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Farewell; Redskins, Bears outlook; Deciding the BCS and more: The Chat House with Michael Wilbon

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Michael Wilbon
Washington Post Sports Columnist
Monday, November 29, 2010; 1:30 PM

Welcome to another edition of The Chat House, where Post columnist Michael Wilbon was online Monday, Nov. 29 at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss the Redskins and NFL, the NBA, college football and basketball, all the latest sports news and his recent columns.

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Arlington, Va.: I would just like to send along my thanks for all your great years of writing for the Washington Post. I did not always agree with you, in fact I have often vehemently disagreed with you, but I always found your articles and columns to be well written and very interesting. You made me see things and think about things in different ways, which is always a good thing. I have been reading the Post since I was a kid, and from reading Shirley Povich and Dave Kindred then, to reading Tom Boswell, Tony Kornheiser, and you, I have felt enriched and edified. I am sad that much of the best talent is essentially being forced to leave the paper due to economics. I will be sad the day the daily paper is no longer viable.

Good luck with all your future endeavors!

Michael Wilbon: Hi Everybody...sorry we missed last week due to my schedule, but I'm glad to have a couple of more chats with you, today and next Monday...I guess I have to start with the obvious, which this time is not about sports but about my leaving The Washington Post after 30-plus years. I walked in the door as a 20-year-old intern, returned on June 14, 1980 after graduation from Northwestern, and have been fortunate to have had a home, literally, ever since. I'll be writing a goodbye column that appears, I think, Sunday, chatting Monday at the usual time, and then I think that's it...I have a hard time typing the words because I never wanted to type or say them...It's surreal to me after all these years, after growing up quite literally on the fifth floor of The Post and in the stadiums and press boxes around greater Washington, D.C. my work won't be in this newspaper anymore...My 9-plus years of juggling for The Post and ESPN won't continue; I'll be doing what I've done for ESPN/ABC, which is to say PTI and the NBA, plus writing a couple of times a week for ESPN.com...Trust me, it's not the economics of the newspaper that have led me to leave; The Washington Post, Don Graham specifically, has compensated me in a way that I've been long grateful for. I've made a tremendous living working at The Post. Yes, the economics of television and working in TV are, well staggering...beyond my wildest dreams. But EVERYTHING I have professionally and most of what I have personally I owe to The Post, specifically to George Solommon, the sports editor who hired and "coached" me for 25 years, to Don Graham and Len Downie and Ben Bradlee and a host of sports editors (like Len Shapiro and Sandy Bailey and Jeannie McMannus and Tracee Hamliton and Cindy Boren and Matt Rennie and Matt Vita and Alexa Steele and many others I won't list here but won't ever forget either)...ESPN would never have been interested in me if not for my 22-plus years of work at The Post before PTI was born...I'm thankful every day that Shirley Povich, David Kindred, Ken Denlinger and Tony Kornheiser helped me become a columnist, learn how to think it, write it, plan it, and live with it. I never considered it work...not ever...not one day. But the cupboard is stocked, trust me...There are a posse of talented writers, "kids" I mentored along the way fromm Maske and Sheinin to Liz Clarke and Barry Z and Michael Lee and so many others. Our lineup is one I'll take over any sportswriting lineup in a any newspaper in America...And it's still "our" because 30 years entitles me to say "our." I'm an alum, or will be in a week or so, and a damn proud one at that.

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Clifton, Va.: Mr. Wilbon: here's wishing you well as you move on from the Post. I haven't always agreed with your positions, but you always, ALWAYS made me think about my own positions. To me, that's the true job of a journalist -- not just to report the facts, but to make us think and come to a deeper understanding of an issue; I applaud your success in that.

All that aside, however, your thoughts on the Favre-McNabb matchup yesterday? To me, it was two men who may be similar statistically, but who couldn't be more different otherwise -- Favre is a caricature of himself these days and is stealing from his own legacy, while McNabb, while having a down year in large part because of his supporting cast, seems to be on the cusp of another good run in the next year or three...

