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

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Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, June 21, 2010; 1:30 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, June 21 to discuss the NBA Finals, LeBron James's free agency, college football realignment, 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

Discussion Archive * Column Archive * Talking Points Videos

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Arlington, Va.: After the NBA finals, Jerry West reiterated that he though Kobe Bryant was the best Lakers player, ever. "Kobe Bryant is the greatest Laker to ever play. Period. I love Magic Johnson and his contribution, but Magic Johnson had a lot more help, to be honest with you. He played with sometimes five All-Stars. Kobe Bryant is just a different talent. He will go down as one of the two or three greatest players of all time, I think."

One would think that Jerry West's evaluation held some value.

Michael Wilbon: HI Everybody...Coming to you from, well, home, from Washington, D.C. for the first time in awhile...Glad to be home, I think...The gentle breezes and low 70s by the ocean are hard to leave, especially when you return to 93 and humid as hell...I guess I've never gotten used to it even though this is my 32nd summer in D.C., or something like that...Anyway, there are SOOOO many things to get to, including World Cup, John Wall being presumably drafted by the Wizards Thursday, the U.S. Open at Pebble, and the the NBA Finals. I'm starting with this question because there are so many in the que like it, about Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, or Kobe and Michael Jordan, or Kobe's place in the game, all-time, or as a Laker.

I've developed something of a consistent response on this now and it starts with this: Kobe Bryant is the best player in the game today. He's the most reliable winner, the best closer, the guy with the greatest killer instinct. he can do more stuff than anybody out there, even though LeBron James skill set seems to be greater. Anyway, Kobe's the best out there. He's probably one of the top 20 players all-time right now. BUT, he ain't Magic Johnson. I'm beginning to disregard the opinion of all the Laker people in this area because they're vested in praising Kobe, in keeping him happy, and Jerry West is a kind, man...not a selfish instinct in his body...and the greatest player/executive combination ever...But Kobe Bryant isn't close to as great or impactful a player as Magic Johnson. Hear me on this: It ain't close. And don't write any notes about me Kobe hating. Kobe is a great, great, great, great player. I LOVE watching him play, love that he has given me tons of access as a reporter/columnist, and I'm damn grateful for that. I like the verbal back-and-forth, which we've had for close to 10 years. I really and truly appreciate being able to watch Kobe Bryant up close. But he's not Magic. Magic and Larry Bird invented the modern game of professional basketball with their redefining of offensive basketball through passing. They INVENTED THE DAMN GAME WE SEE TODAY. Kobe, in his career, has never had a game that touches Magic's NBA Finals Game 6 in Philly his ROOKIE season. As a rookie, playing on the road, in place of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, probably the third greatest center who ever lived (perhaps No. 2 behind Russell and ahead of Wilt), Magic had 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals...Do people under 30 even know Magic did that 31 yerars ago? People under 40. Jerry West knows. I know. People now are too quick to forget the great players, forget how fundamentally sound they were, forget how much smarter they were than MOST players today with their AAU mentalities...Magic got to the Finals 9 times in 12 years. Hell, the only people he lost to in the playoffs were Jordan, Moses Malone, Moses and Julius Erving, Hakeem and I think the Portland TrailBlazers who twice got to the Finals. NINE FINALS IN 12 YEARS people. Yes, Magic played with better players. Pre-expansion, EVERYBODY played with better players. But you know what, if Magic had played on the Hawks, you think he and Dominique Wilkins woulldn't have won? If Magic had played with Alex English and Fat Lever in Denver, you think they wouldn't have won. Please. Stop it. And don't even get me started with the Jordan comparisons, which are silly. What one thing does Kobe Bryant do better than Michael Jordan did? The answer is none. I love Kobe. He's the best out there. But there's NOTHING he does--handle the ball, shoot it, defend, rebound, pass--that's close to good as Michael Jordan. Tell me what it would be. Somebody tell me. Michael shot 54 percent twice in his career. Playing the same position against weaker defenders in an era where you CANNOT BY RULE be as physical, Kobe has never shot 48 percent. Do you realize how much more efficient 6 percent per year just on shooting makes a player? And I haven't even brought up Oscar and Elgin Baylor, players I only saw when they were on the downsides of their careers...So, I respect Jerry West as much if not more than anybody out there. But I've watched Magic's entire career and I've watched Kobe's entire career, and on this I'm not interested in defering to anybody when it comes to constructing an argument for one or the other. I saw Magic. And I can't imagine people who actually watched both closely--excpet for people in the Lakers family who have interests in supporting both players--AS THEY SHOULD, by the way--who make a great case for Kobe being better than Magic. Better? Kornheiser makes the case that if he had to construct a team and win one game FOR HIS LIFE he'd take Magic. And you know what? I have a difficult time going against that...Because Magic, we know from Game 6 in Philly, could play all five positions. Can Kobe do that? No. Michael? No.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Sort of along the lines of your recent article about Kobe, and how people have short memories, every year people seem to talk about how the latest (enter sport here) finals where among the greatest ever. No one is really doing that for the NBA this year. Were these the worst ever?

