Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Journey to ESPN Zone: My Experience at the Bill Simmons The Book of Basketball Signing in Los Angeles

I consider myself a fairly big Bill Simmons fans. I've been following him since the early part of this decade: reading his columns, listening to his podcasts and even watching the short-lived cartoons on ESPN.com. I was really looking forward to The Book of Basketball because my knowledge on NBA history is quite limited. What better way to be educated and entertained myself on this topic than with The Sports Guy, one of the most passionate basketball fans around.

My buddy picked up me shortly before 3 pm and we were off to L.A. Live in downtown Los Angeles. For those uninitiated L.A. LIVE is directly across the street from Staples Center and home to a wide assortment of entertainment, sporting and dining establishments. It's part of the renaissance downtown has experienced in recent years, bringing white rich people culture to the area.

Anyway, we paid $20 for parking (we needed to stay through the night since we were later attending the Clippers-Hornets game at 7:30, which turned out awful) and walked several blocks to L.A. LIVE. We arrived about an hour early to the book signing and found about two dozen folks (including a lady with a baby) already forming a line outside the ESPN Zone.

And to be honest the next hour was rather uneventful. Mostly people sat on the con. Some read their books, others checked their phones, a few were playing computer games. My buddy and I discussed The BS Report and what was Bill's best column (I vote the farewell to Dooze) among other things.

Some folks at Minute Maid happened to drop by. Evidently they were promoting a new healthy strawberry kiwi drink in a nearby kiosk and decided to hand out free samples. Tasted good.

Someone delivered copies of The Book of Basketball from Barnes & Noble. You can see the two measly cardboard boxes on the trunk. Sadly the armored car was not there to bring in more copies of Simmons' book, though I do believe a U-Haul later arrived with a huge batch.

An ESPN employee later came through the line for those wanting to buy the book on the spot. $27 a pop. Considering The Book of Basketball is available for less than $17 on Amazon I thought it was ludicrous for people not to have purchased the book online. But it's Los Angeles. People throw money away all the time out here.

During this hour-long wait I have to admit I was getting nervous. I really wanted Simmons to write a personal message and was worried ESPN would nix all that after reading some of the stories on Deadspin. Let's face it, the WWL has done worse.

And sure enough when the line began to move at 4:45 the ESPN folks began writing down names on Post-It notes and informing folks that Bill Simmons would not be signing personalized messages. Uh oh. What a huge freaking bummer that would be. I quipped to my buddy that if Simmons couldn't write personal messages I would say, "thanks Mr. Reilly."

Thankfully, it never got to that point. Simmons was, in fact, incredibly gracious and happy to sign and interact with his readers. People couldn't really take pictures with him (only of him) but that's understandable since photo ops would've delayed everything by double.

Finally the moment of truth arrived. I approached Bill with my book and tentatively asked:

Me: "Umm, could you write Screw the Lakers?"

His reply?

The Sports Guy: "Absolutely!"

I have witnesses who can attest to how excited Bill was to my request. All in all, a very cool experience. I've certainly been critical of ESPN and, occasionally, Bill Simmons. That being said the LA book signing went as well as I could expect. Thanks to both for a great time.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Arrogance Drives USC Football to Soaring Highs, Abysmal Lows

Win forever. Compete.

These are just a couple mottoes Pete Carroll has instilled at Southern California since taking over as head football coach in 2001. And for the most part his laid back yet high intensity persona and philosophy has led the Trojans to 1 BCS Championship, another AP Championship and a plethora of PAC-10 titles and Rose Bowl victories.

But these qualities are also responsible to inexplicable losses in recent years to UCLA, Stanford, Washington and last week's shellacking at Eugene, Oregon to the Ducks. USC football has a swagger that propels the team to blowout wins and supreme confidence even during the most dire of situations (see Ohio State game). But confidence leads to arrogance and arrogance, as anyone who follows ancient mythology knows, leads to ruin.

Arrogance is what led Pete Carroll to skip a field goal attempt at the end of the first half against Stanford two years ago. The Trojans failed to run in the touchdown and the Cardinal later pulled off the monumental upset by a single point. Arrogance also led to the lowest point in Carroll's tenure, a 47-20 beat down against Oregon last week where the entire team was outschemed. Arrogance is Will Harris high stepping in the endzone after an interception during USC's lackluster and lucky 14-9 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday night. He cost his team 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff but was really too busy chatting to the ESPN cameras to care. Arrogance is two Trojan teammates fighting for the game-ending interception. Arrogance is using Joe McKnight as a feature power back. Arrogance is failing to send out a field goal kicker who can go beyond 40 yards.

Swagger and discipline are on opposite ends of the spectrum. And while the Trojans are capable of explosiveness and dominance they are also susceptible to excessive penalties, wretched special teams and questionable playcalling.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Quick Hits

* So ESPN did in fact fire Steve Phillips, presumably because all the negative attention rather than the actual infraction. Because if the WWL had any sort of structure and discipline it would have canned the former Mets GM before matters got gossipy.

* Good chance USC and Oklahoma will play in San Diego Disappointment Holiday Bowl.

* Jack Wilson, Ichiro and Franklin Gutierrez won Fielding Bible Awards. The worst hitting team in baseball won 85 games. Defense is important.

* So according to "Outside the Lines" Tom Cable has a history of hitting women. Methinks the embattled Raiders coach needs some counseling.