Introducing the Levels of Broke

Originally Published: March 12, 2010
By Bill Simmons |

If you missed Part 1 of the mega-mailbag, click here. Here's Part 2.

Q: Just a quick moment of silence for Corey Haim. Alas, another child star has burnt out (no pun intended). Just curious, who would you include in your own personal Mount Rushmore of child stars?
-- Mounsey, Toronto

SG: I gave this one a ton of thought. Here are my four (of my generation) …

Macaulay Culkin: Most successful child star ever, arguably the world's biggest movie star in 1990, did so well that he spun off brothers and sisters. You know you're a big child star when you're spinning off DNA.

Gary Coleman: Remarkable run from 1976-82 on "Diff'rent Strokes" before we slowly realized that he was in his mid-30s. Bonus points for a signature line ("Whatchoo talkin' about, Willis?"), legitimately funny comic timing and his heroic acting in the very special two-parter, when Mr. Horton went after Dudley and Mr. Drummond and B.C. coach Al Skinner saved Dudley just in time.

Drew Barrymore: Huge role in one of the biggest movies of all time ("E.T."), carried "Firestarter" and "Irreconcilable Differences," landed in drug rehab before she became a teenager, and now she's turned her life around and had a helluva career. We need one success story on Child Actor Mount Rushmore and nobody under 35 even remembers that Ron Howard was a former child actor. So let's go here.

Corey Haim, Corey Feldman: I see them sharing the same head on the fourth Mount Rushmore spot, only it would go in two different directions like Siamese twins. We need them both. They were like Jagger and Richards -- the sum of the whole exceeded the parts.

Q: I am 99 percent sure Madeleine Dupont is an all-star in bed, she just has the look. I can't describe it, but I know it when I see it.
-- Nick, Madison, Wis.

SG: I've said it a million times: If anyone knows the look of a girl ready for hot sex, it's someone living in Wisconsin during the winter. Regardless, curling is catching on! We're about 20 months away from Rob Stone and Cheryl Bernard calling the mixed curling championships in prime time on ABC. I can feel it.

Q: If you made your own amateur porn and wanted to put it online for your friends to watch, only you didn't want anyone else to stumble across it, what label would you give it? I was thinking "Shock/Sparks 2003 WNBA Finals" would do the trick.
-- Chris H., Philly

SG: That's not nearly as reliable as "Ruiz-Holyfield: The Complete Trilogy!" or "The Very Best Vijay Singh Sound Bites."

Q: Did you read about how Arsenal turned its old stadium into condo units selling for over $500k/unit. Imagine if they did this with Fenway? How much would you spend for a unit and where would you want to live?
-- Joe Oliveria, Somerville, Mass.

SG: I'd want to live on the left-field wall next to the foul pole in the Carlton Fisk Penthouse. And I'd pay eleventy billion dollars. No price would be too high.

Speaking of Boston, I spent last weekend there for Dorkapalooza. Every time I go back, there's something new about the city that flabbers my gast. This time, it was a gigantic W Hotel that sprung up out of nowhere on the same block as the Wang Theater, which was always a top-five "Don't stumble around there drunk at 2 a.m. looking for pizza or a Store 24 or you might never be seen again" area that every city has, though it was near some genuinely fun areas and always seemed like it should have been cooler, and they always talked about making it nicer, though it never happened. We drove by that W on Sunday and I yelped in disbelief.

That got me thinking: Someone should start a blog for people who moved away from their hometowns that only features posts with pictures that make you say, "Wow, when the hell did they build that?" or "Hold on, you're telling me that they renovated that (fill in: restaurant, bar, block, neighborhood, building, hotel, apartment complex), and people now want to go there?" I'm tired of being blindsided every time I go back. And since we're on the subject, God, if you're reading, just stop with the whole thing where you make the weather incredibly nice every time I go back there. You're not fooling me. I am the same guy whose car got towed 11 times during the winter of 1996 because of the evil emergency snowplow parking rules. This "55 degrees in early March" trick ain't fooling me. Nice try.