Michael Wilbon: Thanks...My job, I've always thought, was to make you think about a view that may not have been your own when you picked up the sports section. Hell, agreeing is totally overrated. Where would Tony and I be if we agreed all the time? Would Siskel and Ebert ever have taken flight if agreement was all they could come to? Having said that, I agree with you about both Favre and McNabb. I thought the Redskins were in trouble the moment the Vikings named Leslie Frazier head coach and he named, without a moment of hesitation, Brett Favre as his QB. Doom for the Redskins at that moment. And by the way, before anybody can bring it up, it was a block in the back. Don't want to hear about the officials or what should have been let go. I was sitting in the Soldier Field press box watching the game with writers and scouts from other NFL teams and 10 people shouted "it's coming back" before we could see a flag thrown on TV. It was that obvious on television that the play was coming back...I think this is it for Favre and I think McNabb can have another really good year or two...but only if the receivers and runners are upgraded next season.

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Losing Hope....: Oh Michael, I know you're not from Detroit...but I'm sure you feel our pain. Is there any hope at all for my Lions? I was so happy for 3 quarters on Thanksgiving as I sat in the stands at Ford Field thinking THIS could be the game.

Michael Wilbon: I'm not from Detroit, but as a son of the Midwest I do feel Detroit's pain...And I think a lot of your ability to avoid more pain next year depends on your quarterback's health. Matt Stafford's ability to stay healthy seems to be a big deal to me and big part of whether the Lions, who have been very competitive 70 percent of this season, can take another step toward contention...

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Ohio State v. Boise State: If Boise State is such a cupcake football team, then why doesn't Ohio State sign up for a 1-1 home-away series over the next two years? Put your money where your mouth is . . .

Michael Wilbon: They won't. The cartel's teams don't want to play these teams because they'll lose to 'em. Forget Boise State. What won't they play Nevada, or TCU or any of them. Florida never leaves home. It's a joke what college football scheduling has become. So it's an even bigger joke that this is all left to a vote.

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Big Ten representative to the Rose Bowl: Do you think Wisconsin should be rewarded in the polls for running up the score in their games? For those chatters not from the midwest, three teams tied for the Big-Ten championship and the highest ranked BCS team goes to the Rose Bowl.

Michael Wilbon: Yeah...I'd vote Wisconsin higher than Ohio State or Michigan State, too. They did run up the score several times this season (which I have zero problem with) but they're also, in my opinion, the best of the three.

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Rockville, Md.: How about Bobby Cremins' College of Charleston Cougars. They played a great game against NC yesterday. After seeing them play the Terps and the Heels I think Bobby's got a team to watch this year!

Michael Wilbon: Bobby told Torn K and me a month ago that he really liked his team this year...He had this little smile that suggested he REALLY liked his team...and now we know why. It's too early for me to get involved in college basketball; I don't climb aboard that bus until after the Super Bowl...okay, I'll peek during the Christmas Holidays. But November? Sorry, too much other stuff going on which occupies my attention.

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Washington, D.C.: I can't believe you are leaving the post. I was sad when TK left, and I am sad now.

I'm 28 and owe my love of reading to the two of you. Period. End of story.

Thank you for all the great years!

Michael Wilbon: That's about the kindest thing that can be said to any writer. I appreciate that more than you can know...The people who are in their late 20s who come up and say that to me, who got interested in reading and/or writing and went to journalism school or became journalists in part because our writing introduced them to something or touched them or influenced them in some way...that gives me pause every single time...because the people who influenced me to become a journalist were people I read, columnists i read growing up...And I got to meet most of them, become friends with several...So I know exactly how that feels. And trust me, you'll have plenty more such influences...Still, thank you.

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Capitol Hill: Is there a qualitative difference between the Wizards and Clippers? Free agents get hurt or underperform, high draft picks get hurt or underperform, and coaches come and go with no appreciable impact in the standings.

Michael Wilbon: The last 20 years? Not really. The Wizards have been a little bit better. But I think each won one playoff series. The Wizards beat the Bulls in 2005, I think it was. The Clippers beat somebody and lost to the Suns in the second round...either 2005 or 2006...But no, not much difference at all...though I would make the case that Abe Pollin was a lot more respected, because he did win a championship and did build two arenas with his own money, while Donald Sterling won nothing and continues to simply be in his own orbit...He is in NO way that I've ever been made aware of as entrenched in his community or as important a figure as Abe Pollin was in this one.

