The Chat House with Michael Wilbon

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Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Tuesday, August 12, 2008; 1:15 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 1:15 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the latest sports news and his recent columns.

A transcript follows.


Arlington, Va.: Did you watch the Opening Ceremonies? How cool/moving was the story of the little kid who walked with Yao?

Michael Wilbon: Hi Everybody...Welcome back from Summer Break...Good to be here, especially at such a busy time in the sports world...We'll get to the Wrigley Field pitching/singing issues in a moment, but we have to start with the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

I DID NOT watch the opening ceremonies. I never do. Even when I'm there in attendance I don't watch. I watched in person in '84, '88 and '92 and then stopped. I love the parade of athletes, when they all march in and it's riveting. I get goosebumps every time. But the pagentry, I just avoid, though I hear this was the most spectacular thing ever...And I'm not about to argue with that or say I doubt it. I'm sure it was. It's just not something I check out, and I may regret it this time because I hear there's never been anything like it. I did get neck-deep in the story of the kid who walked in with Yao and if you don't get choked up at reading/hearing that story you need to get to another planet...


Take Me Out to the Ballgame: In all the great things you've been able to do in your career, how does starring in the seventh inning stretch rank?

And kudos to you for adding the Harry Caray "Let's get some runs!!!" signature sign-off that so many celebrities forget to do!

Michael Wilbon: It's at the top of my "Have Done" list. For those of you who don't know, the Cubs asked me to throw out the first pitch and sing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" during the 7th inning stretch. It was an absolute honor. I've been going to Wrigley since 1969 when I was 9 years old and my father, a White Sox fan who hated the Cubs, relented and took me to Wrigley. I never dreamed in all my years of going there and being a Cubs fan that I'd be asked to do it.

Okay, I bounced the pitch at about 57 feet and I thought I did pretty darned well in the singing, with everything being relative...I was better than Tony Romo, for damn sure. I was terrified about the pitch going on, which is why I practiced some long toss with my brother Don at his house on Saturday...but it didn't help that much because I couldn't warm up on Sunday...Anyway, I had a better time sitting in the dugout talking to Lou Pinella, Larry Rothschild the Cubs pitching coach, and new Cubs rock star Jeff Samardzija, who put a nice scoop on my short hop. I got to sit and do a half-inning of radio with Ron Santo, one of my baseball idols growing up...The whole thing was surreal, and I'm grateful for every moment of it. Every kid should be able to do that once in his life once he grows up...but I know I'm one of the lucky few.


S. Rockville, Md.: Not a sports question, but your chats are always about life, not just sports: What a horrible loss for all of us with Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes passing over the last few days. Both brought countless smiles to my face over the years. What are some of your memories of them?

Michael Wilbon: Amen. I never got to know Bernie Mac, even though we grew up on the South Side of Chicago at the same time and he was one year older, 50, than I am...Tony and I were asked to do a cameo in his Disney feature film, "Mr. 3,000" a few years ago and were thrilled to do it. But I never actually met him until afterward...All those years in Chicao and we found out we knew tons of the same people, probably played baseball against each other in Pony League or some such...I can't say I watched his TV show, which was popular and acclaimed, but I watched him in movies, was so happy somebody from that same plot of land I grew up on had made it the way he did. He was a brilliant comedian and obviously he'll be missed tremendously.

Mr. Hayes, for those of us who listened to R&B in the '70s, was a must-listen artist. The "Theme From Shaft" is one of the great, great songs of all-time in that genre, which is my genre. I don't care about rock or country or rap...R&B is my wheelhouse and men like Marvin, Luther and now Isaac Hayes are gone. Fortunately, each left a full body of work we can enjoy for the rest of our lives.


Reston, Va.: The Olympics at large is not must-see TV for me. However, when NBC tells me that Phelps is scheduled to race in 22 minutes, I find myself captivated to the TV. In the same vein, without Tiger's participation, I barely was aware of the PGA tournament this past weekend. Phelps has the "it" factor much like Tiger, Jordan, and other legendary athletes. Thoughts?

