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lawrence coburn

Wow, Malcolm I love your stuff. You're crazy. Your stuff on the "White Gunner" was some of the most interesting NBA analysis that I've ever read.

Hope to catch up with you at Pubcon.

Mike B.

I'd like to respond to Jason's point about inner city kids and dogging it. I find what Malcolm said in the interview is more compelling. The fact that one person of 10 in Word Wars is hardly proof that intelligence will win out or find a way. The crushing conditions of poverty do little to foster success. Look at the crime rate for impoverished people compared to those in the middle and upper class, and then compare academic success of people from those same factors. Environment can have a very depressing effect on achievement.

And I think that generally, what a coach does is foster an environment that breeds success. Part of it is putting players in situations in which they will excel. Part of it is dealing with players off the field. And part of it is having a plan -- some coaches fail in this regard -- if you don't have a system, and some consistent foundation, it's hard to instill direction.

I can't wait to read tomorrow's conclusion.

D. McCabe

Malcolm you are the best, and for us (your disciples), we are lucky you love what you do, and continue to do it well. The ESPN piece is sensational. I especially like your concluding paragraph regarding continuing, (much) needed support, within education. I confess, I'm a teacher. I personally feel the best sportswriter however is Rick Reilly of SI. His 'Life of Reilly' weekly column is always dessert. Check out this one (my personal favorite) from a couple of years back on the 'banning of dodgeball' in schools. Again, thank you for your work.

'The Weak Shall Inherit The Gym'
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/inside_game/magazine/life_of_reilly/news/2001/05/08/life_of_reilly/

Andy

I've been a Bill Simmons fan for years, because he is a fan of what he writes. I'm glad he introduced me to your writing with his interview, your views are thoughtful and insightful. Thanks for taking the time.

Jobe Gilchrist

Any discussion of the best sportswriter in the world today has to reference Ralph Wiley, whose recent death has unfortunately made this a discussion once again. He had a lyrical flow to his writing that would be corny from any other pen, and the (increasingly) rare gift of avoiding the leisurely pitfalls of templated thinking.

Simmons is entertaining and insightful, but he's also the MTV of sportswriters. As with almost all writers, continued readership exposes patterns and tendencies, like Simmons' token overblown reality show analogy or yep-that's-the-guy-who-wrote-for-Kimmel chauvanism. It just gets a bit cringeworthy: maybe the act of writing is always a subsurface attempt at self-justification, but rarely does a sub brush the whitecaps as often as Simmons'.

Clint Pidlubny

On your rating of the NHL. "C-minus televised. A-plus live." I agree with the C-minus for US broadcasts. US announcers call the games like baseball or football, filling the action with color instead of play-by-play. Canadian announcers bring viewers into the game with emotionally paced play-by-play, raising the televised grade to a B, in my opinion. And you didn't even rate curling. Come on. We're talking A, B for that sport.

Duck Dodgers

That you could call Simmons the best sportswriter in America proves that you've never come close to reading any Gary Smith or Charles Pierce in your life, Malcolm.

Order "Beyond the Game" off Amazon, or "Sports Guy" (Pierce's, not Simmons'). THAT is what sportswriting (and reporting) looks like.

Nicholas

Thanks for doing the Curious Guy with Simmons! I have read him for a long time, and now since I've begun reading your work, having the two of you converse is very entertaining for me.

I enjoy Simmons, pop-culture references included (though I'm not familiar with most of the reality shows he pokes fun at, and I've never seen an episode of the O.C.). I think the appeal is in his writing style. He writes in the same manner I would talk to my close friends about sports/television/etc. I think having that level of comfort in his writing (and in my reading of it) outweighs what someone mentioned being "cringeworthy".

Thanks again. Good read.

Anne

Like "theberle" (commentor above), I agree with your assessment that televised hockey is no match for live hockey. In fact, the first live hockey game I watched was between theberle's Cornell and my Ivy alma mater, and I was hooked forever, and even went on to play the sport.

