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.
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.
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.