The Chat House

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, July 9, 2007; 1:15 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, July 9, at 1:15 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the latest sports news and his recent columns.

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive

____________________ Michael Wilbon will begin answering questions in about 10 minutes.


D.C.: Thanks for taking my question.

You are the second person in a week to make the following comment: D.C. isn't a great sports town, but it's an outstanding Event town.

I do agree with your assessment and was wondering what does it take to make a great sports town like N.Y. or Chicago?


Michael Wilbon: Hi everybody...Hope you had a great Fourth of July week...I certainly did, taking most of it in Chicago before returning to D.C. where I spent the weekend watching the Tiger Woods AT&T National golf tournament at Congressional. Since the first question refers to the golf tournament and the outstanding response it got from metropolitan Washington, we'll start there...D.C. is a city where a very large percentage of the residents come from elsewhere...There's that factor and that we're not like the nation's great sports cities...Boston, New York, Chicago, Philly, Detroit, Cleveland...This was never an industrial city or blue-collar city where the primary escape was the local sports teams and the civic pride they produced...D.C. isn't that and never has been. But D.C. does love a party, a see-and-be-seen kind of party. Think inauguration. The golf tournament is an event; it doesn't require following for six months like a baseball or basketball season. The tennis tournament, which is incredibly popular, has the same once-a-year event quality to it. We're just not a great sports town, which is something I actually find attractive for many reasons about D.C. It's more literate than just about all the great sports towns (exception, San Francisco perhaps). The interests of its inhabitants seem more diverse...Not that Chicago and New York residents don't have diverse interests. But Chicago, I know for a fact, largely defines itself by how its teams do...Washington does not. The Redskins popularity isn't anything close to defining how people feel about themselves the way, say, the Broncos do to people in Colorado...I think Tiger's golf tournament can be a huge, huge, huge success if it continues here...


Madison, Miss.: Please fill me in on why Tiger, Phil and apparently many other pros have nothing but contempt for the TPC at Avenel. Is it that bad of a course?

Michael Wilbon: They like old-fashioned "U.S. Open-style" courses, to use Tiger's phrase. They want big pieces of property with no tricks, straight forward powerful courses with big trees and big greens that prove to be a big test...that's not Avenel...I've been told this by tour players for 20 years. Now, there are some tour players who love Avenel, but it seems very few...Most frown as you start to ask the question...Most tour players, to be honest, don't like TPC courses with its stadium landings from which fans can watch...I don't know what this means for Avenel, but Tiger Woods has never played there, doesn't want to play there... Neither does Phil...Nor do most others...


Eaton, N.Y.: Hi Michael,

Can you expand a bit on how/why you see Boston as an "openly racist" city? I've always thought of it as an especially white city, but I'm not sure what you meant and would like to understand where you're coming from. (Mo Vaughn was awfully big there...Dave Roberts is now revered...)

Michael Wilbon: Anybody can point out great exceptions. A great, great many of us -- black folks -- have had openly hostile and unpleasant experiences in greater Boston. I'm talking even physical confrontations. I've been called "Nigger" to my face in Boston Garden on two occasions, openly and publicly and to no great objection by the people sitting nearby...I can talk to just about any black person who spent time in Boston through the 1990s and get similar stories...So I'm not going into any more anecdotes. I have hundreds. Having said that, I've been in greater Boston recently and noticed what I feel is a huge change...Hey, Chicago went through this in the 1980s and 1990s...Maybe Boston was just a few years behind...For every Mo Vaughan you point out I'll name you 20 players who've turned down free agent money or a trade to Boston teams...The Red Sox were the last to integrate...15 years or so after Jackie Robinson. That's an entire generation later...On the other hand, and this is the great contradiction and complex thing about Boston, the Celtics were the pioneers when it came to race relations in the NBA, both in the playing and coaching ranks. Red Auerbach wouldn't have it any other way. The Celtics were among the first to draft a black player, to have three or four blacks in the starting lineup, to have a black coach (Bill Russell)...It's a fascinating irony, the Celtics and race...The Celtics produced Big John Thompson, remember. I covered Patrick Ewing's announcement, when he left Ringe & Latin High for Georgetown and didn't go to a Boston school...He was called every kind of "Nigger" in the book by locals because he dared leave and didn't stay to be their boy. Yet, if you go back 150 years, Boston was the home to so many abolitionists who fought slavery and assisted in the Underground Railroad...It's complex and fascinating and I wonder if anybody in and from and of Boston has ever written extensively about it.


