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Michael Wilbon: NBA Playoffs, Federer vs. Nadal, Nats Ticket Prices and the NFL

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Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, May 18, 2009; 1:15 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, May 18 at 1:15 p.m. ET to discuss the NBA Playoffs and Draft, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the NFL in Europe and James Harrison's snub of Barack Obama.

The transcript follows:

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Washington, D.C.: It's hard to see Gruden as a replacement for Tony. Is that not replacing the color-man with another football guy? I loved Tony on MNF the past few seasons and will miss him. Is everything okay with him? He seems to be scaling way back on what he's doing (granted, from a pretty hefty load).

Michael Wilbon: Hi Everybody...Just coming in from Bristol where we introduced a pair of blowout Game 7s yesterday...and where I will return tomorrow (after unpacking and packing again) for the Western Conference Finals on ABC/ESPN...Okay, I obviously know the TK/Monday Night news is considered huge, though I don't know why people are so fascinated over who's announcing the games. I've never and I mean never tuned into a game or clicked one off because of who is announcing. Never Ever. That said, people are consumed with this stuff, so I'm going to deal with it just this once in today's chat.

Tony, as those of you who have followed his career already know, is afraid of flying. Deathly afraid. He's been obsessed with the MNF schedule every season from the moment it comes out in all three seasons he's been in the booth. I don't understand it, but as close as I've been to Tony for the last 30 years, I get it. I know it's very, very serious to him, as it was to John Madden all this time. And I know a network can't just sit around dealing with this fear all the time...So, Tony did this for three years and I'm very, very proud of the work he did for ESPN. I'm proud he took on the challenge and had the adventure. I liked being there for about 80 percent of the MNF games over those three years. I liked being able to just sit and listen to Joe T., to Jaws, to Emmitt and Steve Young and Michael Irvin and all the really smart, conversant people who are around each week for MNF...I had a blast. So I know that Tony did. I know it was hard, hard work...a lot of hours and study. But he'll pour himself into something else now...my bet is radio. That's just me guessing. Whatever it is, Tony will be his usual obsessed, neurotic, perfectionist self, and really good at it...

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Bethesda, Md.: Sorry if I've missed it, but have you opined on the whether Ricky Rubio should be the second pick?

Michael Wilbon: I think he should for most teams. Let's say the Wizards pick No. 2. I'd take Rubio and move Gilbert to the 2. It's not like Stevenson isn't expendable because he certainly is. He's a playmaker. He's played with pros the last three years in Europe. I think it would help the team in any number of ways. The way of playing three years ago when Gil scored 30 and everybody else filled in...forget that. It was the right way to play then, no question. But going forward...I'd like to see Rubio if they can't draft Blake Griffin.

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Washington, D.C.: Michael, I think the '83 Houston Cougars, the '85 Georgetown Hoyas, and the '08 New England Patriots and examples of the best teams that didn't win the big one. With the NBA Finals approaching, over seven games the winner is more clearly demonstrated. Who do you think are the best NBA teams that didn't win in the finals?

Michael Wilbon: Great question. Okay, I'm sitting with Bob Ryan who knows more about this than anybody. The '73 Celtics. Dave Cowens averaged 31 and 19 in the four games against the Lakers and Wilt in the regular season. But Havlicek got hurt in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Knicks, who went on to beat the defending champion in what would be Wilt's last season. Also, the 1991 UNLV team that was undefeated going into the tournament. The '83 Nebraska team that lost to Miami in the Orange Bowl. The 15-1 Vikings with Randall Cunningham when Gary Anderson missed the field goal in the NFC title game in '98 to the Falcons. Oops, you said NBA and I got carried away. In the NBA the best team almost always wins...The '76 Warriors, that were defending champs and lost in the conference finals to the Suns...Also, maybe the '89 Lakers going for a three-peat, who were 11-0 in the playoffs before Magic had the only hamstring injury of his career...That was a killer and led to the intro of the Bad Boy Pistons...Very good question...There's no clear cut favorite this year though. Orlando would be the only real surprise winner out of the final four in this year's NBA postseason.

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Washington D.C.: If the Wizards do not get the first pick in the NBA draft, do you think that a major trade can get done? Maybe they can trade the number 2-3-4 pick and a couple of contract dumps for, let's say, Amare Stoudamire and Phoenix's number 1?

Michael Wilbon: I like your thinking there...I really do. I don't know if the Suns are going to dismantle...They keep talking about keeping the band together one more year there...I'd love to see Amare and Gil and Butler together...Don't know how Ernie Grunfeld feels about that, but I like it. Problem is, do the Wizards have enough people that the Suns want. They'd surely want Butler, I would think ...

