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

Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, June 7, 2010; 1:30 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, June 1 to discuss the NBA and NHL Finals, LeBron James's free agency, John Wooden's passing, 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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Portland, Ore.: Baseball question: Nats play the Reds in fine weather. Livan Hernandez, a bright spot on the mound. Attendance: so-so some 20,000. Meanwhile hapless Orioles host the Red Sox. Attendance: 40,000.

Question: Did D.C. get hosed by getting an NL franchise playing teams without built-in excitement among fans (except possibly the Mets and Phils)? Just asking.

Michael Wilbon: Hi everybody ... In Los Angeles for the NBA Finals and happy to join you guys today. But I'll start with this really good question about the Nationals and attendance back home. Obviously, the Red Sox and Yankees produce sellouts wherever they go and the Orioles, the worst team in baseball, benefited from that ... But hosed? The Nationals are an improving franchise with a nice new ballpark and a potential star or two on the horizon. I can't see that as a bad thing, just because the Yankees and Red Sox don't play there. The Wizards, under Susan O'Malley, tried to live off the interest of other teams with various campaigns like "Come See The Dream Team" in the 1993 season, where you paid to get a bundle of tickets to see Jordan/Pippen, Ewing, Robinson, Malone/Stockton, Barkley, Drexler ... and it never worked. You have to make your own team worth marketing. If the Nationals are good enough, people won't fill the stands in D.C.? I don't buy it. Look at the Capitals. Look at the Wizards a few years ago when they were a playoff team; they averaged nearly 19,000 a game ...The Nationals are building the kind of team that can draw on its own, not because of who comes to town ...


Anonymous: I hope casual fans do not lose sight that last night's game was a great game. It was not a star show of one star versus another. it was a team game with key contributions from multiple players, even those that may not live up to their hype/name recognition. I, for one, would love five more games just like last night.

Michael Wilbon: Well said. I completely agree with you ... Don't get me wrong, stars are going to sell basketball. that's not going to change because of this series ... But last night's Game 2 of the NBA Finals was a terrific basketball contest, and I, too, would love to see a 7-game series with games just like last night's.


Washington, D.C.: I know with the long layoffs between games some people might develop an NFL mentality, but this is the NBA where they play SERIES. It's going to be fascinating to see how the Lakers and Celtics go up against each other. Now if only someone could take the whistles from the refs.

Michael Wilbon: 67 foul shots in Game 1, 68 in Game 2 ... that's about twice as many free throws as there should have been ... it's the only negative so far in the series.


Rockville, Md.: Of all the people who I became familiar with from watching these NBA playoffs, by far the most impressive has been Alvin Gentry. Do you share my perception that he could be on the verge of breaking into the absolute top echelon of NBA coaches?

Michael Wilbon: I've gotten to know Alvin reasonably well recently with the time I spend in Arizona. And he is the perfect coach for that team, familiar with the offensive Mike D'Antoni built around Steve Nash and innovative enough himself to come up with the kind of defensive and half-court offense that are needed to be a threat in the playoffs. Now, that said the NBA is still about players and the Suns are a team on the verge of transition, what with Amare Stoudemire being a free agent and Steve Nash and Grant Hill being in the twilight of their careers. Too bad Gentry wasn't the coach that half season the Suns lost with Terry Porter in what was a terrible fit, though I think Porter is a worthy coach...just not in that situation ... Gentry is a coaching lifer, a guy who had chances with terrible teams, the Clippers and Pistons after Grant Hill and Joe Dumars but before the Hamilton/Billups/Rasheed/Wallace Pistons that won it all in '04. I'm hoping the Suns keep Stoudemire and have one more run in them under Gentry.


Fairfax, Va.: Mike,

How much of the World Cup do you plan on watching, and more importantly, Who ya got?

I'd say you couldn't go wrong with either the usual favorite (Brazil), or the best team 1-11 (Spain).


Michael Wilbon: I plan to watch tons of the World Cup games. Can't wait for it to get started. The NBA Finals will be over. Summer TV isn't much. So I plan to play golf, play with my son and watch World Cup Soccer. That's the start to my summer. Beyond Team USA I don't have any rooting interest ... Well, the Ivory Coast I'll root for even though I know their chances are reduced without Drogba who suffered a broken arm in a friendly with Japan last week ... Anyway, I have zero idea who will win; I just want to watch and enjoy.


Silver Spring, Md.: Here in NatsTown there have been two interesting calls by the umpires this week that have caused some discussion about instant replay, not to mention the really bad one that cost the perfect game. Do you think that there have been more bad calls in the last few years all around baseball that is fueling the call for replays, or is it just that the really bad ones are glaring?

Michael Wilbon: Baseball should adopt replay, plain and simple. If we can see it at home or on hand-held PDAs, the technology should be used in games. Anything else isn't in the best interest of today's game, regardless of the sport. And it has nothing to do with bad calls against one team or another. The perfect game call is all we need to see ...


Tiger Woods: I assume it's forced, but Tiger actually smiled and waved at the crowd when he finished his last hole. Nice change, actually.

