Bill Simmons introduces The Ringer and Jason Concepcion answers 'Game of Thrones' questions in our first newsletter.
            
In the March 14 newsletter, Bill Simmons introduces The Ringer, Jason Concepcion answers some pressing Game of Thrones questions, and Jonathan Tjarks looks at what it takes to win the NCAA tournament.

Welcome to The Ringer

By Bill Simmons

We spent 10 solid weeks batting around names before finally settling on www.theringer.com.

The Ringer?

The Ringer. Easy to spell. Easy to say. Easy to remember. It frightened us for only two reasons:

1. A whopping total of zero websites have succeeded after using the same name as a failed Johnny Knoxville comedy about the Special Olympics.

2. If you look at theringer.com too fast, it looks like a Santa Barbara wine called Theringer.

Then again, “The Ringer” worked way better than other names we were considering. Sean Fennessey liked “Klique,” which sounds like Kanye’s ill-fated answer to Tidal. Chris Ryan pushed for “Klaxon,” which sounds like a new fiber cereal that might blow out your colon. I liked “Watershed,” which sounds like a financial-planning service that might advertise on my podcast. Eventually, I pivoted to “Heat Check,” then “Channel 33,” then “Chase the Night” — which I’ve loved ever since overhearing Worldwide Wes tell a young NBA player to go home instead of a strip joint because “you can’t chase the night.” What does this have to do with a website? I have no freaking idea.

But that’s what happens when you write a bunch of dumb names on a whiteboard and stare at them for hours on end. “The Intrepid”? (Sounds like a boat.) “Rational Confidence”? (Sounds like a failed college band.) “The Rafters”? (Sounds like a sports bar.) “Upper Echelon”? (Sounds like a hedge fund.) “Barnstorm”? (Sounds like a horse that would be favored to win the Kentucky Derby.) “Side Two”? (Too insider.) “Grantworld”? (Too ludicrous.) “Fuck Off, ESPN”? (Too easy.)

We wrote off “The Curve,” “Dauntless,” “Parachute,” “The Route,” “Corners,” “Fathom” and “The Hot Hand,” but left their letter corpses up on that board for black comedy’s sake. A few promising names, including “The Hook” and “Upside,” were already taken. I had two different late-night “revelations” — “Brainwreck” and “Binge Mode” — that bombed badly and became running jokes (especially after everyone found out that I own www.bingemode.com). As the days passed, the whiteboard paralyzed Juliet Litman and Mallory Rubin, and they stopped suggesting anything new. They just kept staring at the board with the Chris Christie “I Can’t Believe I Sold Out to Trump” Face going.

Then, finally, progress! We all liked “The Leap.” www.theleap.com. Done. Finished. Well, right until our trademark lawyers swatted us, Mutombo style. No way. Can’t do it. Leap somewhere else. We found ourselves drifting back to “The Ringer,” partly because we liked it and partly out of pure, unadulterated desperation. Come on, did anyone REALLY remember that Knoxville movie? Even Knoxville didn’t remember it by that point. We took the plunge and felt a little better about it every day.

When we announced The Ringer last month, we braced for the ensuing barrage of Knoxville jokes, but something weird happened: People actually liked the name. I mean, as much as the Internet likes anything. Now we have a sports/tech/pop-culture website (coming within three to 37 months), a podcast network, a newsletter, a Twitter handle (@ringer), a Facebook page (facebook.com/ringer), an Instagram account (@ringer), a promising HBO Now relationship (stay tuned for news on our first project, coming imminently), more than 20 staffers and writers (some of whom we announced today) and our own L.A. office, which has meshed beautifully with everyone from my HBO show (also coming within three to 37 months). We’ve come a looooong way from that dumb whiteboard. Here, look:

Isn’t it depressing? Imagine staring at that thing for weeks.

But we made it. Thank God. I’m pouring myself a bowl of Klaxon and heading over to Klique to find Rational Confidence’s first album. Enjoy The Ringer.

Getty Images

Want to Win the NCAA Tournament? Your Coach Had Better Be a Good General Manager

By Jonathan Tjarks

The most important thing a college coach can do to help his team win the NCAA tournament isn’t to draw up killer plays or give inspiring halftime speeches — it’s to build a perfect roster.

