Wilbon Q/A: NBA Countdown isn’t trying to compete with Barkley, TNT; speaks on changes, Simmons, Magic

First of three parts:

It isn’t easy to pin down Michael Wilbon these days. It’s not that he doesn’t want to talk. The notion of silence doesn’t exist for him.

Rather, Wilbon is a constant man in motion this time of year. His regular gigs on NBA Countdown and Pardon the Interruption should be enough to fill his plate. Wilbon, though, still loves to write, which is why he was in Chicago to write a column off Sunday’s Bears-Houston game for ESPNChicago.com.

“It’s crazy, man,” he said.

After many texts, I finally connected with Wilbon Monday. And sure enough, he had plenty to say. Enough for a three-parter.

We discussed the state of sports writing in the wake of him editing and selecting the stories for Best American Sports Writing 2012; and why he feels the need to continue to cover games and write.

The first part of my interview with Wilbon will focus on the changes for NBA Countdown. Out are Chris Broussard and Jon Barry. In are Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose. Wilbon and Magic Johnson remain the constants in a studio show that exists in the same stratosphere as the Charles Barkley fest on the NBA on TNT.

How did you feel about the changes?

For the first time in my life, I understand what happens in the lockerroom when a guy gets traded. Jon wasn’t just a co-worker. He was one of my closest friends. It was every day for five years. It put me in a funk. There was an emotional component I hadn’t been forced to look at before.

Yet having said that, I love the guys coming in, Jalen and Bill. Bill knows so much about basketball. Jalen is terrific. We’ll have four guys with different points of view. We should be able to do some smart talk about basketball.

What about the inevitable comparisons to Barkley and TNT?

We’re not TNT. There’s only one Charles Barkley. I’ve said that Charles is the most important voice in the post-John Madden era. People compare. That’s fine, that’s natural. I love Charles and (Kenny Smith). I guess they’re still trying to figure out how to get Shaq involved. I love watching them. But we don’t compete with them. We shouldn’t try to do the same thing. We should do a different show than the one they’re doing.

Simmons is the wildcard. He didn’t play, and never covered the game the way you did. How will his addition make the show different?

He will be easy to tweak. Some of my job will be to start some fights and be an instigator with Bill. Bill’s personality allows for that, and it will make for better discussion.

One of the producers said, ‘Bring some PTI to this show.’ It wasn’t the case before for this show. Maybe it will be for this one.

What is it like to work with Magic?

I always say, ‘I get to watch basketball with Magic Johnson.’ I know so much more about basketball than I did five years ago. When you’re watching Magic watch Steve Nash, that’s like basketball nirvana. He said LeBron James needed a post game. What does LeBron do? He gets a post game. If you can’t listen to Magic and not learn something, then turn it off.

As a player, Magic was flamboyant, but as an analyst he goes back to his Midwestern roots. It’s just that he’s straightforward. People compare him to Charles. They say he doesn’t do this or that. Hey, they’re different people. Magic just has to be Magic.

What’s your assessment of the new show thus far?

We’ll be fine, but it’s going to take repetition. It’s like the coaches say about getting the reps. The other day, my wife asked how the show went. I said, ‘We were better at 11 than we were at 7.’ I’d expect we’ll be better on Christmas Day than we are today.

Wednesday: Wilbon says the new media age has resulted in a lower quality in sports writing.










Simmons, Rose part of revamped ESPN NBA Countdown

Bill Simmons’ dream continues to get better. The NBA junkie now will be talking hoops with Magic Johnson as part of ESPN’s revamped NBA Countdown.

In are Simmons and Jalen Rose. Out are Jon Barry and Chris Broussard. Remaining are Johnson and Michael Wilbon.

ESPN felt like the show needed some tweaks. Simmons, who has his hands on pretty much everything at ESPN, obviously is seen as an upgrade with his unique perspective.

Thanks to the magic of video, here are Simmons and Rose talking about being “teammates.”

For those who prefer reading, here are some quotes:

“I think the four of us will be able to have good conversations,” Simmons said. “We’re all going to say what we’re thinking. I’m better playing off other people and I think Jalen is the same way and I know Magic is the same way — all four of us can do that. At the same time we want the show to have a level of sophistication.”

