Wednesday, October 31, 2012

What Happens When Everybody Believes In The "Nobody Believes In Us" Theory?

We here at TW42M have been known to shit on Sports Fella Bill Simmons from time to time, but we can't take away his skill at pithily reducing sports and the way we consume them into pocket theories. He's coined, among many others, the Tyson Zone for that level of crazy and celebrity wherein we'd believe almost literally anything from someone; the Ewing Theory, when an established athlete who's never won anything leaves a team and that team plays better without the star player's distraction around; and most of all, the Nobody Believes In Us (NBIU) theory. It's pretty self-explanatory: a team feels, rightly or wrongly, that everyone has picked against them and comes together to pull off an upset because that added unity trumps talent. The 2007 NY Giants that dethroned the mighty undefeated Patriots are the ultimate NBIU team.

It's a perfect theory, really. As in, if an underdog wins a game the media can point to this ineffable togetherness as NBIU-ex-machina (often allowing them to ignore more obvious explanations for the outcome, like coaching or incorrect evaluations of talent or luck). If the favored team wins, though, NBIU magically no longer applies and the winning team was just taking care of business. Sportswriter's crutch this may be, but NBIU looks to be airtight.

There are two main problems with this conception, though, and it gets right to why Bill Simmons so often draws our ire. Simmons is the narrative even as he's writing anti-narrative ideas.

Simply put, Simmons can't decide what he is. He wants to be a legitimate journalist with access and high-level sources and the zeitgeist-chasing/setting voice of the fan, a great writer who's elevated sportswriting as the head of Grantland and a guy whose stream of consciousness rants substitute for style. At times, he tries to be all these things, and this blurred distinction cuts to the heart of NBIU's failings. Bill Simmons is by leaps and bounds the most popular sportswriter in America, and Simmons' populist theories have a way of working their way into the casual fan's worldview of sports. How can a team feel nobody believes in them when the most popular writer at the sports-industrial complex's monolith, ESPN, believes in them?

With Grantland as his forum (and, apparently, as a lab for creating writers who write in the exact same style), Simmons has pushed NBIU to the forefront of sports narrative discussion. If everybody believes that NBIU exists, does NBIU still apply? Wouldn't the favored team inexplicably be able to believe that nobody believes in them because everyone believes the other team has NBIU mojo? Doesn't this open us up to a wormhole of NBIU wherein all sports are sucked into a black hole contained in Tim Tebow's chest cavity? Am I just over-thinking this?

Yes. Yes, I am.

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