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Philadelphia, Penn.: I was at the Nats/Phillies game yesterday. There were a lot of Phillies fans there, maybe half or more. To be honest, though, I felt bad for the Nats and their fans, especially the kids. Do you have thoughts on why so few Nats fans come to the games? I thought they played really well, better than the Phillies actually. Is it the economy, or the team performance, or ...?

For what it's worth, I thought Nationals Park was really nice, and I think they really try to engage fans. Oh, and the running presidents were hilarious!

Michael Wilbon: Great question that probably is best answered by a thousand theories ... It's a little bit of everything, I suspect. The economy. The new ballpark isn't located in the smartest place imaginable, which hurts. Imagine if it was where the old D.C. Convention Center was and you could have that walk-by traffic! The team really is awful and the whole controversy with Bowden just makes the franchise look even worse. There's no big star to see, which matters here because D.C. isn't a great sports town but it is a great event town...81 games is too many to allow for the "event" feel of a Redskins game, of which there are only 8 played here...I don't think people, the ones I talk to anyway, feel connected with the team or have any faith in the product. I know I was so excited to see a team come to D.C., yet, I haven't even been to the new stadium...I've been to the new Yankee Stadium but not Nationals Park, which isn't a good thing ...

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Colorado Springs, Colo.: Hi Michael,

You said today that the Nuggets could be a rare team that catches fire late in a season and runs away with things. If they do so, who would they join on the list?

washingtonpost.com: Michael Wilbon - Anthony and Nuggets Finally Break Through (Washington Post, May 18)

Michael Wilbon: I mean really rare...like it never happens, which is what we were talking about in the previous question. The Pistons sort of had it happen in 2004 ... Those Suns in 1976 ... The Houston Rockets got hot in 1981 and went to the NBA Finals ... The '86 Rockets with Ralph Sampson beat the Lakers (as did the '81 Rockets) and both those teams lost to the Celtics ... But win it all? ... Oh, the Washington Bullets in 1978 went 44-38 (well, Ryan and I think that was their record) and won it all ... Maybe the Washington Bullets is the best answer to that question.

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Washington DC: I thought your comparison of Ovechkin the Beast and Crosby the Technician was 100% accurate. What comparisons like that can you make in other sports? I came up with Roethlisberger/Peyton and Lebron/Ray Allen. Any others?

washingtonpost.com: Michael Wilbon - The Unstoppable Alex Ovechkin Scores Goals for Capitals, but Also Gets the Point (Washington Post, May 6)

Michael Wilbon: I don't know that there are a lot of those situations, where things are relatively equal but the styles are so dramatically different. For instance, LeBron and Kobe are very different as players, though unbelievably effective ... But I can't say they are polar opposites as personalities ... Well, maybe they're pretty far apart, but not like Ovechkin and Crosby, which is what makes that rivalry sooooooo appealing. I gotta think about that some more ... Really good question ... like Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler ... Hmmm.

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London, UK: What is the deal with Roger Goodell's continued obsession with making American football relevant overseas? As an American living in London I find it laughable that we think that the NFL is anything more than a well marketed circus coming to town. England already has football (yes that one), rugby and cricket, and there are smaller leagues of hockey and basketball getting more popular.

It isn't just that the NBA, NHL and MLB are much more popular in various countries. It is the simple fact that basketball, baseball and hockey have been established sports for a long time in different countries around the world. Brandon Jennings and Josh Childress play for basketball teams in Rome and Athens in leagues that have been professional for a long time. And although Childress and Jennings have both publicly acknowledged that they notice being in the shadow of soccer (no different than NBA players playing for the Raptors in Toronto noticing that hockey is the top dog) there is a real history, culture and following for their teams. The same can be said for hockey in Sweden, Russia and the Czech Republic, or baseball in a small handful of Asian and Latin American countries.

Is Goodell aware of the current he is swimming against in trying to make a sport relevant in places where there is zero infrastructure, history or culture?

Michael Wilbon: This is too smart ... It doesn't even need comment, other than to say, thanks for saying it. I believe every single word of what you said and feel exactly as you do. But the NFL, which has the best product in the world in my opinion, doesn't like being told "We're not interested." It's like, "Don't you people know who we are? We're the superior NFL!" The fact that nobody cares in most of the rest of the world is something the league just cannot accept. It's kind of funny, really.

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Cabin John, Md.: Is hockey's problem not in TV contract and placement, but the fact that is not a great product on TV? Not only are the Caps sold out for next year, there are fans upset about it because they want season tickets.

I think live hockey is one of the most amazing sports to watch and keep you memorized. I have good eyes and a nice HDTV and still have trouble following the action on TV. Perhaps that is the problem not Versus ...

