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The Chat House with Michael Wilbon

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Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, May 4, 2009; 1:45 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, May 4at 1:45 p.m. ET to discuss the latest sports news.

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Springfield, Va.: What is the 2nd round NBA playoff series that intrigues you the most and why?

Michael Wilbon: Hi everybody...Sorry we're starting late but travel from LaGuardia, as you might imagine, is tough...Back from a few days of Bulls-Celtics, a speech (more like a conversation) at my alma mater, Northwestern, and the usual trip to Bristol for a Game 7 and a Game 1 yesterday...I did NOT see the Derby and haven't seen the clip yet, did see the fight, or should I say the Knockout, on YouTube, did watch the Caps beat the Penguins in Game 1 of their series...So, here we go. I care more about Lakers-Rockets than anything else, but I'm fascinated by Denver now. I think we're all sleeping on the Nuggets, who are playing SOOOOO well...This Birdman Chris Anderson development is really making the Nuggets a potent team, especially on defense now...I think the Celtics will muster up the strength to beat Orlando, but that series could go 6 or 7...I'm drained from the Bulls-Celtics series, which is the best early-round series I've ever seen...NOT the best series ever...too many conference finals and championship rounds that had so much more at stake and were just as compelling theater...But it was some series...It was an honor to just see it live and have access to the participants, especially both coaches--Vinny Del Negro and Doc Rivers--who were so generous with their time with the likes of, well, me.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Michael -- What do you make of the "Are you a loser?" question to Tiger on Sunday? Was he goading him in hopes of an on-the-air blowup? Seems like an asinine question to ask any athlete, let alone Tiger. Nance and Faldo immediately distanced themselves.

Michael Wilbon: I'm told that David David Feherty asked the question and completely not in the context you're asking it...Completely not what you're suggesting. I've had the entire conversation repeated to me now, and it was totally the right tone and I'm wondering if you saw it yourself, had it told to you in the wrong context, or are just trying to make something up here...

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Sterling, Va.: Hoops, Baseball, Hockey, Golf, Boxing and NASCAR, wow what a weekend for sports. Made a rainy weekend worth staying inside. So what was your highlight over the last 72 hours? And who is Bubba Watson and where did he come from?

Michael Wilbon: Great question...I watched hoops, baseball, hockey, golf...didn't watch NASCAR. Saw the boxing on YouTube...couldn't watch it live because I was at Game 7 in Boston...well, the aftermath of it. Was with Doc Rivers in his office long after the game, bugging him with more questions. Look, people who know me know I'm a lifelong Bulls fan...and a rabid one at that. But if my team is going to lose, better it to be in one of the great playoff series of all time and more importantly to a team coached by somebody who's from the same place as me, who grew up there when I did...I'm not a Celtics fan, but I am a Doc Rivers fan and I'm glad to see him advance to the next round...

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Maryland: What is now your NBA Finals? Also, do your Bulls resign Ben Gordan, and at what cost?

Michael Wilbon: Cavaliers vs. Lakers. I don't see any resistance on the horizon for Cleveland. The Celtics would just be too damn worn out by then and without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe. Houston and Denver could threaten the Lakers, but I don't see a series upset. And the Bulls, from what I gleaned over the last few days, are not going to re-sign Ben Gordon. I wish they would. Every team needs a shot maker and one with edge. A bad-ass, if you will. The Bulls don't have anybody else who fits either of those descriptions. That's the job Ben Gordon takes gladly every night, and excels at it. Anyway, without Gordon I worry...Yes, John Salmons, who was acquired by John Paxon in a late trade, can create his own shot, has great range and at 6-8 plays much better defense than Gordon...So, keep 'em both. If you want to be a serious contender you need 'em both. But that apparently won't happen. Makes me sad, and makes me wonder whether the Bulls, like the Suns, will allow a tight budget to prevent them from winning a championship.

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Washington, D.C.: Based on Manny Pacquiao's dominant performance against Ricky Hatton this past Saturday night, how much are you looking forward to a possible fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.?

Michael Wilbon: I think Pacquiao will knock Mayweather out within five rounds. I'm serious. I think I said in this space last week that Pacquiao was going to knock Hatton out. I don't know why everybody else didn't see the same thing. And he's going to knock Mayweather out, too. What a punch, the left cross...My goodness.

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Girls BB Q: Have you read this article in the New Yorker?

How David Beats Goliath (The New Yorker, May 11)

Great read and interesting point about perceptions of strength and adapted tactics.

Michael Wilbon: No, I haven't...but now I will. Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: Complete this sentence. The Varlamov save is the best individual play by a Washington pro athlete since... what?