Q: Even if Mila Kunis rolled around in human excrement and then was thrown-up on by Andy Reid, I would still immediately make out with her. However, if you told me I had to hook up with Snooki to get to Mila, then it's a no-go.
-- OB, Philly

SG: Noted. Thanks for clearing that up.

Q: How has no one made a reality show about life in the Olympic Village? Specifically, the "Olympic Village: The S#*! They Should Have Shown" version. Free condoms, potential PED use, allegations of cheating and professional jealousy running rampant in exotic locations? How much more excited would you be for the Olympics if you knew you could watch Apolo Anton Ohno win a medal on NBC, then flip to MTV and watch him run through the Swedish women's downhill ski team to celebrate? You wouldn't really even have to show them training or competing at all. This would work, right?
-- Paul, Tempe, Ariz.

SG: I brought this idea up in a podcast to Dave Jacoby, the czar of reality TV, and he made a point that was hard to refute: All of this sounds awesome on paper, but there's no guarantee at all that the actual show would be any good. You have to remember, they pick the absolute cream of the crazy/insane/wild/fearless crop for shows like "The Real World" and "The Bachelor;" that's the only reason they work. The Winter Olympics has a ton of people who spent the past 10-20 years of their life painstakingly doing the same thing over and over and over again. Really, the only fun of that show would be Shaun White getting everyone high.

Hey, wait a second … I would watch that show!

Q: You can put American white guys in the NBA today into one of four categories listed below:

1. 99 percent of people want to punch me in the face.
2. I get by on working hard and having people underestimate me.
3. They keep me around because I give the best high-fives coming out of timeouts.
4. I've never met a 3-pointer I didn't like.

Will we ever see another white, American NBA superstar? Twenty years from now, I don't want Woody Harrelson to be my best comeback when my kids ask why white people can't play basketball.
-- Bryan G., Papillion, Neb.

SG: I think Steve Nash should count. He grew up near Vancouver -- that's barely across the U.S. border. Slight loophole, but we should get to claim him. Besides, I have been to multiple Canadian cities and multiple Texas cities and really, there's only one reason Canada is its own country and Texas isn't: Canada prints its own money. Texas is its own country and you can't tell me differently. Own flag, own accents, own attitude, nothing in common with the rest of America. Anyway, Nash's success seems replicable to me: great character, great work ethic, super-intelligent, obvious natural talents and an extensive soccer background (giving him great footwork and enabling him to see all the passing angles). We will see that again.

Q: As a parent, which is a worse nightmare … your daughter grows up to be an "adult entertainer" or your son grows up to be an ice skater wearing a bedazzled swan leotard in the Winter Olympics?
-- Patrick, Orlando

SG: Not even close. You're talking to a guy who already has been trying to teach his daughter lessons like, "Every time you get a tattoo or a nose ring, you lose part of your soul" and "What do you say if a friend in class ever asks you to send him a picture of you naked?" (Waiting for answer.) "That's right! You say no!" She's not even 5 yet.

Q: Don't you think that the sex in the "final three" episode of "The Bachelor" has to be the best sex ever? Think about it, these women know that not only do they have to sleep with him, but they HAVE to rock his world. I think we need a term for this type of experience, and I can't think of anyone more qualified to coin one.
-- Brian, Ann Arbor, Mich.

SG: Why, thank you! Just to recap for people who don't know the show: When the Bachelor cuts it down to three, he gets overnight dates with each of the girls. At the end of dinner, they open a card that says something like: "Here's an invitation to spend a night together in our fantasy suite. If you say no, he's not going to pick you. If you say yes, but you don't sleep with him, you're a mortal lock to go home within the next two episodes. If you say yes, and you rock his world, you're gonna get an engagement ring. No pressure or anything. Good luck."

You only get the fantasy suite for one night. Two other girls are getting the same chance. And again, if you don't let the Bachelor sample the goods, you're only opening the door for one of your rivals to step in. So what ensues is almost like the NFL scouting combine for sex: Each girl has one night to run a 40, do the shuttle drill and see how much she can bench-press. Embrace the situation and you're going to win. This season, Vienna the Former Florida Hooters Waitress brought her own nightgown to the fantasy suite, which was almost unfair but turned out to be a stroke of genius. She ended up winning.