My only caveat to the C grade for televised hockey is this: Watching the 1980 U.S. Olympic "miracle on ice" game on TV was perhaps the most concentrated excitement I've ever experienced in my life. (Is that sad? Oh well!) Man, that was sports at its best.

Anne

Sorry; it wasn't theberle whose post above I meant to reference re: hockey; it was communicatrix. I confused the headers and footers of the posts.

Bob Cook

Some very, very interesting thoughts in both parts. A nice read.

A couple of points:

You ask, would Billy Beane trade places with Epstein or Cashman, and answer, yes.

Actually, a few years ago, the Red Sox offered Beane the GM job, he took it, but tucked tail and ran before trying out his new seat.

I think this goes back to your talk in part I about self-protection. As long as he stays in Oakland, with low expectations driven by limited resources and a fairly apathetic fan base (given the A's attendance figures), Beane is a genius for keeping the A's in contention every year. It also lets him ride herd on everyone else in the organization (witness, in "Moneyball," how the A's manager is revealed to be little more than a cipher.)

In Boston, with its high expectations driven by high payroll and a rabid fan base, the luster of Beane's genius would wear off if the Sox weren't doing any better than the A's, even though the A's record was quite good. Beane would be a bum, a fraud. Players would rebel and complain, and there would a power struggle between Beane and his manager. (Remember, Beane was offered the job before the Red Sox won the World Series, so the pressure would have been even greater than if he took the job now.)

As to your point about Peyton Manning and his preparation, I thought it was great. I would add that it's similar to difference between actors who are brilliant with a script, or even brilliant writing the script, but can't improvise. Manning can do all that chicken-dancing and improvise the play (though he's really picking one out of only three plays the coaches have sent him) before the snap, but if the action on the field doesn't go as he planned, he panics. It's just much more noticeable in the playoffs, when the stakes are higher, and when (except for, historically, Denver) the teams left are smart enough to know how to play defense against him -- keep moving around until he snaps the ball.

Great stuff.

Cheers,
Bob Cook
MSNBC.com

matty

on your trying and failing point:

probably implicit, but its also more impressive to accomplish whatever despite a lack of effort. i mean, imagine if big ben hadn't spent superbowl week pouring patron into coeds.

JohnMcG

Great read...

I;d be interested to read Gladwell expand a little more on sabermetric evauluation of baseball. In particular, I think that it fails to account for the effort part of the equation that Gladwell referred to; it stresses that an orgaization should collect players with the greatest expected productivity, without taking into account how to create an environment where those players can mximize their creativity.

From Moneyball, one would concluyde trhat the ideal manager is a cipher who simply deploys the players best suited for that situation. Most "strategic moves" like intentional walks, sacrifices, and stolen bases are poor statistical risks and should be avoided.

But Tony La Russa and Ozzie Guillen are both very hands-on managers who have had a great deal of recent success. I can't help but wonder if delpoying theses strategies helps keep their players performing at a peak level.

JohnMcG

One more note -- I don't think that executives in sports are held accountable as much as corporate executives is that corporate executives are the most visible members of their organizations, and general managers aren't.

So, if a GM acquires an aging slugger with injury risks, and he proceeds to have a lousy, injury-plagued year, that slugger will face the brunt of the criticsm, not the GM for bringing him in.

Not so for the CEO who hires a hotshot marketing whiz whose ideas flop.

Chris

Big Simmons fan. My friends are sick of hearing me say "Sounds like my prom night."

I'd honestly not heard of you before this "Curious Guy" (being th poorest-read Ivy English major on the planet). But I'm definitely interested now.

I like your analysis on limited knowledge being an occasional advantage to a sports GM. Remember one of Billy Beane's biggest criteria for pitchers is "How did the guy play in college?"

Not how fast his heater is. Not the drop in his splitter. Not how he dominated in high school.

