comeback wins? If I have to read one more headline like "Some guys have all the Luck" or "He's one Luck-y guy" or "As Luck would have it" I'm going to gouge my brains out.

Anonymous said...

Is anybody else imagining Bill Russell slamming Bill Simmons' head in a hospital room door while screaming "WHERE'S BILL!" over and over? I am and it's a good chuckle.

CHart said...

I'm glad you decided to take on this article. Simmons reacted to the SAWK winning another WS by writing about... Bill Russell? When I read this, I had to scroll to the bottom to make sure the link wasn't broken and had accidentally taken me to a diff article.

Anonymous said...

These moments kept coming up, and they kept coming up, and by the end of it, I just assumed that Bill Russell would never return to Boston. That he would live the rest of his life and die in Seattle, and that would be it.

Bill suggests in this piece that Bill Russell left Boston after his playing career ended and never came back. Presumably, Russell's second jersey retirement in 1999 would ruin the narrative that Russell vowed, down deep in his soul, NEVER TO RETURN.

Bronco Billy B said...

The sad fact of the matter is that Simmons is bigger than my hatred of him, a near philosophical conundrum. There are a douche load of dolts sending him Simmonesque emails hoping to get a pat on the head from the master by being published. I now only look at his NFL picks to root against them and hope he is actually betting them as he is well below 51.2%, near break even when accounting for the juice, this year. Where is the wrathful God?

dan-bob said...

"Whiskers popping from the sides like snowflakes"

What a gawdawful simile

Anonymous said...

I do believe snowflake was a slur at one time for a black person who acted white by being educated and well spoken and such. While I'm positive Bill meant no harm, it is still an unfortunate simile.