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A farewell question: Mike, first, thanks for your writing. As with any good columnist, I didn't always agree with you but I always read your work; no higher compliment can be paid, I think. Second, the Redskins' future: not as much grumbling about McNabb's performance of late, which is understandable, since he appears to be doing the best that he can with what he's got around him. But just in case, anyone is planning on this year's draft bringing the future QB, remember this: the Skins will have a 1, a 2, two 5's, a 6 and a 7 in the draft. Do you really want to use one of your only two picks in the first four rounds on a QB? And do you really think you'll get immediate help at QB in the 5th? People need to get used to the idea that McNabb is probably the starting QB through mid-2012 at the least. All the best, Mike.

Michael Wilbon: Thank you very much, first of all. And second, I think McNabb will certainly be the starter next season, so the Redskins should spend all those picks on receivers, backs and offensive linemen. Is there any doubt about that?

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Washington, D.C.: Given that a fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. may never happen, how well do you think Pacquiao would have fared at 135 pounds against Roberto Duran and/or at 147 pounds against Sugar Ray Leonard? I wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Michael Wilbon: That's a fabulous question! Wow. I did see Roberto Duran and Ray Leonard in their primes...and I think either would have beaten Pac man at 135. They would have been simply too strong, especially Duran. Leonard, remember, had Pac's speed though he was 12 pounds heavier. Remember also, that weight class during about a 15-year stretch was so loaded, with Tommy Hearns, with Benitez...so many guys...Was Alexis Arguello in that 147 group as well? or was he lighter? Anyway, Pac's the best out there today and he'd have given any of the above trouble, but I'd have to take Leonard over all of 'em at 147...unless we're going back to Ray Robinson, and I'd have to channel my dad for that judgement. My dad was a fight fanatic from the mid 1930s when he was 10, 12 years old until his death in 1986 and he LOVED Ray Leonard. He thought Leonard was as good as Ray Robinson, which for my dad was some admission...

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Arlington, Va.: I jumped out of my chair when Brandon Banks returned that punt return for a TD. Even though it was called back on a penalty, it was the best thing that happened to me yesterday.

Maybe I'm weird, but I think BB's talent and drive are so impressive and exciting that it takes the edge off the loss. You can't build a team around a kick returner. I realize that. But a collection of exciting playmakers has to start somewhere. At least we have one.

Michael, what is your reaction?

Michael Wilbon: He has to be one of four or five playmakers for a team to be great...So yes, I get it. It's like me watching Devin Hester...Thing was, Hester four years ago when the Bears reached the Super Bowl was one of four or five...The Redskins have to keep adding to the mix, through the draft!

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D.C.: Shawn Springs was on one of the ESPN roundtable shows this morning and I was surprised to hear just how widespread cheating is in the NFL: from obtaining other teams playbooks to having former college teammates on opposing teams tell each other gameplans.

Michael Wilbon: Why is anybody surprised at this? Who said, "If you're not cheating you're not trying." Of course this is true. why wouldn't you seek any information source available to you? Coaching in tennis, stealing signs in baseball...all of it's within the culture of the game, even if there are unwritten rules. (Hell, in tennis I think the rule is written)...Golf is the one sport where cheating of no kind is tolerated or permitted. Everything else? Have at it. I probably scuffed a ball or two in Little League if I was facing the dangerous Jimmy Payne and Wendell Phillips. I couldn't get those guys out without a little help...So...You know what I mean?

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Baltimore: Mike: Kind of a softball question, but I'd like to know what you consider the biggest change in sports coverage in the thirty years you've been at the Post. Thanks for all the good work over the years.

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for putting up with it for all those years! The biggest change is probably the way it's all covered, the way everybody has editorial license, the blogs, the way people abandoned criticismm for ridicule, the wide variety of voices on-line (which I think is a great thing), the 24-hour sports radio treatment, the way athletes can control their own news by putting it on their web sites or tweeting it...The whole thing changed so dramatically from, what, 2006?

