The Chat House with Michael Wilbon: NBA and NHL playoffs, Redskins and more

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, May 17, 2010; 1:30 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, May 17 at 1:30 p.m. to discuss LeBron James and the Cavaliers' playoff exit, the NBA and NHL playoffs, the Redskins, World Wide Wilbon (which is Not Just Another Sorry, No-Account Sports Blog), the latest sports news, his columns and anything else on your mind.

A transcript follows

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Baltimore: Wilbon, heaven-forbid the Wizards get the #1 pick in the upcoming lottery (review Kwame Brown results), but for the sake of conversation, are they in the John Wall derby like many other teams?

Michael Wilbon: Well, sure, I think ... Though it probably depends heavily on what the Wizards do with Gilbert Arenas, who last I checked played the same position as John Wall ... Hi everybody, good to be home for a minute, a pit stop during the NBA playoffs that'll take me back on the road tomorrow ... The NBA lottery is a good place to start, since it takes place tomorrow and since, yes, the Wizards are back in a familiar spot. There are plenty of teams, the ones with an established point guard, who would take Evan Turner of Ohio State with the first pick because he's 6-foot-7 and can play multiple positions and seems more polished than Wall, perhaps because he's played three years of college basketball, as opposed to one year. If I'm running the Wizards and win the lottery, I take Turner if I'm going to keep Arenas. Turner can also play small forward and give you uncommon versatility. But if the New Jersey Nets are picking first, it's Wall, right? They can trade Devin Harris ... or even keep him as a shooter if LeBron goes to the Nets.


Herndon, Va.: Mike,

The other day I read that the percentage of black ballplayers in the major leagues is down again this year. This bothers me a lot because I love baseball like no other sport and I want to watch the best play; when so many black Americans ignore baseball I know there are many potential major leaguers out there who will never play. Why do you think baseball is no longer popular in the African American community?


Michael Wilbon: Because basketball has favored nation status throughout Black America. I mean from NYC to Oakland, Florida to Seattle and everything in between. And there are some good reasons for it. Just take a look at the sideline and the executive offices. Black men serve in all the capacities the sport has ... and in a way that isn't the case in baseball and pro football. There's an upward mobility, in terms of various careers in the industry, that exists ONLY in basketball, and that includes writing and broadcasting and marketing. It's not just the only sport with no ceiling, it's perhaps the only industry with no ceiling. Seriously, where else would black men feel as comfortable as they do in professional basketball, from talking about it to playing it? So, this comfort level has manifest itself on all levels in what I call Black World. It's the No. 1 sport, without question, for young black men. And that's to the exclusion of everything else. It' worries me at times, but I understand it. Hell, I'm an EXAMPLE of it. It worries me because I played baseball growing up. Baseball was my first love, the reason I got into sportswriting ... But now, I barely watch baseball until August and I follow every dribble of pro basketball from Halloween until the end end of the season .


Washington, D.C.: How hard will it be for the Lakers to beat the Suns if Bynum's knee doesn't hold up?

Michael Wilbon: I think it's going to be difficult for the Lakers to beat the Suns even if Bynum's knee does hold up. I think the Suns and Celtics are onto something. They're not the most talented teams, but they might be the two best teams in the league, when all is determined. These might be cases when the sums are greater than the sums of the parts. But the Lakers do have one helluva size advantage, what with Bynum and Gasol and Odom going against essentially Amare Stoudemire ... The Suns really, make that desperately, need Robin Lopez, all 7 feet of him to come back from his nearly two months off injured.


Washington, D.C.: Mike,

Would Turner have to grow (size-wise) into that position? Also, what's your POV on Cousins from U-Ky.?


Michael Wilbon: Turner does have to put on some muscle and I think Cousins -- and I'm not alone on this -- has attitude issues I wouldn't want to deal with. But passing on him would be risky; maybe he's Zack Randolph and can give you 20 and 10 for 10 years...


