The Chat House with Michael Wilbon: NBA and NHL Finals, LeBron James, Redskins and more

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Tuesday, June 1, 2010; 1:45 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon will be online Monday, June 1 to discuss the NBA and NHL Finals, LeBron James's 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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Rockville, Md.: The Post wrote about it last week, so what's your take...LeBron and D.C.? Sounds far-fetched to me.

Michael Wilbon: Hi everybody! Making a pit stop here in D.C. before flying out to Los Angeles tonight for the beginning of the NBA Finals ... This is a GREAT question to start today's chat with ... LeBron to D.C.? Uh, no. I haven't read the piece yet because all I've done is fly and check into and out of hotels the last few days. I know of the piece ... have if in my briefcase for flight reading tonight. Let's just say, it ain't happening. It won't even cross LeBron's radar, that he should come to Washington. Now, I believe Ted Leonsis will make this the kind of franchise A-list free agents will want to come to very soon ... just not at this moment, not this summer. Things haven't evolved to the point where a player is thinking he can come here and win very quickly. But let me tell you what I'd be thinking about, as it pertains to the Wizards. Hedo Turkoglu, only one year into a max contract after a DISASTROUS season, says he wants out. Do you know how quickly I'd be on the phone offering Gilbert Arenas to Toronto? I'd have flown up to Toronto make that offer ...


NW, D.C.: Is D.C. on the verge of becoming a sports town? In the past five years D.C. has lucked into Ovechkin. I have co-workers already planning to go see the Nats for Strasburg, and the Wiz get the No. 1 pick, John Wall. That's three players with bright futures!

Michael Wilbon: I hope so. To be a real sports town you can't pin everything on one team ... Well, Boston kind of does with the Red Sox and that's a REAL sports town. But Philly and Detroit and Chicago don't do that. You gotta have three, four things working and EVERYBODY in town having seasonal interest. That means people obsess over the Capitals and Wizards in April and May, not the Redskins. When we have that, when the Nationals are more important in August than the Redskins, then we'll have a real sports town, the way that the Cubs are more important than the Bears in August, or the Indians are more important than the Browns in August, or the Phillies are more important than the Eagles in August ... Boy, that would be great actually.


Norfolk, Va. by way of Woodbridge, Va.: Where can I find those jazzy pocket squares Mr. Wilbon dons in the television studio?

Michael Wilbon: at any store that sells nice men's clothing. It ain't difficult, trust me.


Bowie, Md.: Mike, at what point do people start questioning Steve Nash's ability to lead a team to the Finals? He seems like a genuinely great guy and everyone loves the way he plays, but he's now 0-4 in conference championships and remains the only MVP winner to never make it to the Finals.

He hasn't gotten the Suns over the hump, and the Mavs only made it to the Finals after he left. And yet, when people talk about his history of coming up short, it's more sympathetic than critical.

This isn't to say that I think it would be right to hammer him. But given how popular discussions about who really is and isn't capable of leading a team to titles, its surprising (to me, at least) that Nash's name never really comes up given his history.

Michael Wilbon: I think Steve Nash's ability to create offense in a way few others ever have is what sets Steve Nash apart from others of his generation. I hear guys I respect greatly, like Charles Barkley and Byron Scott and Avery Johnson...hell Magic Johnson. A lot of terrific players haven't led their teams to the Finals, just not MVPs. Nash is the only one, as you correctly state, that won the MVP and hasn't been to the Finals. And it's possible he might have just had his best chance ... other than the year he and the Suns were hosed by the league when Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended in that series with the Spurs in '07 ... The Suns would have won that series and probably the championship that year. That thing always has a asterisk next to it for me (the Spurs swept Cleveland that year)...Nash has been on the wrong end of some of the most crushing defeats in NBA history, all of them with the Suns it seems to me. I wonder about the Basketball Gods rewarding Ron Artest and not Nash and Grant Hill, but I'm biased toward the Nash and Hill...not that I'm an Artest basher; I really like him actually and feel he really is misunderstood to a great degree. Anyway I think there are some cases where guys don't win in pro basketball but their individual brilliance and effect on a team are nonetheless obvious. Nash has had a career not unlike Donovan McNabb in some ways, though McNabb did make it to one Super Bowl. I hope Nash has that chance. You're right about everybody loving the way he plays and who he is; I'm guilty.