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Washington, D.C.: I have not always agreed with your opinions. Frankly, your column following MJ's departure sucked. But you have my everlasting admiration for your work ethic and craftsmanship. Those attributes reached a high point for me during NBA playoff battles, in which you wrote scinitllating game stories on deadline AND columns. Those game stories were not stock summaries, but real works of writing. You will be missed by this lifelong metro resident. Be well.

Michael Wilbon: Thank you....except for that shot about the MJ column. Hey, I liked that one! Seriously, thank you. Again, if you agree with everything ANYBODY says including your wife or mother or brother or whomever, something is wrong. The discussion is what's important, the exchange of ideas...not agreeing.

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If you're not cheating you're not trying: Hmmm. I'd rather feel good about my win.

Michael Wilbon: You go right ahead. I'd rather have more wins.

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Chicago: Also a member of the choir sad to hear you are leaving the Post. So much of my knowledge and ability to analyze sports has come from you, since I started reading you about 8-10 years ago in my teens. So, thank you.

As long as I'm getting reminiscent, let's talk about Chicago. After seeing the Bears this week, is there reason for playoff optimism?

Michael Wilbon: First, thank you...Second, I was front-and-center for that game at Soldier Field yesterday and what struck me, besides Jay Cutler going for 4 TDs and no picks, was how confident the defense was...I spent a lot of time in the Bears locker room with B. Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris and Julius Peppers...They think because they're healthy that they can take on anybody, even though the rules work against defenders, even though they can't hit the QB as they'd like to and once did...they're supremely confident. They wanted to keep Vick below 20 and were upset with themselves for that last TD...Look, I didn't think the Bears would be any good this season. I thought we were looking at a 7-9 kind of season...And they're not out of the woods yet, not with the Patriots and jets at home, Packers, Vikies and Lions on the road. I think the Bears need to beat the Lions in Detroit this weekend and the Jets at home to get to 10...I'm not getting greedy yet.

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Writing: Are you going to write in any capacity after you leave? For a blog? For ESPN.com? a book?

Michael Wilbon: ESPN.com. A column. A couple of times a week...I'm sure ESPN will announce the particulars, all of which I'm not even certain of yet.

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Atlanta: Please use your leverage at ESPN to replace one of the Mikes in the morning with yourself. They don't have to change the name of the show or the timeslot, but with you in there, we may be able to hear about things OTHER than Brett Favre, Brad Childress, and the Cowboys.

Michael Wilbon: Hey come on, now. Those are my guys. Greenie and I went to Northwestern and we're good friends...I'm not awake most mornings to listen to radio, but when I am I listen to them...They've got to talk about the big stories and big stars of the news that morning, and those guys have very often been in the news in recent weeks...Don't knock 'em for that. Plus that, if I had to get up before 9 a.m. I'd die...I like to go to bed a 3 a.m. and wake up at 9, 9:30...That's my schedule. I want to see all the NBA games fromm the west coast, college games, too. I'm not a morning guy. Flights and tee times are the only things I'm interested in doing in the mornings.

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Washington, D.C.: Mike, Thanks for everything. I often tell everyone that you have my "dream job" being a sports writer, tv analyst, and tv show host.

Since we didn't get to talk about it last week, what are your thoughts on the Vince Young and Jeff Fisher situation? I think once you throw your jersey into the stands, you no longer want to be a part of the team.

Michael Wilbon: Nevada and Michigan State or Nevada and Ohio State...I'm not sure; I'd have to pour over the schedules to decide between OSU and MSU...Arkanass? no. No.

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Say it ain't so Mike: Just wanted to say we will really miss you here. Don't go far!

Michael Wilbon: Thank you much for that. I'm going nowhere...PTI is taped in Washington, remember. I just signed on for five more years to do this with TK. Where am I going? you can't get rid of me that easily.

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Tennis Cheating? : How do you cheat in tennis?

Michael Wilbon: accept coaching from anybody in the stands. It's against the rules. And if we're talking weekend tennis, you could foot fault all the time and never call it on yourself. or call something out that isn't. Now, I NEVER did that stuff in 30 years of tennis, six years of competitive tennis...NEVER. That's cheesy.