Mark Gross, ESPN senior vice-president and executive producer for content said:

“The unique, diverse perspectives of our new commentator team fit perfectly with the show’s free-flowing format. Bill brings a deep knowledge of the league past and present, an entertaining style and an ability to articulate his inventive thoughts from a fan’s point of view. Jalen’s lengthy playing experience and his strong, informed opinions will give fans great insight into how and why things happen on the court. They join a team that includes one of the greatest players of all time and one of our most versatile and engaging commentators.”


On the cover GQ: Lin-Sanity still lives on for now

GQ has jumped on the Jeremy Lin train. He is on the cover of the November issue.

There’s hardly any guarantee that Lin, now with Houston, will continue to be the sensation that he was last year. So why wait? Let’s slap him on the cover while he still has some steam.

For now, everyone still wants a piece of Lin. I loved the headline that ran on Boston.com: “Harvard’s Lin covers GQ.”

Yes, Harvard. Isn’t that everyone’s first association when they think of Lin? I suppose that’s the case in Boston.

Even Lin questions how long this will last.

“People are always saying, ‘He’s only started twenty-five games, there’s so many uncertainties.’ And I agree. I totally agree. I don’t know how my next season’s going to turn out. The things that I struggled with before last year, I’m going to struggle with next year — there’s that learning process. . . . I’m not like the next Michael Jordan, but I’m also not what everyone saw me as before I started playing in the NBA, either.”




Brooklyn Nets star in new behind-the-scenes series on NBA TV

If I was a player, coach, owner or GM, I’m not sure I’d want my team to be part of an all-access show. I’d find it too intrusive.

Fortunately, there are plenty of teams who do want to participate, especially those that need publicity. Next up: The new Brooklyn Nets.

They star in NBA TV’s new edition of The Association. It premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

Here’s the trailer.

Brooklyn could use all the hype it can get as the team settles into its new home. And it’ll be about Brooklyn as much as the team. The first episode includes Brooklyn native, actress Rosie Perez, taking Joe Johnson around the borough.

Perez said:

“I just loved how people were so real with him. Even myself. I said, ‘My goodness, you talk slow as hell.’ He said, ‘Yeah, you just say whatever comes to your mind.’ And I go, ‘Welcome to Brooklyn…get used to it!'”

Last week, Nets GM Billy King and center Brook Lopez addressed the show during a teleconference. Here are some of the excerpts.

King on the opportunity to participate in the show: “It’s a great opportunity for the city and organization as we move into Brooklyn. It will be a great chance for our players and organization to really display what it takes to try and build a winner. To me, it will be a great time for the organization as well as the people of Brooklyn to be able to unveil Brooklyn to the world.”

King on whether he had any concerns about the access: “There really wasn’t any concerns on my part. If this was a young team, I probably would not have wanted to do that. I’m not worried about anything where our players or organization will come out looking bad.”

King on whether he discussed the show with the players: “I didn’t really talk to the players when we first discussed it. The NBA has done a great job of producing the show so the players all get to see it. In regards to the publicity, it’s gone above and beyond what any of us thought. It’s been a great launch.”

King on whether or not there were restrictions placed on the camera and crews: “No. They’ll be in the locker rooms. They get to travel with us. They’ve sort of blended in. The cameras have not distracted them one bit.”

Lopez on participating and having cameras around: “I’ve never really been a part of something quite like this before. It’s a bit of a change….they [production crew] handle themselves very well.”

Lopez on his perception of the change in energy and the mood of the team since relocating to Brooklyn:  “It’s only mere miles but the mentality is completely different.  We are in the city now and have to deal with a lot more media, but the people in Brooklyn have been so welcoming.  The city has a huge sports fan base and is excited to have us.  It has really been noticeable in practice, just the level of competition every day.  I am getting beat up daily by guys like Reggie [Evans] and Andray [Blatche].





The decision: Game 3 or U.S. Open tonight? Tiger or LeBron?

So what are you watching tonight? Game 3 of the NBA Finals or the final round of the U.S. Open?

