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Reflections | Sports

November 23, 2015

A Grantland Appreciation

The site's writers and editors tell Gelf what set Grantland apart.

Michael Gluckstadt

When word got out on October 30 that ESPN was shuttering Grantland—its four-year-old sports and pop culture site, conceived of and previously helmed by Bill Simmons—the internet reaction was swift and despairing. After initial concern about the fate of its staff was slightly assuaged, and before the deluge of Best Of collections and "What Does This Mean For X?" think-pieces, there was a much more selfish communal feeling: What the hell are we all going to read now?

"At what other workplace do your colleagues whip up brunch-based fanfic centered around tennis stars, just because?"—Holly Anderson

To many readers, including me, Grantland was simply the place where we spent the most time on the internet (after Twitter, of course). Its closing felt more like the shutting down of a beloved local pub filled with your smartest and funniest friends than that of a subdivision of a major sports-media company (itself a part of a larger mouse-eared media behemoth). It was a place you could walk in one day and hear Zach Lowe breaking down the Pelicans' use of a modified "Elevator Doors" play while Andy Greenwald sang the virtues of The Americans or Smarf and Brian Phillips held forth on his latest trip to Alaska, or Japan or "the Death's-head of Wimbledon." And there are so many others.

Here at Gelf, we wanted to show a measure of gratitude for all the enjoyment we got from the site. This Monday, we're hosting a live event at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan featuring as many Grantland writers as were able to join us. If you're not in New York or otherwise can't make it, the event will be livestreamed and archived for later viewing.

Prior to the event, Gelf asked several of the speakers to fill out a questionnaire. One thing we learned? You should read The Sea Is Dope.


Rafe Bartholomew

Write a quick scene from the oral history of Grantland.
Bill once called me and Jay Kang the Chris Brown and Rihanna of Grantland. I can't quite decide who's who, but we fought like lunatics and never stopped caring for each other on the low.

What's an example of a story that could only have run on Grantland?
When Jason Concepcion talked the site into sending me and him to the Philippines to cover an NBA preseason game, and we ended up writing thousands of words about cockfighting and variety shows.

Describe Grantland as though you were trying to explain its existence to an older executive at a traditional media company.
Most of the time, the only thing you needed to get an assignment was a good idea.

My favorite website just closed down. Which other ones should I be visiting instead?
New York Times.

Which member of the original Dream Team best describes you?
Mullin. Another lefty from New York.


Who has the best nickname in sports (team or individual)?
A team in Thailand called the Mono Vampire Basketball Club that plays in the ASEAN Basketball League.

What is the best sports-pop culture crossover? What's the worst?
Best: Blue Chips
Worst: Thunderstruck

Which publication, TV show, and historical figure would you most like to bring back from the dead?
Publication: Play
TV show: The Critic
Historical figure: Smokin' Joe Cantada


Amos Barshad

Write a quick scene from the oral history of Grantland.
Shoemaker: Like I always said—one day, it'll all make for an amazing oral history.

Barshad: I pitched the oral history! Of Grantland! To Grantland!

Fennessey: [Deep sigh] We were never gonna let Amos write the oral history.

What's an example of a story that could only have run on Grantland?
Probably any given Brian Phillips banger, but I'll go with his recent robot piece. The most nuanced and respectful consideration of humans fucking robots that I've read to date.

Describe Grantland as though you were trying to explain its existence to an older executive at a traditional media company.
(Full on breathless screaming) IT'S LIKE IF BOBBY WOODWARD HIMSELF CHOPPED THE O AND SPRINKLED SNOW INSIDE THE OPTIMO AND THEN SPENT 72 HOURS WATCHING VH1 CLASSIC ON BACKWARDS LOOP BUT LIKE WITH MORE GAME OF THRONES REFERENCES.

My favorite website just closed down. Which other ones should I be visiting instead?
I don't say this lightly—I really feel like, out of respect, in the wake of Grantland's demise, people should stop reading altogether.

Which member of the original Dream Team best describes you?
Is everyone gonna say Laettner? I'm gonna say Laettner.

Who has the best nickname in sports (team or individual)?
I'm still, and will probably always be, partial to The Truth.