Michael Wilbon: I guess he does...I know he does for a lot of people. Not for me, because I don't care about swimming the way I care about golf and basketball and baseball and football. Having said that, I set an alarm to go off in my house last night and remind me that Phelps was in the pool at 10:10 eastern time and I wanted to see him. He's unquestionably the star of the Olympics from the American standpoint. He deserves every accolade he receives...But is he equal to Tiger for me? Ummmm, no. But I think I'm in the minority here and people who love the Olympics might find Phelps more appealign than any of the American team sport athletes.


Cleveland: LeBron is a free agent next season. The odds of him staying in Cleveland seem lower than 50-50. But, what are the odds of him staying in the U.S. and is David Stern worried? Heck, is the quality of play from countries such as Greece and Spain scaring David Stern into thinking the NBA's days of being the premier league (and only option for great players) numbered?

Michael Wilbon: I don't think LeBron is going to Europe. I don't think he's going to New York. I think he's staying in Cleveland for the maximum money. I think Kobe Bryant, who grew up a great deal of his childhood in Europe, is much more likely to go to Europe than LeBron. Kobe, for all intent and purpose, is a European kid. Most folks, black and white, see a kid with brown skin and an American surname and think, "Urban America." Kobe said this to me himself a few months ago. He's European in his sensibilities, which a lot of Americans don't want to hear, but is true. I could see him going, though I'd put that chance at about 40 higher. These guys stand to make a ton of dough wherever they play and I don't think the top tier guys will go to Europe. I think some secondary players will go because they can't max out here, and that will cause David Stern and the NBA some anxious moments but it won't lead to the trashing of the salary cap. Only a mass exodus of primary first-team all-pros would do such a thing.


Chick-flick Olympics: When did the Olympic coverage become so much more like a chick-flick? The human interest stories, every athlete has "overcome adversity" and such means that we have less and less actual coverage. Or am I imagining it all?

Michael Wilbon: I don't know. I suspect it's been that way since Atlanta, but this is the first time I'm watching the Olympics on TV since 1980...given the U.S. boycott that year, it's really the first time I've watched the Summer Games on TV since 1976, when I was a rising freshman in college. Usually, I'm front and I have no sense of the TV coverage...


Washington, D.C.: Thanks for taking my question, and nice effort from the mound at Wrigley the other night. Is there some explanation that I am missing for the attention devoted to preseason NFL football? At a time when baseball has exciting pennant races, the Olympics are starting, and the last major championship in golf was just completed, we are inundated with preseason NFL news and games, made worse this year by the ridiculous attention devoted to the Favre soap opera.

Baseball and basketball preseason does not, justifiably, receive even a small percentage of attention that NFL preseason gets. Often these days, 20 minutes of ESPN SportsCenter goes by before any highlights of a game or event that actually matters are shown. Can you enlighten me?

Michael Wilbon: If you watch PTI regularly or read my column you'll know I've railed against the preseason football obsession for nearly 18 years. It's lazy, it's agenda-driven, it's evidence of the NFL's ability to brain-wash most American viewers...Yet, the TV numbers say if you want to reach a big audiance, put football on TV. The preseason football numbers dwarf's not close. That doesn't mean I'll watch it. I get paid to watch it and I won't watch it. None of it. Zero. I've come to believe I'm performing a service by turning my back on preseason football. You should, too. I understand why the NFL pushes its product; that's called good business and nobody is as good at that as the NFL. But for the mass media to lap it up like dogs is me anyway. I'll begin paying serious attention to pro football Sept. 1 and not a day before.


Philadelphia: Michael, you're a sports writer who has always been sensitive to the political and social ramifications of the athletes and events you cover. Are the print media doing a sufficient job of reminding readers of the brutally repressive Chinese regime? Is NBC sugarcoating things too much?

Michael Wilbon: If you want information and insight about serious news issues as they relate to China, read The Post and The New York Times and others responsible newspapers with reporters and columnists who are unafraid.

If you want to cheer on the U.S. athletes, watch TV. It's always been this way.

