Bill Simmons, ESPN.com's "Sports Guy," has an image as the wise guy in the back of the room aiming spitballs at the teacher -- or in his case assorted sports figures, including executives at his own company.
So it is startling to see him listed as executive producer for the ambitious "30 for 30," a 15-month-long series of documentaries by A-list filmmakers to celebrate ESPN's 30th anniversary.
But Simmons, who turned 40 last Friday, insisted he hasn't changed, saying his role merely is evidence of the network's diversity of opinion and willingness to "mesh it into one thing."
Then, though, just in case you feared he had morphed into a bland corporate suit, he answered a question about HBO, the reigning king of sports documentaries, with this riff about its approach:
"I think it's consistently good, but I think it's really predictable. I think it's a bunch of older sports fans making decisions based on what maybe they think people in their age range want to see."
Simmons cited subjects such as Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the 1972 Olympics.
"I think what they fail to realize is there are people from, like, 30 and under who can't connect with ideas like that in any way," he said. "People under 30 don't care about Ted Williams."
Heavens! What sayeth HBO to this? Alas, it took the high road.
"We admire their work, day in and day out," spokesman Ray Stallone said of ESPN, then added, "the body of work done by HBO's sports documentary unit speaks for itself."
That certainly is true, and the network has tackled contemporary subjects as well as golden oldies. But it's also true there is a stylistic sameness to HBO's work, starting with official narrator Liev Schreiber.
ESPN is taking the polar opposite approach, hiring 30 different filmmakers to tackle projects in which they have a personal interest and leaving them almost entirely to their own devices.
And by definition the films will cover relatively recent topics, because the idea is to focus on subjects from the network's 30 years in existence.
It's a box-of-chocolates strategy that might lead to some unevenness but should provide something for everyone.
"It's not a chronology, not a countdown, not the 30 biggest things that happened during the period," said Connor Schell, another executive producer. "They're 30 stories . . . We hope to create a mosaic of what sports meant during the era."
The series begins on six consecutive Tuesdays starting next week.
It opens with "Kings Ransom" by Peter Berg, about the Oilers' trade of Wayne Gretzky to the Kings, followed by "The Band That Wouldn't Die," by Barry Levinson, on the Colts Marching Band.
I liked the latter (heartwarming) more than the former (a tad slow). Only 28 to go! Week 3 brings Mike Tollin's look at the death of the USFL, a project that has infuriated Donald Trump, providing excellent publicity for ESPN.
Other offerings ahead: Albert Maysles on the 1980 Ali-Holmes fight, Steve James on Allen Iverson, Barbara Kopple on the Steinbrenner family and Alex Gibney on Steve Bartman.
"People will be on their toes from week to week," Simmons said.
The idea from the start for Simmons was to make ESPN a force in yet another corner of sports media. Why leave it to HBO?
But for viewers, the debate over which network is better is academic. The more quality TV, the better. There is one area, though, in which ESPN indisputably surpasses HBO, and everyone else on TV: self-promotion.
Thus, Tuesday's Gretzky film just might get mentioned on Monday's football game.
"It feels almost predestined," Simmons said. "The day before was this random Packers-Vikings game." Then Brett Favre returned, and . . . "Now it's going to be the biggest telecast in the history of ESPN."