Anyway, we already have a name for this kind of sex: It's Monster's Ball Sex. That's how Halle Berry won the Oscar for "Monster's Ball," by throwing herself into the sex scene to the point that the Academy said, "Holy mackerel, are they really doing it?" ("MAKE ME FEEL GOOD! MAKE ME FEEL GOOD!" Settle down, Halle, we'll give you the Oscar! Put some clothes on!) I think that's what happens in the fantasy suite: The girls go Monster's Ball on him. And by the way, there's nothing funnier than the angry look on someone's face when they get voted off with three to go. The perfect mix of revulsion, regret and self-loathing. I am not a regular "Bachelor" guy but always make sure the Sports Gal tells me when the "three girls left" episode is on. MAKE ME FEEL GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!

Q: When the two hockey teams emerged for OT in the gold medal game, "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey was pumping out over the sound system. The power of that song swayed the American momentum and stopped all of Canada from continuing to soil every item of clothing they owned. Is there any sports inevitability that this song can't reverse? I'm playing that song every time I leave the house just in case.
-- Stuart, London

SG: I still have trouble hearing that song. It always makes me think of the time I watched "The Sopranos" for an entire decade, then thought my cable had gone out during the climactic ending of the series, then realized it hadn't, then sat there in shock for five minutes coming to grips with the fact that one of the greatest shows of all time blew its ending that badly. So yeah, it's gonna take a few more years for me.

Speaking of songs, I spent the past few days in New York City and decided that Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" was one of the five most brilliant songs ever made. It's like Jay made the decision: "It's 2009 … I've made enough money, I've cemented my legacy, I married Beyonce … really, I guess the only thing left would be to supplant Sinatra with the No. 1 New York-centric go-to song that (A) goes through someone's head every time they walk around Manhattan, and (B) gets played before and after every New York sporting event for the next 25 years, and if that's not enough, becomes a mortal lock to get played at Manhattan clubs once an hour for the rest of eternity. Tough task, but I think I can pull it off. I'm Jay-Z."

Q: Is there any downside to the Knicks signing any former college player with the last name "James," giving him No. 23 and selling out the Garden with $5 tickets and giveaways? Wouldn't the entire stadium not immediately purchase the 23 "James" jersey at the gate? Could LeBron possibly watch this game with the Garden going completely bananas all wearing No. 23 James jerseys and not think, I have to move to New York? He already has a 100-foot billboard outside the Garden. Is there any other equivalent of this in sports marketing? If the Sox became the worst team in the AL East, would you be OK with Jeter or CC posters outside Fenway? That's how low the Knicks are as a franchise. I just walk by the Garden every day and smile at the LeBron poster.
-- Mike, New York

SG: I get e-mails like this all the time. Knicks fans have lost their minds. Attending Monday night's Hawks-Knicks game in person, I was stunned by the devotion of the MSG crowd; they cheered like a playoff spot was at stake. If the Knicks were smart, they would be mailing LeBron's crew these game DVDs with anonymous notes like, "Check out our crowd -- we made this much noise on a Monday night when we were 20 games under .500. Imagine what would happen if you were here?" You know what's really incredible? The Knicks have sold nearly 2,000 more season tickets for the 2010-11 season with what's really turning into the greatest "Illusion of Regret" sales campaign ever. So why not sign a random "James" and give him No. 23 for a few weeks? Might as well.

