The Chat House with Michael Wilbon: Shaq, Terrell Owens and March Madness

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, March 9, 2009; 1:15 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, March 9 at 1:15 p.m. ET to take your questions about Terrell Owns to the Bills, Shaq's antics, March Madness and the latest sports news and his recent columns.

Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.

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Shuffle off to Buffalo: I just can't see T.O. happy with the Bills. Not a big-time QB, not really a playoff contender team. I'm sure Buffalo is a nice city, but it's not Dallas or Philly. He'll be whining by Nov.

Michael Wilbon: Hi everybody! We'll jump right into T.O., March Madness, maybe a little A-Rod though I'm completely tired of that story already...some Shaq perhaps since I spent some time with him Thursday...Okay, T.O. and whining...What, he wouldn't be whining by November if the Redskins had signed him? Or the Bears? Or the Chargers? I agree with you about the situation, that he'll attack this poor QB, Trent Edwards who is a very nice kid, the first time he doesn't throw 18 passes in T.O.'s direction. Look, my position on T.O. is well known; he's a cancer and he'll ruin your team. So I wouldn't have him. Doesn't mean he won't catch 95 balls for 1,300 yards and 16 TDs because if he's healthy he will. BUT, then he'll undermind the team because they're 6-6 or something...It never works with T.O. the way teams hope it will...Never.

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Silver Spring, Md.: In this economic climate the Albert Haynesworth really seems almost vulgar. As a Redskins fan I am embarrassed by it. Even though the whole $100 million isn't guaranteed and he should help the defense, it just doesn't seem right. What do you think?

Michael Wilbon: Sorry, if you want me to act like Haynesworth is somehow tied to people being laid off, I'm not. Did you rail about Rush Limbaugh signing for 8 years and $500 million or whatever it was? Would you object to whatever Celine is getting for her latest concert tour? Of course not. You get what the traffic will bear. Now, if Haynesworth doesn't play worth a darn, he'll be ridiculed and that's fair...absolutely fair.

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Rockville, Md.: Hello, Mr. Wilbon. You know Shaq a little, just had a conversation with him for ESPN, I believe. Where does he get off calling anyone else a front-runner? Doesn't that term describe him to a T (along with things like "all-time great" and the like)? And more generally, what should we make of his attack on Van Gundy? Shaq is regarded as a nice and gregarious guy, but he trashes everyone he ever worked with as soon as he's out the door. Is it possible he's a Class-1 jerk?

Michael Wilbon: Great question. Shaq does like to stir it up. Sometimes, like the Kobe "How my #@$ taste?" lyric in that rap was over the line. But Shaq likes to run his mouth and entertain and people talk about it (like Tony and me) every day and he knows EXACTLY what he's doing. Now, the Stan Van Gundy thing got personal because Shaq told me he believed the whole thing should have ended on the court when Van Gundy said to Shaq's face "You flopped." And Shaq said, yes, he did. But Shaq and Van Gundy have a history; they didn't like each other very much when Van Gundy coached him in Miami and when Pat Riley took over...I'd say 90 percent of the stuff Shaq says and does is for effect and I think he's effective. Ask yourself this: who else in the NBA has the personality to entertain, even if he goes to far? Who? Dwight Howard? Maybe. It's an entertainment league and there's nobody out there pushing the envelope other than Shaq, among active players. It's Barkley and Shaq and that's it. Where's the color? A bland NBA is to nobody's advantage. It's not the NFL. Stardom sells, not the jersey. It's not a coach's league or a "watch the jets fly overhead before kickoff" league. It's based on who's great and who stands out...Shaq does. I'm not going to defend everything he says but I think the league is in trouble when he retires unless some personalities start evolving real fast...

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Germantown, Md.: I'm really impressed with Pitt's toughness and pick them as my favorite in the NCAAs. They just seem to beat their opponent into submission. Is toughness THE key attribute for making a deep run in the tournament, and if it is, who is "tuff enuf" to match up with these guys?

