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

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, May 24, 2010; 1:30 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, May 24. to discuss the NBA and NHL playoffs, LeBron James and his free agency, 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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Washington, D.C.: Hey Mike be truthful. How badly is Magic Johnson salivating over another potential Lakers/Celtics final?

Michael Wilbon: Hi a bad keyboard here which might affect our chat today...Thought I was answering a question about Cleveland's Mike Brown being fired as coach of the Cavaliers today when the words just disappeared from the screen...Gotta get a new laptop this week and I'm thinking about switching to a MAC...So many people say SO MANY great things about Apple's laptops...anything to the contrary I should know? Anyway, just returned from Boston where I spent some time yesterday with Celtics and Orlando Magic before tonight's Game 4, which I'm expecting to result in a sweep...Magic IS salivating over a Lakers-Celtics NBA Championship round...and he's not alone. The Celtics will be there, no question. The Lakers figure to be there, but the Suns are still kicking and will have something to say about that tomorrow night in Phoenix, having climbed back within 2-1 after winning last night...I'm more than fine with Celtics-Lakers...But I live a little bit of the time in Arizona and two of my favorite people in sports are Grant Hill and Steve Nash and I'd love to see them get to the Finals...So I'm conflicted...To tell the truth, I'd probably rather see the Suns win...But I give that about a 30 percent chance...If Phoenix wins tomorrow night, then things change a little...But believe me, all former Celtics and all former Lakers want Boston and L.A. All of them. Every one.


Phoenix, Ariz.: Hey Mr. Wilbon,

I thought that giving you the Myron Rolle greeting might help in getting you to answer me question. ...

What kinds of memories do you have from covering past World Cups? What is unique to the Cup in relation to any other sports gathering? ESPN is dedicating a ton of resources to SA 2010, and I really hope people take notice.

Michael Wilbon: I've never covered a World Cup...Was always planning to cover this one in South Africa but the introduction, thankfully, of family life is going to keep me at home with my two-year-old son...So, I can't tell you what it feels like or how it's different. It's one of two BIG holes in my professional resume...Haven't been to Augusta National, haven't been to a World Cup. ESPN is devoting all kinds of resources to covering the event, as should be the case given the size and scope and international importance of the event. There's actually a scoreboard here in Bristol (I'm here for tonight's pre-game show) that counts down the days remaining until the event begins (June 11)...And given the venue, South Africa, and the historic nature of holding an international competition there after years of absence from the sporting scene, it's going to be one of those things about which I read and hang on every single word.


Washington, D.C.: Outstanding piece in yesterday's paper! It made me feel good to be in DC. How long did it take you to write it and do you think that Ted Leonsis is on deck to surpass Dan Snyder as the "Grand Poobah" of local sports owners? Michael Wilbon: After decades without a true headliner, D.C.'s teams could each have someone front and center (Washington Post, May 23)

Michael Wilbon: thanks...Well, Ted's Capitals are certainly the best team in town right now (yes, better than the Nationals) but if the Redskins have a big season that will change. It's all so fluid. But with two professional teams, Ted Leonsis is a pretty important man here. And he has a much, much better relationship with fans, in general, than Dan Snyder. But Snyder has a much bigger product, an NFL team. Winning, ultimately, will determine the pecking order and who's on it almost always does.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Wilbon,

The Lakers or Celtics have won more than 50 percent of league championships.

One or the other (Lakers or Celtics) has been in the finals 38 times in 59 years.

11 times they have played each other.

Looking at it another way: Either Magic, Kobe, Jordan, or Duncan has played in something like 25 of the last 30 NBA Finals.

MLB gets a lot of flack for its lack of parity, but wow, these NBA numbers are just staggering to me. What is it that leads to such lack of parity in the NBA? Is it a problem? And if so, what can and should be done about it?


Michael Wilbon: Parity is not an issue, never even a stated goal in the NBA. That's the NFL's stated objective (Pete Rozelle, 1960s)...The NBA celebrates its stars, period. They don't approach sports/entertainment the same way at all.


Washington, D.C.: Michael, when will the Magic step up and stop letting themselves be punked? When will Howard step up and give an MVP performance, and stop acting like an AAU spoiled brat?