Q: In his recent letter to season-ticket holders enticing us to renew or upgrade our Wolves 2010-2011 tickets for up to 50 percent off, your nemesis David Kahn gives reasons the team is heading in the right direction, including that the team has built "a coaching staff that has collected 15 championship rings." At first I thought, "Wow, that's impressive." Then I started thinking: OK, I get that Kurt Rambis has four rings as a player and two as an assistant coach and that Bill Laimbeer has two as a player. But where did Dave Wohl, Reggie Theus and J.B. Bickerstaff collect seven more championship rings? Then a knot grew in my stomach as I thought, "No! He wouldn't! He couldn't!" I looked up the coaching bios and found that Dave Wohl was an assistant coach on a Lakers championship team, which I guess is legit. However, as best as I can tell the other six championships include Wohl's two Ivy League titles as a player at Penn almost 40 years ago, Theus' WAC tournament title as a coach at New Mexico State, and -- yes, my worst fears were realized -- Laimbeer's three championships as coach of the WNBA Detroit Shock! Now I feel even more slimy with Kahn as my team's GM. He makes me want to scream, William Shatner-like, "Kahn!!! Kahn!!!"
-- Pete, St., Louis Park, Minn.

SG: Look on the bright side: You get to wait another two-plus years for someone shooting 30 percent in a Euro league right now.

Q: Did you see this post-firing quote from Mike Dunleavy that will never get old? "I had a great time in L.A."
-- Timmy, Brighton, Mass.

SG: That makes one of us.

Q: Was texting an ex-gf who told me she was super broke. I asked her if she was broke enough to sleep with a stranger for money. She said not quite. That got me to thinking about different levels of broke. Think you could fill in the missing categories, Bill? I think the lowest level would be "college kid broke" (you know you don't have enough money to eat but you can scrum up enough for a case of Natural Light) and the highest level would be "sleep with a stranger for money" broke.
-- Tony T., Hays

SG: Actually, the highest level would have to be "homeless," but there's nothing funny about being homeless, obviously -- let's leave that one out. Still, I like this idea. I came up with 20 levels in all.

Level 20: "Little Kid Broke"
An underrated broke, because little kids can't pay for anything, and they know this, though when you bring it up to them, they react like you just gave them a cheap shot. I've had at least 10 moments with my daughter the past year when she wanted something -- a DVD, an ice cream, a pretzel at a game, whatever -- when I said no, and she kept pushing it, and we always have this exchange:

-- Me: "Why don't you pay for it with your money?"
-- Her (slightly pissed): "Daddy, I don't HAVE any money."

Level 19: "'Real World' Broke"
Every couple of seasons, one of the cast members pretends to be broke and MTV makes it either a storyline or the main focus of an episode. We feel bad for them. Two episodes later, they're buying rounds of shots or joining the crew for dinner at some upscale sushi place. Wait, I thought you were broke? And how have we made it through 20 years of "Real World" seasons without seeing a cast member working three jobs to make ends meet and basically not being involved in any storyline because they can't ever go out? MTV gives these kids extra cash during the season so they party more. I'm convinced.

Level 18: "College Kid Broke"
The best kind of broke, because you're sharing the experience with your peers, and somehow it always seems to work out. You can go out with $15 and somehow end up having 15 drinks, two shots and splitting a pizza at 3 in the morning, then you wake up the next day and you have $12 in your wallet. Huh? College is like the island in "Lost" -- things happen that can't be explained, there are different tribes of people with whom you uneasily co-exist, you're living in close quarters with a bunch of people that eventually drive you crazy, you can't find a good toilet, you don't appreciate being there until you're gone (then you want to go back), and there might even be some time-traveling.

Level 17: "Vegas Broke"
This can go one of two ways. In version one, you had a self-imposed worst-case scenario for losing money (say, $700) that you already hit, only it's Saturday night and all your buddies are going to be gambling for a few more hours, so you either have to hover behind them at a blackjack table and live vicariously through them (see the "third man in the porn scene" analogy from an old 2004 Vegas column). In version two, you run out of money and want to keep gambling but you can't take out more money until midnight because you already maxed out your $500 ATM limit. Vegas Broke is temporary but uber-cruel.

Level 16: "Wedding Cash Bar Broke"
The cousin of Vegas Broke: If you have a cash bar at your wedding, it doesn't necessarily mean you're broke, but at the very least it means that the wedding practically bankrupted you. I wish there was a rule that all weddings had to have a cash bar -- this way people who have to have a cash bar don't feel bad about it.

