“On the day Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night show was launching in Hollywood, he woke up in San Diego, about 100 miles away. Jimmy was producing a Super Bowl show there for MTV,1 so we drove down on that weekend in January 2003 in a party bus normally reserved for wild bachelor parties. You could practically smell the stale champagne and DNA on the seat cushions. I remember cars honking at us as they passed, assuming something crazy was happening behind the tinted windows. Nope. Unless you count Jimmy’s cousin Sal waiting for people to fall asleep, then farting on their heads.”
Quite the opening salvo. That superscript “1” leads to this footnote: “That Super Bowl would eventually be remembered as either the Bucs-Raiders game or the Barrett Robbins game, depending on how cynical you are.” We should add here a sic, since the name of the Oakland Raiders player who disappeared before the game due to mental illness is Barret Robbins, with one “t.” I know that because I had to Google the name to get the reference. It took one second. One of the big swinging pens editing Simmons (there are such people out there, surely) could have saved Grantland the embarrassment of the editor-in-chief misspelling the name of the first person he mentioned with whom he had not shared a ride in a party bus. It was opening day at Grantland, and gremlins happen; but forgive me for noting that this particular mistake, given its placement and its casual mean-spiritedness, could lead you, the attentive and hopeful reader, to suspect bad portents for Simmons & Co., depending on how cynical you are.
The intro goes on to compare the heady anticipation around the debut of Jimmy Kimmel’s show with how Simmons feels in launching Grantland, and while it does little to illuminate the world outside of Simmons and his friends who make TV shows—Bill Simmons is nothing if not a compulsive memoirist—it serves as a tidy tone poem to hope, and it brings heart to a Borg-backed enterprise. The other marquee writers in the stable turned in perfectly serviceable first-day pieces. Chris Jones, the erstwhile Esquire sports columnist supernovaed with magazine masterpieces on the International Space Station and on a military funeral and on Roger Ebert, gives us a brief history of his suddenly renewed career as a baseball writer, focusing mostly on what it’s like to be Chris Jones and smitten with covering baseball. Chuck Klosterman turned in my favorite piece of the first bunch, about an obscure junior college basketball playoff game he stumbled across as a kid in North Dakota, in which a skeleton-crew team of Native American players actually won with only three men on the floor. It’s not Best American Sports Writing-grade wordsmithing, but it at least explores a heretofore neglected corner of time, and is a fine way to kill twelve minutes at your desk on a weekday.
So there’s hope. Since Wednesday, Dave Eggers rolled out a pleasant little tone poem about Wrigley Field. Jay Caspian Kang was the first writer to serve up sentences (and complex thoughts) to envy in his elegiac Dirk Nowitzki assessment, complementing a companion piece, by Bill Barnwell, that enlisted left-brain stats-porn to digest Dirk. Klosterman followed up with a cracking think piece on the ennui of DVRing sports. And it all looks wonderful: Grantland’s design is a triumph of clean display and minimal advertising; the sponsors (Subway and Klondike, so far) haven’t slathered the page in blinking, blipping signage. It is a pleasure to read, even if it also looks as though the writing, that thing, that only thing here, has yet to turn its gaze away from the Writers themselves and assure us that we haven’t become trapped in yet another locker room.