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I don't care much for most sportswriters, in fact most strike me as annoying and immature, but Bill Simmons is a rare exception.


Great read. I agree on the "Simmons = best sportswriter around today" statement and just became a fan of yours. I look forward to diving into more of your stuff soon.


I follow this link to the Simmons site and, lo and behold, discover a prominent box that reads: "ALL THINGS GLADWELL/ Find out why the Sports Guy is insanely jealous of Malcolm's writing." Below this are links to the Gladwell books.

This is quite a mutual admiration society you two have going.


I am huge sports fan and Bill Simmons is one of my favorite writers. I must admit that your name sounded familar but I didn't really know anything about your work before the "Curous Guy" article. However, after that piece, I was really impressed. Your discussions about Jake Plummer and the environment Mike Shanahan created for him was really interesting. I am curious to hear more of your theories of about players in different environments. Personally, I always wonder if Kwami Brown would have done better if he had not been drafted on a team with Michael Jordan. Or if he had not turned pro right after high school and had gone to college for a year or two.

Your comments about Eric Dampier and what makes him play to his fullest potential really made me consider the way coaches are viewed. They are either given too much credit for a team's success or automatically become the scapegoat when a team fails. Why is it that blame is rarely placed on the players even though they are the ones actually determing the results? The coaches can only tell them what to do; it is up to the participant as to whether or not he or she wants to follow these directions. In the Simmons article, you seemed to imply that someone like Doc Rivers was not a good coach because he could not communicate with his players. Yet how do we know that this is his fault? Maybe there was just one player he could not communicate with and in turn, that hurt his standing with the rest of the team. Maybe if Rivers had started his coaching career with the Bulls (when they had Jordan and Pippen, of course), he would be held in the same regard as Phil Jackson and players would respect him more. I guess this goes back to your discussion about the environment that players and coaches are placed in.

Anyway, I just wanted to say I enjoyed your views on sport and how it compares to other areas of society. I think you should really consider writing a book on this topic or something similar to it (if you already have, I apologize. I just haven't had a chance to read your other works yet). I am looking forward to the next "Curious Guy" article.


He is great - read him all the time. But he used to be better.

While he was off finishing his book, Pg2 ran some of his old stuff - his long feature articles not his mailbags and rambling. And they where great. page 2 is a great read, lots of fun. But I just wish more of their writers took a step back and did some of the long featured work that you would see in a magazine. They are great writers - so it would be great to see them take a stab at the long investigative pieces that most of them started off doing.

Right now I am reading 'Classic Wiley.' Amazing. Must read.

Also, DJ Gallo is my favorite on pg2. But Simmon makes me laugh the loudest.

Alvin Lin


I came across your website off of Bill Simmon's column, and have just spent the past few hours reading your archives. You are an amazing writer. I was already familiar with some of your work through the 'New Yorker' and 'The Tipping Point', but I did not know you were such an avid sports fan. I thought you were very perceptive on your points behind the psychology of not trying, individual talent versus motivation/work-ethic, as well as players versus system/coach. I think you could turn these thoughts into a great book someday. For some reason, they reminded me of your previous columns regarding Ivy League admissions, personality characteristics, professional success, and psychology. Just a thought. Anyway, thanks for the great articles, and best of luck in future projects.


Bernard Fitzpatrick

I really enjoyed Simmons until the Patriots and then the Red Sox won titles. His obsession with Manning vs. Brady began to go way over the top and I wondered why he couldn't just enjoy the moment.I didn't fret over whether or not Devon White was considered a better defensive centrefielder than Junior when the Jays won back to back, I just enjoyed being a fan.

That being said, he does come up with quite a few laugh out loud lines every week and I still look for his columns and especialy enjoyed your email exchange.


Malcolm, we talked years ago when I was at Book Sense about the indies. Great to see your blog, I'm a huge fan of Bill Simmons' (and my former asst. did the mktg. for his book) and I've started a book/book biz/music/and more blog of my own. PublishingInsider.net Doesn't deliver as much as that moniker promises but I'm just starting and testing the waters.