We have been handed this delicious Father’s Day bounty thanks to the Open being in San Francisco.

In a brilliant decision beginning with the 2010 tournament at Pebble Beach, NBC decided to air these West Coast Opens in prime time. The last group of Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell goes off at 6:10 p.m ET. That means the final putt won’t go down until 10:30-11 p.m. ET.

I love it, and so many other golf fans. Nothing like enjoying a beautiful day and then coming home to watch some big-time golf.

But there’s more. Also on the menu is Game 3 of the NBA Finals airing on ABC. Big game to see if LeBron James and the Heat can take control of the series at home.

The first two games have done huge ratings, and they only will get bigger.

For NBC’s sake, it would help if Tiger Woods gets back into the hunt quickly in the fourth round. He tees off at 4:50 p.m. If he makes a charge, people will tune in, especially the casual and even non-golf fan.

Either way, it should be a great night. My remote is in for a workout.



Stanley Cup Final could have used a Gretzky; Game 1 ratings soar with LeBron, Durant

It’s all about big, big stars.

The NBA has them for its final; the NHL didn’t. Just look at the ratings.

Final numbers for the Stanley Cup finals were the lowest since 2007. The Los Angeles Kings-New Jersey ratings were down 33 percent from last year, averaging 3 million viewers per game.

Meanwhile, Game 1 of the NBA Finals did an 11.8 overnight rating, the highest ever for a game on ABC. And it only figures to get bigger if LeBron James and company can win a few games in this series.

The NBA rating speaks to the star power of a final that includes James, Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook. As much as people hate the Heat, they still tune in to watch. I thought it was great that they made the finals. Rooting for Miami to lose to Boston is sort of like wanting Jack Nicholson’s Joker to be knocked off with 45 minutes left in Batman. I wanted more Heat, not less.

As for hockey, would the ratings have been down if the Kings still had a player named Wayne Gretzky? Definitely not.

Gretkzy, though, is long gone, and the league doesn’t have another transcendent star, given the uncertain health status of Sidney Crosby. As a result, the final featured two mostly unknown teams. And the Kings going up 3-0 also dulled the ratings momentum.

The NHL’s parity is great in the early rounds, when the No. 8 Kings proved that the seeds don’t really matter in hockey. The new format of airing every game on NBC’s various platforms resulted in a nice increase in the ratings.

However, the problem with parity is that sometimes the big-name teams and players get knocked off before the finals. For the first time since 2007, there wasn’t an Original 6 team or Crosby-led Pittsburgh in the Finals. Instead, the NHL got Los Angeles-New Jersey, two teams that don’t necessarily move the meter even in their home markets.

There are plenty of positives for hockey. But as the ratings for the Final showed, there’s plenty of room for improvement.





ESPN hires NBA referee equivalent to Mike Pereira

Sound move by ESPN. The network has hired a former NBA official to lend insights for its coverage of the finals on ABC.

Richard Deitsch of SI.com reports Steve Javie will work as a rules analyst for the network’s pregame and postgame coverage of the NBA Finals, as well as SportsCenter.

Javie, a 25-year ref who had to retire because of a bad knee, told Deitsch that he was inspired by Mike Pereira’s work on Fox’s NFL coverage.

“Mike and I are friends and I think what he’s done has fantastic,” Javie said.  “He’s been the trailblazer here and he told me he thought the NBA, ESPN or TNT  would be interested in something like this. I think Mike has really gained  credibility for officials in the NFL, but fans of the NBA have never heard from  or been given the perspective from the officials’ point of view. I’m hoping for  positive feedback because I believe it’s something that’s been missing. I hope  people come away and say, “Boy, I didn’t even look at it that way, and I never  knew that.”

Yes, but what happens when he has to call out one of his former NBA colleagues for missing a call?

“Now I’m not going to be a jerk about it because these are my guys. But I want  to be the voice of the official and tell people, ‘Look at this play. Maybe you  should have had a whistle here, but here is the reason why they didn’t blow it.’  I won’t be a guy who blasts the officials but at the same time I will be someone  who points out to fans that the ref did not get call right and here’s why. It’s  not necessarily a criticism but an explanation on why a call was missed.”