Michael Wilbon: I like Pitt for the same reason you do...The Panthers are plenty talented, too, don't forget. UCONN is tough, too, though the Huskies can't beat Pitt. Michigan State. Oklahoma perhaps. It's a short list. I want to see what unfolds this week before I pick a favorite. I've been leaning toward UCONN and North Carolina, but I want to see these conferences tournaments.

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Ashburn, Va.: Michael -

Thanks again for these chats. The fact that we are able to reach out and talk to you via this forum I think really helps get true and honest feedback and insight from you.

My question actually is based on one of the questions asked last week. Some Skins fan was pressing you about your "negative coverage" of the Skins. I totally agree with your position where it is your job to be objective and report things as you see it - hence objective and honest reporting.

What I'd like to know is whether it is hard to switch gears outside of work - talking sports with friends and family. Are you still passionate about teams you care about and have the same sort of passionate dialog the way when you were a teenager growing up? Or is that something you've had to sacrifice at least to some degree in your quest to become one of the best (my opinion) sports journalists out there. Being a sports fan myself I can't imagine not having that passionate feeling about the team one follows - it's what makes sports so great to follow.

Thanks again and keep up the good work!

Michael Wilbon: Thatnk you for the compliment...First, I'm not objective. As a columnist, I've got opinions and the moment you put forth opinions you're not even attempting to be objective and I don't strive to be objective or pretent to have any interest in it. When you're a reporter--and people are less and less likely to draw a distinction between the two--objectivity is what you're strive for. While I try to do plenty of reporting, I'm not a reporter anymore; I'm a columnist. I'm paid to be opinionated. And my personal style is to do it with much the same passion I would talk about sports with my boys, or my brother, or with Tony on PTI...Now, the difference (hopefully) is my passion and my opinions are rooted in knowledge of what's going on with teams and players and owners, and what's happened historically. Passion for me doesn't mean just screaming that I love something and not having the goods to persuasively argue a position. There all kids of passion...I'm not putting on a foam index finger and painting my face. I root for the Cubs, but I can also tell you when they stink...I don't sacrifice any of it, except when it's appropriate to tone it down, which is often. When passion doesn't incororate common sense and any sense of analysis, context and proportion, then it's just some fool screaming and there's way too much of that these days.

Usually, I don't have feelings about teams even though readers/viewers/listners think" "Oh, he hates my team" No I don't. In about 99 percent of the cases, "your team" doesn't even register with me. I don't care about the (fill in the blank), much less hate them. It's a team, that's it, not a crusade or an object of some emotion. You hate the Buckeyes because you criticized Coach So-and-So. No, I could care less about the Buckeyes (just to pick a team name) but I think your coach should be criticized. But people are so insane, more than ever, about wanting everybody to say nice things about their team that they lose all perspective, like the Redskins fan last week...Thanks for noticing it is much more complex than that.

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Ashburn, Va.: Mike: Are we seeing a trend with professional sports teams regarding their willingness to put up with troublemakers? Recent examples are Dallas' willingness to part with T.O, Barry Bonds' inability to find a home, and Manny Ramirez's trouble finding a team willing to pay his price. Is this a fallout of the nation's economic troubles or have owners and GMs decided the headaches that come with a clubhouse cancer aren't worth the expected benefits of having a superstar in the lineup?

Michael Wilbon: I wouldn't cite a trend here. T.O. and Manny found teams that paid them a lot of money...Bonds is 43 or 44 years old. As much trouble as he is, if Bonds was 37 he'd be playing right now. I think there is less tolerance for knuckleheads, but let's see how this develops...

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Philadelphia: Wilbon-

I disagree with you. You're right - the players should get paid, but the salary increases jack up the prices so high for tickets that regular people cannot attend games. There is talk of picking up the trash only twice a month now in Philly. They are canning cops, shutting down libraries and fire stations - in this climate, the salaries are inappropriate. I don't blame the players, but the cities for financing the stadiums and the owners for not agreeing on a reasonable cap.

