You have to wonder about the return on investment for Rick Reilly. ESPN pays Reilly millions to squeeze out meconium-scented goo like this piece on the Caltech basketball team. You could literally automate this kind of hackwork. And Reilly often does.
As reader Benjamin J. points out, Reilly's latest effort bears a striking similarity to a mailed-in effort he wrote for SI in 2006 . To be fair, the ESPN column is kind of a follow-up, rather than a conscious act of self-plagiarism, and there's very little to work with. But it's still shamelessly bad. A comparison:
2006: At Caltech, the most eggheaded college in America, they love numbers the way moles love dirt, so here goes:
Number of Nobel Prize winners on the faculty: 5.
Number of players on the basketball team who had a perfect SAT score: 2.
Years since the hoops team won an NCAA game: 12.
Forget that. It's been 21 years since Caltech, a Division III school in Pasadena, won a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game.
2011: In a 900-student school that has had 31 Nobel winners — five of them still on the faculty — basketball was suddenly making national news. No wonder. None of these guys were even born the last time Caltech had won a conference game.
2006: Wouldn't you think just once a ball would bounce off a pocket protector and in for a win?
2011: Alumni were so proud that night that their pocket protectors nearly burst.
2006: Molecules, slide rules
Fill that cylinder
With that sphere!
2011: What do you know? Spheres do fit in cylinders.
Maybe there was a time when Rick Reilly actually did something that mattered. I wasn't reading him then. The current iteration of Reilly has never interested me. He seems like a cartoonish simulacrum of a writer, a guy producing synthetic work in faint mimicry of the real thing, like Justin Bieber's music or over-processed oatmeal.
Far more compelling to me was the constant criticism of Reilly, and I read far more of it than Reilly himself. Now there was some good writing. These anti-Reillyites had sharp, original ideas. I didn't care if they were bashing a boring man with a juicy sinecure. Reilly was rich and mediocre. The country's full of people like that. But with this latest effort, I've come all the way around. I have passed indifference and even anger and aggravation at his unrepentant laziness, and I have arrived at something like admiration. There's nothing left for us but to marvel at Rick Reilly the way we marvel at a skilled member of an entirely different profession: the con man.