Bill Simmons this week mused on the fate of Dwight Howard, who appears to be the NBA's equivalent of plutonium: a potential world-beater but perilously radioactive. To characterize the gap between Perceived Dwight Howard and Actual Dwight Howard, the founder of Grantland and ESPN spittling-head did something very Bill Simmons-y: He alluded to an old Bill Simmons column. In that 2011 piece, Simmons argued that an actor's recent work must outweigh his early work when determining whether said actor is a star. Here's the salient chunk of that column:
I had an argument recently with my friend Lewis about whether Jim Carrey was still a movie star. Lewis said, adamantly, no effing way. I disagreed.
"You're wrong," Lewis said. "Look up his IMDb."
Uh-oh. Jim Carrey's past five movies were Fun With Dick & Jane, The Number 23, Yes Man, I Love You Philip Morris and this summer's Mr. Popper's Penguins. That's a six-year stretch of forgettability. I'm not less of a movie fan because it never dawned on me that Carrey had stopped being a movie star; by contrast, I WOULD be less of a baseball fan if I didn't realize that Derek Jeter had stopped being a baseball star. Not knowing about Jeter's struggles would embarrass me in any sports conversation, which can't happen, because dammit, that's how men communicate. Not knowing the ins and outs of Carrey's IMDb page? Who cares? When would that ever come back to haunt me?
Hollywood knows we're not paying attention, so they try to manipulate us into thinking Carrey is still a movie star by inundating us with billboards and commercials featuring his mug. After all, he still looks like Jim Carrey, right? Even if we reject the assault by skipping the movie in droves, the movie would have to bomb more brutally than the Situation at the Trump Roast for the star's career to be threatened.
In a nut: Past performance is no indication of future returns. Or even current returns, for that matter. (By the way, in the context Simmons offers it, this is a highly arguable point. You say Jim Carrey isn't a movie star because his recent films have fizzled, and yet you don't notice? I'd say the very definition of stardom means you can make some duds and still remain hugely famous and employable.)
In applying that framework to 2013 Dwight Howard, Simmons summarized his old analysis this way:
There's more than a little Jim Carrey Syndrome going on here. Jim Carrey is an A-list movie star, right? Well, here are the six movies Carrey has headlined since 2005.
Fun With Dick & Jane
The Number 23
I Love You Phillip Morris
Mr. Popper's Penguins
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Yikes. At some point, you are who you are. Jim Carrey isn't an A-list movie star anymore. And Dwight Howard isn't a mega-max player anymore.
Reader Dave (h/t!) noticed the rehash and declared it a case of recycling "almost word-for-word a conceit he first advanced in his execrable Ryan Reynolds column." After comparing the columns, I don't think it's a case of recycling so much as the return to a Simmons trope: discerning a pop culture synchronicity and pinning a catchy title on it. Plenty of culture writers display the same tic, by which they apply a handle to a concept so simple it doesn't really need its own name. For instance, we might just as easily have said Dwight Howard has jumped the shark and yet remains in high demand. But then Simmons might miss a chance to invent the next Sickboy Syndrome.
Simmons' habit is to name these observed phenomena after a famous exemplar. In the future, to describe this habit, we might refer to it as Bill Simmons Syndrome, defined loosely as the tendency to brand ideas by tagging them with a term such as "syndrome." Spot David Brooks his Patio Men and Bobos, and Malcolm Gladwell his Blinks and Outliers, Simmons is our alpha carrier of Bill Simmons Syndrome. Some of his diagnoses:
Hugh Grant Syndrome. Characterized by reaching your peak in a given pursuit (e.g., romance) and finding nothingness (e.g., a fling with a woman far less attractive than your wife) beyond it. "Hugh Grant Syndrome can never derail a real sports fan," Simmons writes. "We'll always find ways to care as much as we always did ..."
Year-After Syndrome. The emotional hangover from winning a title and then returning to regular fandom, sort of Hugh Grant Syndrome Lite.
The Ewing Theory. An honorary syndrome Simmons popularized and co-developed; he credits its origin to his friend Dave Cirilli. It notices when underachieving star athletes leave teams, which then greatly overachieve. So-named because the Knicks often won more often without their ostensible best player, Patrick Ewing, than when he played.
New Owner Syndrome. When a newly minted NBA owner slings around gobs of cash to signal that he's willing to spend enough to win. Often, though, they just overspend to lose. "[W]hen you give competitive billionaires an NBA team, they're rarely (if ever) patient," Simmons writes. "They want to win right away, and they're always going to plow ahead with a couple of risky/splashy moves because they don't know any better yet."
Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Simmons didn't coin this one, but perhaps tellingly it arrived in a recent mailbag column of his.
Detlef Syndrome. Observed when foreign-born players pick up English largely from their American-born black teammates and thus take on "a hip-hop twang." Simmons writes of Detlef Schrempf: "By the halfway point of his career he sounded like the German guys in Beerfest crossed with the Wu-Tang Clan."
Frontrunner Syndrome. Teams enjoying popularity now because they've been good for a long time. Simmons uses it to explain why Pittsburgh and Green Bay are so beloved among NFL fans: "You think it's an accident that the most successful team of the 60's and the most successful team of the 70's have 2 of the biggest fan bases?"
Karpal-Tunnel Syndrome. Says he almost developed it on a book tour.
General Motors Syndrome. Not one he coined, but one he has cited. It describes continuing to conform to old practices even in the face of mounting failures. Simmons applied it to the NBA's "failure to acknowledge any officiating woes until the Donaghy scandal (and even then the league just shuffled a few Titanic deck chairs and called it a day) ..."
Last Great White American Player Syndrome. Yeah, well, pretty self-explanatory. Simmons applied it to such non-African Americans as John Stockton and Tom Chambers.
Stouffer's French Bread Pizza Syndrome. Oh, come the fuck on already.
Photo credit of Simmons in 2010: Getty