On the all-time "Wilbon Team" of just people I've enjoyed watching and getting to know over my 30 years doing this, Steve Nash is on it ... (So is Grant Hill, Barkley, Magic, MJ, David Robinson, Shaq, Chris Mullin, among others) ... But I wonder if the Suns can contend next year if they don't have Stoudemire ... Anybody who has given of his body, mind and soul to the game the way Nash has is good to go with me, even without the hardware he's still chasing...


New York, N.Y.: Have you spoken with any of the NBA Free agents to be for 2010? Do you think any of them have decided what they will do come July 1?

Michael Wilbon: I think all of them are still undecided ... even though a prominent Hall of Famer tells me I'm crazy, that at least a couple of deals have already been struck unofficially. I've spoken to LeBron, Stoudemire, Boozer...who else? ... not Wade, at least not lately ... not Bosh ... anyway, I don't think any one of those guys had made up his mind at the time, and we're talking about within the last few weeks.


Phoenix, Ariz.: Do you think a healthy Rajon Rondo will burn the Lakers defense the same way that Westbrook did in the OKC Series?

Michael Wilbon: Great question ... Rondo, while a TREMENDOUS athlete, isn't as big and as strong as Westbrook who can not only go by people, but also through people. I think that a healthy Rondo could lead the Celtics to the championship, but he didn't look healthy to me going into Game 6 and then he had that fall that bounced his hip off the hardwood. I think that more of the Celtics are hurting than Lakers ... even though Kobe entered the playoffs hurting big-time ... I'm taking the Lakers in 6 or 7 games, in large part because of the Celtics health, or lack thereof, and that Kendrick Perkins is one technical foul away from a one-game suspension.


New York, N.Y.: Simple question: NBA Finals. Who do you have, and how many games does it go?

Michael Wilbon: Lakers in 6 or 7 as I was just saying ... Do have to pin down the number of games now? If so, Lakers in 6 ... I just think the Lakers have the best player in the series, Kobe Bryant, and the best big man in the series, Pau Gasol ... Rondo is hurting, KG looks like the mid-January KG instead of mid-April KG. Perkins is one technical foul from a one-game suspension ... I just think those two shots Kobe hit to eliminate the Suns the other night in Phoenix took out the second-best team in the league right now and the Celtics aren't going to have enough to get past the Lakers ... who are still fuming over the Celtics pushing them around two years ago en route to winning the Finals.


Bethesda, Md.: Why is there so much time between games in the NBA Conference Finals and Finals?

Michael Wilbon: The NBA says television. Television executives (that would be, ahem, my bosses) say league decision. Right.


Herndon, Va.: Mr. Mike: A great win for Maryland in lacross, and certainly your Wildcats didn't play a bad game. Both men's and women's lacrosse seem to be getting a lot more attention and coverage. I hope it stays that way, but it's another sport I think is much better "in person" than "on TV."

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, I agree. First, big ups to the Maryland women for their victory in the NCAA Championship game over my Northwestern Wildcats Sunday ... I was there, watching that game in person, and I've seen a lot of my alma mater's games over the past four, five years ... It's quite a ride to win five consecutive national championships and when we were up 6-0 to start the game I thought it was going to be 6 ... But Maryland, to the Terrapins credit, made big adjustments and also played so intensely after being down early. They were terrific. It was an entertaining game Sunday, and I agree with you that like hockey it's a better in-person experience.


New Jersey: Do you think the free agents will wait for LeBron to sign first before they make their deals?

Michael Wilbon: Great question. I don't know. It depends on what comes from this "summitt" the A-list guys are going to have. If LeBron says to any one of these guys (other than Dwayne Wade, who's the only one with a championship to his credit), "Come with me" they'll have to think about it. But if somebody makes Carlos Boozer an offer on July 1, why would he wait for LeBron? I don't see it, but this could get really complicated depending on what these guys decide when they meet. Personally, I don't think much of anything will be decided. But it's cool that they're getting together.