Michael Wilbon: It is a nice change. You can be a champion and also sign autographs and wave to the people who buy your shoes and cars and golf clubs ... I'd love to see Tiger at the top of his game and a guy who embraces the public.


Washington, D.C.: Mike,

I saw a youtube clip of T.J. Simers asking Phil Jackson about taking a paycut and Jackson just laughed hysterically. I'm a huge fan of Simers, mainly because he seems like he is willing to ask anybody anything. How well do you know him?

Michael Wilbon: Pretty well over the years. T.J. does what he does, which isn't exactly the way I do what I do ... But I like T.J. ... Phil seemed amused, as was I ... That's T.J. The great thing about newspapers as we've known them is they're a marketplace for thought ... You can have T.J. and Bill Plaschke, totally different columnists writing for the L.A. Times sports section, on the same page and enjoy one, the other, or both ...


20008: What are the chances of you getting out of Boston for an evening on Wednesday to get down to Philly to see your Hawks (possibly) claim the Cup? Quite a show these two teams have put on so far, and while it's always cool to see a team win the Cup on home ice, I'd like to see the Hawks wrap it up sooner rather than later. By the way, very cool that His Airness was in attendance last night rocking the Toews sweater.

Michael Wilbon: I wouldn't go to Game 6 in Philly. I'm not a journalist when it comes to this series, I'm a Blackhawks fan ... I'd like to be at Game 7 in Chicago. Actually, I'd like for there not to be a Game 7, but if there is one on Friday I'd like to go ... already thinking about the possibility.


Fairfax, Va.: Yes or no: This series will hinge on Pau Gasol. Will he be the best big man in basketball today? Or will he let the Celtics into his head and act like a spoiled petulant child? I think whichever Gasol shows up, that tells me who wins. Thoughts?

Michael Wilbon: There's no yes or no answer to that question. Is Pau Gasol more important to the series for the Lakers than Kobe Bryant? No, of course not. Gasol, as I said earlier, is the most skilled big man in the game today, offensively. Okay, after Tim Duncan. Gasol, for example, is light years ahead of Dwight Howard on offense. But the Lakers are going to have to get better play than they got in Game 2 from Ron Artest and Lamar Odom ... a lot better.


Bridgewater, Va.: There is no big three in Boston, there is Rondo and Ray and whoever else is along for the ride. Enough alliteration, if Boston is going to win it is going to be on the back of those two and nothing else.

Michael Wilbon: Pierce is still the second-best player on the Celtics, after Rondo. And while the Celtics can win a game and maybe a second game with Pierce a non-factor, he'll have to put up his usual game for them to win the series. But clearly Rondo is the best player ... KG has slipped to fifth, behind Rondo, Pierce, Ray and even Kendrick Perkins.


Washington, D.C.: What sporting event would you most want to see if the respective athletes were in their prime? Joe Louis vs. Muhammad Ali; Rod Laver vs. Roger Federer; or Jack Nicklaus vs. Tiger Woods.

Michael Wilbon: Louis-Ali ... Nothing else comes close. I know you're talking individual sports ... But if we were talking team sports I'd say Jordan vs. Oscar, or Magic's best Lakers team vs. Russell's best Celtics team ...


2-3-2: Michael, what do you think about the NBA's 2-3-2 format? With the first class travel the players have why not go back to 2-2-1-1-1?

Michael Wilbon: I know where you're going but it's still too much ... across the country? I'm okay with 2-3-2 for the Finals. I know it affects the outcome and it basically asks the team without home court advantage to win two games on the road. But it also requires, usually, the team with home court advantage to win a home game. But back and forth across the country from Boston to Los Angeles seems, well, irresponsible on some level. It's unnecessary.


Washington, D.C.: Mike, As fellow Blackhawks fan, I enjoyed last night's game 5 victory, as I'm sure you did. My question though is about the tv ratings - the Stanley Cup ratings have been relatively high this year. Do you think this is merely a reflection of the teams involved or is a possible trend? Thanks very much - go Hawks!

Michael Wilbon: The perception of the product is up, no question. And the markets involved help. Chicago and Philly are what, Nos. 2 and 5? And those are cities that care about their NHL teams. That wouldn't be the case as much with Anaheim, which is in the No. 2 market, and the Devils, which are a part of the No. 1 market ...


McLean, Va.: Mike,

For casual hoops fans (like myself), it's been amazing to watch Pau Gasol not just this series, but throughout the playoffs. To someone with a lot more basketball knowledge (like yourself), is Gasol that good or am I being hoodwinked? At times, it seems like he's the best player on the Lakers ... even if a certain No. 8 is out there.

Michael Wilbon: There's no No. 8 out there ... But there is a No. 24 (Kobe). And yes, Paul Gasol is that good. He led the Memphis Grizzlies, remember, to a few 50-win seasons and they didn't have much. I think I voted him my second-team center all-NBA ...


Germantown, Md.: Hey Mike,

I enjoy reading your work. I used to hate Kobe and root for Shaq over the years. But lately I have come to respect Kobe's drive and accomplishment. I also feel that Shaq did not maximize his potential as much as Kobe does. It funny how my perception has changed over time.