Sure, luck plays a huge part of winning during March Madness. But it ultimately comes down to matching the skill sets of your best players with the rest of your roster. The tournament is when you find out whether the sum of your team is better or worse than its parts. Recruiting McDonald’s All Americans is great, but just like a GM at the next level, you need to surround those blue-chippers with complementary pieces.

Consider John Calipari and some of his recent Kentucky teams. Given the kind of individual talent he recruited, Calipari probably should have three national titles. The DeMarcus Cousins team in 2010, the Anthony Davis team in 2012, and the Karl-Anthony Towns team in 2015 all featured Naismith Award–worthy (or winning, in Davis’s case) players. But Calipari has built a roster capable of winning the big dance only once, with Davis in ’12.

Accumulating future lottery picks is great, but winning a national title is more about finding the right mix of players. In something of a mirror image of this season’s Thunder failing to complement Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook with adequate outside shooting, Kentucky’s inconsistent big men have let down their playmakers. And this isn’t the first time that Cal has gone into March with an imbalanced squad.

Calipari had Boogie, John Wall, and Eric Bledsoe in 2010, but no shooting around them. When that Kentucky team faced West Virginia in the Elite Eight, Bob Huggins dared the Wildcats to shoot, and they couldn’t, going 4-for-32 from 3-point range. When Cal did have knockdown shooters — Doron Lamb, Darius Miller, and Kyle Wiltjer — around Davis in 2012, Kentucky rolled to a title. In 2015, the Wildcats again had shooters — Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker — to go with a big man in Towns, but Calipari decided he wanted to die on the Harrison twins hill, and Aaron and Andrew took only two 3s in the Final Four loss to Wisconsin.

This season’s Kentucky team has playmaking and shooting, but finding the right balance of scoring and defense from some combination of Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee, Alex Poythress, and Derek Willis might be impossible.

The most complete team in this year’s bracket is probably Michigan State. Even when they don’t have a lot of high-level talent, Tom Izzo’s teams generally play well in March because they don’t have a lot of defined weaknesses. With two future NBA players in Denzel Valentine and Deyonta Davis and a balanced team around them, Sparty is going to be a tough out.

Winning the tournament is about answering a series of personnel questions. The stats and résumé are important, but it’s just as important for a coach to get the personnel balance right. You have to ask yourself questions like: Does this team have a great 1-on-1 scorer? Does it have a guy who gets everyone else involved? What about a guard who can control tempo? Can the team get offense from multiple options? Does it have enough shooting to complement its best players? What about rim protection and rebounding? Can the team guard all five positions?

If a coach has done his job as GM, and he can say “yes” to enough of those queries? That’s when you get to celebrate while “One Shining Moment” plays.

HBO

Ask the Maester: Answering Your Burning Questions About Season 6 of Game of Thrones

By Jason Concepcion

We are just 41 days away from the start of the sixth season of Game of Thrones. With the Season 6 trailer debuting last week, our anticipation is revving up, so we thought we’d ask our in-house Maester and guru of all things GoT, Jason Concepcion, to answer a few nagging questions as we get closer to game time.

Chris asks: Where is Tyrion right now, and what’s at stake for him?

When we last saw Tyrion, he was on the walls of the ancient city of Meereen, gazing down at the royal ex-boyfriends, Ser Jorah and Daario Naharis. Shortly before that odd couple rode out of the shadow of the great pyramid in search of Daenerys, their queen had recently flown off on the back of her dragon at the height of the fighting-pits debacle.

For, like, thousands of years (up until Season 4 or thereabouts) Meereen — along with Yunkai and Astapor — was a hub of Essos’s vast slave trade. Then Dany showed up with her baby dragons and ragtag collection of followers. Long story newsletter-short: The Stormborn reigned as Queen; the old slave-holding oligarchies were overthrown and their powers greatly curtailed; their former chattel were (ostensibly) granted equal rights of citizenship; and Daenerys’s government enforced its rule on the restive population via an army of spear-wielding freedmen.

But before you try to break the wheel, it is perhaps wise to attempt breaking a training wheel. Meereen was supposed to be batting practice for Dany’s overarching (we hope!) goal to conquer and govern Westeros. Tyrion quickly found a place in the Queen’s court, despite his Lannister heritage, because of his skills as an administrator. With Dany disappeared and possibly (as the leading families of Meereen will surely argue) dead, her fledgling government rests completely on Tyrion’s shoulders.