Washington, D.C.: Who is the best player from the 1980's-present who never won the NBA title?

Michael Wilbon: Wow ... There's a list, right, and it's hard to separate the guys. Barkley, Stockton, Malone, Nash, Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, Nowitzki. Oh, wait, we have to add LeBron James to that list now, don't we? It's been seven years. Is that fair? Probably not ... So, let's take LeBron off that list. It's one of the above ... There were a few other guys, too ... like Fat Lever, the greatest player nobody knows in the last 40 years in the NBA. Alex English, Walter Davis, Ohhhhhh, Adrian Dantley, who got dumped by the Pistons before they won ... Anyway, I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody or several somebodies. Remind me out there in Chat Land.


Centreville, Va.: I keep reading about former athletes, especially NBAers, who have blown vast sums of money and are now bankrupt, the latest being Antoine Walker. Do you think it might be feasible for the league and the players union to work out some kind of plan to set aside some portion of a player's earnings into an untouchable trust fund that would kick in at the age of say 40 or so. There are just too many of these guys who have no clue how to handle their money. Of course, this would be separate from whatever NBA pension plan they may have.

Michael Wilbon: You raise a great question, first, and then a great point. I don't know if it's possible, though I like your suggestion. I just don't know if it's possible to prevent somebody from blowing their money if they're intent on blowing it. There's only so much you can do, and I know there are programs in place, counseling, professional advice that the union makes available ... but you can only lead a horse to water, right?


Rockville, Md.: Chad Ford (I think) said the Wiz have a shot at Rudy Gay, a Baltimore guy, does that seem likely to you?

Aside from swapping malcontents (Hedo for Gilbert) what do you see for the Wiz this summer?

Michael Wilbon: As I said earlier, IN A MINUTE! Yes, and I wonder if both Toronto and the Wizards would feel the same way about such a swap. By the way, I'm all over the Rudy Gay bandwagon. I know he's got a rep as being a me-first scorer, but you have to have a lights-out scorer to win anything and Gay, to me, is going to be a 25-plus per night scorer on another team ... On Memphis he has to share the scoring with O.J. Mayo, Marc Gasol, Zack Randolph. That's three scorers right there ... If I was the Wizards I'd jump on Rudy Gay in a heartbeat, especially if he gets to play with an open-floor point guard like John Wall who can get people the ball and is a pass-first guard ... I like that potential tandem.


Sacramento, Cali.: The NCAA lacrosse championships were this past weekend. Did you watch any of it? How tough was it seeing U-Md. come back to win over Northwestern? How about that sudden death goal to give Duke the victory?

Michael Wilbon: How tough was it? How tough would it be for you to watch your alma mater, reigning five-time champion, lose when you're a booster of the team, when your Goddaughter has played for the team, when you've become close with the coach and a number of players on the team, when you've gone to the White House with the team as a "member," when your Facebook photo for awhile was being surrounded by the women on the team and holding the NCAA Championship trophy? How hard was it? Now, I'm not ungrateful...I'm thrilled that we've won five. Who's won five straight of anything in Division I? John Wooden? Seriously, how many teams? So, I'm thrilled and grateful to be right there in the front of the bandwagon with a window seat. Oh, the Duke goal to win in OT was fabulous, just fabulous. Big ups to the Duke men for beating Notre Dame.


Chantilly: I read a couple reports about how -- after losing in Boston two years ago -- the LA team bus was stuck in the parking lot and the fans celebrated around them. Allegedly, soon enough Boston fans noticed the bus, threw rocks at it, and started pounding on and shaking the bus. Allegedly (again), that's what a lot of the LA players are remembering and focusing on as part of their motivation, rather than getting "pushed around" physically. Pure hokum, or is that playing a part? Or is the story purely apocryphal?

Michael Wilbon: I haven't heard a word of that ... not a word.


Tracys Landing, Md.: Just a follow-up comment: Glad you remembered Adrian Dantley, who is on the short list of most underrated in the history of the NBA. (But I could be biased, being a local guy who watched his entire career from DeMatha, Notre Dame and the NBA.)