Michael Wilbon: Don't get crazy...It's a FABULOUS save, maybe a game-saver, a series jump-starter. I don't catalogue every D.C. athlete play...Maybe only the best in the six or seven days since Ovechkin's goal against the Rangers, a critical score if I remember correctly. Don't fall into the trap most people fall into these days, as thinking everything good that happened today is the best ever. There's way too much of it without serious examination.

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Super Bowl London: What are your thoughts about the reports over the weekend about London pushing to host the Super Bowl in the next decade?

Michael Wilbon: I like it...But I am reminded by folks that U.S. cities are very much in need of the millions spent at Super Bowls. And there's no counter to that. None.

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Fairfax, Va.: Mike -

How difficult will it be for the Celtics to keep up the same intensity level after such an outstanding series against the Bulls? True, they are all professionals, but that kind of grueling series has to take a lot out of a team like that. Can they keep it going, or do they suffer an unavoidable "let-down"? Thanks.

Michael Wilbon: I don't think the letdown is going to come in Game 1. I think the Cs will be very up for that. I think the letdown will come in Games 2 and or 3. Thing is, I also don't think Orlando is resourceful enough as a team to take advantage of it. But I could be wrong. I was very down on Orlando when the playoffs started, but the Magic might have righted itself without Dwight Howard in that Game 6...

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Washington, D.C.: Fair or Foul Joe Girardi lashing out at Selena Roberts for her A-Rod book?

Michael Wilbon: Fair. Selena gets to write whatever she wants. But Joe Girardi gets to say whatever he wants, too. I didn't hear the whole thing, and I wouldn't even call it a rant. It was reasoned and rational..He has that right and I defend it.

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Washington, D.C.: You're in favor of a Super Bowl in London? im surprised. Why would a league host its championship (much less the Super Bowl) in a country where it doesn't play its games and has no franchise? Not to mention the fact that it's already hard enough for the "average" fan to afford to see their team play, and now you want to add international travel? I think this is a really bad idea. But hey, as a Skins fan, I suppose I don't have to worry about it do I?

Michael Wilbon: I tell you guys this all the time: leagues don't care about the average fan. They can say they do, but they don't. They don't make ANY OF THEIR PLANS for the average fan. None. You think the "average fan" can afford a $750 Super Bowl ticket, which was face value I believe.

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Reston, Va.: Michael

I've tried to "get" golf for years. This sports isn't geared to a working class person at all. It's to expensive ( clubs, bag, balls, lessons, greens fees, etc., etc., etc.) not to mention it's so darn slow to watch and to play. How can golf reach someone like me? Am I a lost cause in the world of golf...

Michael Wilbon: Probably, but not necessarily. I felt the same way you do and now I am now a golf addict...I care about it more than I've cared about playing any other sport in my life...Go to a driving range and commit to three lessons. Maybe it'll stick, maybe not. Give it a chance. Don't categorize. Plenty of working class people play golf. In Europe, it is THE sport of the working class, and is less expensive, though not cheap. I'm not going to pretend it costs the same thing as, say, bowling. It doesn't. Go to the range, take a couple of lessons, hit some buckets of balls by yourself, see if it grabs you.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think the NBA 1st round takes way too long? As great as Bulls-Celtics was, I liked it better when the 1st round was best of 5.

Michael Wilbon: Yep, me too. Bulls-Celtics is such an exception. It should be 3-out-of-5. In Wilbon's World, the NBA season would be 65 games long, the playoffs would be best-of-five in the first round, best-of-five in the second round, then two best-of-sevens.

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Reminder: Hey MW, thanks for the chats! Last week you wanted someone to remind you to answer the question about the double standard in the conduct in hockey and its fans and why no one makes a big deal about it...I wanted to add a query of your thoughts on the blatant bias in favor of Canadien players!

Michael Wilbon: Okay, this could take awhile. I've got lots of thoughts on last week's question about violence in hockey and why it's not only tolerated, but embraced, while the hint of violence in basketball is the subject of so much cultural angst.

Some of its simply rooting in tradition, the dumb notion that, "This is the way we've always done it, so this is the way we have to do it." All sports were violent at the turn of the 20th century and 50, 60 years into the 20th century. Baseball was so much more violent, so was pro basketball. Football had head slapping and neck wringing. Dick "Night Train" Lane would be in jail for the hits he delivered during his prime in the NFL...So, hockey has that answer to put forward.

But, much of the REACTION and overreaction and the "well, hockey's different" answer is related to race. People are much more afraid of black people being physical than they are white people, plain and simple. If white people fight in public it isn't seen as reflective of some greater societal ill, just a couple of guys fighting. A lot of the people who talk about "thug" pro basketball players will put on their jerseys and go the local arena and cheer for white guys to fight and swing sticks and brawl. We, and by "we" I mean Americans, are afraid of black people and violence. We're not as afraid, typically, of white people and violence, or even the threat of it. You can no longer fight on a basketball court, which is probably good. Hockey, on the other hand, defends violence, sells violence, celebrates it at every chance. I'm sorry, these two things are at odds, in my view. Hockey would be so much better without the fighting. Do I want to see Ovechkin and Malkin and Crosby play or a couple of goons batter each other, while I'm sitting there with a couple of 12 year olds? Sorry, I know which camp I'm in.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you see Mark Jackson being an NBA Head Coach?

