What’s eating Bill Simmons?

A friend and I have a running joke about comments like “don’t take this the wrong way,” which typically means “I am about to insult you but I don’t want you to get mad at me for doing so.” It’s a conversational get-out-of-jail-free card, an attempt at immunizing the speaker from accountability for what she/he is about to say.

Yesterday, Bill Simmons appeared on Colin Cowherd’s show and said that LeBron didn’t look the same. Simmons began the segment by ribbing Cowherd for disparaging comments Cowherd made about Cavs’ guard Dion Waiters. Simmons described Cowherd’s comments as “one of the great jump-to-conclusion rants I’ve heard in recent ESPN history” because, Simmons explained, you need 20 games before making a reasoned assessment of a team. But then, four games into LeBron’s season, Simmons said:

“Anyone who thinks LeBron looks the same is fooling themselves,” Simmons said. “He doesn’t have the same impulsiveness. He looks 20 pounds lighter physically. Just his general force-of-natureness capacity — whatever you want to say — it’s not there. And he’s driving to the basket, and he’s under the rim now, and I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if he’s hurt, I don’t know if the big weight loss has affected his game or whatever. This is not a jump-to-conclusion thing. I have been watching this Cavs team since the preseason games started, and he does not look the same.”

Simmons then wondered out loud whether LeBron’s tenure in Cleveland would resemble Albert Pujols’ in Anaheim. Pujols’ left the Cardinals after winning a second World Series title in 2011. In his time with the Cards, Pujols had one of the greatest decade-long stretches in baseball history. As a result, the Angels signed the then 31-year old slugger to a whopping ten year contract. Pujols has been, since 2012, a shadow his former self, a victim of injuries, a depressed offensive environment and, some have speculated, a change in his “routine.” Simmons begged the blogosphere not to jump on him for the comparison since, to repeat, LeBron has played four regular season games so far.

But jump on him MIke Golic did, calling the comparison “one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard four games into a season in my life in any sport.” Golic continued, “That’s what I’ll say about Bill Simmons. So, you know, he grabbed a headline, which is something I know he loves — and that’s one of the most ridiculous lines I’ve ever heard in any sport in my life. Four games into a season. I don’t even … that’s ridiculous.”

In turn, Simmons unleashed a twitter fusillade, expressing his contempt for Mike and Mike and deeming as “absolute garbage” Golic’s characterization of Simmons. Simmons also tweeted that it was “disgusting” for “an ESPN Radio show to pull an interview out of context from another ESPN Radio show, then play the moral authority card…”

I don’t know what moral authority card Simmons is referring to. But more confusing than that is the claim that Simmons was taken out of context. True, he tried to play his get-out-of-jail-free card when he was on with Colin. But Simmons went on for a solid 2-3 minutes with Cowherd, describing how King James didn’t any longer seem to have the “wow” athletic factor and wondered out loud whether he ever would again.

What Golic did to Simmons may violate some internal ESPN code. And maybe Simmons will prove to be right that LeBron has suddenly lost it. But to be indignant with rage when someone disagrees with something you said as if you didn’t really say it when, in fact, you spent several minutes elaborating on it – I don’t have any idea where Simmons is coming from here. There is no meaningful sense in which Golic took Simmons out of context.

For an idea of what it actually means to take a quote out of context, this is a much better example.

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