Michael Wilbon: It's not a Versus problem, though a lot of people don't have it. It's just a better sport in person, just as football is better on TV.

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Annapolis, MD: Hi-

Do you agree with the recent column by William Rhoden of the New York Times? He argues that Michael Vick has paid his debt to society and the NFL should allow him to play in the league again.

I agree with Mr. Rhoden. I realize that it is a privilege, not a right, to play in the NFL. But Vick has paid his debt, other folks have not.

For example, those in baseball who broke the law by taking steroids never paid their debt to society. In fact, some of the steroid-consuming baseball players are hailed as "role models" and will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

If you get caught and serve time (like Mike Vick), you are held up for shame. If you can weasel out of getting caught (like the steroid cases in baseball), you are a hero.

washingtonpost.com: Sports of The Times - The Case for a Second Chance for Michael Vick (New York Times, May 16)

Michael Wilbon: Yes, I agree with my good friend Mr. Rhoden ... Yes, absolutely.

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New Orleans: Can you help me understand James Harrison's reasoning for not going to the White House?

"If you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, he would have invited Arizona if they had won."

Michael Wilbon: No, I don't. But I'd defend his right to feel that way and express his feelings. I don't know Harrison and it seems almost sterotypically bufoonish ... but, maybe he doesn't like President Obama or his politics and just doesn't want to get into that conversation. Whatever it is, I don't think it's a big deal for him to stay home.

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McLean, Va.: I know the Triple Crown is awarded to the horse, but is there nothing that could be awarded to Calvin Borel except a few congratulatory slaps on the back if he also rides the Belmont winner?

Michael Wilbon: I've been asking the same thing. I watched the race on Saturday and wound up standing up (watching with a bunch of guys in the clubhouse after a round of golf) and screaming like a maniac ... I wanted Rachel Alexandra to win, though I admire the Kentucky Derby winner showing he's no fluke by coming up on the outside the way he did. Borel is amazing. I wish he could ride a different horse in the Belmont ... Who knows? Maybe he will.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. Mike: While it's way too early to count out your Blackhawks, would you agree a Red Wings/Penguins finals is the most likely (and the best for TV ratings)?

Michael Wilbon: Yes, while I'm rooting for the Blackhawks (down 0-1 already), Red Wings-Penguins is the matchup most likely to create some buzz for the Stanley Cup Finals.

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Bethesda, Md.: Why did Stan Van Gundy leave his starters in the game while up by so much. What if Dwight Howard turns an ankle? I know nobody got hurt, but it seems too risky to me.

Michael Wilbon: Have you seen the leads Orlando has blown? Van Gundy has to make certain in a Game 7. Has to.

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Md.: Hey Mike, Congrats (belatedly) on the newborn,

Federer beat Nadal yesterday. Do you think he can win at Roland Garros this year?

Michael Wilbon: Thanks...Actually, he's already 14 months old this coming week...Federer's victory yesterday, to me, opens up some possibilities. Yeah, I think Federer can beat Nadal. Yesterday's victory was important because Nadal had owned Federer for years on clay. And not only does Federer win on clay, he did it in Madrid, in Nadal's home ... Wow. Look, I thought two years ago Federer was done winning slams, and largely I was correct because I think he's won one in that time. But this has got to give him a real shot of confidence ... I can't wait for the French, which begins next week ...

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Arlington, Va.: Speaking of Bill Rhoden, he was on sports radio the other day and said he wouldn't be surprised if it turned out Cal Ripken had used PEDs to keep the streak alive. Has Cal ever answered the PED question, or been asked it?

Michael Wilbon: Cal's answered every conceivable question on this topic, and I believe Cal Ripken. So I would be stunned, yes.

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Vick: Certainly deserves a second chance. The problem is, does anyone want him? Nobody has to take him if they don't want to. You can always make a case against him that doesn't involve anything outside of football. He doesn't fit into our team plan, we already have who we want ... etc.

Michael Wilbon: Nobody is saying you "have to" sign Vick. But more than one somebody will want him. Multiple somebodys will want him. Bet on it. You think the Redskins aren't mulling it over? Please.

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Washington, D.C.: Another Beast vs. Technician comparision: Frazier vs. Ali. I might say Tyson vs. Holyfield, but Tyson was washed up as a fighter by the time he fought Evander.

Michael Wilbon: I thought about Ali, but he too was a beast, though earlier in his career. He was both a beast and a superior technical fighter. Just go back and look at some of the knockouts early in Ali's career. They were amazing, but he had his three-year layoff by the time he fought Frazier, and by then, yes, Joe was the beast.