(Wait a second, what am I saying? That's a terrible rule! Scratch that idea.)

Level 15: "Chasing Your Dream Broke"
You graduated from college, you're on your own, you're still idealistic, you don't have any money, but you're convinced you're working toward something great … so everything's going to be OK. HBO's "How To Make It In America" does a nice job of capturing this level. That's the main reason I like the show.

Level 14: "Moving Back Home Broke"
The main reason they make shows like "How To Make It In America" and not "They Didn't Make It In America and Now They're Living in Their Old Bedrooms Again."

Level 13: "Celebrity Reality Show Broke"
Now we're starting to hit rock-bottom.

Level 12: "Leaking Your Own Celebrity Sex Tape Broke."
Yup, we've fallen off a cliff.

Level 11: "Bogus Lawsuit Broke" and "Insurance Fraud Broke" (tie)
For instance, you get rear-ended in your car, then you fake a neck injury for the insurance claim because you're broke. You know it's gonna lead to bad karma. You know it. You do it, anyway. You need the money. You're broke.

Level 10: "Scratch Card Broke"
You're broke, yet that doesn't stop you from buying $50 worth of scratch cards twice a week.

Level 9: "Pawn Shop Broke"
Not quite as bad as …

Level 8: "Putting a Championship Ring, Emmy or Oscar on eBay Broke"
Is there a more depressing thing you can do?

Level 7: "Antoine Walker Broke"
Same as the previous level, except everyone is trying to figure out how you went broke when you made more than $100 million.

Level 6: "Going Into Porn Broke"
Although it's not as bad as …

Level 5: "Coming Back To Porn Even Though You Already Retired Broke"
Or …

Level 4: "John Holmes Going Into Gay Porn Broke"
I never knew about this until his "E! True Hollywood Story." Basically, John Holmes was the Babe Ruth of porn actors. During the early 1980s, he developed a bad coke habit, went to jail for contempt of court during the Wonderland murders investigation, lost his career and ended up dabbling in gay porn to make ends meet. In that show, E! showed a scene in which Holmes played a gay sultan. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But this was like MJ playing for the Wizards multiplied by a million.

Level 3: "Sleep With a Stranger for Money Broke"
As explained above. Although it's not quite as bad as …

Level 2: "Robbing a Liquor Store Broke"
Or …

Level 1: "Robbing a Drug Dealer Broke"
Like robbing a liquor store, but with more danger and desperation. It just can't get worse.

Q: When the toddler gets up before dawn and the coffee isn't made yet, I'm not the only guy who puts on "Jack's Big Music Show" just so I can stare catatonically at Laurie Berkner's chest while she sings "My Magic Box Has Wings," right? I mean, right? OK, never mind …
-- Mike, Huntington Beach, Calif.

SG: Wow, we got here fast!

Q: Your column on how to fix the NBA reminded me of something that took place in my dorm market place the other night. I see this heavy girl putting extra mayo on her double cheeseburger to go along with a huge plate of cheese fries topped with bacon bits. After she's done putting mayo on the burger, she walks over to the drinks and pours herself a glass of water. Above the pitcher of water there is a sign that says "Live Healthy, Choose Water." It's like she thought that somehow this "healthy" water would cancel out all the damage she was going to do with the burger, mayo and fries. It's the same way with the owners. Let's overindulge in ridiculous contracts, but in the end we always think we can undo the damage by trying to deal them in the final year of the contract so we can free up cap space and do the process all over again. By the way, Donnie Walsh is the heavy girl and Jerome James is the extra mayo. T-Mac is the glass of water.
-- Peter, Iowa City

SG: Yup, these are my readers.

Bill Simmons is a columnist for and the author of the recent New York Times best-seller, "The Book of Basketball." For every Simmons column and podcast, check out Sports Guy's World. Follow him on Twitter at

Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) is the editor-in-chief of Grantland and the author of the New York Times no. 1 best-seller The Book of Basketball. For every Simmons column and podcast, log on to Grantland. To send him an e-mail, click here.