Isiah is a baseball GM. He wants the glory of discovering the superstar hidden under a ten-inch crust of coal.

Ted

The Beane vs. Epstein comparison reminds me of Omar Minaya. While in Montreal, Minaya put together some very good teams, made decent trades, and most people thought he was a great GM. But with the Mets, he's seen as flawed, because he's being asked to do a completely different job.

In Montreal he was never required to assess and negotiate for top free agents. He needed to find talent in other places and for less money. While he was adept at this, he couldn't see that Pedro was not worth a four year contract. His talents of team building and assessing talent are lost on a team like the Mets.

He reminds me of Bill Belichick in reverse. Belichick's first chance as a head coach in Cleveland were mediocre. This was in the pre-salary cap days of the NFL. When even Barry Switzer won the Superbowl. The game was much more about assembling great players and working with them.

In his second job as head coach, the league has changed and the salary cap has rewarded coaches who can strategize, evaluate talent, and manage the salary cap.

HelenG

Being neither a sports fan nor an American (and therefore having NO IDEA who you were talking about), I couldn't bring myself to read all of the article. However, I was fascinated by the question of why we don't work harder even though it's in our best interests; something I struggle against all the time myself.
I've never come across any sort of debate on the topic before so it leapt out at me. I've always pretty much thought the same thing, i.e. if I don't really try and I fail then I can tell myself I'm smart but lazy, let myself off the hook.
As another contributor said, can you direct us to any further reading on this or should we wait for the next book?
I just finished 'Blink'. Brilliant!

Byron

Just read the 2nd part of the Simmons article and you mentioned about Billy Beane not wanting Theo's situation. Well, wasn't he offered the position before Theo for more money, but he turned it down?

SeanO

The combination of you and Bill Simmons on the same page is a stroke of pure genius. I enjoyed your white gunner theory detailed in Klosterman's article on Adam Morrison as well.

Is your own guest column on ESPN.com in the works?

J.V. Reistrup

I enjoyed the discussion about Jake Plummer. But what really struck me was Malcolm Gladwell's offhand point about how Marines' behavior is affected by their structure. It was the second time a throwaway Gladwell line about the USMC struck me (an alumnus) as being singularly insightful, the first being his description of the Marines in the New Yorker as being a "treatment effects" institution. How about an focused look at that peculiar institution, which seems consistently successful by its own lights regardless of what the rest of society thinks or, for that matter, of geopolitical outcomes. Thus Smedley Butler is a hero to Marines, who named a camp after him despite his famous renunciation of the banana wars in which he won distinction. And they don't care that Iwo Jima is back in Japanese hands, or who is now in control of Chosin Reservoir or Tarawa. (I just read a 1994 book about the battle of Tarawa by Time correspondent Robert Sherrod, by the way, and was struck by the disjunction between Marines and U.S. civilians of that period, too.) There are already a lot of books about what makes Marines different, but I'd appreciate a view through the unique Gladwell prism. Are warriors always anomalies, or was there some transition from hoplites to elites?

Manny Stiles

Gladwell, you are an amazing writer and a genius!!!
Thanks for giving Simmons a little more 'street cred' in the world of written word!

www.kombol.blogspot.com

You both share something in common that I find extremely interesting... neither of you look like you are the people doing the writing!

My friends and I use the term 'Blink' in casual conversation... "I just blinked out" or "You better watch your blink"

Jamie

I always love when I find new things in unexpected places.

I've read Simmons for years, and now I look forward to getting more familiar with Malcolm's work...I went out and picked up The Tipping Point today.

Brendan

My goal in life is to be able to write like Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons.

Jonathan M. Weiss

Mr. Gladwell,
I just finished reading your “Curious Guy” e-mail exchange with Bill Simmons on ESPN Page 2 and I enjoyed it immensely. You really should do one with Chuck Klosterman, especially now that he is writing for Page 2, because you are both too smart for a Masshole like Simmons.

