ESPN personality and former Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon became something of a mustache-twisting villain to D.C. sports fans during the Caps’ run to the Stanley Cup with his claim that Washington is “a minor league sports town.” And while Wilbon didn’t return to that point — or his heel-turn contention that Alex Ovechkin needs a few more titles to cement his status as an all-time NHL great — during his regular Monday appearance on Tony Kornheiser’s podcast, he was perfectly complimentary about the Caps, saying he was happy for them and for their longtime fans who have suffered through so much.
The conversation eventually turned to LeBron James and where he will end up as a free agent this summer. Wilbon has a fairly interesting theory that involves him playing in said minor league sports town.
“You know what? This is the place to do this,” Wilbon said when prompted by Kornheiser to talk about the issue. “Suppose, given that there’s no perfect place out there, that in Philadelphia he’d turn Ben Simmons into a voyeur if LeBron goes there, he’s not going to go to Houston and suppose the Lakers are not exactly [thinking] they can challenge Golden State in the next two years, he’d be wasting some time there. So suppose we strike out those teams. He doesn’t want to deal with [Cavs owner] Dan Gilbert anymore, he doesn’t think Cleveland can be close to anything because Boston and Philly have eclipsed them. …
“Suppose, given Lebron’s outspokenness, his engagement, his involvement, his engagement with what is going on nationally, culturally. Suppose he decides that the place he can do this best …”
(At this point, co-hosts Gary Braun and Chris Cilizza start to get excited about what Wilbon is about to say, one of them exclaiming, “Yes, Michael, say it!”)
“… and join two max players is the Washington Wizards.”
(And at this point, the breakfast crowd taking in Kornheiser’s podcast at Chatter applauded.)
James has been a vocal critic of President Trump, calling him a “bum” in September during the firestorm over the Golden State Warriors’ non-visit to the White House and recently saying the Cavs would not visit the White House had they won the NBA title. He’s also been speaking out more about social issues: During a December game against the Wizards at Capital One Arena, he wore sneakers that spelled out “EQUALITY” when placed next to each other and again took aim at Trump during his remarks to reporters (as The Post’s Tim Bontemps recounted):
“Obviously we all know where we are right now, and we know who is at the helm here,” James said, referencing the president he’s sparred with on social media. “Us as Americans, no matter the skin color, no matter the race, no matter who you are, I think we all have to understand that having equal rights and being able to stand for something and speak for something and keeping the conversation going.
“Obviously I’ve been very outspoken and well spoken about the situation that’s going on at the helm here, and we’re not going to let one person dictate us, us as Americans, how beautiful and how powerful we are as a people. Equality is all about understanding our rights, understanding what we stand for and how powerful we are as men and women, black or white or Hispanic.
“It doesn’t matter your race, whatever the case may be. This is a beautiful country, and we’re never going to let one person dictate how beautiful and how powerful we are.”
Wilbon said this all will depend on what Wizards management is prepared to do, “how out[side] the box are they prepared to think and act. Are they gonna do something that’s never really been associated with the Washington basketball franchise under either owner? And we know that Ted [Leonsis] is a creative man. … Ted’s lured people to work for him at the highest level of industry in this country. What’s he prepared to do? How out the box are they prepared to think, because I think, when you look out there, all of those [other] situations are flawed.”
For a sense of how “out the box” this thinking might be, European sportsbook BetDSI lists the Wizards’ odds of landing James at +10,000, an implied probability of less than 1 percent (the Lakers have the best odds at +200).
The ESPN personality and former WaPo columnist even seems to have written a script for Leonsis: “[The Wizards owner should say], ‘You know what? I’m with you,’ whether he’s with him or not. ‘I’m with you. This is the place to do that. Everything that you’ve uttered since Election Night 2016, this is the place for you to do this. This is the place for you to use your voice, and it’s a bigger platform even than L.A., in this context. Let’s saddle up, Big Boy. Why don’t you come here and play with [John] Wall and [Bradley] Beal and we’ll figure the rest out.’ ”
To which Kornheiser said, “That’s interesting. … This is good, this is very good.”
Wilbon wasn’t the first person to suggest James’s best landing spot would be the Wizards. In early November, former Wizard Paul Pierce told ESPN that James should consider Washington because it would have an easier path to the Finals than any team in the Western Conference and because of the talent the Wizards already have. But whether the Wizards have the salary-cap flexibility for this to become anything more than a weird thing to think about is a whole other story: They have three max players in Wall, Beal and Otto Porter Jr. already on the roster.
So LeBron to the Wizards seems like a long shot, but just imagine LeBron splashing around in a fountain next June. Imagine LeBron and Ovi splashing around in a fountain, together. The mind reels.
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