Michael Wilbon: Not tonight. And that's a great question. The Magic has two problems. One, they have no playmaker who can draw a double-team. And two, Dwight Howard hasn't yet developed a low-post offensive game that can draw double-teams. Shooters have to freed and if they're not guys who can take you off the dribble, they get open space from teammates drawing double-teams...Orlando, without Hedo Turkoglyu, has no way of doing that...So they're done. They have no way of freeing up Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson and J.J. Reddick...Vince Carter no longer can get to the basket whenever he wants. And a third problem is Orlando isn't the toughest minded team to come down the pike...But Howard is going to have to develop some low-post moves and the Magic will have to find a playmaker or Orlando is going to slip from the perch it's been on the last two years.


Arlington, Va.: Mike,

I'm pretty sure you've smacked down the idea that LeBron might actually consider coming to Washington. However, with the top overall pick, what kind of move(s) do you anticipate Washington making? It makes the most sense to keep Gilbert (mostly because it doesn't look like the Wizards will get value in a trade) and attract a third very good player to form a new nucleus. Any thoughts as to who that third player could/should be?

Michael Wilbon: I disagree...There are teams like the Knicks that might not get the A-list free agent it craves and will have to resort to Plan B, which is where Gil comes in. I'd aggressively pursue trading him if I'm going to draft John Wall...And what about a guy like Rudy Gay? He can flat-out score and would be great with a set-up point guard. Or what about keeping the money and trying to lure Carmelo Anthony next year? Just my thoughts.


Danville, Cal.: Mike,

You mentioned last week that the reason African-Americans gravitate towards basketball is all of the front office opportunities in the NBA. I find it hard to believe that inner city kids are thinking, "Wow Man, if I keep ballin' maybe one day I can be the GM of the Wizards and get Ernie's job." I'm thinking they're more attracted to the showman nature of the sport and are dreaming of one day posterizing somebody on SportsCenter.

Michael Wilbon: I said that's ONE reason, and that was after talking about the lure of the game, of the glamour and money and promise of the good life, and the upward mobility that comes in many way, including the front office and other opportunities. Please, don't try to condense what I say into one thought, especially on a complex issue. But I'll take a stab and accuse you of having an agenda that tries to reduce the desire of people to have goals that involve anything more than ones that are physical. You can come back at me if you sincerely didn't mean it.


Ft Washington, MD: I sort of agree with your article about star power in DC. Since you didn't use longevity and playoff success as criteria, the only place I disagree is that I think Gilbert Arenas was every bit the superstar that this city sorely missed. Granted I wouldn't put him in that category now but Arenas was primarily responsible for filling Verizon Center and had some really electric moments for a couple seasons. Why'd you exclude him?

Michael Wilbon: If you win one playoff series in five years, even though you missed big time with injuries, you're not the level of star I refered to in that column...I was talking about people like Jordan, Elway, Gretzky...Magic, Bird, Montana, Troy, Emmitt, Michael Irvin, Deion...Those guys weren't second-tier or third-tier stars. They were STARS...guys who could carry a team, guys who drove TV ratings. Gilbert couldn't even get the Wizards on network TV, barely even ESPN and TNT...That doesn't suggest stardom.


Williamsburg, Va.: Looks to me like the Flyers close out the Habs tonight. Leighton has been pretty tough to score on. I see the Hawks and Flyers going seven for the Cup. I know you grew up and still are Hawks fan. Do you see them hoisting the Cup this year?

Michael Wilbon: I hope so. The Blackhawks are on the short list of teams that have gone forever without winning a championship. The Cubs (1908) are the worst, then I think the NFL Cardinals (1947), then the Blackhawks (1961)...I was 2 1/2 years old and obviously can't remember it. I only remember the Blackhawks losing in the Finals (including a Game 7 to Montreal in 1971, leading 2-0 in Game 7 in Chicago)...and 1992 to the Penguins...So, I don't know if I see them hoisting the Cup, but I damn sure hope they will...


Washington, DC: Do you think Mike Brown should have been fired and what coach do you think Cleveland will go after to lure LeBron back to the Cavs?

Michael Wilbon: Even though Mike Brown's teams won more than 125 games the last two years in Cleveland, the NBA (and NHL) are about the post-season and the Cavs were a total disappointment the last two postseasons after being swept from the Finals in 2007 by San Antonio. So, I would have either insisted Mike Brown get an offensive coordinator (I'd have done that two years ago) or I'd have fired him. And I think this will help get LeBron's attention...but only if the Cavaliers also get an All-Star player to be a No. 2 player...That, without salary cap room, is going to be difficult.