Great Sports Towns (Pro Division): You're right, and there's something else: the importance of the pro teams is often inversely proportional to the overall health of the city. I've lived in numerous parts of the U.S., and invariably the pro teams are more important where the city is struggling (Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Pittsburgh) than where the city is booming (Atlanta, Miami, Washington, L.A.) and there are other things about which the locals can get excited.

Michael Wilbon: Well, L.A. and Miami have more to do with weather than anything. Atlanta hasn't always been doing so well, but is about the worst sports town imaginable. The Braves, even when they're in the playoffs, often don't sell out. Atlanta and Miami are the worst...


Barno, Md.: Mike, I've been away for a while...what's the bigger baseball story this week -- the All-Star game, or Barry Bonds?

Michael Wilbon: These aren't local being away for awhile means, what? Were you out of the country? The All-Star game, of course, is the matter where in America you are...That's the only really big story in sports the first half of this week.


Washington, D.C.: What's your opinion on Barry Bonds skipping the home run derby? Do you think he owes it to the people of San Francisco to participate?

Michael Wilbon: Not really...I understand that at 42 years old, or whatever he is, that Bonds doesn't have the energy to do that and play competitively. It's like the NBA dunk contest. Nobody expected Michael Jordan or Dominique Wilkins to use up his legs in an exhibition when the season resumes in 48 hours...I get that. On the other hand, if I was a Giants fan I'd want to see Bonds do what he does...This is the perfect time for baseball to tweak its rules, shorten the home run derby from 10 outs to five, and attract more players who don't want to wear themselves out for the second half of the season, which ought to matter much more to the fans.


McLean, Va.: Hiya Mike,

The atmosphere at a Bruins game or a Bulls game is something that all owners, including those of the D.C. teams, would love to have. What would be your top three pieces of advice to these guys to put fans (that is, vocal, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, money-spending fans) in the seats at these games? Thanks!

Michael Wilbon: It's not about the number of fans...It's about what the fans feel who attend. A great many of them have generations of knowledge and passion for those teams...You find random tourists or curiosity seekers getting into Bulls games in any great numbers...They can't get the tickets...My family, for instance, has had Bulls tickets for years. My brother, even when he moved to NYC for awhile, kept his Bulls he's kept them since 1985...And that kind of story is common...That's common for the Redskins here, of course, but nothing else. The teams are too new...


Herndon, Va.: Mr. Mike: Since you are now a panel member for ESPN deciding who is "now," what do you think about a show in which NFL, MLB, NBA and other players opine about which sportswriters and broadcasters are "now"? Choosing between Lupica, Tony K and you would make for an interesting debate! (You'd win in the best-dressed category.)

Michael Wilbon: Thank you for the compliment, but nobody would care..Trust me. Most of the under-35 athletes wouldn't even know that Mike Lupica, Mitch, Tony, all of us, have been sportswriters for 30 years-plus...


Toronto: Have you ever seen the Running of the Bulls in person? Would you ever consider running with them yourself? Do you consider bull-fighting a sport?

Michael Wilbon: No, no, and hmmmmm I guess so...


Bridgewater, Va.: Did Tiger enjoy the week? I know he was pleased with the tournament but did he have a good time doing it?

Michael Wilbon: He was overjoyed. He was stunned at the response and talked about the whole experience in glowing terms...


Dulles Airport: What do you think about MLB's decision to use the All-Star Game to determine the World Series home field advantage? It seems downright stupid to me.

Michael Wilbon: Me, too. You don't use an exhibition to determine something as important as home-field for your marquee event...I hate it.


Bethesda, Md.: Juan Carlos Navarro. Do you keep him? trade him? Or let him wait like he did to the Wizards?