Bowie, Md.: Mike, How much do you buy into the "package deal" rumor being floated about Lebron and Calipari? I completely understand why Cal would do it, but why would Lebron? Where's the benefit in attaching himself to a guy who, while a great college coach, washed out with the pros a decade ago? There are other proven pro coaches out there, some of them with Finals experience. Why wouldn't Lebron say to the Bulls or whoever "I'll play for you, but only if you hire Avery Johnnson"? Even guys like Lawrence Frank and Mike Woodson would seem like smarter choices. Are Lebron and Calipari just that tight? Is Worldwide Wes that powerful? And I can't imagine D. Stern would be thrilled by such a deal.

Michael Wilbon: Look, I love Coach Cal, love to listen to him, love to have him as a guest on PTI, think he's a GREAT college coach even though he hasn't won a national championship BUT I totally agree with you here. Let's not leave it out there that Worldwide Wes (some of you need to go to the google key) doesn't know basketball ... I don't think Wes is trying to bundle here. I think a lot is being presumed. But if LeBron is thinking along those lines I think it would be a huge mistake for him and for team that bought it. I think Cal can and should coach in the NBA again, but why LeBron would attach himself in such a way doesn't make sense to me. Byron Scott is still out there, by the way ... Avery Johnson is a great suggestion.


Los Angeles: Dwight Howard was lobbying the refs to hold their whistles before the series. The refs complied and not only was Howard dominated by the Celtics' physical play but he complained all game long. Ugh.

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, Dwight should just stop whining and play. So should his coach, Stan Van Gundy, who sets the tone for this. Dwight has to be the critical figure Tuesday night if the Magic are to bounce back and win Game 2, which is pretty close to a must-win ... I'm up and down on D. Howard, because he does have tremendous talent but then he also doesn't use it all too many nights. You should see the guy in practice, the hook shot with either hand. He can shoot it. I've seen Patrick Ewing work with him on it, and I've seen Howard swish them, one after another. Then, in the game, nothing, doesn't even try it. I don't get that. He has to score 20 for them to win THIS series and that's going to be difficult because Kendrick Perkins can guard the low post. Refs have nothing, I repeat nothing, to do with it.


LeBron to the Nets?: No way King James goes to Jersey/Brooklyn. Strictly second place afterthoughts in media markets for a King. If I'm right, can I come to a PTI taping, and if i"m wrong ... uh, you can watch me in my windowless cubicle?

Michael Wilbon: Only if you get it right. Where do you have him going?


Black World and Basketball: Hi Mike, just to piggy-back on your point that basketball offers a career with no ceiling for African-Amercians. I'd also like to throw out the military (Colin Powell and many others). I think the common denominator is advancement based on achievement. In a foxhole and on the athletic field, you dont care about your buddy's skin color, you just need to depend on them.

Michael Wilbon: So well said. Thank you for that. And yes, I agree absolutely.


Washington, D.C.: After everything the Wizards went through this season, how can they justify taking Cousins when his potential issues are very public? Zach Randolph is on his 4th team and only in the past couple years displaying some actual maturity, I'd rather pass on the next Randolph than watch Cousins be a flop for 4 years before getting it together and leaving.

Michael Wilbon: That was my point ... Perhaps I didn't do enough 'splainin.' Thank you for drawing that out. We agree.


Silver Spring, Maryland: Why do you even bother to write about LeBron's free agency? His free agency is like the NFL draft coverage on steroids. It also stinks that it's distracting from the actual NBA post-season.

Michael Wilbon: Well, it certainly distracts attention from the post-season; I'll give you that. I think I wind up writing about both, considering I've seen games in Boston, Phoenix and Los Angeles so far this postseason and will be hopping on a plane Wednesday morn for Los Angeles again ... Thing is, like the NFL draft, people love the LeBron talk. LOVE IT. Just listen to sports talk radio. And it's only going to heat up the closer we get to July 1.


Pentagon City, Va.: Just a comment and a question -

Enjoyed the LBJ article in the Post yesterday. Nice work.

Did you have the Magic coming out of the East before yesterday's game? If so, did yesterday's game change your mind?

Michael Wilbon: On ABC yesterday at 3:28 p.m. eastern time, two minutes before tipoff, I picked the Celtics to win the series and I certainly feel good about that pick after Game 1. So, no change of mind ...


Washington, D.C.: I know it's a long shot, but shouldn't the Wizards at least make an effort at wooing LeBron? Leonsis can't offer him the prestige that the Knicks or Bulls can, but other than Chicago--where, as you pointed out in your column, he'd always be in Jordan's shadow--he'd have a strong supporting cast and an owner with a commitment to winning.