DC: About Mike Brown. Did he get fired as part of an effort to keep Lebron (as in he gets to pick his own coach and supporting cast), or was it more typical -- your team underperforms in the playoffs, your star is about to bolt . . . time to start fresh.

Michael Wilbon: Both. Clearly both. If he'd won this year and LeBron was thinking of leaving in the aftermath of a championship, you think he'd be fired? Possibly. But I don't think so. The Cavaliers collapsed (and looked really, really bad doing it) and LeBron is at least thinking about leaving. The coach has to bear some responsibility for that.


Silver Spring, Md.: Enjoyed yesterday's column. There seems to be a convergence of luck and rotten play for D.C.'s teams to get four overall number ones in such a short period of time. Do you think Strasburg's arrival and Harper's in a few years (or less if he's brought up early ala Ken Griffey, Jr., Strawberry, etc.) will lead to a revival of baseball in DC?

Michael Wilbon: That would be great, wouldn it? What leads to building a great team in any sport is the presence of smart personnel people. In these days of free agency, you have to keep 'em coming and the franchises that fare the best have the scouts and executives to do that...and the Nationals will be exception.


What's Next for the Magic?: Mike, I enjoyed today's column and very much agreed with your assessment of how swapping VC for Hedo derailed the Magic offense by eliminating their only playmaker. Having Hedo and Rashard Lewis on the floor also created major match-up problems on the perimeter for opposing defenses.

My question is what's your next move if you're the Magic's GM? Assuming Hedo's not coming back, would you look to replace Vince? To replace Jameer Nelson with a point guard who facilitates more? Any chance the only thing this team needs is a new coach, or is that laying too much blame at Stan's feet? Thanks. Michael Wilbon: Magic is a mess, with little time to fix it (Washington Post, May 24)

Michael Wilbon: I was in the middle of answering that last question about great players assessing guys who play their positions when my keyboard went haywire...sorry...I have asked Magic's opinion about basketball, dozens of issues, for more than 25 years and I trust his judgement on these things ESPECIALLY point guard play...on offensive play in general because he was a Wizard at it. It's like talking to John Thompson about defense or big men in the low post, or to Larry Bird or Steve Nash about passing, or Ronnie Lott about tackling...I think certain guys are uniquely qualified to enlighten on specific things...Magic on point guards...


Atain, Washington, D.C.: Hey Mike,

So this Lebron hype is interesting, and the Bulls seem to be have everyone's vote. But what about New Jersey? What do you think their chances are with all the money they've got there?

Michael Wilbon: I think the new multi-billionaire owner, Prokhorov, is going to be hard to resist. I think he and all his billions, a new arena, the presence of part-time owner Jay-Z, will all help seduce LeBron...I do think not winning the lottery and the chance to draft John Wall will hurt the Nets in their pursuit of LeBron...It still comes down to how badly, how desperately LeBron James wants to win a championship and how soon. If he burns to win now, he'll go to Chicago or stay in Clevland if he's joined by an All-Star...If not, he'll likely go elsewhere...


Speaking of comments from the last chat...: This one ticked me off (and so did you for agreeing with it):

"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."

You called this a smart comment. I call it BS. Up until about the last five years, when the "one and done" aspect took in college ball, I totally preferred the college game because of:

--The tradition (can the Wizards or most NBA teams offer something like Maryland-Duke or Maryland-North Carolina, not to mention Duke-UNC?) --The intensity (virtually every regular season conference game means something in college; you can go a week or two without seeing an NBA team play another truly big game) --The tradition (even in a place like DC, alumni from places like UVA, Tech, Duke, UNC and Maryland rub up against each other, living off the last matchup; nothing like that in the NBA) --The style of play (because the zone was available and because of the greater length of time allowed in the shot clock, weaker teams had a better chance of competing against good teams in college) --The tradition (back in the day, a player would have 3-4 years of trips to opposing gyms to build up a history that usually culminated in a big game in the tournament; it's the single biggest thing that college basketball has lost in recent years)

I've got nothing against the NBA, which I think has hit on a much better blend of offense and defense in recent times, after the thug years (thanks to Pat Riley and the Knicks and then the Heat). But there is an argument for liking college ball better and it's go nothing to do with "codes." You should know better.