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Richmond, Va.: I haven't lived in DC in 20 years, but I still manage to find your columns and enjoy them a lot. You will be missed.

Do yourself a favor today and steal a few minutes to watch the Super Classico (Real Madrid v. Barcelona). This game will be one helluva fight with the world's best talent on the pitch.

Cheers and best of luck. Catch ya on PTI.

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for the TV tip...I'll set my DVR...And thank you.

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Arlington, Va.: As a lifelong Skins fan, I just want to put out there that everyone should be realistic about things. The improvement from last year to this year is dramatic, and will probably end up being about a 4 game improvement from 4-12 to 8-8. That is a great start. They have a lot of work to do in upgrading the personnel, especially at ALL PLAYMAKER positions and the offensive line, and none of that is a given. But they are on the right track. Expecting to go to the Super Bowl was crazy, the franchise was a mess and with no foundation it is hard to rebuild. They are working on the foundation and so far, so good.

Michael Wilbon: Thanks for that...I don't know, by the way, if they're on the right track or not. I agree with everything else you said, but I want to see it play out. How long have we been talking about the Redskins being "on the right track" or "heading in the right direction." Years and Years, right...only to have them go off in the wrong direction. I don't have any great sense that they've figured it out this time. I really don't.

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Re: If you're not cheating...: "...you are either winning handily or not hungry enough to figure out to cheat just in case."

Michael Wilbon: ha! I love that.

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Arlington, Va.: Any thoughts on the "bump" that happened between Lebron and the coach? I don't know if this is a common thing and its just being blown out of proportion. But to me it looked like Lebron did it on purpose, changing his general walking direction towards the coach. I find this very immature and disrespectful for Lebron to do. I didn't hate on Lebron for going to Miami but him doing that doesn't help his likability.....

Michael Wilbon: If such a bumb happens 1,000 times a season I give it ZERO thought 999 times. This time? Hmmmm. I don't know. I mean, there's a story out there today from ESPN's Chris Broussard that the players don't like Spoelstra. We know where this is going, right? I mean, I was in total denial about this for weeks and now it seems like everything in Miami is pointing to Pat Riley returning to the bench. I LIKE Spoelstra. But if the Heat, for example, lose tonight to the Wizards...Ouch.

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You go right ahead. I'd rather have more wins. : But I also think cheating is doing things that are specifically against written rules. If I'm playing a sport and it says I can't do something, I won't do it. When you say cheating, that's what cheating means to me. Not the stuff like calling someone you know on the team and chatting, if there's no rule against it.

I say this because I did cheat once (actual cheating, not "unwritten rules" cheating) and ended up winning a tournament a long time ago and I feel pretty bad when I think about it. That win means nothing to me because it wasn't clean. I never did it again and never will do it again. (This was hobby stuff, not pro or college, so maybe laughable in some people's eyes. But to a lot of people our league was an important part of their lives).

Michael Wilbon: I get you...You make an absolutely unarguable point. I'm talking about throwing spitters or stealing signs...stuff like that.

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Houston: Michael -

So sorry to see you leaving the post, but as others have said, good luck in all of your future endeavors.

My question is what do you think the NCAA is hoping for w/the National Championship race - would those in the Cartel rather see Auburn go to the National Championship and win and later have their title stripped (ala a USC) or instead have TCU get a chance to show their wares? Or maybe neither - have Auburn lose this week and another team from the cartel leapfrog the hornfrogs (boy - that sounds funny)?

Michael Wilbon: Great question. They'd rather see Auburn win and be stripped later, no question. THEY DO NOT WANT TCU in the game. Don't want 'em...Will be sick if they win it.

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Washington, D.C.: "The cartel's teams don't want to play these teams because they'll lose to 'em. Forget Boise State. What won't they play Nevada, or TCU or any of them."

Not sure this is quite right. Notre Dame has beaten Nevada (35-3) and Utah (27-3) handily the past two years and, as you are quick to point out, Notre Dame has not been on top of its game recently. Notre Dame also had an agreement in place to play TCU this year, but TCU withdrew from the agreement. Some teams will play the Boise States of the world.

Michael Wilbon: Notre Dame is an independent school. All the others in the Cartel are in leagues...BIIIIIIG difference.