Michael Wilbon: I LOVED watching Navarro play in international competition. I've seen him in person and on television, and I think the guy would fit well with the Wizards...It would free up Gilbert Arenas to do what he does best: score. He's a big-time, international tournament tested player with grit and toughness...I'd love to see him in the Wizards lineup.


Boston: Hi Michael! Did you catch the incredible Wimbledon match yesterday between Nadal and Federer? Twice in the fifth set, Nadal could have broken Federer at 15-40 and would have won the match, but Federer never wavered and beat him. Was that the best match since 1980s Borg vs. McEnroe?

Michael Wilbon: No, not really...Nadal was hurt, remember...injured his knee. It was on track to be one of the best matches since Borg-McEnroe's back-to-back thrillers in 1979 and 1980. If Nadal hadn't sprained his knee when he was up 4-love in the fourth set, then whatever happened would have been epic because both would have presumably been whole...This reminded me of Spurs-Suns in that one team wasn't whole...It's so incredibly rare when you see world-class players and teams at their best...I feel cheated...We were CLOSE to something epic, but didn't quite get there in my mind.


Portland, Ore.: As the Tour de France is just beginning amidst the usual drug allegation scandals, I wonder -- am I the last person on earth who believes Lance Armstrong did not use performance enhancing drugs? As more and more riders are coming forward with confessions, how naive is that belief and do any journalists covering the sport still think he was racing clean?

Michael Wilbon: You're asking the very question that I'm asking myself...I can't even watch the Tour de France. It's like paying attention to the Bonds home run chase...What do the numbers mean? What do the results mean? How much do we believe? How cynical should we be? You can tell I don't have answers to these questions, but it seems everything is tainted now...I don't know what to believe about Lance Armstrong...I really don't?


Richmond, Va.: Congrats to Venus on her comeback win at Wimbledon. My question is, do you think her class will ever rub off on her sister? Venus went to lengths to credit her opponents, whom she absolutely dominated, while Serena has apparently never lost a match if not for injury/bad luck/bad calls. It's been going on for years. She has some injury (although she's moving around just fine) so it's heroic when she wins and an excuse when she loses. Even the NBC crew seemed tired of it. Her opponent is never better.

Michael Wilbon: You know, you're absolutely right...and it's too bad. And I wonder if she even knows it...The celebrity athletes are so often surrounded by sycophants and yes-people that nobody tells them...But you're right. My brother and I were talking about just that issue the other day in Chicago while watching the early rounds of both Venus and Serena...


New York City: Why exactly is New York considered a great sports town? Sure it has more teams than anyone, but it has more people. I keep hearing the fans here are very knowledgeable about sports -- but I haven't seen real evidence of that.

They expect their teams to win it all every year, and then whine like babies when they don't.

And how many sports teams have perhaps one of the greatest players to ever play the game who is so hated by their own fans? How is that knowledgeable?

Michael Wilbon: Well, I'm not going to say knowledgeable, but NYC is still a great sports town...The passion alone, the obsession with it...I think their knowledge is sometimes overblown, but I think it's in that list of great sports towns...I do.


Washington, D.C.: Do you get the sense that next year is when the changing of the tennis guard goes from Roger to Nadal ?

Michael Wilbon: Without that knee sprain, I thought it was taking place yesterday.


Silver Spring, Md.: "The teams are too new... "

That's the tragedy (in sports terms) of what Calvin Griffith did to this town in 1960. The Senators were not new. There was a great tradition of baseball here. However, they stunk. The cruel twist was they were about to be good, very good. Had they stayed and excelled, as the Twins did, the Senators could have been the co-equal of the Redskins, who were not yet the automatic sellout, in the hearts of sports fans here. Instead, we got stuck with the expansion Senators and, worst of all, Bob Short.

Michael Wilbon: Well said. Thanks.


Phoenix: Your take on Grant Hill coming to the Suns? I love it.

