“Bill Simmons isn’t the first sportswriter to overreach while attempting to use a city’s history as a way to explore the mind-set of its fans,” writes the Boston Globe’s Chad Finn, “but I can’t recall an example as clumsy and inappropriate as one he offered on his ESPN podcast with Jalen Rose Thursday.”
“I didn’t realize the effect [the Martin Luther King assassination] had on that city,’’ Simmons said. “I think from people we talk to and stuff we’ve read, the shooting kind of sets the tone for how the city thinks about stuff.
“We were at Game 3. Great crowd, they fall behind and the whole crowd got tense. It was like, ‘Oh no, something bad is going to happen.’ And it starts from that shooting and it’s just that mind-set they have.”
It’s beyond absurd to connect a culture-altering national tragedy to Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference finals 45 years later.
Simmons continues to do excellent work over a variety of platforms, the podcast usually included. But he might be wise to take a lesson from this and resist any desire to attach cultural meaning to a sporting event in a city that is not particularly familiar to him.
Much as I’m loathe to defend Simmons in most situations, I’m not sure the comparison trivialized King’s death, nor did it elevate a mere sporting event to similar level of import. Simmons is employed, more or less, to sometimes try and capture the mindset of persons other than himself. You could certainly say he’s not spent enough time in Memphis to make such a point, but I don’t think he’s at all out of line in calling the 1968 assassination of MLK a pivotal event that still hangs over a region, if not an entire country, 45 years later.