Plus, if he really is concerned about strengthening his worldwide brand, being neighbors with President Obama(not to mention, Wilbon and Kornheiser) could only help.

Michael Wilbon: He'd have NO supporting cast here. None. There's no team yet. There will be. Ted Leonsis knows how to do this. He knows whom to retain and hire to put together a contender ... But that's too far off for a guy who needs to win something before 2014, which is about when the Wizards will be looking at seriously contending.


Washington, D.C.: Biggest playoff egg this year? Ovie with his team losing in the 1st round (He scored 5 goals in the series). LeBron's personal game falling apart in the Boston series. Crosby's 1 goal, 4 assist performance in his series?

Not talking team ... I am talking individual performances.

Michael Wilbon: Can I take the Boston Bruins, being up 3-0 and 3-0 in Game 7? If not, it's close. I think basketball players have a greater impact -- or should -- for one primary reason: ice time vs. playing time. Even Ovechkin and Crosby play about 22 minutes per game, maybe 26, 27 minutes in a Game 5 or Game 7. But LeBron is out there for 40 minutes ... So, I lean toward answering LeBron ... Great question by the way. Very smart question.


Arlington, Va.: Is it fair to burden my daughter with my sports allegiances? Like my grandparents and parents, I was born in Chicago and raised a Cubs' and Bears' fan. Although I long ago moved to D.C., I brought by baggage with me. As my newborn daughter grows older and hopefully becomes interested in sports, should I let her choose her own teams? Is it sports bygamy if she becomes a Nats fan and co-opts me? If I don't curse my daughter with my allegiances, I'm worried my wife (from Philly) will impose hers. What did you do with your son?

Michael Wilbon: You and I are wrestling with the same issue. My son is 2 and already has half the sports jerseys available to a kid that size. He jumps in bed and screams, "Watch basketball!" every night the last month and seems inclined toward sports in general, and I want him to root for the Bears, Cubs, Blackhawks, Bulls. And I'm going to take him to my hometown's sporting venues when he's old enough, in three or four years. I don't want to be one of those parents, but I probably can't avoid it. I'm not that disciplined, not that detached. I bought him a Capitals jersey and he wore that during the playoffs and screamed "Go Caps" a few times ... But he's got the Blackhawks jersey on now, which my wife is annoyed with, but hey. I think I want to teach him baseball by taking him to Nationals games. I'm good with that. But Redskins games? No chance. I'm not spending 3 hours in a car every Sunday and enduring all the cursing and drunkenness ... Not going to do it. In fact, got rid of our season tickets. Now, that has nothing to do with the team, really, and everything to do with the stadium. Maybe we just let them make up their own minds. Hell, half the time they hate whatever their parents like anyway. And if he goes to Soldier Field and wants to root for the Bears, I'll be happy ... But it's hard not to manipulate it.


Concord, N.C.: Michael,

The unfourtunate truth is that the NBA's inclusion of minorities at all levels is a big reason why closet bigots love to throw around the term "thug league" when talking about the NBA.

Michael Wilbon: Yep, that's undeniably true as well. Thanks for that.


Biggest disappointment: You know all the Caps fans (which, frankly, includes me) were ready to jump all over you on that earlier question, assuming you'd say Ovechkin!

Speaking of LeBron, Bill Simmons' column after Game 6 compared LeBron to Dr. J in that he wants to be liked but doesn't have the mentality to win at all costs like Jordan, Magic, Bird, Russell, etc., and will need another great player (like Erving got when Moses joined the Sixers) if he is going to win a title. What are your thoughts on that?

Michael Wilbon: I agree completely with Bill on that ... Hell, I wrote it in Sunday's Washington Post. Yes, that's why I don't think LeBron will wind up in Chicago, because there would be pressure there to win immediately. Not in New Jersey. And as for what I say relative to fan bases, if you read my column or these chats enough over the years you'd know I couldn't give a damn about what fans say or what their reaction is or whether they get angry or e-mail because I say something they don't like. You really think I'm going to shy away from either praising or criticizing Ovechkin in the future because some Caps fans, many of whom have been following hockey for all of two minutes and wouldn't know off-sides from icing, are upset? Sorry ... Doesn't work that way. Sorry ...