The networks, and that now includes ESPN, an entity whose generous checks I cash monthly, are partners with the leagues and the events. They're not going to view them at a distance. The NBA Finals on ABC, which is the way the event is billed and sold, isn't going to lead with the Tim Donaghey news the way The Washington Post or The New York Times would lead its sports section. Not going to happen. So, you know that going in and consume your information accordingly. That doesn't mean the networks don't investigate and do tough reporting...just not with those they're partnered with...


Re: Reston: If it takes an announcment of Phelps (on in 72 minutes!) to get someone to watch NBC's coverage, what does that say about the non-Phelps coverage of the Olympics?

Michael Wilbon: Hmmmmmm...good question. Let's see how it all unfolds over the remaining 12 days.


Fairfax, Va.: Actually, I think "Chick-flick Olympics" is imagining it all. Or at least this person is imagining that the Olympics suddenly got that way. I think coverage has gotten better since the last games in terms of the fluff. However, I don't remember an Olympics this political...I'm too young for 1980 or 84, so maybe those were worse. True?

Michael Wilbon: You should go, seriously, and read about the 1972 Summer Olympics. Do yourself a favor. Don't be handcuffed to the present. If you're not aware of 1972 and 1936 then you don't really understand the Olympics; you're just watching sports.


New Orleans: What do you think about the possibility of a couple NBA stars playing in Europe? Good or bad for the NBA?

Michael Wilbon: Good for basketball...and that ultimately means good for the NBA. If the league, as we're constantly told, is going to look at having a presence in Europe and/or Asia, then wouldn't you want those leagues and markets to be as strong and as internationally visible as possible? Wouldn't the NBA want American consumers of basketball (and their products) to be aware of what's happening in Europe and Asia before a competition springs up? I'd think so, yes.


Tampa, Fla.: Any thoughts on USA Men's Basketball thus far? Or is it too early? And do you think the team has enough outside shooters?

Michael Wilbon: Too early. China and Angola aren't going to medal...Wake me when they play Argentina, Spain, Greece, Lithuiania...


Bethesda, Md.: Mike,

Why are you perfectly happy to talk about pro basketball during the offseason, even doing a couple of stories on the summer league on PTI, but have disdain for anyone who is interested in NFL offseason stories? You know you have a completely different attitude to the NFL's offseason than the NBA's.

The NFL season is painfully short, do you really expect people should completely ignore the country's most popular sport for seven months of the year?

Michael Wilbon: I probably do, you're right. But I don't talk about the details of summer league basetball on PTI or anywhere else. And I don't mind big-picture stories like Brett Favre, although that's the extreme example. I won't project about how good the Lakers are going to be in July, just like I won't get into silly, breathless forecasting about who's going to be in the Super Bowl or "How do the Redskins look?" at the end of June. Sorry...won't do it. I'm about the season and the sports at hand. Baseball, golf, the Olympics are what consume me now, not the NFL...At least professional basketball players are IN ACTION now in Beijing. That fuels some of the conversation about basketball...that and this stuff about whether LeBron and Kobe would play in Europe, which I'm not convinced they will. That's news-related, not speculation over the minute details of football, which will have to be explored in some other chat.


Madison, Miss.: I was born and raised in Hattiesburg, Miss. and graduated from Southern Miss. I saw Brett Farve play most of his home games in H'burg. I've been an avid Packers fan since Brett joined the Pack. I now have some concerns about him now playing for the Jets and what it do for his career and how he will be perceived when does eventually retire. Maybe it won't be too bad, like Joe Montana with the Chiefs. Any thoughts?

Michael Wilbon: Brett's legacy, on a football field, is in cement. He's a Hall of Famer, a Super Bowl winner, a three-time MVP. If he leads the Jets to 8-8 or better it'll be a successful season. The playoffs will make him a hero in New York as well as Green Bay. I hope the Packers go 2-14 and now I'll root for the Jets to be 10-6...But you know what? I'm a Bears fan. What else would you expect?