Michael Wilbon: Too many people have short memories, and it's so disappointing. So sad, so dismissive of the great work, sometimes genius work, that players and coaches have put in. It's a failing of our culture...I'm serious, I really see it that way...

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Washington, DC: What do you think is more important to Kobe now that he has five rings. Being one behind tying Jordan or having one more than Shaq?

Michael Wilbon: Kobe loves Jordan, so he would see equaling him as a great, great accomplishment. There would be no gloating or feeling of "That that you &*^%^$&! But Shaq and Kobe have a history that was full of conflict, some of it nasty. So there's a different feeling, understandably...

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Washington DC: What do you hear about the status of Arenas' knee? Do you think the extended break could have the unintended consequence of finally healing the knee?

Michael Wilbon: I hear from somebody who knows about Gilbert's rehab that he's doing pretty darned well...I asked somebody who knows about this issue just last week and was told Gil looks good and more importantly, is doing what he's supposed to do, which is a bigger deal that it sounds like because we know he did NOT do what he was supposed to immediately after the injury when he took his own counsel instead of listening to people who know more about these things than he does.

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Philadelphia: Got to see Manute in his Sixer days. yes, he was almost a side-show attraction (but a better one than Shaun Bradley), and a character (his interactions with Barkley were hilarious), but it's nice to see that he is being remembered for trying to help people.

Michael Wilbon: We are planning to talk about Manute today. Tony and I both found him irresistible when he was here with the Bullets in the 1980s. I was playing tons of pickup basketball back then and after practices, particularly in the playoffs, I'd be in these pickup basketball games with Manute, who was funny and engaging. He was great company, yes, often as a sideshow. He could make you laugh with him...It was so sad in recent years when he had health issues. And I was very, very sad to hear of his passing over the last few days...

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Los Angeles: Hi Mike,

Given the pounding that Ron Artest's confidence endured when he couldn't buy a basket in Boston, were you surprised that he shot so well and so under control back in LA?

And, were KG's 3 rebounds in Game 7 the result of fatigue more than anything else?

Thanks!

Michael Wilbon: Great question...You know, it doesn't surprise me anymore when professional athletes rebound from terrible performances to have great ones. Their concentration, confidence in themselves and ability to overcome disappointment is extraordinary...So, while Ron Artest isn't a great shooter by any means, and opposing teams HOPE he stays outside and throws up threes, he can sometimes get hot and help his team tremendously by doing it.

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Not a Tiger Legacy Question, from Crystal City: Mike: count me as one who agrees with your WWW article on Kobe and discussions of legacies. I enjoy sports for the moment. I'll consider Kobe and Tiger's legacies only a few years after they're done playing. I suppose the interesting thing to consider in the moment, however, is the arc that their legacies are taking. Tiger wants his to continue following Jack's. Kobe wants his to follow MJ and Magic. The ultimate modern cautionary tale, the one that all of today's greats need to avoid (listen up: Kobe, Tiger, and Ben Roethlisberger): Mike Tyson.

Michael Wilbon: Ah, yes. Yes, yes, yes.

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Grand Rapids, Mich.: The Lakers shot 21 free throws to the Celtics 6 in the 4th quarter of Game 7, scoring the majority of their points that quarter from the charity stripe in their comeback win. Now, recognizing the Lakers were the aggressor down the stretch and deserved some advantage at the line....21 to 6? Whazzup with that?

