The Chat House With Michael Wilbon: NBA Playoffs, Lacrosse, Steroids and the NFL

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Wednesday, May 27, 2009; 1:15 PM

Welcome to The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Wednesday, May 27 at 1:15 p.m. ET to take your questions about the struggling Nationals, lacrosse, the NBA playoffs steroids in sports and the Champions League final.

A transcript follows

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Euro's Nob, Va.: Hi Mike,

Just wondering if you plan to watch the UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona. It's the last time the final will be contested on a Wednesday (next year it'll be held on a Saturday).

How big of a deal do you think a Saturday game will be next year for us Gringos?

Michael Wilbon: Hi everybody...I'm here in Bristol at the Mothership, in and out for the last two weeks for the NBA playoffs, working the Western Conference finals pre-game shows from the ESPN studios and traveling on some off days to the Eastern Conference finals in either Orlando (last night) or Cleveland. It's Heaven for pro basketball junkies, and I'm a card-carrying member of that group.

But yes, I'm going to take some time to watch the UEFA Cup this afternoon, which begins in about 90 minutes. You've got almost certainly the two greatest players in the world today, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, playing against each other. It's a world event and I hope Americans not normally given to watching soccer will do so today ...


Hypocrisy, USA: Whatever the truth of today's story about the Caps (and Nats) and steroids, it's beyond ludicrous to assume that baseball is the only major sport to have a steroids problem. The off-the-charts rise in the weight of NFL lineman over the past two decades surely can't be explained by natural evolutionary growth -- particularly not when the gain in weight seems to have been accompanied by an increase in speed. So here's my question: for all the people who are cracking on MLB for not getting its house in order when it was obvious there was a problem, why not crack now, and crack hard, on the NFL where the problem hasn't even been acknowledged?

Michael Wilbon: Great question/point. The truth is, we as a culture and we in the media don't often look critically at the NFL...I'm not talking about criticizing the local team for stinking or some decision the coach made on fourth-and-one ... I'm talking about the NFL as a whole. Baseball, as you accurately state, gets killed on the steroid issue and the NFL skates, even though there are players involved with performance enhancing substances ... Just listen to the Tony Mandarich story, for crying out loud. I think this can be attributed mostly to two things: 1) no stats matter other than baseball stats ... I'm talking about the career and season numbers. They only matter in baseball and those numbers are seen, historically, as being sacred. 2)We don't look critically at football because it's the real American passtime. We just celebrate pro football; we don't examine it. Largely, I fault the media. The godding up of pro football players and teams is scary sometimes. If they took steroids on the field at halftime a great many people would cheer them on. Football has a hold on America unlike any other recreational activity and almost nothing will make us say, "Hey, wait a minute here!!!"

_______________________ Busted Steroids Dealer Says He Sold to Caps, Nats(Washington Post, May 27)


Alexandria, Va.: Mike, Fellow NU Grad with a strange question: With Sotomayor's nomination it was mentioned that she ruled on Clarett's NFL lawsuit. I have had a question burning for years: Can a union collectively bargain discriminatory rules (age discrimination)? What if they negotiated no white players or no foreign players? Do you know anyone who has provided an answer to this?

Michael Wilbon: I don't see negotiating right to work terms as discriminatory, and neither does the court. Terms of work are negotiated all the time by unions and management, and they are still subject to the laws of the land, which would preclude what you suggest could happen in theory.


Annapolis, Md.: Why do you think lacrosse isn't more popular? I loved watching the men's and women's lacrosse tourneys. Too regional? Too preppy?

Michael Wilbon: I love watching lacrosse, too, and have watched more since my Goddaughter started playing seven or eight years ago than I ever expected to. To answer your question, it was exclusively an eastern seaboard sport until about five minutes ago. My alma mater, Northwestern, is the only school outside the eastern time zone to win the NCAA championship. But trust me, it's spreading. Stanford and Florida are two of the schools dropping lots of coin to create programs. I hear Tennessee is, too. Cal. University of Denver...Going to be interesting to see how lacrosse's growth will affect soccer.


Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Michael -

What's the logic behind allowing a team to call a timeout after the opposing team scores a basket and then moving the inbounding point from under the basket to past the half court line? I don't get why they do it.

Michael Wilbon: To allow for more scoring opportunities at the end of games and therefore more drama. Why does the NFL have different rules for stopping the clock in the final five and final two minutes of games? To get more drama into the end of the game, of course.


San Carlos, Calif.: Mike, Enjoy your work on NBA telecasts for ESPN. Please encourage Stu Scott to shave his head to better mesh w/his 3 bald cohorts. He looks like a hippy sitting there w/all that hair. If Orlando meets Denver in the final, how dramatic will be the ratings plunge as compared to say a LeBron-Kobe or a Kobe-Celtics final?

Michael Wilbon: Fair question. The answer is that we know they'll plunge, and a lot, but I'm not good on ratings numbers. People know Kobe. People know LeBron...They're just starting to care about Carmelo Anthony (even though he won an NCAA Championship with Syracuse) and Dwight Howard who is a willing and engaging young man...a delight actually. Basketball, unlike football, is driven by stars. They're the most identifiable sports stars in America. No helmets, no pads, no eye black ... You've known their faces for years and years ... LeBron's since he was 17. They're the biggest stars, they're also the best players, and people want to see them. Plus, the Lakers have their own built-in fanatical national audiance, sorta like the Cowboys just smaller. Denver and Orlando ... Wow ... I'd like it because I'm a basketball junkie. But I would think the audiance would be nearly twice the size for Lakers-Cavs, or should I say, Kobe-LeBron.


New York, N.Y.: Michael, I've been a fan of yours since I first started reading the newspaper growing up in Fairfax so I know where you stand on NBA refereeing: It's the most difficult sport to ref and while stars get the benefit of the doubt on some calls, there is definitely no league conspiracy. And I've always agreed with you on this point as I typically do on others.

But while I'm no LeBron hater - I think he's as likable as he is talented - in the grey area of star treatment from the NBA refs, I think the refs are making their calls a bit closer to the "league conspiracy" end of the spectrum rather than the "benefit of the doubt" end. Maybe I just don't remember how the refs called Jordan at a similar stage in his career, but I feel like Jordan earned the benefit of the doubt while LeBron has been pre- ordained with it. What do you think?

Michael Wilbon: Very legit question ... Just two years ago, when LeBron and the Cavs were swept in the Finals by San Antonio, people thought LeBron got NO calls...they wondered aloud about how he could get so few. So, I think there was some "earning" involved. Jordan got the benefit of the doubt to such a degree in his final seven or eight years people went crazy who were fans of the Knicks or Cavs ... But they forgot the years he didn't get the benefit of the doubt while getting slammed to the floor by the Bad Boy Pistons ... Look, I don't think the officiating has been good at all in the playoffs. My dear friend Charles Barkley has gone much further than that in his comments on TNT ... I think there have been lots of mistakes and missed calls ... but I think you can find them in every game, not just where LeBron hangs out.


Lax World, USA: Once lacrosse spreads to Florida and California it will explode. Those states (along with Texas) have the best athletes due to population and popularity of sports. My lax buddies and I spend too much time analyzing current athletes that would have been great lax players. The top of that list includes: Allen Iverson, Ladanian Tomlinson, Chris Paul, Wes Welker, Jeff Garcia, Nate Robinson, and Adrian Peterson.

Michael Wilbon: Remember, the best lacrosse player in history was one Jim Brown of Syracuse, and later the Cleveland Browns.


East Lansing, Mich.: Hi Mike, A couple of nights ago, Charles Barkley listed his "all-time starting 5". He included Bill Russell, Timmy Duncan, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and ... John Stockton! I can think of another point guard that won an NCAA championship, five NBA championships, and had his team in the finals nine out of the 11 or 12 years he competed. He also won numerous MVPs. What in the world did Magic do to Barkley?