Michael Wilbon: Of course there are...But that depends on the reasons that are articulated...especially when some of the people flapping their yaps aren't smart enough or skillful enough with the language to hide their true feelings. Of course you can like the college game better than the pro game and have zero agenda...I'm talking about those who do have an agenda and can't adequately hide it. And I usually know it when I hear it. And I'm not alone.


Hardly ever can a hockey player be the biggest star in a four-sport town: Orr? - Were you thinking of him when you wrote hardly ever instead of never? He certainly nudged Yaz aside shortly after Yaz's Triple Crown season. Babe Parilli, Jim Nance and Gino Cappelletti were stars in Boston, but probably not outside New England.

Bill Russell? Unfortunately for him, he was a star in a sport that was largely ingored in the area until a critical mass of midwesterners, who came to Boston for college and stayed with the growth of high tech industries started supporting the Celtics, though I did love to drift off to sleep listening to Johnny Most broadcast a road game from the west coast on my clock radio, "Jo Jo to Hondo, two."

Was it that Boston had more of a hockey culture then with the Bean Pot and the schoolboy tournament at the Garden or something more insidious?

Michael Wilbon: Yes. Bobby Orr, from all that I"ve heard from my friends who lived in Boston at the time, was the biggest star in Boston...even bigger than Yaz...So, yes, it happens, but not that often. Gretzky didn't have any competition in Edmonton and was past his prime by the time he got to Los Angeles. Bobby Hull was an enormous star in Chicago, though I don't know that he was as large as Mike Ditka, as Ernie Banks...Might have been...I have a hard time separating them because all were enormous. Oh, Gordie Howe had to be the biggest star in Detroit...but I'd have to ask somebody who lived there if Bobby Lane (two NFL titles) was bigger, or Al Kaline. I suspect it was Howe...Was Bobby Clarke bigger than Julius Erving in Philly? I think Clarke was gone by the time Pete Rose arrived...Who was the biggest Eagles star when Clarke was in his prime? Jaws? Anyway, it happens but not very often in a town with all four major league sports, even three sports.


Stars vs. Parity: In your describing the different approaches toward sports/entertainment taken by the NBA and NFL, it struck me that both need a heavy dose of what the other has. The NBA playoffs this year have been dreadful from a competitive standpoint (lopsided outcomes in game after game through series after series), and the game is openly officiated in manner that favors stars and stops applying the rules down the stretch of tight games. Meanwhile, the NFL militarizes the length of every player's socks and legislates touchdown celebrations like the town elders from Footloose.

Working toward competitive integrity and celebrating the charisma of the players are both good things.

Michael Wilbon: I like that...Thank you.


Miami: I recently switched to a Mac after a life-time of PCs. Macbooks are great, much better than any PC notebook I've ever had. For some reason, in fact, the difference between Macs and PCs seems much greater for notebooks than desktops. So go for it, make the switch, you'll be glad you did!

Michael Wilbon: This is the ONLY advice I get. Every opinion seems the same. I'm dumbfounded by it, but my ears are open...I think I'm going to the Apple store in Bethesda tomorrow...


Silver Spring, Mayrland: I respect Magic's opinion too. But I still want to hear from scouts and others who have watched both John Wall and Evan Turner play. Isiah Thomas was a great point guard too and he was wrong about Marbury. I am just worried about this rush to judgment on Wall.

Michael Wilbon: Very smart comment. Thank you...Very smart.


NBA West Finals: I too want the Suns in the finals. How can they beat L.A. on the road? Will the zone continue to work? The problem I see is the Lakers (like the Celtics) dominate on 2nd chance points. Thanks.

Michael Wilbon: Yep, same thing I see. I think that Alvin Gentry's zone move last night was brilliant, but now he has to mix it up some because the Lakers have seen it and Phil Jackson is a master at countering everything. Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire haved to be great again in Game 4, and if they are and the Lakers struggle to contain Robin Lopez, then we've got a real series.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Interesting piece on the Cleveland Plain Dealer website about possible new coaches for the Cavs. Among the dream possibilities were Phil Jackson, Coach K (Danny Ferry connection), and Tom Izzo (Dan Gilbert, Michigan State alum connection). Your thoughts?

ps How was the Blackhawks game? Are you excited about a possible Stanley Cup ceremony in Grant Park?