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Fairfax, Va.: Not sure I agree with you re: the NFL and overseas. Their market in the US is all but tapped. Why wouldn't they be pushing themselves overseas? You can't tell me a Super Bowl in London wouldn't sell out and get them just as much money as it would here. So if that market is important to them, what's the harm in having it in London? Are they supposed to stop trying because it hasn't worked yet? I understand that NFL Europe lost money, but the Super Bowl most certainly would not. What it might do, however, is get them new customers in Europe, and that's the goal.

The overseas market has been good for MLB, NBA, hell, even the WWE has expanded overseas and raked in the bucks. I don't think the NFL can stop just because it hasn't happened yet. They need to keep trying.

Michael Wilbon: We give space to opposing views here in the Chat House ... Very well said, though I think Europe has already turned thumbs down on American football as a week-in, week-out product mulitple times already ... But hey, the French hated McDonalds when it first showed up and now you can find the arches right there on the Champs d'Elysee ... And it's packed, trust me ... I've been. So, anything's possible.

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Anonymous: "I thought two years ago Federer was done winning slams"

That was about the time Federer came down with mono, which is known for lingering and draining energy. Is it possible this is what was behind his decline, he's now back. I always thought his decline was too sudden.

Michael Wilbon: I doubt that's the only reason Nadal has whipped his butt until yesterday. I've heard it and don't buy it at all.

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Washington, D.C.: Why why would Marvin Lewis allow for yet another distraction with HBO's Hard Knocks after proclaiming that he was trying to clean up the team and its image?

Michael Wilbon: Because the Bengals rarely might good decisions as an organization. I like Marvin, but his choice of players and decisions like these don't make good sense to me. You want to see an organization that stays close to the bottom usually, check their decision making. Marvin the GM or whatever title he carries undermines Marvin the coach, which he's very good at.

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Alexandria, Va.: Mike, regarding the Philly fan's question, my wife and I are reasonably successful people with two young kids. We have plenty of disposable cash but when we looked at buying tickets for this weekend's games we were astonished at the prices. For the seats we were looking at, with parking and some food, we were going to have to pay close to $200. That's ridiculous. No way I'm spending that much. Not even to take my boys to a game. Tragic as that may sound. Maybe the Nats ought to consider lowering the price. After all, isn't it more attractive to have 45,000 people in the stands than empty seats?

Michael Wilbon: Well said. I think it is, but people who run sports franchises don't seem to think so.

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Harrison: The bigger deal is that professional athletes who are that stupid get quoted. There is no need for that information in the media. What good is it? None, and not newsworthy in the slightest except for its stupidity. Isn't the news media just edifying it on some level?

Michael Wilbon: Yes, yes, yes. I agree with you completely. I'm always ripped by colleagues for saying this but I've felt this way since I was 21 years old and a cub reporter. What purpose does this stuff serve. Who's enlightened? Not that Harrison not coming isn't a note, but a big deal? Not to me. He's not interesting enough a person. Had Arthur Ashe said this, or had Charles Barkley said it and started a conversation about some policy or another, fine it could be "a talker" as we say in the biz...But James Harrison? I'm not jazzed by it, frankly.

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Washington, D.C.: You would think with Yao Ming out, the Lakers would have had an easier time getting by the Rockets (talk about a front court advantage). So why didn't they just cruise into the conference finals like the Cavs? I mean, what's the biggest difference between a Kobe Bryant-led team, and a LeBron James-lead team?

Michael Wilbon: For one, the Cavaliers have beaten Detroit and Atlanta, which ain't much ... though I admire the Cavaliers for coming in and wasting no games, no possessions even. LeBron plays the way you want an icon to play ... and conduct himself. I love the way he and the team go about their business. Utah and Houston (even without Yao) were much tougher opponents, without question. Now, we'll see. Denver is tough, maybe the Lakers' equal. Orlando is talented enough to give Cleveland fits. No disrespect to the Celtics and Bulls, who gave up playoff thrills, but the real stuff starts now.

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Helsinki: Hi Mike, I agree that Federer's win yesterday will give him a shot in the arm and build his confidence for Paris, but I don't know if you actually saw much of the match. Nadal was just not himself after the four-hour match with Djokovich the day before. Federer had a relatively easy walk to the final against Roddick and Del Potro. Moreover, the Madrid court was apparently a "hard" clay court. I'll still take Rafa in Paris.

Michael Wilbon: Great point about Rafa being tired, potentially ... But this is why the French should produce some nice story lines.

Okay, gotta roll and prepare for PTI. Bob Ryan is sitting in for TK today, since he's up playing golf with Jaws in his charity event ... So, hopefully you guys will tune in ... and join us here next week. Monday's a holiday, so we'll pick a day and figure it all out based on my insane NBA playoff travel schedule ... It'll be posted soon. Thanks everybody. Have a great week. MW

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