For more than a decade, ESPN and Bill Simmons forged a partnership that broke new ground and basically set the standard for intra-office acrimony. From his gigs as a popular columnist and TV analyst to ventures like Grantland, the 30 for 30 docu-series and The B.S. Report podcast, Simmons’ time with the Worldwide Leader was marked by tremendous success – and tumultuous controversy.
In fact, his damn-the-man ethos was part of what made Simmons’ “Sports Guy” persona so endearing – even as he continued to climb the corporate ladder, he remained a fan first and foremost, unafraid to ruffle feathers and call sports’ sacred cows out on their bullshit. That attitude earned him legions of supporters and helped him build a media empire, but it also led to a lengthy series of suspensions from ESPN – and in May, it cost him his job.
Undaunted, Simmons signed a multi-year, multi-platform deal with HBO, one that promised to deliver new documentaries and original programming. And, of course, there’s also The Bill Simmons Podcast, which premiered Thursday. So, in honor of his triumphant return, we’re taking a look at Simmons’ greatest feuds. After all, it’s what makes him great – when you mess with the Bill, you get the horns (or at least a series of angry tweets).
February 1999: Simmons vs. ESPN, Round One
It’s clear that Simmons and ESPN’s relationship ended, in part, because of his harsh words for the network and its partners – but oddly enough, that’s also exactly how it started. As the Sports Guy’s classic origin story goes, in 1999, when he was still living in Boston and writing an online column, Simmons penned a piece that ripped the ESPYs, likening it to a “TV holocaust.” Well, ESPN caught wind of the column and, after it was passed around the network’s Bristol headquarters, they offered him a job. So, if you’re keeping score at home, ESPN hired and fired Simmons for the exact same reason: his brashness.
January 2006: Simmons vs. Isiah Thomas
To be fair, Zeke was so bad in his role as Knicks president of basketball operations that he was practically begging to be slagged by Simmons (or anyone who watched the NBA, for that matter). And slag Simmons did, correctly predicting Thomas would run the team into the ground. Apparently averse to criticism, Thomas went on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show and said if he ever met Simmons on the street, “it’s gonna be a problem.” Thankfully, the two never came to blows.
April 2008: Simmons vs. ESPN, Round Two
The relationship between Simmons and ESPN began to fissure in 2008, when the network abruptly canceled (then Democratic candidate) Barack Obama’s appearance on The B.S. Report podcast. A spokesperson for ESPN explained the decision “[Is] absolutely not an issue about any one candidate,” and added, “Fans don’t expect political coverage on our air.” Simmons was understandably pissed, especially given the fact that ESPN later relented and allowed him to chat with Obama for a 2012 podcast.
October 2008: Simmons vs. ESPN, Round Three
Like most of us, Simmons is all about fantasy sports, but when he invited a porn star named Christian to participate in his fantasy basketball league, ESPN got all hot and bothered. The network nixed the idea and Simmons lamented this fact on his podcast – which ESPN then edited right out. That was apparently the final straw for Simmons, who took an extended leave from The B.S. Report. Upon its return, a disclaimer about “mature content” began popping up before each episode.
June 2009: Simmons vs. Mike Dunleavy
Any follower of Simmons knows that after leaving Boston for Los Angeles, he became a season ticket holder for the Clippers. Not surprisingly, it was a relationship that led to frequent feuds – born mostly out of frustration – including long-running rivalries with former GM Elgin Baylor (who once called Simmons “an asshole”) and his replacement, exec/coach Mike Dunleavy (who, Simmons once wrote, “dresses like a movie usher“). After too many barbs from the Sports Guy, Dunleavy struck back, calling Simmons a “joke writer” with “no credibility.” Simmons then took to Twitter, writing “Pot, I’d like you to meet kettle!“
August 2009: Simmons vs. Jim Traber
In one corner, Bill Simmons, king of the podcast. In the other, Jim Traber, terrestrial radio host based out of Oklahoma City. After Simmons was asked to be a guest on Traber’s show, the Sports Guy tweeted, “Note to unpopular, low-IQ sports radio bully/hosts in non-Top 40 markets: I’d never come on your show to bring you attention. Ever. Not ever.” An outraged Traber then launched into an epic rant, dismissing Simmons as “a writer who just goes out there and writes crap,” and calling him “one of the wimpiest little dudes I’ve ever seen in my life.”
November 2009: Simmons vs. ESPN, Round Four
The Sports Guy’s next major spat with ESPN centered on his criticism of Boston’s ESPN-affiliated WEEI radio, after the hosts of the now-defunct Big Show insulted Simmons on-air. That led to Simmons calling the folks over at WEEI “deceitful scumbags,” which, in turn, led ESPN to slap him with a two-week Twitter ban. Sadly, this was only a harbinger of things to come.
March 2010: Simmons vs. Keith Olbermann
Keith Olbermann, whose resume includes stops at ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC, ABC Radio, Current TV, TBS, MSNBC and ESPN (again), is no stranger to feuds. So perhaps it was no surprise when he and Simmons engaged in a vicious war of words that, like all great 21st century feuds, started with a blog post. Writing on his Baseball Nerd site, Olbermann took Simmons to task over a Tiger Woods column, which led to some snarky tweets from the Sports Guy – including one below-the-belt jab: “You’re my worst case scenario for my career in 12 yrs: a pious, unlikable blowhard who lives alone” – and a response from the Big O in which he said Simmons had supplanted him as the most unmanageable talent in the history of ESPN.
March 2013: Simmons vs. ESPN, Round Five
By now, you know the drill. Simmons says something negative about ESPN (in this case, knocking its truly terrible morning show, First Take.) ESPN retaliates by suspending Simmons from Twitter (this time for just a few days.) Nobody wins.
June 2013: Simmons vs. Doc Rivers
The Clippers may have replaced Mike Dunleavy with Vinny Del Negro – and, eventually, Doc Rivers – but Simmons’ wrath never wavered. After the Boston Celtics traded Rivers’ rights to Los Angeles just before the 2013 NBA Draft, Simmons howled that Rivers had quit on his beloved Celtics. In response, Doc called Simmons “an idiot” on television (Doc’s son also came to his dad’s defense). The next day, Doc went on the radio and said Simmons “did everything he could” to get him fired as Celtics coach, including organizing a meeting with the team’s owners. Simmons, in turn, said that was “an outright, 100-percent lie.”
November 2014: Simmons vs. Mike Golic
A confrontation between Bill Simmons and Mike Golic seemed inevitable, so it’s kind of amazing it took this long for something to happen. After Simmons took a shot at LeBron James – saying that his skills on the court could be in decline (gasp!) – Golic declared that assessment to be “one of the most ridiculous lines I’ve ever heard in any sport in my life” and accused Simmons of being obsessed with grabbing headlines (burn!) In response, Simmons tweeted out a flurry of fury about ESPN Radio and the Mike & Mike show, writing, “I would say I lost respect for that show, but I never had it.” (Ouch!)
September 2014 – May 2015: Simmons vs. ESPN, The Final Showdown
And this is where the gloves came off. During the height of the Ray Rice scandal, Simmons blasted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on The B.S. Report, calling him “a liar” and dismissing claims that the NFL had never seen footage of Rice punching his fiancée as “fucking bullshit.” He also dared ESPN to suspend him, and the network, not wanting to piss off their pigskin partner, sacked the Sports Guy soon after. He would eventually return, but the damage was clearly done. In a May interview on The Dan Patrick Show, an emboldened Simmons ripped Goodell once again – this time over the Wells Report – and said he lacked “testicular fortitude.” One day later, ESPN president John Skipper announced “I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’ contract.”