Michael Wilbon: I've known AD my entire career and wish very much he has been able to win a championship ...


George Gervin: I think George Gervin would at least deserve Honorable Mention for never having won a Title, though many of his best years were in the late 70's.

Michael Wilbon: I was thinking of Ice as a hoops god from the 1970s, but if you want to extend him to the 1980s, okay, Ice ... He'd go way high toward the top of that list.


More Best Players Without a Title: Reggie Miller.

Michael Wilbon: Oh yes, I thought of Reggie WHILE I was putting the list together and still forgot. That speaks to my age and forgetfulness, not what I think of Reggie, who's a friend and GREAT guest of PTI when appears a couple of times every basketball season. Yes, Reggie Miller is on that list. Absolutely.


Reston: Mike - you are one of the few writers that understand lacrosee (i.e., your niece I believe). Hence, do you think the women's game should go by the same rules as the men ala basketball and hockey? The MD and Nothwestern game was filled with too many whistles play stoppages. All in all, a great final four weekend!

Michael Wilbon: I agree with you there were too many stoppages...Totally agree. But I don't think the women's game should suddenly become MMA ... I think it's okay to have differences in the game. I like the speed of the women's game, and the physicality of the men's game ... I'm fine with the way the two are played.


Re: L.A. team bus in Boston: Here's a link to the Yahoo story. Interestingly, it includes a quote from Pau Gasol that I've seen used in other contexts. "It was painful," Lakers forward Pau Gasol(notes) said. "It is a feeling that I want to keep in my mind for every single minute that I'm out there playing them." I think I've seen that elsewhere just talking about how the loss in general affected him.

washingtonpost.com: Lakers have a long memory of Celtics (Yahoo!, May 30)

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for sharing that ...


Bowie, Md.: Whose won five straight of anything? U-Md. women's lacrosse, in fact, I think it was seven straight.

Michael Wilbon: It was. You want to keep going? Think you'll get to double-digits in Division I of team's who have won more than five straight of anything?


Baton Rouge, La.: How about Clyde Drexler, Gary Payton, and Karl Malone? Sure, they made it to the Finals, but so did Reggie.

Michael Wilbon: Drexler won a championship with the Houston Rockets. Gary Payton won a championship with the Miami Heat. Karl Malone and Reggie got to the Finals and did not win. Let's not forget our history ... even late history. Clyde was past his prime by the time he won with Houston ... Payton was way past his prime when he won with the Heat ... but they did win.


Washington, D.C.: Yes the Suns have some nice. exciting players like Nash and Stoudemire, but neither of them have won anything. So then why were some people picking them over a team that won the title last year?

Michael Wilbon: Did you pick the Celtics, coming off a championship, to lose Game 7 at home to Orlando? Sure you did. Not every team repeats as champion.


Somewhere in N.E.:: Just curious: On those halftime shows, Stu Scott introduces you, JB, and then -- without fail -- the FIVE-TIME champ and MVP Magic Johnson. I love Magic, but come on, every time? Is there something contractual going on there?

Michael Wilbon: No, not contractual ... I don't know. I have to ask Stuart and our producers.


Laurel, Md: Mike,

If the Lakers win the title this year, do you think Kobe Bryant will be in the position to where we can legitimately compare him to Michael Jordan and where he fits with the all-time greats?

Michael Wilbon: Kobe's already one of the all-time greats. He's not Michael Jordan for a variety of reasons, not to me. For one, look at their stats some time. Look how light years ahead MJ is in categories like shooting percentage. And defensively, people make a big deal because Kobe says to Phil he'd like to guard Oklahoma City's Westbrook one night for a half or whatever it was. Hell, Jordan guarded the equivalent of Westbrook from the opening tip of Game 1 and it was understood he'd do it for 7 games. That was no big deal because he did it for 13 years. He and Scottie Pippen KNEW one or the other would take the best offensive wing player, at a time when almost every team had two high-powered wing players. You realize Michael Jordan, playing in a league with the Bad Boy Pistons and roughneck New York Knicks, once shot 53.8 percent for an entire season. Kobe's best shooting percentage is 46.9 in 2002...He shot 46.7 percent last year...He has a 46.8 in 2000 ... Jordan had 6 years -- I SAID SIX YEARS -- over 50 percent and three over 53 percent. His career percentage, 49.7, is three points higher than Kobe's BEST SEASON ... And that's just one aspect of the game. Look, Kobe is the best player in the league today, he can close MUCH better than LeBron ... But he's not Jordan. Never will be.