In Part I of the e-mail exchange, you made a writer to quarterback analogy that likened you to Jake Plummer, a comparison that greatly undervalues your own talents and achievements. Tom Brady is a far more appropriate choice. Let me give you another quarterback-writer comparison to elucidate this point.

I am a devoted fan and avid reader of the noted classicist, historian, and political commentator, Victor Davis Hanson. He is Dan Marino. For Hanson, every idea and every passage is tortured, no matter how effective or brilliant. Like British historian John Keegan, Hanson constructs incredibly complex sentences that bend the meaning of their constituent words, as ones tempers steel, to achieve, on a micro-level, an incredibly profound and powerful meaning. Hanson is a prolific writer who has churned out two books a year since 1999 and writes almost daily on his website and in periodicals as he belittles, yet fails to achieve the mainstream recognition, of his Pulitzer-prize-winning, best-selling archrival, Jared Diamond. Hanson is ruthless with his bluntly honest critique of any and all. For that, everyone hates him, even his own estranged brother.

This is Dan Marino. Every pass he tossed was rifled from his soul and drenched with the sweat from his brow. Nothing seemed easy even though he threw so far. Marino’s entire career after his record-breaking 1984 season, resolved in the end to be a 35-mile long (or 61,363 yard long – to be exact) failed prophecy to repeat his early trip to the Super Bowl, as he watched contemporaries like Joe Montana and John Elway win championships. Marino was a draconian militant in the huddle and on the sideline. He never hesitated to lambaste a receiver for dropping a ball or a lineman for missing a block. For that, his teammates hated him.

Now you, while equal to Hanson in relevancy and poignancy, are nothing like him neither in style nor persona. Every sentence flows effortlessly into the next, every paragraph into its successor. No concept seems too complex, no term too esoteric, and before the reader has even blinked, he has put a thousand words in his wake. And when one walks away from a Gladwell work, he realizes how quietly, yet luminously everything has come together, like sand crystallizing into a diamond.

This is Tom Brady. No matter how pressured the game situation, no matter how adverse the conditions, Brady always keeps his cool and moves his squad along. He never seems spectacular in a moment, but in the end he has won it all. In snow and wind or on turf and under the lights, he methodically moves his team down the field, never throwing a pass longer than eleven yards, never using the same receiver twice. And before you realize it, he is in the endzone with gold on his fingers. Soon after, he is s sitting before a presidential address while a cadre of beautiful actresses and models await his courtship, if only for a night.
As my eyes have gone bleary with a patriot blue number twelve on many a mid-winter Sunday, I trip over The Tipping Point and Blink when I walk into a Borders or Barnes and Noble. For years you have graced the pages, and “batted cleanup” per Simmons, of New York’s premier, elite cultural and events magazine. You are the toast of the town in the greatest city in the history of human civilization.

Jonathan M. Weiss
New York, NY

Adam Lowe

Just a quick comment on the second half of your conversation with Simmons.

When I was in high school in the early 90s, I was a casual sports fan. The guys in my church group started a fantasy football league, and persuaded me to join. I didn't know much about individual players, so at the draft I borrowed a magazine from a firend that ranked all of the athletes in the NFL, and picked my team according to that list.

I then proceeded to do nothing for the rest of the season, while other teams were trading and adjusting their rosters. My friends kept binders full of stats and news clippings. The only thing I read were the results each week. Sometimes I would even have empty spots in my lineup, because I would fail to make adjustments when certain teams had byes or particular athletes were injured.

None of that mattered in the end. My team won it all. If I had known more about the NFL, I probaly would have tried harder to optimize my team, and certainly would have performed worse.

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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.

    My great claim to fame is that I'm from the town where they invented the BlackBerry. My family also believes (with some justification) that we are distantly related to Colin Powell. I invite you to look closely at the photograph above and draw your own conclusions.

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    Outliers

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    Blink

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    Tipping Point

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