Michael Wilbon: I love it to. I've become friends with Grant over the years, worked with him on ABC in June, and have thought the world of him for some time. I think him going to the Suns is a perfect fit. He can come off the bench and relieve Steve Nash at "playmaker" for 10 minutes a game, relieve Raja Bell at shooting guard sometimes, Boris Diaw at small forward sometimes...or play with any and all of the above. It's a great fit. I've talked to Grant and I know he's over the moon about it.


Washington, D.C.: Which major sporting event is more protective, obsessed even, with tradition -- Wimbledon or The Masters?

Michael Wilbon: Great question...I've never been to The Masters and I have been to Wimbledon, so I might not have the requisite experience to answer this...But I'm thinking The Masters...Wimbledon just seems to be a way of life, and nobody's talking about the tradition but Americans.


D.C.: I think one of the issues with D.C. as a sports town, is that it's not a town. It's a metro area, across 3 resentful jurisdictions, now including rural areas and changing inner city neighborhoods. At some level, we all look towards Richmond, Annapolis, or the Wilson building. The Redskins do provide a common bond, but there's still a lot to keep us apart.

BTW, I lived in Boston and I think Boston values loyalty and locals, and the late Reggie Lewis could have been an important unifying sports figure. Certainly some of the Latin Red Sox players are now universal icons. But there aren't the generations of ties in D.C. that Boston folks have.

Michael Wilbon: Interesting observation...I particularly agree with your last sentence.


St. Louis: I heard this on the radio the other day and wanted to get your opinion: If you could have a home-run derby with five players, dead or alive, competing against each other, who would you like to see compete?

Michael Wilbon: Ooooooh, I like this question...But it's too easy for me...Ruth, Josh Gibson, Mays, Aaron and Bonds...Would I move one of those guys out for Mark McGwire? I don't think so. Ruth, Gibson and Mays are musts...Remember, Mays hit 660 and missed two years in which he very well could have hit 50 in each, which would put him at 760...


Washington, D.C.: I'm surprised you have not been to the Masters. What sporting event would you like to attend that you have not attended? Also, what is your favorite sporting event?

Michael Wilbon: I started at The Post doing college basketball, so the Final Four has been a must, and I've covered that event 24 of the 27 years I've been at The even after I became a columnist (1990) that was my event, and Thomas Boswell has gone to The Masters, as should be the case since Boz knows more about golf than I'll know if I live to be 90...But I'd love to go to The Masters, and I'm sure I will...My favorite event? The NBA Conference Finals, probably...tied with The NCAA first four rounds, tied with the NFL Conference finals...Surprised I didn't say Super Bowl? I could care less about the game's the lead-up that's so incredible to cover. Just like the NCAA Tournament is better the first two weekends than the Final Four, usually. I guess I'm seasonal. Ask me in May what my favorite sport is, I'm going to tell you professional basketball. Ask me in November, I'll tell you professional football...ask in get the idea.


RE: Sports towns: Which is better, St. Louis as a baseball town or Chicago as a football town?

Michael Wilbon: St. Louis is THE BEST baseball town, which pains me to say since I'm a Cubs fan. Chicago is a great football town, but not any better than Denver or Green Bay or New Orleans...


Arlington, Va.: For your mythical HR Derby, don't forget Ted Williams. If it wasn't for five seasons in WW2 and Korea, he would be up around the 700 mark.

Michael Wilbon: Of course, you're right...Ted would be up around 700...So maybe it's Ruth, Josh, Willie, Ted and who? My editor Erik Rydholm says, Sadaharu Oh...I like that...


Beaufort, S.C.: Bonds?? Another slap in F Robby's face. He has to be included.

Michael Wilbon: I thought about Frank Robby...586 or whatever it is...BUT WE CAN ONLY HAVE FIVE! Ruth, Gibson, Willie, Teddy...that four is a LOCK...NO changes...We might have to continue this next week...I gotta run and prepare for PTI. Everybody have a great, great week...mike


Frederick, Md.:

Who is in your Ultimate Foursome -- past or present allowed.

Where would you play?

Michael Wilbon: Okay, that's too hard on short notice...Is this me with three fabulous women of my choice? Is this me with three living golfers? We have to put some boundaries on this and we'll talk about it next week...MW


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