Michael Wilbon: My five would differ from Charles'. I'd have Magic/Jordan/Bird/Russell/Wilt...That's mine, and I know I'm leaving out Jabbar, who won six championships and I believe five or six league MVPs...Okay, I could sub Jabbar for Wilt, but it seems to me any list without Wilt is a joke...I'd rather do top ten: Magic/Jordan/Robertson/West/Bird/Erving/Baylor/Russell/Wilt/Jabbar...and if we go to 15 I add Shaq/Duncan/Stockton/Mikan/...and I'll figure out if I'd add Kobe/LeBron and now quickly.


New York, N.Y.: If this dealer says he sold steroids to the Nats, then wouldn't that confirm Barry Bonds' claims that steroids don't really me you better?

Michael Wilbon: I'm not familiar with the story in enough details so that's why I'm avoiding direct questions about it...It's not on the radar in Orlando/Cleveland/Bristol, Conn...So I'll have to become more familiar with it tonight. Sorry.


Twinbrook, Md.: I saw an article yesterday that speculated that Iverson was through. If that is the case, does he make the Hall of Fame? Iverson mentions retirement (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2)

Michael Wilbon: I don't think there's any way Iverson will retire. I see him in a Charlotte Bobcats uniform next season, playing for Larry Brown...We'll see if my crystal ball is clear or cloudy. Hall of Fame? It would be based on his incredible appeal built on an exciting brand of play for 15 years ... but he never reached the Final Four, played in only one NBA Final ... His contribution to the game is undeniable, the way he played with such abandon and artistry for more than a dozen years at his size ... I don't know ... But he ain't retiring. I don't buy that for a moment. Not now. Not this summer.


Anonymous: "Remember, the best lacrosse player in history was one Jim Brown"

What about Jim Thorpe?

Michael Wilbon: People who played and observed in the first half century say Jim Brown ... This includes my late friend/mentor Dick Schaap, who played goaltender for Cornell who faced one Jim Brown. Schaap was also an historian, so his words sit pretty darned well with me.


Houston, Texas: Re: Lacrosse. The sport is even getting popular down here in Texas. I have seen various publications make the claim that it's the fastest growing youth sport in the country. However, I'm not sure that it will only draw away from soccer. Those attracted to basketball and football may choose lacrosse as well, yes? However, without big time professional leagues, don't you think most of the best athletes will still choose to play other sports eventually?

Michael Wilbon: Yes, I do ... But I think we have to see it play out for 10 years. I think it will be a lot like soccer in that kids will play when they're young, then drift to other things. Then again, I'm betting baseball loyalists thought that about a fledgling professional basketball league in the late 1940s, too.


Herndon, Va.: I don't know about the public at-large, but boy does my heart go out to Mike Tyson. For a guy who seems so miserable, I wonder what effect his daughter's death will have on him.

Michael Wilbon: I just sank when I read this morning about Tyson's 4-year-old daughter dying the day after a treadmill accident ... Truth be told, I cringed also because my 14-month old son walks onto the treadmill every chance he gets and just pounces with his feet to see if he can get the movement mommy and daddy get. Seems cute ... until there's an accident. My sympathies to Mike, and also to Monica, who has done so much to keep that whole Tyson family together. It's just unthinkable.


Laurel, Md.: Another fine lacrosse player: Wayne Gretzky. Many attribute he great passing skills from behind the net to his lacrosse training.

Michael Wilbon: I didn't know that. Thank you.


Arlington, Va.: How do you think the Super Bowl champions of 30 or 40 years ago (in their prime, obviously) would do if they could play the Super Bowl champs of the past five or 10 years?

Michael Wilbon: They were so much smaller, with rare exceptions. I think Mike Singletary, the great linebacker on the 1985 Bears, played at something like 230 pounds. I know those great Steelers linebackers played at 225, 230. And now, linebackers are playing at 260 and they're faster ... I don't kinow. Deacon Jones would frighten the pads off QBs today, just as he did 40 years ago. I'm of the age where I romanticize the players of my youth; they seem like gods to me and today's players don't. We all do that. It's nice to wonder and debate, but that's all we'll ever do. I hate those computer models that try and suggest an outcome. It's too bogus to entertain for a second.