Andy Greenwald

Write a quick scene from the oral history of Grantland.
INT. BILL SIMMONS POOL HOUSE. NIGHT.

Greenwald: Wait, he really bought a tequila ice luge?

Rembert: /positioning himself at the bottom of the luge

What's an example of a story that could only have run on Grantland?
"The Sea Is Dope".

Describe Grantland as though you were trying to explain its existence to an older executive at a traditional media company.
Nah. We tried this once and look how well it worked out.

My favorite website just closed down. Which other ones should I be visiting instead?
Did I write this question?

Which member of the original Dream Team best describes you?
John Stockton. I am white, aging, and not tall. I spent my four years on the team looking up at all the impressive people dunking.

Who has the best nickname in sports (team or individual)?
Is TV a sport?

What is the best sports-pop culture crossover? What's the worst?
Best: Friday Night Lights
Worst: Kobe Bryant's lost single, "K.O.B.E."—featuring Tyra Banks!

Which publication, TV show, and historical figure would you most like to back to bring back from the dead?
TV Show: Twin Peaks oh wait
Historical Figure: President Clinton oh wait
Publication: Grantland oh wai … oh


Holly Anderson

Write a quick scene from the oral history of Grantland.
Can I tell you something kind of amazing that happened to me immediately after Grantland stopped being a thing?
The day they pulled the plug on us, and we were all just gushing memories onto the internet, I tweeted about the time I wrote Roger Federer fanfic about him making deviled eggs (because why not?) and it made it up on the site, which has always tickled me to death, that that was even allowed to exist. The tweet got picked up a couple places, and let's just say it was NOT taken in the joyous spirit in which it was intended. That made me so spitting mad. That goofy little yarn is one of my most treasured memories in two and a half years at Grantland.
So that was Friday, and I was upset. And Monday morning, I get an email, and it's from my dear friend and coworker Brian Phillips, and it's another thousand words of another fictional deviled egg recipe…as written by Rafael Nadal.
Who does that? At what other workplace do your colleagues whip up brunch-based fanfic centered around tennis stars, just because? And it's the funniest fucking thing I've ever read. It will never be seen on Grantland, but like its predecessor, its mere existence fills my heart.

What's an example of a story that could only have run on Grantland?
I'm gonna venture out on what looks like a pretty sturdy limb here and say the time I wrote about a guy who snared his dick in a deer bow while trying to shoot fish with it? Can't see the mothership, or any other ship, greenlighting that much dick talk.

My favorite website just closed down. Which other ones should I be visiting instead?
Anything my esteemed writing partner and probable cousin Spencer Hall types onto a screen, anywhere. Start here.

Which member of the original Dream Team best describes you?
I don't understand the question and still don't know how I ever got hired here while knowing this little about basketball.

Who has the best nickname in sports (team or individual)?
Gotta go with the time ESPN Deportes referred to Alabama's Derrick Henry as "El Tractorcito" during a Sugar Bowl.

Which publication, TV show, and historical figure would you most like to back to bring back from the dead?
Grantland Quarterly, Bunheads, and Paul Walker.


Jonah Keri

Write a quick scene from the oral history of Grantland.
[5 am, a bleary-eyed Mallory Rubin rolls out of bed]

Rubin: Great, Keri just filed 3,000 words on the 1973 Expos.

[Game of Thrones ringtone goes off in the distance]

Rubin: Fennessey, what's up?

Sean Fennessey: Mal, I need you to take Barnwell today, too. I know you have 72 other stories to edit by sunrise. Please say yes.

Rubin: OK, I'm on it.

[Phone rings in Rafe Bartholomew's apartment]

Bartholomew: Ahoy hoy?

Rubin: Hey Rafe, just got 9,000 words on the Jaguars zapped to me. Any chance you can handle the bracket of 64 greatest Drake curse words?

Bartholomew: Sure, no problem.

[Grantland's editors worked themselves ragged. There would have been no site without them. Please give Rafe and every former editor who's not here a huge round of applause.]

What's an example of a story that could only have run on Grantland?
The Sea Is Dope.

Describe Grantland as though you were trying to explain its existence to an older executive at a traditional media company.
A bunch of smart writers write with great enthusiasm about topics they want to cover, aided by equally enthusiastic editors.