Michael Wilbon: Cities financing stadiums is different from ballplayers being paid. Your team's owner may use it as an excuse to raise the ticket prices. But those TV contracts haven't dried up. The gate doesn't pay those salaries; TV deals pay the salaries.

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Tampa: Ha. We know you're not OBJECTIVE. We read your thoughts on McNabb all the time. Just as Sally Jenkins cannot be objective with Lance Armstrong. But we commend you for being up front about it - that's the difference between you and Fox News. They claim objectivity. Your readership needs to grow up a bit (Redskins fans, we're thinking of you).

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for that.

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Baltimore, Md.: I understand that Carolina-Duke is as big as it gets in college basketball, but I found CBS's switching (at least in the Balto-D.C. area) from the MVC Championship in overtime to get to the beginning of Heels-Devils to be bogus on many levels. Aren't these "mid-majors", whom we rarely get to see as it is, the very essence of March Madness? These one-bid conference championship games are almost always compelling, certainly moreso than any regular-season ACC game, regardless of who's playing.

Michael Wilbon: I'm TOTALLY with you and think switching from that tournament game to get to the first play of UNC_Duke is just short-sighted and stupid.

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DC: As an NBA commentator, I have a theoretical question for you. I watched the Suns/Spurs game, and it was really great, but there were moments where both teams seemed a bit listless. I'm wondering if that is due to a Sunday afternoon game.

So, take an average NBA team: Who would win a best of Seven between a team in its Friday night incarnation versus the same team on a Sunday afternoon? I'm taking Friday in 6.

Michael Wilbon: I haven't thought about it...Nice theoretical question...I have to ask some ex-players about that...I'll try my man Jon Barry before we stop chatting but I'm betting he's on the golf course...Good question...I think the two teams just got tired playing each other...it's such a rivalry--Spurs vs. Suns--that they're drained before these games are over...

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Washington DC: Based on the Pitt questions reply it sounds like UConn, Pitt., UNC and Mich. State are your #1 seeds?

Michael Wilbon: No, that question was in part about toughness...My No. 1 seeds at this moment are Pitt, UNC and the other two are still up for grabs...But if UCONN and Louisville play in the Big East championship game I' make both of them No. 1 seeds. If one falters then Memphis or Oklahoma would be my fourth No. 1...Gotta see how the week plays out.

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Arlington, Va.: Any chance, any at all, that Georgetown makes a nice run in the Big East tournament?

Thank you.

Michael Wilbon: It's so hard. They'd have to beat St. John's, Marquette, Villanova and Louisivlle just to get to the final, where they'd presumably play the Pitt-UCONN winner...That's if all the favorites win...That's four wins, to me, to get in the NCAAs. I think they'd have to reach the conference final, which I just don't see happening.

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Washington D.C.: Hi Mike - have you forgiven Jeff Jones yet? He has done so much for AU it's really amazing. Hear almost nothing about it. Maybe he prefers it that way. Regardless, what a different career than the coach from UVA, huh?

Michael Wilbon: Have I FORGIVEN Jeff Jones? Forgiven him? For what? What did he do? I'm just hoping he and AU can beat Holy Cross in the conference final and get the Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for the comment about people being less and less likely to separate reporting from other sports journalism... along those lines, an industry question: if WaPo and others are breaking all their stories in beat blogs and the such, which aren't necessarily strictly "reporting" forums, how does the consumer tell the difference? How do I separate the pure facts from the rest?

Michael Wilbon: I was just voicing that concern to another "old" journalist. I don't have the answer. Since I'm just about to start a new project that some will call a "blog" I have to make sure that's the case with my own work. I want to work with an editor just the way I have for 28 years...It's a new world we're moving into, a world I'm clearly not entirely comfortable with but excited about. I think the reader has to be more discerning than ever...

