The beef between Bill Simmons and Doc Rivers had been dormant from the moment the Boston Celtics put together their Big Three in the summer of 2007 until just a few days ago. And now that the most recent golden era is over for the guys in green, the Celtics' former coach and the franchise's most visible fan are at each other's throats.
It's just like old times.
It wasn't so long ago—2006, to be exact—that Simmons fired the first shots at Rivers.
The Celtics weren't very good, and The Sports Guy was fed up with his favorite team's coach, so he did what helped make him immensely popular: He wrote a column from the perspective of a fan that called for Rivers' ouster as coach, via ESPN Page 2:
Doc Rivers stinks as an NBA coach.
After watching him butcher my favorite team for 15 months and 134 games, I feel pretty comfortable making that assessment. On the surface, Doc seems fine. He always dresses nicely, his interviews are good, and his "Come on, guys, let's go!" clap ranks among the best in the league. When his team blows a winnable game -- which happens often, by the way -- you can always count on him to look sufficiently disappointed, almost like how Tony Almeida looks on "24" whenever Jack decides to disobey him. Doc has that look down pat. And if you weren't paying attention, you would almost think that he wasn't the problem here.
Well, I think he's the problem.
If you were looking for a vintage Simmons column to parody, this would be it. Personal investment, shoehorned pop culture references and unapologetic honesty are all here. Of course, the additional 20,000 words he used to make his point also qualify this as a prototypical Simmons piece. But I digress.
That particular piece wasn't necessarily the genesis of the Simmons-Rivers feud, but it's emblematic of the sort of sentiment that—understandably—never sat well with Rivers.
Just as importantly, the column represented a time when Simmons could be a fan first and not worry about the repercussions of doing things like publicly arguing that a man should be stripped of his livelihood.
Don't take that last sentence as any sort of high-and-mighty condemnation of Simmons or the tenor of his writing. I'm sure I've asked for coaches to be fired or players to be benched plenty of times. I'm just making the point that, at the time, Simmons never had to answer for his opinions.
As we flash forward to the present day, Simmons is now a media mogul, easily one of ESPN's most ubiquitous personalities. But his schtick hasn't changed much, so it shouldn't be surprising that he has spent the past few weeks leveling some pretty harsh words toward Rivers.
I don't blame Doc for trying to bail, but he can't come back now. He just tried to quit on his players. Now he's going to coach them?— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 16, 2013
In addition to saying Rivers had quit on the Celtics, Simmons also made the accurate observation that the back-and-forth negotiations between the Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers had all but assured Rivers' departure—one way or the other.
Just so we're clear: Doc Brown has a better chance of coaching the Celtics next year than Doc Rivers does. Clips deal or bust.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 17, 2013
There was even some levity at Doc's expense.
That rumored Celtics-Nets trade is so bad for Boston that Doc Rivers just quit on the Celtics again.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 27, 2013
To be fair to Simmons, the narrative of Rivers' exodus was murky. The deal with the Clippers was pronounced dead and then revived a handful of times. And more specifically, Rivers' plans seemed to change on a daily basis.
There were moments when it seemed he'd return to the Celtics, followed by discussions of his desire to go back to broadcasting. Things were confusing, and Doc's indecisiveness didn't clarify much.
Good summary on how Doc contradicted himself all week: http://t.co/UCoEfDElve (Does not include his PTI waffling.) He needs to pick a story.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 28, 2013
Rivers fired back at Simmons for a half-decade of abuse on draft night, and Simmons stood his ground in one of the most genuine, unrehearsed exchanges the Worldwide Leader has featured in years.
That's good TV.
A couple of things bear mentioning here: First, Rivers is clearly not too classy to call Simmons an "idiot." Second, if you watch closely, something incredible happens to Simmons in the few seconds of his response.
He returns to his roots as a petulant, obviously devoted Boston fan who so often offers opinions without much of a rational basis. It was like we had been transported back to 2006.
Here's the thing, though: Simmons isn't necessarily wrong to have said what he said. He's entitled to his position. It just so happens that Rivers also gets to fire back.
Anyway, the rest of the Rivers family did its own firing in the aftermath. One of Doc's sons, Jeremiah, was particularly vehement in his defense of his father.
The younger Rivers lambasted Simmons, drilling him for his previous columns about firing his dad, and then astutely pointing out that the criticism stopped when the Celtics started winning.
There were eight tweets in total from Rivers' son, but none stung as much as the shot at Simmons' professionalism.
In response, Simmons volleyed back with what was easily the cleverest tweet of the exchange.
When I get home I'm signing up my 5 and a half year old son for Twitter so he can defend me against Doc Rivers' kids.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 28, 2013
That's right; kids are involved on both sides now. This stuff just got real.
Rivers did a couple of radio interviews on the day after the draft, apparently unwilling to let the ruckus between he and Simmons go. He was rather calm in his handling of the situation on Dan Patrick's show, explaining his side of the story and correctly pointing out that Simmons has never been a fan of his.
That clip makes Rivers seem pretty reasonable, and it appears that he answered Simmons' call to own the fact that he was glad to get out of Boston.
But then he went and made a technically inaccurate claim on another radio interview.
We're splitting hairs here, but Rivers is definitely exaggerating. Simmons never wrote letters or tried to organize a sit-down meeting with Danny Ainge to bring about Rivers' firing. Simmons seized the opportunity to take back the momentum, calling out Rivers on his claims.
The quote I just retweeted is an outright, 100 percent lie. I'd be careful, Glenn. Seriously. Stop talking. You are making sh*t up.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 28, 2013
Look, Simmons is a fan.
That's always been at the heart of his appeal, but it's starting to clash with his status as a particularly prominent member of sports media. His words carry farther, and now they reach the ears of not only the people he's talking about (like Rivers), but also millions and millions of others.
The Sports Guy is getting a small lesson in accountability and the price of real fame, but he's getting it from a guy in Rivers about whom he's basically correct: Doc didn't want to rebuild, and he was more than happy to move on.
The problem is that Simmons has such a history of praising his teams when they're doing well and turning on them when they're not. That sort of results-oriented reaction is typical of a lot of fans, but it's especially problematic for him because it inhibits his ability to be rational and ultimately hurts his credibility.
But really, it's hard to bash Simmons—childish, irrational and petulant as he sometimes seems. That's not only because what he's been saying is accurate; it's also because of what he means to media. You wouldn't be reading this if it weren't for him. He was a pioneer in the type of Internet sports coverage that is now the norm.
And it's the norm because people respond positively to it.
In the end, Simmons can't deny that he absolutely wanted Doc fired, and he can't get away from the fact that he called him a quitter. At the same time, Rivers can't deny that what Simmons has been saying recently is true.
Those dueling truths have created a standoff in which there won't be a winner, and both parties are going to look increasingly immature if they don't just let it go.