In True Romance, Christian Slater's main character, Clarence Worely, imagines Elvis (played Val Kilmer) giving him advice. At a crucial juncture in the film, he asks Elvis if he is kissing an important character's ass. Elvis responds, "You ain't an ass-kisser. What you're doing is genuine."
I bring True Romance up to make it clear that this article is genuine. I do not work for ESPN. To my knowledge, Bill Simmons has never read a word written by me. My only intention is to bring attention and pay tribute to Simmons' influence on sports writing.
Simmons is most likely the most popular sportswriter in America. I admit, it seems a little weird writing an appreciation piece about anyone who is the most popular in their field of expertise.
When Simmons' impact is recognized, it is usually from a technological point of view. He built an audience independently on the Internet and successfully transformed that into a gig at ESPN.
However, to merely view Simmons as a symbol of the Internet revolution is to miss out on a truly innovative writer. He has transformed sports journalism from reporting to conversation. His greatest strength is that he talks to his audience.
Simmons writes like a close friend sharing his opinions in a bar. His readers aren't reading his inside access, they are participating in a conversation with him (his answers to reader mail have become a staple of his journalistic brand). His columns read like a dialogue the reader would have with a close friend while watching a game.
His devotion to discussing the implications for gamblers on sporting events reflects the interest of a large "rogue" demographic of sports fans that was largely ignored by the mainstream media. He spends large portions of his articles talking about out of date sports films and 1980s television shows. Rather than blending into the status quo, he has promoted his own unique perspective.
Instead of trying to build his career on breaking news, Bill Simmons has focused on creating a unique voice. His writing benefits from his prodigy level of pop culture knowledge infinitely more than his access to individuals in the sports world power structure. His devotion to detail, history and personal anecdotes would have been underappreciated in a newspaper column.
Internet sports writing is a far cry from writing about sports for the traditional mediums. Simmons helped mold how sports are covered on the net. His down-to-earth, just-one-of-the-guys approach struck a cord with fans all over the world. While his readers undoubtedly love his work, I felt the need to articulate his brilliance. Remember, it ain't ass-kissing if it's genuine.