My favorite website just closed down. Which other ones should I be visiting instead?
Go support Lowe, Barnwell, and McIndoe at ESPN.com, Rembert at New York Mag, Wesley at the New York Times, the Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald podcast on Simmons's network, Lindbergh and Goldsberry at FiveThirtyEight, and anything Pierce, Litman, Conn, Bartholomew, Anderson, Barshad, Brown, Lambert, Mays, Goodman, Hyden, Thomas, Phillips, Curtis, Concepcion, Schilling, Shoemaker, Lisanti, Baker, Abrams, Pappademas, Baumann, Chau, Sharp, Hinton, O'Hanlon, Jacoby, Jazayerli, Serrano, Lynch, Yoshida, and Titus do anywhere.

Which member of the original Dream Team best describes you?
David Robinson. Stunning good looks and military background.

Who has the best nickname in sports (team or individual)?
Joc Pederson, the Bashing Boychik (note: I made up that nickname, it never caught on, and my boss at Baseball Tonight asked me to stop saying it on air).

What is the best sports-pop culture crossover? What's the worst?
Anything Russell Westbrook does off the court.

Which publication, TV show, and historical figure would you most like to back to bring back from the dead?
The Pentagon Papers, The Simpsons (the truth hurts!!), and the guy who wrote this (I assume he died from dangerous levels of stupidity).


Jason Concepcion

Write a quick scene from the oral history of Grantland.
Before I got hired, I asked Rembert what it was like to write for the site while we waited in line at the McDonalds across from Hot Bird in Fort Greene.

What's an example of a story that could only have run on Grantland?
The Sea Is Dope.

Describe Grantland as though you were trying to explain its existence to an older executive at a traditional media company.
*Does the dabbing dance*

My favorite website just closed down. Which other ones should I be visiting instead?
Get rid of your internet altogether and move to the woods.

Which member of the original Dream Team best describes you?
Christian Laettner.

Who has the best nickname in sports (team or individual)?
Kristaps Porzingis.

Which publication, TV show, and historical figure would you most like to back to bring back from the dead?
Grantland, Manimal, and Jefferson Davis. I'd keep Davis chained in my basement with a television that only played Kanye videos.


Brian Phillips

Write a quick scene from the oral history of Grantland.
Ha, no.

What's an example of a story that could only have run on Grantland?
Hm, probably anything with "Grantland" in the title, like "Grantland Exclusive" or "Grantland Emmys Roundup." Would have been weird to see those pieces on Deadspin.

Describe Grantland as though you were trying to explain its existence to an older executive at a traditional media company.
"It's the site for the 26-year-old woman that your 12-year-old daughter who hates you will hopefully grow up to be!"

My favorite website just closed down. Which other ones should I be visiting instead?
Don't read the internet; read the print edition of Vanity Fair.

Which member of the original Dream Team best describes you?
Honestly? Michael Jordan, because of how good I am at basketball.

Who has the best nickname in sports (team or individual)?
How could I pick against The Owl Without A Vowel, 1950s Warriors role player Bill Mlkvy himself?

What is the best sports-pop culture crossover? What's the worst?
Intriguing question. I'm increasingly unsure how we can even define the concept of the "crossover" at a moment when, while even the most postmodern construction of "culture" continues to imply categorical divisions whose fixity renders them susceptible to transgression, the real producers of and participants in cultural life experience those transgressions as more and more essential to the assumed nature of the categories themselves. So I guess I'm going to have to say Space Jam.

Which publication, TV show, and historical figure would you most like to back to bring back from the dead?
Kinja, Firefly, and (assuming he ever dies) Dr. Phil.

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.







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Comments

- Reflections
- posted on Nov 23, 15
Ken

To all of the Grantland writers and editors, thank you for Grantland.

- Reflections
- posted on Nov 23, 15
Cameron Smith

I can't wait until I can spend a big chunk of change on a 500 page Grantland Oral History book. Even if I have to wait 50 years.

Cameron Smith,
Perth,
Western Australia
(Just to let you know that THE WORLD loved Grantland)


Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

Learn more about this author






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