Bill Simmons loves all things basketball, from Celtics great Larry Bird to the Michael J. Fox movie Teen Wolf. In his best-selling The Book of Basketball, a 702-page hoops history and personal memoir, ESPN’s Sports Guy dissects Pistol Pete, pop culture, and porn.
You’re famous for 10,000-word ESPN.com columns about the NBA draft, but 702 pages…?
When my publisher found out it was going to be 700 pages, they freaked out. Their one note was to cut it by 200 pages. But it’s not a John Grisham novel where you have to remember 90 characters and if you stop reading for three days, you can’t remember which guy’s the lawyer. It’s a book about basketball. We know the characters. It was designed so people could stick it next to the toilet and jump in and out over six months.
Did you ever feel like you bit off more than you could chew?
I almost lost my mind. When I was about four-fifths done, the book hadn’t totally tied together yet, and I was pretty panicked. I didn’t shave for, like, six weeks. There are a couple of pictures of me where it looks like I had just come out of jail after some sex-crime charge.
Your dad is a constant presence in your writing, especially since he started taking you to Celtics games when you were 4 years old. It must have been nice to hand him a finished copy.
He read it three times in two weeks, and he was like, ”I should’ve been a coauthor. Without me, that book doesn’t get written. I should get royalties.” Which is funny but also true.
Screenwriter William Goldman contributed an essay on legendary Knick Dave DeBusschere. Now that the book is a best-seller, are you ready for the rumor he ghostwrote the entire thing, à la Good Will Hunting?
[Laughs] He’s such a cool guy. He loves sports. He loves movies. He’s got a million stories, and he will always pick up the check. He read me what he wrote over the phone, as if he didn’t know if it was good or not. Almost like a 13-year-old reading his eighth-grade homework: ”Is this okay? Is this what you need?” I was choked up, literally speechless. And I was like, ”Yeah, I think that’s going to work, William Goldman, Most Revered Screenwriter Ever.”
You’ve mastered the art of the footnote.
David Foster Wallace did that [first], but for me, it’s basically emptying your brain onto the book. If there’s anything I’m proud of, it’s that there’s three different John Holmes footnotes and two different tributes to Tiffani-Amber Thiessen.