Columbia, Md.: I really wanted to ask a Redskins question here, but unfortunately I've caught Olympic fever and find myself dragging myself through the day from staying up and watching the Olympic coverage all night(Olympics in HD was what the Greeks must've had in mind when they organized the first Olympics). That being said are there any stories that are getting lost in the Phelps chase for gold and the U.S. basketball team's road to redemption coverage that we may want to pay attention to?

Michael Wilbon: Good comment and good question. Sadly, since I'm not there, I don't know the good stories that are being ignored, but I'm sure there are a great plenty...


State College, Pa.: "Michael Wilbon: You should go, seriously, and read about the 1972 Summer Olympics. Do yourself a favor. Don't be handcuffed to the present. If you're not aware of 1972 and 1936 then you don't really understand the Olympics; you're just watching sports."

And the 1968 Mexico City Games with Carlos, Smith, and the Aussie silver medalist who's name I've forgotten (he died recently).

Michael Wilbon: Don't know if anybody's still out there...We had some technology problems here in the studio and our guest, the Giants Antonio Pierce, sat down minutes early...Sorry...I'll answer another question or two in case somebody's still there...Yeah, I didn't mean to forget 1968...My point is, look back at Olympics past if you want to have any context...


Bethesda, Md.: Mike, glad to have the chats back. What do you think of DC's own Byron Leftwich going to the Steelers? Are his days as a starter over or do you think he will get a chance to compete for a starting job somewhere next season? Seems like a nice pick-up for the Steelers.

Michael Wilbon: I like Leftwich going to Pittsburgh...but I'm surprised some of these teams with awful QBs--the Bears for starers--didn't bring him in. I don't get it...then again, there's so much about the NFL personnel decisions that don't make sense and NFL people are too entitled, usually, to explain their thinking.


Washington, D.C.: If Padraig Harrington wins the Masters and US Open next year, would this accomplishment be deemed a Paddy Slam as distinguished from a Tiger Slam?

Michael Wilbon: I like PaddySlam. Very Good. Is he the player of the year, or is Tiger? Hmmmmm.


Rosslyn, Va.: Wilbon,

Your thoughts, as an avid Marvin Gaye fan, on the Nike Commercial using footage of Marvin singing the National Anthem at the NBA All-Star game. I'm always wary of the "sellout factor" but, man, that commercial, especially if you watch the entire thing, gives me the chills. In my mind, even if there is a bit of selling out, the possibility that an entire generation will realize that this -- not Whitney Houston's Super Bowl lip-sync job -- is the best version of the Anthem ever.

Michael Wilbon: It gives me chills every time I see it. And I LOVE seeing it.


Anonymous: Mike: how do you feel about the coverage of the Olympics games. The irony of the time lag is making it a great experience for me to actually see the live competitions. I thought some of these events would be tape delayed. However, is this about competitive sports or feel-good drama and tabloid updates? Men's gymnastics was good because it was pure unexpected competition. Everything else is like feel good story, now let's watch the German gymnast just profiled. though the French swimmer is nice looking, how good is she when she came in 5th or 6th?

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, I'm kinda with you...I like live events; hell, I'm a sportswriter and live for that stuff...On the other hand, I don't feel like I'm seeing and learning enough of non-American athletes. I don't watch the Olympics to treat it like an American coming out party. That's not my interst in the Games. If I was there I'd be trying to slip into venues to see athletes we're not going to see on NBC in primetime...But I'm not the average viewer...Nobody should be programming for me. Looks like I need to be back at the Olympics in 2012, in London...


Crofton, Md.: Every Olympic games (Winter or Summer) numerous people within the sports media ramble on about whether the Olympic games have any punch with the viewing public and every time the answer is obvious. Even bad Olympic ratings are good sports ratings. Only the Super Bowl beats the Olympics with consistency. Will this garbage ever stop?

Michael Wilbon: These discussions, in my opinion, don't need to stop. Some of the ranting is silly. But the Olympics, on many levels, seem less cotentious (maybe that's good) since the end of the Cold War...The ratings are lower than they were, but ratings have declined in all programming now that we have tons of choices...

Okay, gotta run and do PTI today, but we're on again for next Monday...See you then...


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