Zach Everson

Simmons is excellent, but like most other columnists who have been putting out semi-weekly columns for years, he's become repetitive and predictable.


I'm intrigued by your obsession with the question of, why don't people work hard when it's in their best interests to do so? I have a different take on this. The observation is more more social dynamics than psychology, I suppose. My theory is called BC Theory, and it is that once a person's "work ethic" becomes hard wired, at whatever age, that person is unable to increase or decrease their effort relative to their circumstances. Meaning, in a work environment a person is going to work as hard as he is wired to work, and no more or less relative to the situation. People are generally not capable of reducing how hard they work when a situation calls for it (so-called workaholics), and nor are they capable of increasing their work ethic when a situation calls for it. Certainly, like Eric Dampier some people can put forth extra effort (or less effort) for a short period of time, but over time will always devolve back to their normal state of work ethic.
I call this "BC Theory" because BC is a friend of mine, the only person I know who has shown a consistent ability to adjust his work ethic to his circumstances. Every where he goes in his life, at work, as a husband, a father, and so on, BC not only figures out how to do just enough to be successful, but he has the ability and discipline only to do that much and not an ounce more. It's quite impressive, really.


Simmons is a very good writer when he's not writing about the Red Sox, Celtics or Patriots. Then he's just nauseating, and I actually like all of those teams (though I am not from Boston). He also has a slightly whiny side to him, which gets old after a while. We regular readers know all about his allergies, his back problems, how "LA" he's become in that he can't stand the Boston cold weather anymore, and so on. But keep him off the subject of his health or Boston sports teams, and his (objective) observations tend to be insightful and immensely entertaining.


I liked your comment on the nature of sports representing liberal values. It reminded me of a recent BBspot.com article (linked-to in my "name" below) that pointed out the fundamental "liberal" sports activity: the draft proceeding from worst to first. Can you imagine how unfair sports would be if the richest/best teams continually got the best players? As a solution, we have franchise welfare, which nobody would deny makes the playing field more fair. Yet in society, we encourage the rich getting richer and social Darwinism, despite it obviously not being "fair."

Colleen Wainwright

I am about as non-sports-oriented as one can get, with the sole exception of live hockey. I bought season tickets to Cornell hockey one year and it was the greatest live theater I have ever attended. I would, in a heartbeat, accept tickets to any hockey event. And yet, on TV? Well, I heartily concur with your C-/A+ grading scheme.

As for the frequency and passion with which you claim to be hit on in the field, I suspect you are being overly modest. You are the poster boy for hot geeky writers. Seriously. Rrrrowl...


While intriguing to discuss the finer nuances of what drives certain athletes to perform at high levels and others to mail it in, I believe Homer Simpson summed it up quite succinctly when he told a young Bart Simpson "Remember son, you can't fail if you never try". So, let's just leave it at that and stop pretending that this idea is some bleeding edge discovery of the human condition.

The fact that this occurs so frequently with tall centers is rooted in a glaring omission from the Simmons / Gladwell love fest. Mathematically speaking, there just aren't many 7 foot tall men roaming the earth that can take up space in the low post, let alone pose for pictures in the latest Guinness World Record book standing underneath a street sign, surrounded by midgets and school children. But I digress. Surely these culprits of mediocrity are able to come to this conclusion early on in their roundball careers. Throw in the obligatory $40 to $100 million contracts and all hell breaks loose. The rules are over at that point and the rest is as easy as cream cheese and chicken livers for the player.

Brooks Jordan

"Now I have decided that you need to die."

What a hilarious article. Never expected, ever, to find Malcolm Gladwell on ESPN.com, which I consume reglarly. Great stuff.


I can't wait for Part II. What an excellent read!


I was struck by this section in your conversation with Simmons:

"Why don't people work hard when it's in their best interest to do so?"

Can you recommend some further reading on this subject, or should I be waiting for your next book?