Michael Wilbon: I tend to jump on these numbers BUT, fact is the Celtics just shot fadeaway jumpers while the Lakers went to the basket. The absence of Kendrick Perkins for the Celtics was a killer. Rebounding meant everything in that series and Perkins was critical to that effort. The Celtics were dead-tired and simply couldn't muster enough energy to get to the basket after the early stages of the game. So, in this case it makes sense the Lakers, forcing the action, earned so many more trips to the foul line.

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Grand Rapids, Mich.: What's your take on why Tiger couldn't get it done yesterday?

Michael Wilbon: The same as my take on why Ernie and Phil couldn't win yesterday: because they couldn't play well enough, because they golf course was too hard for them, wouldn't allow them to be brilliant. These things can be way overanalyzed. The golf course beat up the best players in the world, which is what the U.S. Open is set up to do and often does. Tiger wasn't an exception...neither were Phil and Ernie...

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Phoenix, Ariz.: I was put off by some of the comments by FIFA officials following officiating controversies in the US-Slovenia, Brazil-Ivory Coast games, as well as in other contexts.

You've frequently called the NFL arrogant. And now I'm beginning to think that FIFA is pretty arrogant, too. Is there a professional sports league out there that does not come across as arrogant or highminded in dealing with players/media/fans?

Michael Wilbon: FIFA is UNBELIEVABLY arrogant. Its officials ought to be embarassed over what happened and it looks like they are not, which would be shameful. FIFA is very royal when it comes to these things, so it's not a shock...

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Perception of Ron Artest: Did the Lakers' win, and Artest's contribution throughout the playoffs, do much to rehabilitate the perception of Ron Artest in the league?

Michael Wilbon: It certainly can't hurt him. And I think it helped. I don't want to overstate it. But yes, winning is the deoderant that covers (to a degree) all stink. Artest really hasn't had any dust-ups since the Malice at The Palace, has he? I can't think of any. I've always said Artest, who talks about his circumstance growing up, needed serious help. And he talks about it...But winning means he was successfully integrated himself into a damn good team, which is to Mr. Artest's credit.

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New York, N.Y.: The NBA Finals seemed so local compared to the World Cup going on, it was hard for me to get too excited about it. Never thought I'd say that about a Game 7 final between the Lakers and Celtics, but it felt like they were playing for the Grey Cup.

Michael Wilbon: That's your agenda, and not shared nationally. Game 7 attracted enough viewers to be the most watched game since Michael Jordan's final playoff game, in 1998. The rating was an 18. Again, are you technologically savvy enough to have a clicker, or a remote control as they used to be called? Then you can watch both, or neither. Actually, the World Cup games were over in the afternoon, because of the time difference, and the NBA games started hours later. So it's not like you have to make a choice.

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Short Memories: Mike - I agree with your point that it's a failing of our culture, but in my opinion your other employer - ESPN - is the single greatest culprit behind this failing. The 24-hour news cycle as it pertains to sports is what has Mike Greenberg talking about how last night's mid June baseball game was the greatest single most memorable moment in history, for whatever ridiculous reason, then repeating the next day with something even greater. When something truly special happens, such as Tiger winning a major on a broken leg, ESPN is incapable of giving the event the recognition it deserves, because just the day before Mike and Mike talked for 4 hours about how some other random event was so "special."

Michael Wilbon: I don't want to single out my dear friend Greenie, whose defense I rise to happily...but I'm not about to disagree with you...not for one second. Your premise is shared by a ton of people, including me, when it comes to the 24-7 news cycle and the insistence on talking every single day about how great something is...when not everything is that great...That's why my favorite phrase these days is, "not everything is a big deal."

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Washington, DC: I hear a lot of former players comment on Kobe with the exception of Jordan. Maybe I've missed something in recent years, but I've never heard Jordan talk in depth about Kobe as a player. Do you know if he Jordan thinks highly of Kobe or is he more like "Kobe has tried to recreate every move I've done on the court."

Michael Wilbon: I know Michael loves Kobe as a player, and I'll have to look it up but I think I wrote a column a few years back (maybe more than a few since Kobe's been in the league 14 years now) with Michael talking about Kobe...but you know what...I haven't seen those kinds of comments from Michael in awhile...

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New York, NY: Mike, Your take on the Malian ref who the foul on the US's game-winning goal? I don't think I've heard you weigh in on this yet.

