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A war of words adds spice to NBA Draft

By George Thomas Published: June 28, 2013

The actual NBA Draft proved dramatic enough Thursday night with Chris Grant and the Cleveland Cavaliers making a mockery of most mock drafts throughout the country with their selection of power forward Anthony Bennett out of UNLV, but there was another unscripted moment that has gained national attention.

It came as the draft was seemingly headed for the doldrums.  That changed quickly when ESPN’s Shelley Smith interviewed the Los Angeles Clippers new coach, Doc Rivers, who left the Boston Celtics earlier this week, to ask him about his new team’s draft choice.

Bill Simmons, an NBA television analyst, popular writer for the ESPN-affiliated site Grantland.com and unabashed Boston Celtics fan, was working as part of the sports channel’s draft team.  He’s been openly critical of Rivers in recent weeks suggesting that Rivers, who led the Celtics to a championship, quit on the team.  Topping it off, Simmons’ devotion to the Celts took another hit when Danny Ainge continued to the team’s dismantling by trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

It capped an unusually bad week in Boston sports given the Bruins loss in the Stanley Cup finals, the loss of Rivers and the arrest of New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez for murder.

Wily journalist that Smith is, she also asked Rivers about the trade.

He promptly delivered this terse zinger:  “I would like to call him an idiot, but I'm too classy for that.”

Simmons, noticeably unhappy, replied on the air:   “The truth keeps changing. He’s giving different quotes about this. He did know, he didn’t know, he kind of knew. He wanted the trade to happen, he was coming back, he needed a year off. When he sticks to a story, I’ll believe the truth.”

It made for great, honest television on Rivers’ part.  But I had to wonder if Simmons crossed an invisible line that few sports journalists do.

Yes, we all have favorite teams in favorite sports, but for the most part, few allow it to affect their jobs and observations.  Simmons has written sonnets expressing his love for all things Boston Celtics and for a while he allowed his inner fan boy to come out after news of that trade broke.

Good television it was, but I suspect it might be a moment Simmons eventually regrets. I could be wrong.  More and more it seems that sports fans love to engage in groupthink and appreciate talented writers such as Simmons who can put into words his attachment to their teams with sincerity normally reserved for loved ones.

There’s no doubt he possesses sharp wit, delivering one of the night's funniest lines, referencing the blaxploitation film classic Cooley High, the TV show The White Shadow and former Cleveland Indians outfielder Oscar Gamble in a 30-second span.

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