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who else in the NBA has the personality to entertain, even if he goes to far? Who? : How about LeBron? His off-court antics aren't necessarily as pronounced as Shaq's, but there's no denying that he can be entertaining -- take a look at his "family" commercials, his work on the Espys, etc. I think he's next in line as the off-court clown prince, once Shaq's gone...

Michael Wilbon: LeBron's got personality, yes. Yes. The commercials are great. It's not an outsized personality, but he's got that...Peyton Manning like understated personality...Yes. Still, the league needs an outsized personality or two...Like Shaq...Barkley. Darryl Dawkins. World B. Free. There's always somebody.

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Washington D.C.: Mike, you comment about personality in response to the Shaq question just made me start crying all over my Gilbert Arenas jersey...thanks a lot.

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, D.C.'s biggest personality hasn't been out there in awhle, has he? Gil, if he can again be an All-Star and lead a team deep in the playoffs, would be a huge personality. But you gotta play first.

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Newport News, Va.: Re Philadelphia's comment: It would seem there is a relationship between the public funding of stadiums and player salaries, even though we all know that most of the latter comes from TV. From a 2006 paper from the periodical Public Finance and Management republished here: The impact of new stadiums on professional baseball team finances.

"Between 1991 and 2003, U.S. cities spent approximately $2.3 billion on fourteen new Major League Baseball stadiums. ... In general, a new stadium does not correlate with increased spending on players until the stadium's fourth year. At that point, teams in new stadiums spend from $7 to $18 million more on players relative to teams in older stadiums. However, there is a rather narrow window during which team owners spend more on players; by the tenth year of a new stadium teams spend no more on players than their counterparts in older stadiums."

Michael Wilbon: Of course salaries increase in four years. No matter what kind of stadium you're playing in, new or old, salaries are going to be greater in 2010 than in 2006. Or bigger in 1995 than 1991. ALSO, I was saying that ticket sales don't pay for salaries in football, baseball and basketball; TV deals do.

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Big School Alumnus: As a graduate of one of the biggest schools in NCAA ball, I would much rather see the best two or even three teams from the WAC or the Sun Belt get in than the #9 Big East team. This week is just as entertaining as next week will be, as the Binghamptons and Louisiana Techs really play for all of their marbles.

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for that. I agree absolutely. And my team IS an eighth or ninth place team in a Big Conference (Northwstern in the Big Ten)...I'm with you.

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Reffing: Did you think the reffing in the Celtics game (I think it was Friday) was particularly egregious? I'm from New England & the local commentators were really upset . . . but I have to take regional bias into account. What did you think?

Michael Wilbon: There was nothing wrong with the officiating, so just stop it. Stop watching the refs and watch the games. And of all fans, nobody who roots for the Celtics, for crying out loud, should ever complain about the officiating. And yes, the local announcers cry and whine and root root root for the home team...Not just in Boston where my man Cornbread Maxwell does a fabulous job, but in EVERY CITY of EVERY SPORT. They're supposed to do that. They're doing the broadcast of the home team. In many cases the analyst played for the home team...But stop getting carried away with the refs. They're like me; they could care less about your team, much less hate your team.

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Herndon, Va.: Tiger Woods is back this week for his first stroke play event since his recovery. I like his chances at Doral, but I think the main thing is the interest and the viewership will be WAY up this week. Bet you're watching!

Michael Wilbon: You'd win that bet. I'm watching to see if Tiger can contend in a stroke play event, just as you are. Augusta is only a month away...Yum Yum...

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RE: Shaq: I disagree with you about Shaq. MJ NEVER acted like a fool to get attention the way Shaq does, and that never hurt the NBA brand image. Yes MJ loved to trash talk but that's not the same. I guess since Shaq can't let his play do the talking, he has to come up with other ways of getting attention.