Michael Wilbon: Yes, I do. I've known Mark since his sophomore year at St. John's. He had a great basketball mind then, and its only gotten sharper with experience and accomplishment. I don't know if the GMs feel that way, but you can hear during his broadcasts how bright Mark is. I know he's a damn good communicator; accomplished point guards almost always are. More people would be better served by Mark remaining a broadcaster, but I know he would like a shot at coaching and I hope he gets it soon.

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Anonymous: What NBA team would get the most boost from having a Ben Gordon? I think he would look pretty good in San Antonio...

Michael Wilbon: Spurs, Suns come to mind. How about Cleveland? Chicago would be nuts to just let that happen without trying to do a sign-and-trade or something. Knicks under D'Antoni? He'd fit there, absolutely. Look, he'd fit a lot of places because he can make shots like few people in the league and he's fearless. Totally fearless. You can tell I'm a huge Ben Gordon fan.

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Bethesda, Md.: "In Wilbon's World, the NBA season would be 65 games long..." So a 20 percent reduction in regular season games. Can you see the players taking a 20 percent pay cut? Or the owners getting 20 percent less at the gate?

Michael Wilbon: Players taking a cut, perhaps. Owners taking a cut, never. Players have been quoted recently, including Ray Allen, as saying a shorter season would be better for everyone and they'd take a pay cut. Consider also, their careers would last longer so they'd make much if not all of that money back...a lot of players anyway. It's not going to happen, but it's nice to consider.

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Burke, Va.: Hey Michael,

Why does it seem like some teams 'own' another team when they play them? For example, the Tampa Bay Rays have had the Red Sox number for a couple of years now. Is it match ups? Psychological? Both?

Michael Wilbon: Matchups are very important, yes. So is being unafraid. And that's the harder part for many teams.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mike -- I think you're off base regarding hockey and race. I have thought a lot about it over the years and I really think it's a psychological thing with the glass separating the players from the fans. I think it's easier for us to separate ourselves from violence when there is a barrier. With basketball, baseball and football, there is far less of a barrier (particularly basketball) and it becomes more "real". Just my opinion, but I think the race card is the easier answer here and you can do better.

Michael Wilbon: I think hiding behind the glass is an even easier and lazier card to play and you should think harder and be a whole lot more honest, if that's possible.

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Herndon, Va.: Should the NBA do something about all the timeouts and stoppages during the final minute or so of a close game?

Michael Wilbon: Yes, good question. Cut the number of timeouts. There are too many, though that is driven by commercial business and selling ad time. There's no flow to these games anymore because of all the stoppages in the end.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michael,

What are the chances that tonight's Nationals game is going to get rained out? Things are kind of calm right now, but they are talking about showers for the rest of the evening.

Michael Wilbon: What do I look like, Bob Ryan?

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D.C.: Is the Red Wings/Ducks series going to give the Bulls/Celtics series a run for its money?

Michael Wilbon: You can't predict those things; you just have to let them unfold. Yesterday's Wings-Ducks game was absolutely great, but it takes a string of 'em.

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Fairfax, Va.: Looks like the Wizards have fallen behind the Celtics, Bulls, Cavs, Magic, and Hawks. Would Blake Griffin and good health push them into that group?

Michael Wilbon: Well, Blake Griffin plus Brendan Haywood plus, of course, Gilbert Arenas. That's three NBA starters added to a lineup. That puts them back in the mix. Stuff can change in a hurry. If the Bulls don't adequately replace Ben Gordon...if, if, if. Something happens every year, like injuries and defections and underachieving.

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Arlington, Va.: I am in the middle of reading John Feinstein's book about the punch Kermit Washington laid on Rudy Tomjanovich and I believe that a big part of the reason given about the severe punishments for fighting in the NBA now is simply the outright danger. Hockey players are wearing tons of pads and helmets while basketball players are wearing jerseys and that's it. Big, strong, fast NBA players throwing punches could so much more easily maim, as in Tomjanovich's case, or even kill than most hockey fights. Obviously the culture of hockey fighting is stupid overall, but the pure danger factor is so much higher in basketball.

Michael Wilbon: Guys have been hit with sticks in the head in hockey fights. People have lay there on the ice in pools of blood--because of violent incidents, whether they were caused by fists or sticks. The NBA was right to rid itself of fighting, whether or not it was related to race. But--and not that you're doing this because I don't believe you are--the rationalization that violence is okay because people are padded, is one of the very arguments I take agitated exception to. Would you tell your children, "okay, if you pad up you can go out there and knock the hell out of each other"? It's still fighting or stick swinging. Have you seen hockey players' faces up close? You think those punches, which go to unpadded heads, don't hurt and scar? Please.