Burke, Va.: Michael,

You and Tony have opined that Vick has paid enough for his crime(s) and that the NFL shouldn't do anything more to him. While that sounds compassionate, I don't think it would be the right thing for the NFL to do. No one has a right to work for a company or for that company to reinstate someone who had to do jail time for a felony conviction. Would the Washington Post or ESPN owe you a job after you were released from jail if convicted of a felony? Of course not. And even if they decided to rehire you, wouldn't they have a right to impose conditions on your renewed employment as a result of your criminal past? Why should it be any different for Vick and NFL?

Michael Wilbon: Every industry is different. Vick doesn't work for The Post or ESPN. He makes his living physically for a football team. And there are teams that have guys who've been involved in other activities some companies outside of sports/entertainment wouldn't condone. Look at some of the actors out there and the stuff they've been convicted of. Should they not work? John Daly. You think The Post or ESPN could keep a reporter/analyst who has had the shakes in public? I don't know. But this notion that Vick has to measure up to the standards of, say, a law office is preposterous. He's not a lawyer, or a doctor, or a teacher...He's a football player, period.


Chicago, Ill.: just curious, as a Bears fan, do you think the Jay Cutler deal makes the Bears the favorites to win the weak NFC North. I know the Vikings are good but Jay Cutler is better than Favre, Jackson and Rosenfels, right?

Michael Wilbon: It's waaaaaaay too early for NFL conjecture. Watch the basketball. Watch the soccer today. Watch the French Open. Nadal is fabulous to watch. Get a life. Forget the NFL for a few weeks. Please.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: So, is it too early to start looking to keep Commissioner Stern away from open windows on high floors and sharp objects?

Michael Wilbon: Ha...He'll never admit he wants Kobe vs. LeBron, but of course he does. His league showcase will have more viewers, lots more, and be talked about by more people in a kinder way if LeBron and Kobe, the Lakers and Cavs get in. But it doesn't look like both will. In fact, I could see the Nuggets winning Game 5 tonight in L.A. The pressure has switched now to the Lakers, who need to win at home to go up 3-2 before the action swings to Denver Friday night for Game 6. I admit, I want to see Kobe vs. LeBron and the window for it might not be all that wide since Kobe is 31 and other teams (Portland, Denver, Chicago, Orlando, Philly) are on the rise...But, I think Orlando is the best team out there right now. LeBron's absence from the playoffs would be felt, big-time ...

Okay, gotta go prepare for PTI. ... I think we have Helio Castroneves today as a guest. Thanks everybody. We'll chat next week on Monday, either knowing both finalists in the NBA or preparing for a Game 7 in the East ... which I don't think is forthcoming. See you then. Thanks. MW


How about Chauncey?: What does Denver's great run in the playoffs do for Chauncey Billups's legacy?

Michael Wilbon: If Denver wins it all, Billups can punch his Hall of Fame ticket, no doubt.


Portland, Ore.: With Federer beating Nadal on clay, in Spain no less, earlier this month do you think he finally breaks through and wins the French?

Michael Wilbon: I don't know ... I don't think so, but I'd like to see them play each other as much as folks want to see Kobe vs. LeBron.


Chicago, Ill.: Re: NBA Playoffs (and Go Cats Go!)

Do you think these playoffs will be a success for the NBA even if it doesn't get its LeBron v. Kobe dream matchup?

I'm a casual NBA fan, but I find myself completely won over by this new generation of stars and the competitiveness of some of these games. All four teams have personalities and story-lines galore to add to the drama. I would definitely watch a Nuggets/Magic finals. As a writer/TV commentator, would that matchup be a downer for you?

By the way, as a Northwestern grad, I'd like to congratulate the best darn women's lacrosse team in the land!

Michael Wilbon: Yes Sir! Congrats to the Wildcats on that 5th consecutive championship, specifically to the coach, Kelly Amonte Hiller, who's fabulous. And I like your observation about the possible finals matchup. I'm fine with it, but I'm also a junkie, which not everybody is. The point of the season-ending showcase is to attract people who wouldn't otherwise tune in ... which is going to be difficult without Kobe and LeBron.


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