Michael Wilbon: It was an awful call. There's not too much to weigh in in. It's as bad as Jim Joyce's call that destroyed the perfect game. Joyce's call wasn't subjective, but at least he did come right out and say he was wrong, which I think mitigates it a teeny weeny bit. This World Cup stonewalling, where the guy who has screwed up beyond belief, is just wrong and makes FIFA looks bad. By the way, the U.S. players might want to actually show up for the first half and stop giving away goals and having to come from behind...PLAY WHEN THE GAME BEGINS!

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I'm Old School, But: I really don't remember any of the other players in the conversation gunning the way Kobe does...yes, he's great right now, but you get the sense those other guys you talk about wouldn't have let him shoot 25 percent for more than one game before he had to work a lot harder to get the ball.

Michael Wilbon: Yeah, I think I know what you mean there. Jordan did a lot of gunning early in his career; let's not forget that. But Jordan shot 50 percent so many years...

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Salt Lake City, Utah: Hi Mike,

Did you see the final round of the Open? McDowell has nerves of steel for sure, but did you see how far Johnson was driving the ball?? How is that even possible? It seems like the next wave of young players are starting to become a force to be reckoned with.

Michael Wilbon: I watched every stroke NBC televised Sunday...You talk about Johnson's driving? How about Phil's driving. That crazy-long par-4, that was more than 500 yards...Phil hit one drive 393. Are you kidding me? Driver/lob wedge on a 500-yard par-4? That's insane.

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Baltimore: What do you think of the way LeBron is going about this whole free agent process? I understand he's never been fully recruited (everyone assumed he'd go straight to the NBA), so he wants that experience, but still, isn't there something...unseemly about all this? The man is practically holding the whole darned league hostage.

Conversely, look at Dwyane Wade, who's arguably every bit as desirable a free agent as LeBron. He's been remarkably low-key, even hinting that he'll re-up with Miami, and quietly recruiting fellow free agents himself. Do you see LeBron's image taking a hit from what, on the surface, looks like a huge ego trip?

Michael Wilbon: What has LeBron done, exactly? He hasn't said anything, other than Cleveland has an edge. He didn't ask for a parade in Los Angeles (Clippers fans). He's not on sports talk radio everywhere or making recruiting trips. What are you talking about? Holding the league hostage, how? WHAT HAS HE DONE? Wade is the one who has talked about having a "free agent summmit" and that kind of thing. LeBron is covered more than D-Wade, which is why you hear more about one than the other, but as far as LeBron doing anything, hell, I'm locked in on this issue and he hasn't done jack that I know about. He went to L.A. and had dinner at a restaurant that's trendy and hot, but he didn't show up at a Finals game. What's he done?

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Anonymous: Talk about 24 hour sports news cycle, I thought it was hilarious that it was news that Michael Jordan's son said that Kobe Bryant wasn't even close to as good as his dad was. How is that news? When Jordan's son says Kobe is the best ever - now that would be news.

I think you should get t-shirts made up that read: "It's Not That Big of a Deal"

Michael Wilbon: Maybe I will do that. I love that...I didn't even hear about the MJ's son story. I would have clicked to something else. Thanks for the suggestion...

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Virginia: Mike, Which was worse: the phantom call against Team USA in the Slovenia match, or the blown call that cost Galarrage his perfect game? If Team USA advances regardless, I'd say the perfect game call was worse. But the Tigers still won, and in the course of a 162 game season, it wouldn't really matter that much anyway. But if USA don't advance for lack of points, I think that could have long term effects for the course of soccer in the US

Michael Wilbon: We were just discussing that in the office. The World Cup is so much bigger a deal than a regular season baseball game. But a PERFECT game is a huge, huge, once-in-a-lifetime thing...Wow, I don't know. I really don't. Holding is so subjective. We see stuff called back in the NFL all the time on penalties that shouldn't be called or should have been called...I don't know. I guess because baseball is more in my blood than soccer and because THAT call was objective, I'll say the blown call of Jim Joyce that cost the kid his perfect game. Great question.

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Barkley's Swing: Michael,

Do you ever critique/make fun of Sir Charles' swing? Does he acknowledge that it's quite possibly the worst of any "celebrity" golfer and used as the ultimate jab among the rest of us weekend hackers?

Michael Wilbon: Charles makes plenty fun of his swing, so there's no need for anybody else to do it of those around him. I rarely if ever do...Hell, my swing isn't so beautiful that I take shots at other people's swings...maybe Tony K's.

