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As I trotted off to the Borders on 18th and K in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night, I didn't know what to expect -- beyond Bill Simmons sitting at a table, signing the new paperback version of his New York Times best-seller "The Book of Basketball." What I saw was a long, crowded line of mainly dudes, all anxiously anticipating their moment with the Sports Guy. It was a man-crusher convention, and Simmons was the keynote speaker.
Guys showed up in their Sunday best: Tedy Bruschi and Tom Brady jerseys, of course. And many a hand was visibly shaking as they approached the table after a 90-minute wait. (Just like Space Mountain!) There was a smattering of women, too, many who appreciated Simmons' love of trashy reality television -- in particular, "Jersey Shore." And, naturally, there were the die-hard sports fans and avid readers who have helped catapult Bill to King Simmons status.
All in all, the crowd numbered around 850. "More people like Bill than like Chelsea Handler," one Borders official observed, referring to the comedienne's recent signing. Ditto Kathy Griffin and Sarah Silverman, who each drew about 600 fans at their respective events. Seems the funny Sports Guy outdrew, well, the funny people.
An affable and engaging Simmons made sure every fan got a signature. Three hours later (an unusually long signing -- like his columns), and despite a growling stomach and carpal tunnel, Simmons was kind enough to sit down for a chat with yours truly.
Melissa Jacobs: How does it feel to have 850 man-crushers in the same room?
Bill Simmons: I still don't get it. I think it was 10 or 11 years ago when I was bartending and had somewhere like 5,000 readers. It's amazing to me that anyone would show up to a book signing for me. They're always really nice, and I like going to the different cities and getting a feel for who the readers are and the spirit of the city with sports and stuff like that.
MJ: How does D.C. compare to other cities where you've done signings?
BS: There's sadness in D.C. because the sports teams stink -- and you can tell because they ask you to write stuff like "Snyder Sucks." But it's a good crowd with a lot of college kids and young professionals, people coming right from work. I always like it.
MJ: You mentioned "Snyder Sucks." What's the absolute craziest thing anyone's ever asked you to sign in a book?
BS: It's always weird when someone wants me to write, "You're the real Sports Gal," or, "You should have been the Sports Gal" or stuff like that. I always wonder if it goes online, would my wife be mad? But I always sign. I'll sign anything on a book. But it still makes me nervous. I always wonder if she does see that, would it lead to my divorce.
BS: (laughing) Yeah, probably.
MJ: So what's new in the paperback version of "The Book of Basketball"?
BS: I had an extra year to mess with it so I changed the Hall of Fame pyramid, moved some guys around, playing off what happened last season. We had to rerate LeBron. We had to rerate Dwyane Wade. I tightened it and just tried to make it a better book.
MJ: Speaking of LeBron, congrats on being tapped as an analyst for Friday night's Heat-Warriors game on ESPN. You haven't exactly gone soft on LeBron and the Heat, so how will that translate in the broadcast booth?
BS: Well, I'm going to try and be impartial. I think with the column, you're coming at it from more of an angle, and with the broadcast, I don't think you can do that. So my goal is going to be to pick my spots and add to the game ... but not overshadow what's going on. [I'll] let Mark Jackson do his thing because he obviously knows more about the ins and outs of the game. I'll try to think a little bigger picture, come up with a couple jokes and kind of stay out of the way.
MJ: What player would you start an NBA franchise with right now?
Joe House (Simmons' D.C. buddy): Ahead of [Kevin] Durant?
BS: Yeah, LeBron's only 25. I think he's a safer bet. I would have said Durant in the summer, but the way he's been playing this year, I think it would be stupid not to say LeBron.
MJ: I know you watch "The Bachelor." If the show decided to consider diversity for once, any NBA players you think would make a good fit?
BS: It would have been Gilbert Arenas, but then he shot somebody. Or tried to shoot somebody. Pulled a gun out. Whatever he did (laughing). See, I'd go with a guy who's like an eighth or ninth man who follows at least 50 hoochies on Twitter. The more hoochies they're following, the better.
JH: Like Delonte West?
BS: Yeah, Delonte would have been a great Bachelor. I'd do someone who's not totally famous and obviously someone who likes to get down to business.
MJ: Moving on to the great world of fantasy football and your "Fantasy Fixes" column, which outraged a lot of women. Do you still think women shouldn't be allowed to integrate into men's leagues?
BS: I don't think it should be a law. I just personally like to be in a league with all guys. I like hanging out with guys in certain situations and I think we should be allowed to do that without it being sexist. Sometimes I like just hanging out with my guy friends. My wife likes hanging out with her friends.
MJ: But you're not against other dudes, who don't have a history of being in a league with their buddies, having integrated leagues?
BS: (laughing) You say integrated like it's the 1960's. Brown versus the Board of Education or something.
MJ: (laughing) I know. It's quasi intentional.
BS: If it was one of my friends and he was in a league with girls, would we make fun of him? Yeah. Whatever. I don't care. For me, we like to sit around and make fun of each other and, if we had a girl in our group we hung out with all the time, it would make sense. But just to bring in a random girl doesn't make sense. Just like it wouldn't make sense to bring in a random guy.
MJ: A couple of women's sports questions, and then I'll let you go eat. Who's your favorite female commentator and -- to make it tough -- how about a non-ESPNer?
BS: Hannah Storm.
BS: I don't care, Hannah Storm. I really like Michelle Beadle. I'd pick her first in a fantasy draft of ESPN people.
MJ: Other than women's tennis, which women's sports do you like?
BS: I enjoy the Women's World Cup soccer. When I covered high school sports, my favorite was women's volleyball. I think women's volleyball is actually entertaining, like the Olympic women's volleyball when there's six -- or however many players they have. College women's basketball? Eh. Softball's gotten more interesting. Pitchers dominate. Lacrosse? Eh. See, I'm going to do a 180 on this when my daughter's 15 and going to all these games, though.
MJ: Last thing, despite your smart-alecky ways and columns filled with bachelor parties and strip clubs, you have a ton of female fans. Why?
BS: I don't like strip clubs anymore. Ever since I had a daughter. If you have a daughter and see a stripper, you just wonder where the dad went wrong.
MJ: Nice evolution.
BS: Thank you.
MJ: So can you pinpoint what draws your female fans?
BS: I think it's because I'm honest and put thought into what I write. I obviously have my foibles like anybody else, but maybe I remind them of people they know. I'm not sure. I think men and women are going to read someone if they think they're entertaining and [because] it's good writing. It doesn't always have to make sense.
MJ: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for sticking around.
BS: Thank you.