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Wilbon's Hockey Answer, D.C.: Your response to the hockey fighting question might be the most ignorant and racist response I have read in print. Unacceptable. And yes, I would gladly debate you on this.

Michael Wilbon:
What, you want to drop the gloves with me? You think I'm afraid to debate you? You picked a fight with the wrong guy, trust me.

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Violence and the NFL: What about violence in the very racially diverse NFL? It has to be the most violent sport by far in terms of physical injuries, many that are debilitating to the players in the short and long term. Don't we celebrate violence in the NFL?

Michael Wilbon: It's not fighting. The terms of the game call for hitting. Don't try and equate fighting, which also isn't allowed in the NFL, with tackling and hitting and blocking. If guys start fighting in an NFL game they're penalized, and usually thrown out of the game.

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Washington, D.C.: Two of the most feared brawlers in hockey happen to be black, Don Brashear and George Laroque for Montreal. Not sure I buy the race angle. However, could it be more about the fact that hockey crowds and players are predominantly white while NBA crowds tend to be more evenly split racially but the majority of the players are black?

Michael Wilbon: And so that would mean what? Yo mention two "enforcers" who are black in NHL history, which has 75 years worth of white guys fighting. Does that negate anything?

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Charlotte, N.C.: Any word on Redskins Report getting picked up by another network?

Michael Wilbon: Not that I know of...I haven't talked to George Michael lately, but I haven't heard any hint of Redskins Report as we knew it returning to the air this fall.

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Washington, D.C.: Lebron is getting his first NBA today. Over/under: 4.5 more. What ya got?

Michael Wilbon: Hmmm...Good question. I think I'd go with five. There's an interesting group of young and very talented players on the horizon who will be chasing LeBron. Guys like Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Roy. LeBron is the best, though. He'll be ahead of the field. Five sounds about right.

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Baltimore, Md.: No deal with Flip Saunders yet? Are the Wiz considering other coaches or are they just haggling over the finer points of the deal with Flip?

Michael Wilbon: Well, while I was away covering Bulls-Celtics, Flip Saunders was announced as head coach, so I presume it's a final sale. You know something you want to share with the house?

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Washington, D.C.: Michael, I believe the Redskins fan was asking you why YOU'RE in favor of playing the Super Bowl in London. We all know that the NFL doesn't care about the average fan, but do you?

Michael Wilbon: What does it matter if I'm in favor of the average fan? The average fan hasn't gone to Super Bowls in 20 years, so why would that become the basis of awarding Super Bowls? I do believe an American city deserves the money spent the week of the game, which is the only way "average" anybody will reap some reward. But, this is a party that's awarded to a great city so there can be a great party. So, why not London? That's the basis of my answer, yes. I like London. I don't genuflect before the NFL and whatever it's doing that day like most sports fans now. I like London. Again, I have no doubt that a U.S. city SHOULD be able to reap the rewards yielded by the Super Bowl...

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Arlington, Va.: Michael,

Do you think the view on fighting (between the NBA and NHL) has anything to do with the fact that the "Malice in the Palace" actually went into the stands?

Michael Wilbon: Yes, of course. And it's GOOD that the NBA said, "no more of this." My issue is, where's the loud reaction to violence on the ice, to pools of blood on the ice, to fist meeting faces when primarily white people fight in hockey? It's hypocritical at the highest level to say it's okay for one group of people, mostly white, but not for another group, mostly black. People don't want to look beyond their own baggage, and I get that. And if my giving my opinion on this offends some folks, too bad. This ain't a comfort station...except if the Capitals go up 2-0 on the Penguins tonight, then a whole lot of hockey fans here will be real happy...I'd like to see a long, competitive series with zero fighting...The skill of the players in this series is unreal...Can't wait to see it in person tonight...Have a great week everybody...Thanks for chatting...See you next week...MW

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Column chat suggestion: Hello,

I'd like to request that you hold a chat about race and athletics. I think it's a topic that needs much more attention than it gets for exactly the reasons highlighted by some of the responses to the hockey question. Thank you for not shying away from discussing this to date.

Michael Wilbon: Thank you. And trust me, I won't shy away.

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Wilbon is right, Baltimore: People are in denial here -- plain and simple. Pundits are always using basketball as an example for why the "thug" culture is a bad influence on young Americans. Are we now saying basketball has never been given the "thug" label? Please. If Phil Mickleson and Fred Funk got into a fight on the PGA tour this would be a YouTube classic and people would chalk it up to the "heat of the moment." Let's be real here.

Michael Wilbon: Thanks again.

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