Michael Wilbon: Thank you ... and you're not alone in observing the shifting perception about Kobe, about Kobe and Shaq. Don't be too hard on the Big Man though. He did lead his teams to four championships and six Finals appearances (lost one with L.A. and another with Orlando). He's one of the five or six greatest big men of all-time. But Kobe's got a chance to separate himself with a fifth title ... and maybe another after that. That would put him up there with Magic and Michael Jordan, which is rarefied air.


Washington, D.C.: Why do salary cap questions come into play when talking about teams signing LeBron or Wade? At least with LeBron, the amount of money that team would bring in because of him would more than make up for whatever luxury tax they would have to pay, wouldn't it?

Michael Wilbon: The first thing you have to concern yourself with is fitting LeBron, if you don't already own his Larry Bird rights, under the salary cap. The Lakers, for instance, have no room. The luxury tax is a secondary consideration.


Arlington, Va.: Mike, We know that sports is your thing, but on a personal note, do you have any hobbies or interests outside of sports? Just thought your readers/followers would be interested.

Michael Wilbon: I've never had what I would call "hobbies." You mean like stamp collecting? No. Never. I was a musician in my younger life. Played Pomp and Circumstance for my high school graduation, was organist at my church growing up, as a teenager ... was in a choir, Northwestern Community Ensemble, as a freshman in college ... Yep, music is my second love. Can't play Mary Had a Little Lamb anymore. I let it all go after college. My obsession now (it ain't a hobby) is golf, so that's sports related. That and chasing around a 2-year-old who has four hundred times more energy than I do.


Phoenix: in two previous playoff series this spring, the Lakers have lost Games 3 and 4 away (Oklahoma City and Phoenix), but have won the third away game, winning the series both times.

Do you have a guess as to how they might do over the next three games in Boston? Of course, this time the series is split 1-1, so maybe they'll have a little more intensity and focus.

Michael Wilbon: I think it'll come back to Los Angeles 3-2 Boston, which the Lakers winning the middle game, Game 4...


RE: Pau Gasol: Best big man in the game today? Pau Gasol might be the 2nd best player on the court, but I'm sorry, Dirk Nowitzki is still the best big man out there.

Michael Wilbon: You'd be very, very mistaken. Very. Dirk doesn't rebound, doesn't block shots, is defensively challenged. These aren't opinions, they're facts. Watch the games more closely.


Pentagon City, Va.: KG is obviously running on fumes, but given his firey pride and awareness that this could be it, I'm still expecting him to uncork one last monster game, probably on the home court. Agree?

Michael Wilbon: I keep thinking so, yes. But I don't know whether he's physically up to it anymore. One more game, though, should be in him ... at home especially.


Re: Gasol: I'm not saying he's more important than Kobe, but that in this series I think he's the difference. If he plays like the best big man in basketball, I think the Lakers win. If he lets Garnett in his head and plays like a whiny little baby, I think the Celtics win. You pretty much know what you're gonna get from Kobe. Gasol, though, can go one of two ways in this series, and I think whichever way he goes will tell the tale.

Michael Wilbon: Okay, I hear you and agree to a great degree with that. I don't think KG, though, can get into anybody's head anymore because he simply can't play at the level which commands that kind of respect/fear.


Fairfax, Va.: Are you in D.C. for any of the World Cup? Do you plan on visiting the Dupont Circle viewing party? I'm out in Fairfax but am very tempted to come in for that. I was in Italy for the 1998 World Cup, and viewing parties are an awesome experience.

Michael Wilbon: I'm not a viewing party guy ... I'll be in and out of town over the course of the month, in L.A., in Chicago and in D.C. between June 11 and July 11 ... I don't watch sports for the parties that surround them. I want to pay attention, listen to the analysis and perhaps discuss it with a person or two watching with me. Nothing's ever learned at those parties ... I'm sure people have a wonderful time. But I wander directly away from those things. I've never been to a Super Bowl party and never will. I want to see the game, all of it, every play ... Luckily, I haven't had to beg off many events because I've been at most all of the big ones over the last 30 years ... and that's a good thing because neighbors and family members would be upset with me.


Baltimore: Even though he lived nearly a century, I'm still kind of stunned (and saddened) that John Wooden's gone. Any memories, personal or otherwise?

Michael Wilbon: Wow, I'm glad you mentioned Coach Wooden before we get to the end of the chat ... I don't have any personal memories, other than meeting Coach Wooden on a few occassions here in L.A., once at Pauley Pavillion ... and I shook his hand at a couple of Final Fours twenty years or so back ... But I've worked with Bill Walton at ABC/ESPN and I feel I got to experience, second-hand of course, so much of Coach Wooden's wisdom through Big Bill ... the sayings, philosophies, prioritizing. I wrote a column on Coach Wooden that appeared in Sunday's editions of The Post, and I'm glad the basketball world was focused on Los Angeles, where he lived, when he passed after 99 years.

Okay, I gotta run to prepare for PTI ... See you guys next Monday ... guess I'll be right back here in Los Angeles for Game 6 of the NBA Finals.


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