See, you got my juices flowing with that last one ... You guys really brought it today, as my friend Charles Barkley would say. Thanks for chatting ... see you next week from the NBA Finals in Los Angeles ... Have a great week. MW


The Best Straight in the NCAAs: Belongs to Division III Kenyon College Lords Men's Swimming. 31 straight consecutive National Championships. A record no one will touch and is still going strong.

Michael Wilbon: You're right, nobody will touch it...I believe I said Division I ... AND, I know there are Division II, Division III and NAIA records that are enormous and will never be approached.


Washington, D.C.: Can this Lakers team win games scoring in the 80s and low 90s?

Michael Wilbon: No. After the Lakers need to score and use their advantage offensively, in my opinion ... They'll want to be up around 100 or so per game. The faster the game the more it favors the Lakers.


Denver, Colo.: As a long suffering Nuggets fan, I'm heartened to see Fat Lever's name get mentioned outside of Colorado.

Probably one of the best point guards that Denver ever had.

Michael Wilbon: One of the best guards, period.


Celtics vs. Lakers, again: I grew up in the '80s as a Lakers fan (because of Magic) and loved the Lakers-Celtics clashes (now, I'm actually rooting for the Celtics because, being petty, I don't want Kobe to tie Magic with five titles). However, do you think it is good for the sport over the long-term to have two hegemonic powers that have won over half the titles? I'm sure the ratings will be good (much, much better than an Orlando-Phoenix series), but is it good for growing the game?

Michael Wilbon: Goodness, I love the admission that you are rooting for the Celtics because you don't want Kobe to tie Magic ... Wow ... That's loyalty. I don't know how many folks are with you. People LOVE Kobe Bryant in SoCal now, LOVE HIM. And yes, a win puts him with Magic ... Look, over the years I've become friends with Earvin Johnson, and I now work with him. I have to bounce this one off him and see how he feels about it. Wow! Anyway, yes, Lakers-Celtics is good for the sport. Football loves its parity. Baseball loves for the winners of its regular season to be rewarded. Basketball loves Celtics-Lakers. Okay, gotta run.


Greatest Player Question: You have to qualify that. I will argue that some of these guys didn't win exactly because of who they were as players -- Dominique, Iverson. And Ewing and Barkley -- did they ever let their teams down, and thereby, become slightly less than the "greatest player"?

Michael Wilbon: Did Barkley play with any All-Stars before Phoenix? Did Ewing play with any All-Stars in New York? Be careful. I don't know that they let their teams down. Their teams weren't as good as the Bulls were, or the Pistons, or the Lakers ... They came up short and weren't as good as MJ. But seriously, Barkley had a 44 point-24-rebound GAME against Seattle to get the Suns to the Finals in 1993. You want to argue he let his team down that year when he was the MVP and led his team to a championship showdown with the Bulls?


June 8th: We got a little event happening in this town next Tuesday. I know you'll be in Boston covering Game 3. But with the tip not until 9, will you at least catch a little of Strasburg's start?

Michael Wilbon: Ah, no. When you're working a game in any championship round you're at the park/stadium/arena hours before hand talking to players and coaches and officials...anybody who's there, basically. No, I'll see the highlights on SportsCenter. I'll probably be DOING SportsCenter, in fact, with Magic and Jon Barry and Stuart...And to be honest, I'm a lot more excited about the Finals that about The Kid's first start. He'll be around. He's not going anywhere, is he? I hope he's going 22-6 with 300-plus Ks five, eight, 10 years from now when Matthew (two years old) is old enough to enjoy seeing him in person.


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