Michael Wilbon: Yes, but when MJ was in the NBA you had a spectrum of personalities. You had Barkley and Rodman and Malone and Mr. Mum John Stockton...You had all sorts of colorful people in the NBA then, and MJ was a god...So everyody can't be him and shouldn't try to or want to. Shaq's done pretty well, winning four championships..Makes it easier to be Tim Duncan when ALL you have to do is play...

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Washington, DC: Best individual sports rivalry over the last 40 years: Ali/Frazier, Bird/Magic, or Navratilova/Evert? Best team sports rivalry over that same period: Celtics/Lakers, Yankees/Red Sox, or Duke/North Carolina?

Michael Wilbon: Love this. Okay, 40 years takes us back to 1969, so that includes Ali-Frazier, which began in 1971...Bird-Magic and Evert-Martina lasted longer, as TK points out...But as he also says, nothing is comparable in terms of world-wide interest to Ali-Frazier who were just enormous...they had international impact and sizzle beyond what most people could comprehend in the context of today's sports scene. Nothing today...and I mean nothing...has the scope or impact of Ali-Frazier. Team rivalry? Yankees-Sox, probably. Celtics-Lakers, the best of it, played out before 1969...

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San Jose, Calif.: Mr. Wilbon,

You mentioned the difference between reporting and commenting, and at the same time ESPN actually has a show entitled, "The Sports Reporters", should they change the name? I love watching you on on PTI, unfortunately my kids roll their eyes, except for Role Play, but that is another issue. Do you believe that with the transformation of our current media, the use of blogs, etc. that the notion of using an editor seems antiquated? I believe we are moving away from fact checking to who gets the story out first. We live in interesting times now, scoop seems to be trumping facts.

Michael Wilbon: You're 100 percent right. There's no arguing with your position, none. The notion of an editor isn't something than can even entertain. They'd start snickering. Of course, I'm serious. I talked to an editor this morning about this because I want her to edit all the basketball content that goes onto that page. I don't care if it's antiquated or not; I want to be edited. I need to be edited. Anybody who puts thoughts out there for public consumption, whether or not they know it, needs to be edited.

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Blatimore: Just a comment. I've been reading these chats for years, and am very appreciative that you do it. I would assume these questions get screened quite often, so wouldn't it just make sense if there are wahoos out there that want to complain that you don't like there team, that you just don't print it? I only mention this because this has come up time and time again in your chat, and your response has been consistent. Now I get your point, you would probably prefer not to get these questions. But to print a response that calls Redskins fans childish just seems like rubbing it in. You are a journalist and columnist, but you aren't like the guys on Fox news, and just the same not all Redskins fan are ignorant wahoos. I think you would agree every team has a bunch of idiot fans, you just happen to work in this area, so you get our ignorant fans. For the sake of the rest of us, please stop printing questions you think are stupid. Chances are if you think they are dumb, so do most of us.

Michael Wilbon: You make several great points. I will do a little "inside baseball" here. The questions are sent to me, and I 80 percent of the time go right down the list in the order they're sent to me from a producer at washingtonpost.com...So, there's not much screening. I've just skipped one question because it's 20 paragraphs long, which I won't even read much less submit, but that's another story...I don't think Redskins fans are any different, for the most part, so yes, your assertion that we're here in D.C. therefore I'm getting more questions from Redskins fans, is correct...Believe me, I'll take the questions in my chat over any chat any time, relative to other columnists and reporters doing these at other newspapers/magazines/outlets across the country...They reflect the concerns of Washington Post readership, which we all already know is one of the most enlightened, literate audiances anywhere...

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DC: Did you happen to catch the Hank Haney Project last week on the Golf Channell featuring your boy Charles Barkley? Thoughts?

Michael Wilbon: I have the DVD and haven't watched it yet...I will, now that I'm home, begin watching in tomorrow night...I was there for a bit of it...Can't wait to see it. So I'll have to report back.