Wizards future: Wilbon, Let's say you were advising Leonsis in how to move forward. Assuming the Wizards generally stay where they are in the draft order how do you rebuild this team? Keep Arenas? How about Flip? Grunfeld? Be a player in the free agent market this offseason? Or wait till next year and try to go after Carmelo?

Michael Wilbon: Great question ... We're going to have to deal with this seriously next week after we've seen where the Wizards land in the lottery. So, we'll look at this primarily next week. If the Wiz win the lottery my answer would be completely different ... so let's see how it plays out. I think Carmelo is a guy who go elsewhere to sign his next contract ... it's not that he's told me anything, it's just a sense I get. The Clippers would be a place I could see Carmelo going, but yes, if I was the Wizards I'd be ready to pounce on Carmelo Anthony ... We revisit this a week from today!


Re: Thug League: Concord - it is a thug league, as is football. Secondly, one isn't a closet bigot if they call it a thug league. The NBA hasn't always been a thug league, but it has degenerated tremendously in the past 20 years.

If I'm a bigot, fine. But I don't think so. I don't equate thugness with blackness. Hell, I live in South Philly, and I cross the street when I see a white guy approaching.

Michael Wilbon: But when the NFL, which is 70 percent black, has thug problems I bet you don't call it a thug league. Why not? Because the biggest stars and white and the coaches, the great majority, are white and it seems white men have control of the league. So, no matter how many Pac Man Jones episodes there are it doesn't get labeled, does it. That, to me, identifies the existence of bigotry...


Washington, D.C.: Hi. Just a comment- I've been reading the chats for a while and enjoy your columns. A month (or two) ago a chatter wrote in to say he thought you were being hard on people who were writing in and you said you'd keep an eye out. I just wanted to say that I think you've done a great job. The tone of the chat has changed and I for one appreciate it. Good job. Thank you for respecting your chatters/readers!

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for keeping me accountable ... I'm not ever going to not call people out if I disagree...just so you know. That's not how I discuss sports with my friends or colleagues, so it's a style ... I gotta keep constant watch. Thanks.


Washington DC: Speaking of football stadiums, I've a life long Redskins fan, and it's the only NFL stadium I've ever been to for a game. I can't figure out why, but the gameday experience at Fedex Field is horrible to me and I'd much rather watch at home. As a sports fan, do you feel that way about Soldier Field or is it a better gameday experience than FedEx?

Michael Wilbon: Great question. I've been to all the NFL stadiums, 20 or more of them many times Giants Stadium (more than 50) and Soldier Field (more than 25) and Philly (Vet and Linc, more than 40) ... The Linc, by the way, is my favorite football stadium ... anyway, FedEx is too big by about 20,000 people. It should hold 70,000 not 90,000 and those extra 20,000 are just what I call posers, people there to drink and start trouble. Soldier Field holds about 63,000, which is nearly 30,000 fewer than FedEx. I was stunned when I went to Fed Ex for a Sunday night game (against Seattle) and heard almost no cursing, saw no fights, saw no drunkenness ... My wife says it was like the way things used to be at RFK, and I believe her. RFK held 56.000. But NO NFL stadium should hold 91,000 people, especially when it's located where Fed Ex is and people have to get there three hours early and drink for hours. I won't take my son there. I've already declared it, and my wife who is a lifelong Redskins fan and gone to games her whole life, wanted to disagree but couldn't. It's too bad. There isn't a stadium in the NFL I haven't been to (Okay, new stadium in Indianapolis) and FedEx is by far the worst gameday experience ... Think if you bought seats on an aisle and then when Dan Snyder expanded the stadium you were in the middle of a row! Are you kidding me. I won't sit in a middle seat on a plane for an hour, I'm sure as hell not sitting in one when I've purchased an aisle seat for $5,000 per season or whatever the price might be ... It's too bad because people here care so much about the Redskins and deserve a better experience. Baltimore, by the way, is the total opposite. It's a great experience, from the drive time to the in-stadium stuff. I love watching games there...


Cape Cod, Mass.: Coach Cal ... GREAT college coach?