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Chargers: Are the Chargers for real, or is this just more of the same?

Michael Wilbon: if "for real" you mean a playoff team, sure, yes. If "for real" you mean a championship contender...I don't see it. I don't like teams that play half the schedule. Because they play in a dreadful division playing half the season is something they can get away with. Do I think they'll reach the Super Bowl? Not a chance.

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Washington, D.C.: Wilbon, you've been consistently one of the best sports journalists in the country, the Post will miss you but I look forward to your continued excellent work on PTI and the NBA on ABC... Now, let's talk BEARS. Is it time to start thinking of them as legitimate contenders, at least in the NFC if not NFL-wide?

Michael Wilbon: If they roll Detroit Sunday to reach 9 and have four shots to get No. 10, I'll say (temporarily) yes. I'm heding my bets, but I LOVE what I saw yesterday...If Cutler stops throwing picks...the sky's the limit. The defense and special teams are championship-caliber. I still worry about the OL and the running game...AND...thank you...

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D.C.: Watching the Miami Heat struggle makes me appreciate that much more what Jordan's Bulls did back in the '90s, when EVERYBODY wanted to beat them.

Michael Wilbon: Yes Sir! That's something this Heat team doesn't seem to get yet, that everybody wants to beat them. Jordan's Bulls had this every night for at least six years and still won 90 percent of the big games, especially during the second threepeat. That was the one thing I wondered about when they three of them hooked up: Can they withstand getting punched in the face every single night? So far the answer is a resounding "No." they have no clue. I think that's as significant as anything relating to Xs and Os with the Heat, just after having no brute around the basket and no real point guard.

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D.C.: A couple of weeks ago you said there was no chance Spolestra was going to be replaced by Reilly. What do you think now?

Michael Wilbon: That Spoelstra very likely could be replaced by Riley. Look, events have overtaken my opinion as stated a couple of weeks ago. If they lost to the Wizards tonight, then what? If that roster drops to .500, given all their theatrics in Miami when the three of them arrived back in July? Wow. Suppose the Wizards trigger that change?

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Memorable moments: Mike, I started to think of the many memorable sports moments during your time with the Post and, strangely enough, the first thing to pop into my mind was Len Bias. Can you believe he would be 47 years old? What are your thoughts on him, his death and the ripple effects it had? I would argue that U. of Maryland athletics, ironically football more than basketball, never fully recovered from the aftermath.

Michael Wilbon: I hate to end today's chat on a down note, but I have to run after this question...And I'll say this: I've been asked several times lately about the biggest story I covered in my time at The Post. And without question my answer is Len Bias' tragic death. It's the biggest story by far, and impacted my own life like no other story I've covered. I know exactly how old Len would have been because his birthday was the day before mine. I was 23 when he was an 18-year-old freshman...I can never watch the Celtics the same way, or haven't been able to...I can never talk about Maryland basketball historically without thinking of him...And I know there are a great many people who feel the way I do. I've talked to Jay Bilas and he feels as I do. I wrote a few years ago about what would have been his 40th birthday...It makes me so sad, even now. But I don't think his death was in vain. I think his death was the nation's wake-up about drug use on college campuses, particularly as it related to cocaine and crack...I'm of the opinion that his death changed the history of professional basketball in a profound way...that the Bad Boy Pistons might not have existed, that MJ wouldn't have won six championships, that the Celtics would have, oh, two more, at least because of Bias joining an NBA chmampionship...We'll talk about this and other stuff next Monday...1:15 Monday for my last chat...We'll have a blast...thanks for today, and in advance for next week...See you Monday...Have a great week...MW

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Heat index: The Heat have started the year 8-7, after starting last year 9-6. I agreed with your position -- that this will take time, but they will eventually gel and be great -- when you said as much before the season. But wow, it's really not looking good.

I assume you've been watching them closely so far. Are you seeing any signs that point toward optimism this will work, other than maybe the names on the back of the jerseys?

Michael Wilbon: I've been watching every single game and I'm stunned!

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D.C.: Has Michael Jordan made any statements about his take on the situation in Miami?

Michael Wilbon: Not publicly!

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