Michael Wilbon: I read it...I cannot see Coach K going to coach LeBron...I think he was tempted some years ago to go and coach Kobe; they've had a close relationship for years since Coach K recruited Kobe when he was in high school...I could see Tom Izzo, but how do we know he can do what he does at Michigan State in the NBA. Phil Jackson in Cleveland? Why wouldn't he strike a deal with the Bulls, where he's already coached and is still friends with the owner (Jerry Reinsdorf), if he's going to leave L.A.? I'm suspect of some of the names. What about Byron Scott, who led the Nets twice to the Finals? What about Avery Johnson who can coach both offense and defense and led a team to the Finals?

Okay, gotta run guys...time to prepare for PTI and tonight's Game 4 of Celtics-Orlando...Look forward to getting home to D.C. tomorrow after 10 cities in 10 days...Next Monday I'll be in Los Angeles, either for Game 1 of the NBA Finals (which will begin Tuesday or Thursday) or Game 7 with the Suns...The latter would be so much more fun...Thanks everybody...Have a great


Richmond, Va.: Speaking of coded, and not so easily hidden, language, how about Flip talking last week about John Wall and applauding him for not wearing his pants low and for not having any tattoos. Flip seems to be stereotyping here.

While statistics probably bear out that the kid with the 3.5 GPA who isn't all tatted up probably is more likely to be a "quality" person than someone who is the converse, but let's not jump to conclusions here! I never thought of Gilbert as "gangsta" (and still don't) but he obviously has some issues between his ears.

Michael Wilbon: Very valid point, and I've been guilty of what you say Flip did (I didn't know this happened, missed those comments)...It's a generational matter, more than anything. We ALL have to be careful, and the presumptions deal with generation and culture more than race...


Bobby Clarke: Mike,

Bobby Clarke was bigger because the Flyers were the first Philly team to win a championship since 1960. I highly recommend Broad Street bullies, an HBO special on the 73-74 Flyers. It's terrific.

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for that.


DC: You often talk about how much you like March or April, when all the sports drama is in the air.

But, I think May is different, because on a Sunday afternoon you can switch between a huge hockey game and a minor golf tournament. I usually prefer golf. But, then I switch to hockey, and whoa, them are some Men playing that game. It's like switching between 24 and Desperate Housewives, and golf doesn't seem so tough.

Know what I'm sayin?

Michael Wilbon: Yes, I do. And I love May as well...Options of any kind are always good, and if you're a golf nut (I am) there's lots of stuff in May/June...Sometimes I'd be covering an NBA Finals game while sneaking back to the TV to watch the final drama of the final round of the U.S. Open...thanks for that.


Getting to know the sportswriting community: Just for curiousity's sake:

1) Who is the smartest sportswriter working right now? Not necessarily the best wordsmith, just in terms of raw intellect.

2) Who is the most athletic sportswriter working right now, not including the former athletes cum sportswriters?

3) Who is the most quietly kind/decent sportswriter working right now?

Or are they all crass, middling and uncoordinated, like Kornheiser? (this line, of course, is a joke)

Michael Wilbon: Remind me, if you can, of this next week...Tony K. by the way, was a pretty good high school basketball player according to one Julius The Doctor Erving...The two grew up on Long Island at about the same time. I've told Julius I don't believe it; he stands by his story!!!


Crazy Idea: Wilbon -

Here's a crazy thought. I read somewhere that Lebron adds upwards of $100M in value to the Cavaliers franchise. Assumning that's the case no matter who he plays for, why wouldn't some enterprising franchise offer him a significant ownership stake as part of his FA package? Is this within the Collective Bargaining rules?

Michael Wilbon: Nope, that would be salary cap circumvention. And I think that $100 million is NOT an exaggeration. I can see that, easily.


Tracy, Cali.: I know you picked Suns-Celtics. Are you sticking with that pick?

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, at least until tomorrow night's Game 4...If the Suns even the series why would I change my pick?


Reston, Va.: If the Magic get swept like we all think they will, does Van Gundy get fired?

Michael Wilbon: Great question...Yes.


Washington, D.C: Hey Mike! Alot of people are giving John Wall all kinds of props...But I really don't think he's a to be Superstart player..a good PG yes! Superstar no.

I would take Derrick Rose over John Wall in a heartbeat. So why so many people think Wall is and would be better then Rose?

Michael Wilbon: His speed and ability to get the right guy the ball where he needs it on the fly...I LOVE Rose. LOVE him. So, apparently, does LeBron James.


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