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Phoenix: In June 1998, I was living and working abroad in a small village in rural Honduras (Central America). Walking by a house made of mud and cement, I saw through the window a small television tuned into the NBA Finals of Bulls and Jazz.

Although staged almost exclusively in the U.S., NBA games are not a local affair.

Michael Wilbon: Thank you for that, and maybe the knucklehead with the agenda will see this.

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Raleigh, NC: Are you more impressed with the US Open performances of McDowell and Havret or more surprised by the inability of Phil, Tiger, and Ernie to get it done?

Michael Wilbon: more impressed by McDowell...Hell, Ernie hasn't won a U.S. Open in 13 years and Phil's never won one. I didn't expect Tiger to win...so I wasn't sitting there counting one one of those three to win.

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Washington DC: Mike,

Do you ever talk to Erving about his health? How is he doing? I saw him 2 years ago in DC and he looks great. I'm glad that he used his HIV status as a way to show that it is not necessarily a "death sentence".

Michael Wilbon: You mean Earvin...as in Earvin Johnson, as in Magic? Talk to him as in question him? No. But he does look great. I'm with Magic all the time in the playoffs, and the way he eats, exercises and takes care of himself make it so that none of (as far as I know) sit around wondering about his health. We know his story intimately, but he seems the picture of health and those who know him hope every day it stays that way.

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Open broadcast: How great was it having the Open on in Prime Time on Saturday, and then wrapping up around 9:30 on Sunday? I wish the NBA could take a cue. I don't buy the West Coast ratings argument. Show the supporting data I say!

Michael Wilbon: Well, you'd be wrong, dead wrong. We just looked at the numbers. And the ONE HOUR earlier the games begin on Sunday lead to lower ratings. I know, it sounds crazy. I make the case all the time about playing in the afternoon so kids can watch, blah, blah, blah. And I'm wrong. I've seen the numbers and I'm just wrong.

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McLean, Va.: Mike,

I don't know if it's LeBron or Nike, but apparently he's planning a "Free Agency Tour" with new shoe releases in every city he visits.

Michael Wilbon: ARe you serious?

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Anonymous: I love the beautiful game of soccer and think it's THE best sport. However, I'm embarassed about the flopping. Do you know of any other sport where so many players FAKE being hurt? What kind of man does that?

Michael Wilbon: Not like this. Not like soccer. Kaka getting thrown out yesterday was such a joke.

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Washington DC: Were you surprised about Izzo turning the Cavs down?

Michael Wilbon: No. I think Tony and i said repeatedly in the days leading up to Izzo announcing his decision that we thought he'd stay at Michigan State. How do you leave a place where you're a god and take a job where you don't know if you'll have the very reason for going there? If LeBron leaves, Cleveland's a 25-win team next year. Why would Izzo leave that?

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Kobe vs. Starks: If not for Artest hitting a couple key shots, would Kobe be compared to John Starks' Game 7 performance? Kobe had a historically horrific game 7 (yet was still MVP), and that is something that never could have been said about Magic or MJ.

Michael Wilbon: Great point. Thanks for that.

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Washington, D.C.: I believe game 7 highlighted why Kobe will never be Jordan. He played as if he believed there were 9 green jerseys on the court. Jordan on the other hand trusted his teamates to hit clutch shots when they were open.

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for that...Remember, Steve Kerr beating Utah with a pass from Jordan, John Paxon beating the Lakers with a pass from Jordan...John Paxon beating the Suns, too (although that pass was from, I believe, Horace Grant)...

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Anonymous: I don't understand the people who say there's no action in soccer but think the NFL is any different. A 3-1 game in soccer is like a 21-7 game in the NFL. That's a Redskins result every week.

Michael Wilbon: Ha! I like this. It will elicit lots of ranting, but I like it.

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Fairfax: Did you read Prisbell's story on John Wall? How did you feel about the decision to reveal Wall's father's criminal history to John?

Michael Wilbon: I haven't read the Wall piece yet. I will tonight, but just flew in and was too sleepy on the flight to put my i-pad to good use...Okay, I gotta run. I must. Mr. Tony is agitated. Time to prepare for PTI...Okay, next week we'll convene again, after the draft and we'll get PLENTY into John Wall...Talk to you guys then...thanks. MW

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