Riley asks: Did the Dornish people know that Myrcella was Jaime’s daughter?

Yes.

Stan asks: What are some ways in which Stannis Baratheon could “come back,” and what would be on his vengeance agenda?

He’s not coming back. But if he did it, the resurrection would have to involve either the ice magic of the Others or the fire magic of Melisandre. Which is awkward since the Red Woman’s painful execution for the crime of not being good at seeing the future would likely be the first stop on Stannis’s back-from-the-dead revenge tour. But! He’s not coming back. Nope.

Mal asks: In the closing seconds of the Season 6 trailer, we catch a glimpse of Ghost behind Jon Snow’s dead head. Every GoT fan has spent the offseason wondering whether there’s any way to save Jon. Now, my question is: Is there any way to save Jon and the Ghostest With the Mostest? Is Ghost there just to cuddle, or is he there to play a key role in Jon’s inevitable revival?

The shot troubled me as well. We’ve seen so much death and pain and sadness, and have been subjected to multiseason torture arcs. Ghost’s death, though — and I say this knowing that he is mostly CGI  would be heartbreaking.

This is, in the main, a space for discussion of fake history. That said, since Season 6 will largely encompass undiscovered/unpublished narrative territory, I would like to announce that I have a theory! It is mostly unoriginal in its speculative mechanics and, admittedly, its best trait is that it allows for Ghost to continue being alive. But here goes:

As many, many, many people have noted, there is ample precedent in the books to support the theory that Ghost acts as the backup hard drive for Jon’s postdeath consciousness. So far, so good. Now, in the segment of the trailer in question, Davos says, “I’ve never been much of a fighter,” and then, “Apologies for what you’re about to see.” We see Davos, flanked by several brothers of the Watch, in a small room. In the middle of the room is a table on which lies Jon Snow’s body (a-mouldering in the nave) and a motionless Ghost. Davos, I imagine, will need to leave that room, and Castle Black in general, with Jon’s body before the black brothers burn it. How does he accomplish this considering he’s “not much of a fighter” and he looks to be alone? Maybe with the help of a very large direwolf?

Look at this still, particularly the shading and shadow around Jon’s head. That looks computer generated to me. Meaning, Kit Harington is not lying on a stuffed wolf dummy. Why use CG if the wolf isn’t going to move around?

Amanda asks: What developmental stage are the dragons in right now? Are they still teenagers?

Well, dragons have lifespans of several centuries — and the older they get, the stronger they get. Dany’s dragons are around 4 or 5 years old. Certainly, they’re dangerous, especially Drogon, but they’re still quite vulnerable. Let’s call them preteens.

Juliet asks: If you despise the Faith Militant plot line from Season 5, should you watch this season?

You can go ahead and dip, Juliet. I’ll tell you what happens.


Bill Simmons welcomes Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting for President Obama, and Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to Obama, to break down the 2016 election.

In this Selection Sunday special, Tate Frazier and Mallory Rubin break down the brackets, make their Final Four and sleeper picks, compare tourney teams to 'Game of Thrones' houses, and more.

The Billions Best-Dressed List

By Amanda Dobbins and Chris Ryan

Billions is many things: an indictment of the financial industry, a study of male ego, a searing investigation into whether Damian Lewis can act. It is also home to the best business-casual fashion on premium cable. Presenting our favorite looks of Season 1:

1. Dollar Bill Stern’s Fleece Vest

Whether you’re getting short-squeezed by the Axe Capital air conditioning, sweating through a surprise FBI raid, or just casually waiting on the latest Pepsum news, this stylish vest will keep your temperature just right.


2. Bobby Axelrod’s Henley-Necklace Combo

INT. BILLIONS DRESSING ROOM, DAY 1

Costume designer: Damian, if you’ll just hand me that necklace while you’re shooting.
Damian Lewis: This necklace is essential to my character.
Costume designer: I see, but I don’t think it works with our “rich guy on the weekend” mood.
Damian Lewis: I think it does.

-- SCENE --

3. Lara Axelrod’s Festive Print Blouses

A fine-weave cotton with an embroidered finish? THAT’S HOW THEY DO IT IN INWOOD.

Honorable Mentions

Chuck Rhoades’s white shirts, pristine no matter how much takeout he eats; FBI windbreakers, garments of true power; Wendy Rhoades’s Saint Laurent bag. (Really, it’s very nice!)

            
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