A year after learning on Twitter that ESPN fired him, Bill Simmons is clearly still bitter. “They’ve now gotten rid of everybody who is a little off the beaten path,” he says in a Hollywood Reporter cover story. “Ask yourself this: ‘Who would work there that you respect right now?’”
If recent ESPN departees like Jason Whitlock and Skip Bayless are what you find off the beaten path, ESPN was wise to go in a different direction, but that’s besides the point, which is, per the story, that Simmons is confidently attempting to build a media behemoth. There are a lot of juicy details here, like the size of Simmons’s HBO salary ($7 to $9 million), the Bill Simmons Media Group’s staff size (about 100, including The Ringer), and how much outside investment he’s taken (none from anyone but HBO, supposedly). The pervading theme, though, is a desire to prove his critics, primarily those at ESPN, wrong, and the juiciest details have to do with just how toxic his relationships with those critics had become by the end of his ESPN tenure.
Here, for instance, is how he reacted to ESPN president John Skipper emailing his agent about his infamous appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, where he questioned Roger Goodell’s “testicular fortitude”:
Simmons, being Simmons, retaliated in kind, firing off an email that he was pulling out of the network’s upcoming coverage of the NBA draft. Knowing things would escalate from there, he says he had planned to go in the following day and inform the staff at his ESPN-backed media site, Grantland, that the likelihood of him remaining at the company was slim.
Simmons believes that his firing was the result of a conspiracy:
To this day, Simmons isn’t sure Skipper ever actually listened to the Patrick interview; he didn’t need to, figures Simmons, because at that point the ESPN chief already had several underlings whispering in his ear, “Did you see what Simmons said about Goodell now?” A year removed, the emotions still are palpable. “[Those people] were just trying to cause trouble,” says Simmons. “It was f—ing high school.”
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While he’s understandably still angry about having learned he was fired on Twitter, it tells you something that he takes a shot at Chris Berman when talking about it:
Simmons, who had been at the company for 14½ years, was blindsided. “It was f—ing shitty,” he says, having caught the news, as many of his employees did, on Twitter. “By the way they handled it, you would think I played grab-ass with some makeup assistant or something.”
His relationship with ESPN in the months leading up to his firing was just as bad as everybody figured:
By early 2015, his situation at ESPN had become untenable. He had largely stopped his involvement with the 30 for 30 doc series and no longer was appearing on ESPN’s NBA Countdown, instead focusing on his insular fiefdom of Grantland and the podcast. “I started to feel like I was Mel Gibson in Conspiracy Theory,” Simmons says with a chuckle. He had a long and growing list of grievances — he needed more resources at Grantland; his podcast wasn’t being properly monetized; his Grantland Basketball Hour was getting bounced all over the schedule — and he wasn’t shy about sharing them.
Finally, Simmons still believes that Skipper didn’t even understand what Grantland was:
“The way they handled [Grantland] to me is the story that hasn’t been written,” he begins, seizing another opportunity to rip his former boss for his November comments to Vanity Fair. [...] “We lacked a full understanding of the bonding nature between Bill and those guys,” Skipper said at the time. Half a year later, Simmons remains stunned by the remark. “Do you understand how dumb that is?” he says now. “I hired every single person who worked for me, it was my idea, and everything we did came out of all the relationships that I had with those people.”
There’s a bunch of of other interesting stuff in the profile for every Simmons mega-fan or hater—details about who pursued him after he was fired, the structure of his HBO show, how he claims to be a feminist now, and so on—which you can read over at the Hollywood Reporter.
Update (3:08 p.m.): Simmons apologized on Instagram for “being a jackass” when he questioned whether there are people working at ESPN that you can respect.