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Rockville, Md.: Please explain how anyone (including you) thinks Memphis is any good. It's entirely their fault, but they have played absolutely NOBODY! (how many losses would they have had on the road in either the ACC or the Big East?)

Michael Wilbon: Nobody? Memphis played, to start the season, Georgetown, Syracuse, Gonzaga, who were all ranked at the time...Gonzaga and Syracuse are going to be in the tournament...They played Cincinnati, which has an outside shot at getting in...Tennessee, which also has a shot though they took a hit yesterday...They're 10-6 in the SEC...Memphis has a tough enough sked...How'd they do last year in the NCAA Tourament when they beat Michigan State, Texas, UCLA. How'd that go for the Spartans, Longhorns, Bruins...

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Fairfax, Va.: Who do you got tonight? George Mason or VCU? And is it possible that Mason could end up being the only local team to make the tournament (Or do you think Maryland is a lock at this point?)?

Michael Wilbon: I think American University is going to win and get in...So George Mason would make it two...I'm rooting for George Mason...I have no expert analysis to offer; I'll just be in front of the tube to watch...

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Glover Park: Hi Michael,

You're a very well connected man in NBA circles and here in the district. What are the rumors concerning the next Wizards coach?

Michael Wilbon: I've tended to stay away from the whole Wizards coaching issue for the simple reason--speaking of having no objectivity--that one of my closest friends is the interim coach, Ed Tapscott...I didn't want Ed to coach this team and I would never wish coaching on him because he's one of the smartest people I know and has been a successful executive in the NBA and has done so many other things so incredibly well (Agent. TV, you name it)...I don't know if he wants to continue this, but it's painful for me to watch a friend of 25 years suffer through this...So, I have some thoughts, presuming Ed doesn't want to do this anymore, about who I would want to talk to. Okay, I'll give you one name: Avery Johnson. I'd hire him in a heart beat if he'd do it. And Avery ain't begging. He can take any one of several jobs that figure to be open...But Avery would be No. 1 on my list...

Okay, gotta run. Gotta start preparing for PTI...Roy Williams is our guest today...See you guys Monday, the day after selection Sunday...Thanks for chatting everybody...MW

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Rockville, Md.: Settle a bet for me and my friend: Best D.C.-area COLLEGE basketball player in the past 30 years. I say Len Bias (I'm a UMD grad so I may not be the most objective judge). He says Patrick Ewing. What say you?

Michael Wilbon: Kind of a three-way tie for first for me and I saw them all, all the time...as in every game for years in college: Len Bias (for sheer talent and artistry), Patrick Ewing (for determination and results) and David Robinson (for carrying a group of guys to a regional final when it's not possible for the Naval Academy to advance that far in the NCAAs.) Seriously, Navy in a regional final? Anyway, I've covered a lot of great players here, but those three...Wow! And I broke in here on the end of Ralph Sampson's career...

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Oakton, Va.: Can you provide some historical perspective as far as where the current NBA stars rank in terms of "greatness"?

LeBron, Kobe, Wade and Paul are putting up some pretty amazing numbers... are they in the same class as, if not Jordan, how about Magic, Isaiah, 'Nique, or Bird?

I'm not asking about how great these players will be or what their legacies will be or if they are HOF caliber players, I just want to know if what I see from these guys each night is as good as or better than the great players of the previous era?

Michael Wilbon: Okay, somebody remind we that we'll pick up on this question next week...Promise.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Michael,

Just wanted to say "Congratulations to the Maryland Women for winning the ACC Basketball Tournament". That being said whether you are a Terp or Dukie I have to give the Duke women lots of credit too for fighting until the very end. Great game!

Terp fan.

Michael Wilbon: Yes, yes, yes. Congrats to the Maryland women's team...the only team I think can beat UCONN. O'm not predicting anything, I'm just saying if I'm Maryland I think I can take UCONN...I'm dying to see that game...

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