This morning I came into work at the regular time. I thumbed through my emails and got a cup of tea, as always. And as I do every morning, I clicked onto Grantland.com.
This is not an overstatement. Over the last three or so years, I’ve gone onto Grantland 99 percent of all days. And as a habitual user/addict, I expect certain things. I was fairly confident that this morning I would find an ecstatic World Series reaction from Rany Jazayerli on his beloved Royals; probably an NBA Shootaround led by Jason Concepcion, and a weekend TV recap from Andy Greenwald. Instead, I found this.
My stomach plummeted at 200 miles an hour, and I remembered. Grantland is dead. This might seem like a dumb overreaction to the closing of a blog. But Grantland has had a bigger impact on my identity than almost anything since its start. It’s my daily vitamin of perspective, motivation and entertainment. It both clears my head and fills it. And every day, it has legitimized my quest to be a great writer: it gives me the need to have the same impact on someone else that Grantland did on me.
I love sports, and I love music. Until Grantland these two interests were walled off, sneering at each other across the void. The ESPN and Sports Illustrated bros, with their blaring headlines and hypermasculine wonderment, got me amped; the Pitchfork and Noisey snobs left me running for my thesaurus and taking deep dives into Kid A. I held both sides dear, but never got the sense they related to each other in any meaningful way.
Feeding into this separation was the idea that analysis is done by experts. Going through the Stuyvesant/Harvard rat race taught me that intellectual status, and rigor in research, are crucial towards achievement. I trusted Greil Marcus and Jon Pareles with music writing because they had put in their 100,000 hours of listening, dissecting, interviewing—as Tom Verducci had done on the baseball side. When it came time to join the Crimson, I made the clear-cut decision to join the Arts board over the Sports board, without even considering both. There was just no way one person could hold all that information.
Then I started reading Bill Simmons, as he blustered his way through thousands of words on the NBA draft, slinging references to 90s action movies, Bret Hart, the Doobie Brothers and Bruce Springsteen. Injecting his dad into narratives to make some cogent point about Avery Bradley. Going wayyy too far exploring crazy tangent analogies, a lot of them like a chucked fadeaway Nick Young three—they caused disbelief and horror at the outset, and a stunned admiration when they floated through the net. Simmons never wrote like an expert on anything. He wrote like a kid in Christmas day, unpacking each subject with wide-eyed fanaticism and delight.
On his new site Grantland, launched in 2011, Simmons created a dozen mini-me’s. Which is absolutely NOT saying every writer took Simmons’ hyper-earnest, bartalk style. Rather, he let his writers lead with their enthusiasm and neuroses over their expertise. Like when he gave the floor to two Les Miz superfans in an incredibly breathless but hilarious and poignant movie non-review. Or when he sent an emotionally troubled writer to Japan to follow sumo wrestling, only to have him turn in thousands upon thousands of words on Japanese literature and seppuku. These stories were enthralling, because they so clearly enthralled the writer.
Here are some of the effects Grantland writers had on me. Andy Greenwald, with his elegant and frighteningly insightful Game of Thrones reviews, turned me from a fan into an obsessive. Zach Lowe made me understand and cherish the pace-and-space revolution in basketball as it was happening. Emily Yoshida showed me how having a writing voice doesn’t mean exaggeration or bluster. Wesley Morris brought together culture and the Black Lives Matter movement in essential ways. Rembert Browne caused me to look at a bar mitzvah photo and laugh for a solid 20 minutes. And Bill and Jalen wasted hours of my time in college with their absurdist and uproarious NBA previews, often causing me to murmur to myself, “give the peeeeopleeee…what they want!”
And forgive me if I’m going too large or idealistic with this, but: Grantland represented my idealized form of America—a plurality of brilliant minds plucked from across the nation. The site was littered with names of all stripes: Yoshida, Browne, Morris, Serrano, Hsu. There were the wizened sages Closterman and Pierce, the pups Cills and Thurm. They were brought together by their 1) unbridled love for whatever, and 2) their ability to make you, too, love that whatever. A group for each topic became a great unifier; everything could give key insight into social politics, and the progress of a generation. Pitchfork writers kept their readers, and each other, at a distance. Grantland writers all hopped on the same thinkpiece like a ‘90s posse cut, sparred with each other and everyone else on Twitter, and formed a great big family.
It was my plan to join them, maybe in ten years. I was going to fly out to L.A. and lead the second generation, in the way Lester Bangs reinvigorated Rolling Stone. That dream, thanks to the great wisdom of ESPN, is over. But really, I’m already a member of the Grantland generation, united around that Jalen rallying cry.