Let’s take a trip back to November of 2004. It’s early in the NBA season, so while the games aren’t meaningless, we aren’t even close to the playoff push yet. During the November 19th match up between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, NBA, and in a greater sense, sports history was made when we witnessed a Brawl the likes of which we’ve never seen in American sports, hell, even the world excluding some crazy fan malees during Soccer games. While we may look back on this event as an important moment in sports, the truth and story behind it is extremely cinematic and gripping. And we got that full story in 2012, written by the great Jonathan Abrams and seen on the incomparable, and now,”late” brainchild of Bill Simmons, Grantland.com.
I’m not going to sum up that article, but I urge you to read it. Sports fan or not, the piece is one of the best examples of sports journalism I’ve ever seen. This story, “The Malice at the Palace” is just an example of the quality sports pieces you would see produced at Grantland. Whether it be from the deeply analytical work from guys like Bill Barnwell or Jonah Keri, or hilarious Texans “Hard Knocks” round ups from Shea Serrano, there was something there for all sports fans. On top of that, these writers were the cream of the crop, and, most importantly, inviting to everyone.
This story would be remiss to not mention the pop culture portion of the site. Grantland is, of course, a hub of BOTH sports and pop culture, and, in my opinion, featured some of the best, long form stories about our favorite TV shows, Movies, Music, etc. Also, just like the sports portion, it was welcoming to the most knowledgeable reader, or one who has never encountered the subject matter before.
I don’t want to just state what Grantland was. To that end, there are a few reasons why I waited as long as I did to write this piece since the cancellation of Grantland. Namely, everyone and their mother was writing a kind of in memoriam story immediately after. All that did was display grandstanding of people proclaiming “This is what Grantland was and what ESPN is losing”. In the time after, almost every writer from Grantland coming out and discrediting those claims. And truthfully, how could we know? They lived it, they were the lifeblood; we were just able to relish in the genius being created from Grantland’s existence. We, as outsiders, can only discuss Grantland in what it meant to us, and it what it meant to the grander landscape of sports and pop culture journalism (which would take forever, so I’m not really going to do that here either).
That being said, there’s a reason Grantland is so special to me. A few years ago, I was facing a very tumultuous time in my life. This isn’t a therapist’s office, so I won’t go into those details, but needless to say, things like sports, movies, hell even comics were becoming harder and harder for me to get into. Being an obvious symptom of a spiral into depression, and a living situation that was tenuous at best, it was bleak. During a grueling summer day, my brother told me about a podcast called the BS Report, and, further, the Grantland series of podcasts and the website. I decided to give it a shot, and, no hyperbole, it changed everything. I know, it’s ridiculous to say a podcast cured depression. It obviously wasn’t just a podcast, but that introduction changed everything. From Bill Simmons podcasting and writing, I felt like I was a part of the conversation, and I felt like I was welcome. It was the few moments in the day that I would forget my problems or anything else in the world, and settle down into a conversation of pop culture tied with sports. In addition, it gave me a direction. I wouldn’t be working at PCU without it, I wouldn’t be pursuing writing at all without it. Witnessing first hand how something as dismissed as sports journalism can ignite a spark in a reader like it did to me is inspiring.
When it comes down to it, that’s what Grantland meant to me. The staff at Grantland felt like my close friends, and while I know they will find homes (Simmons already is back with HBO with some of the staff), we don’t have them in that same warm place. It doesn’t get anyone anywhere to use this as a platform to rail on ESPN, either. I have my feelings on how they treated Bill Simmons and Grantland, but I’ll keep that to myself. Everything aside, let’s pour one out for Grantland, and look forward to the next site that captivates a population like this did.