Tweet in wolf's clothing
Even though he overdoes the Vegas shtick, espn.com's Bill Simmons is a pretty good sportswriter. But would he really be capable of running a team in the National Basketball Association?
After Simmons's launch this past week of a Twitter-driven campaign to become general manager of the NBA's woeful Minnesota Timberwolves, it looked like we might find out. (The Wolves, of course, are the team current Celtic Kevin Garnett had to leave to win a championship. They need a GM because former Celtic Kevin McHale, who's run the team with far more ineptitude than you'd expect from the best-ever power forward, was recently demoted to coach — a move akin to making a criminally incompetent architect live in one of the houses he designed.)
Simmons started his seemingly quixotic quest with a simple May 6 tweet: "Hey T-Wolves fans: I am ready to launch the 'Simmons for GM' campaign if you are. Already on record as loving 'Sota." Over the next few hours, Simmons used Twitter to make his case for employment and outline his plans for the team (working for free in year one as long as he can write a book about the season; personally taking everyone who's continually held season tickets since the team's 1987 inception out to dinner, etc.). He also posted links to a podcast interview with Rolling Stone writer and Phoenix contributor Matt Taibbi on his GM quest, and to a Facebook group that sprang up in support of his candidacy. For good measure, he provided the e-mail address of Wolves president Chris Wright and urged readers to lobby Wright on his behalf.
And lo, people took him seriously. A day later, on a Timberwolves message board, a member of the Minnesota media reported (anonymously) that 12,000 people had e-mailed the team, urging it to take Simmons up on his offer. (The team has since claimed that the real number was actually 1300, and the aforementioned media member has amended his post to 1200; whether this is a legitimate correction or a reporter cowing to an embarrassed franchise is an open question.)
Meanwhile, die-hard Wolves fans (disclosure: I'm one) spent a great deal of time and energy debating Simmons's qualifications, with a surprising number arguing that hiring him — despite his lack of conventional qualifications — would be a masterstroke by Wolves majority owner Glen Taylor. Here's a representative comment that was posted to a May 6 Simmons Q-and-A with assistant sports editor Michael Rand of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Star Tribune: "I don't like basketball much, I haven't been to a Wolves game in years, but I would buy two season tickets tomorrow if they hired Bill Simmons as GM. He's bright, he's interesting, and he's the only writer who can make me get interested in basketball. . . . Your call, Mr. Taylor: More mediocrity, or instant ticket sales!"
As of this writing, the Simmons-to-Wolves buzz has largely abated. (Simmons didn't respond to requests for comment.) The Wolves' newfound interest in Tom Penn, the up-and-coming assistant GM of the Portland Trail Blazers, is partly responsible. What's more, once the giddy novelty of Simmons's proposal wore off, legitimate concerns about his ability to do the job took on extra weight. (For example, one of Simmons' prose gems — "The Atrocious GM Summit," which chronicles ineptitude at the highest levels of the NBA — could make Wolves-improving trades impossible.)