I think he is a GREAT recruiter, but good to average coach. He had a team with incredible athletic talent and skill that got beat by WVU in the NCAA's this year. It was obvious to all us "armchair coaches" that when WVU's ball handlers were in foul trouble at the end of the game, he should have had his athletes apply more pressure (press) to WVU.

I know that one game doesn't make or break a coach, but many, myself included, would give him the "Great Recruiter/Avg. to Good Coach" evaluation.

Your thoughts?

Michael Wilbon: You are a persuasive person. You make a great case and I probably overstated it ... I'd say great recruiter, very good coach ... how about that? But your points are right on the money?


Bowie, Md.: Okay, admittedly I'm relatively ignorant on the NBA, particularly the business side, but why should it take until 2014 for the Wizards to build a contender? Why should it take so long? I'm aware they're starting with nothing, but the roster is only 12(?) guys.

With that small of a roster, it seems like change should come relatively quickly. I understand there's a salary cap and all that, but it seems like to be even a fringe contender, all you need is a couple of pieces, and a shrewd personnel guy should be able to get those pieces somehow.

I mean, I know what happened with the Celtics (worst to first) was out of the ordinary, but it did happen. Compare it to the NFL, where every year teams come out of nowhere to contend, and there's a salary cap and a huge roster.

Basically, I just don't see why any NBA team, with a quality front office, should ever spend more than a year, maybe two MAX rebuilding, and I'm not sure I'm ready to give the Wiz the "rebuilding" excuse over the next few years of 20 or 30 win seasons.

Michael Wilbon: Okay, perhaps 2013 but no earlier. It takes teams -- and these Celtics are the exception we'll get back to later -- years to get to the point where they can win in the playoffs. Let's take the Celtics. How many times did Ray Allen and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett get close but have heartbreak in the playoffs? You have to get not just good players, but usually a great player. Only the 2004 Detroit Pistons won a championship without a truly great player. Look it up. And you have to be lucky plus damn good to get that player. And even when you have him, he's going to get his heart broken in the playoffs first, unless he's Magic Johnson or Tim Duncan joining a David Robinson team that had already been to the conference finals when healthy.


Williamsburg, Va.: Looking forward to the Lakers/Suns game tonight. Hard for me not to root for the Suns. I'm hoping the Suns bench and there new players can keep the speed up. Do you think they can score over 100 on this Lakers defense?

Michael Wilbon: They'll have to in order to win. The Suns scored 107, at least, in every game against the Spurs in that four-game sweep. And they'll need to break 100 against the Lakers, on average, to win this conference final. I can't wait to see the start of that series tonight, on TV, then Game 2 in Los Angeles in person...Okay, gotta run and prepare for PTI so I'll chat with you guys next week, Monday as usual, from Bristol before Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals ... Be well and have a great week everybody ... Thanks for chatting. MW


Thug League: How is the NBA any less of a thug league than the NHL? Isn't the NHL the league where guys are practically encouraged to fight on the ice (compared to the NBA, where the league suspends players just for leaving the bench during a fight)? Isn't one of the NHL's biggest stars always getting suspended for dirty hits? How often does Lebron or Kobe get suspended for dirty hits? Just because there are big black guys with copious tattoos does not make it a thug league ...

Michael Wilbon: thanks for that ...


Washington, DC: There is obviously the potential for coded language when you hear people say, "I hate the NBA but I love college basketball." I personally love both the NBA and college hoops but I also can recognize that they are different games. I guess my question is, can you identify a legitimate (i.e., non-coded) reason for preferring a lower level of basketball (college) to a higher level (NBA)? Because to me, outside of the racial element, it seems like saying you prefer the MLS to the English Premier League.

Michael Wilbon: This is another smart question, centered around a great point ... Let's get back into this question next week. We'll be in the middle of the conference finals and it'll be totally appropriate.


Re: Sports allegiences: I have unapologetically saddled my daughter with my sports allegiances. I'm a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan living in the D.C. area for the past 12 years. It was difficult explaining to a five year old why I can never be a Redskins fan while at the same time cheering for the Nationals as the local baseball team. I figure she's smart enough that in due time she'll figure out who she loves all on her own (as long as it's not the Redskins which is grounds for writing her out of the will).

Michael Wilbon: thanks for that!


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