Read the Simmons article, but don’t subscribe to the “talent is effort” statement or the tie in with “inner city” academic performance. Effort may express talent, but Erick Dampier is still in the NBA. That’s top 2% of the bell curve. Why is he in the league still if he’s lazy? The reason: He’s huge. I met him once, and he dwarfed me... and I’m 6’8”, 200+ lbs. See… Dampier’s been dwarfing people since he was 10 years old, and pounding them into submission whether he tried to or not. He can’t help it. His talent demanded it.

The reason we have these liberal values towards athletes is because their extreme talent is evident. When you meet a professional athlete, you understand why you never had a chance…. and that’s why fans say “I would give my left [insert body part] to have the talent of that clown”. Intelligence is not as evident. It’s the same reason why Mickey Mantle gets more press than Albert Einstein. Hitting a fastball 500 feet resonates more than hitting the cosmic curveball because more people have tried the former and failed. Mickey Mantle could be in a cornfield hitting rocks with a stick and people would say, “wow, would you look at that!” Einstein could be a patent clerk figuring out the universe and people would say, “get back to work!”

The point of this is that I don’t like the “inner city” parallel because intelligence is always expressed. It demands it. It might not show up on a SAT score (not an intelligence test), but it is expressed nonetheless. There’s a movie called “Word Wars” about possessed scrabble players. One of the top 10 players is an inner city guy from Baltimore. His intelligence is clearly expressed in this movie. The funny part is that he likes to smoke weed and pick up prostitutes in Mexico. Not your optimized scrabble training regiment. Yet he is still a great scrabble player. He plays scrabble because he is good at it. If he wasn’t, he would have quit a long time ago.

The point is you do what you do best. The ‘inner city’ claims bother me because it reminds me of statements like “poverty causes crime”. It’s true out of circumstance, but there are more people who live in poverty that aren’t criminals than who are. Just the same, I think there are a lot of inner city kids making the choice to express their talents rather than dogging it on a test… because talent demands it.

Now, if I could just get to “The Tipping Point” and “Blink”, both of which have been on my shelf for a long time. Not sure why I’m procrastinating on those? Fear of failure… I suppose.

I'm not kidding.



Unh! I loved that interview!


And I don't care a whit about sports.

Bob McIlree

Malcolm - Great piece from both of you and I'm a big fan of your work. I argued with Broncos fans the week before the Pittsburgh game that one of two Plummers would show up: "Jake the Snake" (a 'W for Denver); or "Jake the Fake" (a loss). I based my argument on Plummer 'regressing to the mean,' which, in statistical terms, signifies that measurable performances, especially awesome ones for 17 games, eventually will degrade to the mean statistical performance of an NFL quarterback. Unfortunately, it occurred in the AFC champtionship. He was due for a performance like that. We all are, regardless of our profession and the overall caliber of our work and performance. As noted elsewhere in the piece, some move up to the mean at times, others down. It happens to all of us. And that, my friend, is the only thing I learned years ago in statistics class at university that had any applicibility in the real world...:)


"Every where he goes in his life, at work, as a husband, a father, and so on, BC not only figures out how to do just enough to be successful, but he has the ability and discipline only to do that much and not an ounce more."

I have known people like that and my observation is that it takes a lot of work to accomplish. It takes a lot of work to work less. They spend a lot of energy dogging work, looking busy, and side-stepping blame.


I think of as athletic excellence as about "prowess," and you talk about writing as a craft, which makes it seem related, but also unlike athletics writing is totally mental and begs to be called "creativity." Does your sermon about hard work and toughness really relate to excellence in creative production?


Thanks guys for a great read. It was just what I needed to get me off my rear end and out for a run after a week of self-indulgent sloth.


Right now the readers of Deadspin think Simmons would win in a fight: http://www.deadspin.com/sports/espn/who-would-win-in-a-fight-bill-simmons-or-malcolm-gladwell-158011.php

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  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

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