I like the move. More explanation and less whining about the officials is the way to go.


Dream Team rises again in NBA TV documentary

The U.S. basketball team will have plenty of star power in London, but there will be only one Dream Team.

Twenty years ago in Barcelona, a team for the ages transformed basketball. A new documentary on NBA TV (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET) chronicles Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, Patrick, Scottie and the rest with interviews and rare footage.

I’ll have more next week, but here’s a video clip with the release below.

From NBA TV:

NBA TV will celebrate the 20th anniversary of USA Basketball’s iconic team, which captured the attention of fans around the globe, when the network premieres NBA TV’s “The Dream Team” presented by Right Guard on Wednesday, June 13, at 9 p.m. ET.

Narrated by writer/director/producer Ed Burns, the film will be the definitive documentary of the historic 1992 USA Basketball team, featuring recent interviews with all 12 members, including Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Charles Barkley.

The 90-minute documentary will showcase never-before-seen footage and untold stories of how the most dominant team ever assembled returned USA Basketball to glory, while turning basketball into a global phenomenon.

The world had rarely seen a frenzy as the one the Dream Team created when it arrived in Barcelona, Spain, in July 1992. The Dream Team featured 11 future Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame players and three future Hall of Famers on the coaching staff, including head coach Chuck Daly.

NBA TV’s “The Dream Team” presented by Right Guard® will take viewers on a behind-the-scenes journey into the selection of the team, the dynamic personalities, the legendary team-building experiences in training camp and exhibitions, and ultimately its rock-star-type unveiling in Barcelona.

NBA TV’s “The Dream Team” presented by Right Guard® will include:
· Exclusive one-on-one interviews with the entire Dream Team: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, and John Stockton, as well as assistant coaches Lenny Wilkens, Mike Krzyzewski, and P.J. Carlesimo
· The Team’s only loss, as documented through rare footage from USA Basketball’s film library, and the untold story behind what has become part of basketball legend
· The Story of the greatest game never seen, featuring exclusive footage from 20 years ago in Monte Carlo when Magic and Jordan went head-to-head in practice
· How The Team was chosen: the story behind the selection process for the Dream Team’s roster
· Many other exclusive interviews with those connected to the team.

Will basketball fans tune into Oklahoma City-San Antonio series?

This is a long way (as in light years) from Yankees-Red Sox. Or Lakers-Celtics for that matter.

The Western Conference final between Oklahoma City and San Antonio (game 1, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) should provide a good barometer for the growth of the NBA. This is a highly regional match-up, although it’s not even close on the passion meter as Texas-Oklahoma in college football.

San Antonio is the nation’s 36th largest market, while Oklahoma City is 44th. San Antonio has the Alamo and a great River Walk. Not sure what Oklahoma City has, but from listening to a Bill Simmons podcast with SNL’s Bill Hader, an OK City native, it doesn’t sound like much.

As far as star power, San Antonio, with four NBA titles, continues to mysteriously fly under the radar. Tim Duncan easily is the most under hyped superstar in the history of basketball. It seems the only time he and the Spurs get on national TV is if they are playing Kobe or Jeremy Lin.

In fact, when it comes to star power, the biggest in this series will be Kevin Durant. We love the latest big thing, and there will be interest to see if he, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder can take it to the next level.

The NFL has shown it is immune from the small market factor with recent Super Bowls featuring Indianapolis-New Orleans and Green Bay-Pittsburgh. We’ll watch regardless of who is out on the field.

It’s still different for other sports. Star power and market size drive the ratings. You can bet ESPN, and the NBA for that matter, breathed a big sigh of relief when LeBron, Dwyane and Miami prevailed in their series. Nothing against Indiana, but the no-name Pacers would have been a ratings killer in the East finals.

So will you watch Oklahoma City-San Antonio? Basketball fans will, for sure. But the real ratings boost comes with casual, even non-fans tuning in.

TNT will hype this series to the max. Just the same, you know they would have preferred to see Kobe and the Lakers still on the floor.