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Michael Wilbon Interview

The Drive with Josh Graham / Josh Graham
The Truth Network Radio
April 14, 2020 6:05 pm

Michael Wilbon Interview

The Drive with Josh Graham / Josh Graham

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April 14, 2020 6:05 pm

Michael Wilbon joined The Drive with Josh Graham to tell some Michael Jordan Stories, how he gets the wrinkles out of his suits and more. 


For those who don't know, the National Sports Media Association is right in our backyard in Winston-Salem. Every year the NSMA celebrates the best sportscasters and sportswriters in every state and nationally. And we've spoken to many of the winners who would have been recognized this summer if not for the pandemic we're going through.

National award winners like Kevin Harlan of Turner and Woge at ESPN. Dan Patrick was with us and he was set to go into the Hall of Fame as is or as was our next guest, Michael Wilbon of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption spending time here. Michael, appreciate your time with us. Congratulations on the honor as well. How much were you looking forward to being a part of the NSMA Festival? What were your festivities in Winston?

Well, anytime you're honored like this in your industry and with that peer group in mind, and you're mentioning people that I know in every case and they're sometimes socialized with anyway, in addition to Kevin Harlan, who luckily I last saw at a dinner. At least it wasn't just in an arena, a dinner, I can't remember what city we were in with Charles Barkley. We must have been during the NBA Finals and that's been almost a year ago, sadly. No, it had to be since then.

It had to be in the fall when the season first started. But Dan Patrick, who held my hand through my first NBA job, he and Scottie Pippen did put up with me. And I'm tremendously saddened by our inability to convene in June as we were going to do after another NBA Finals, an NHL Stanley Cup Final. We were going to do that and see each other and hopefully we'll do it anyway. But honored to have it happen, saddened that it won't happen on schedule.

But these are all people that I know and in most cases know well. We're going to make it happen probably in 2021. It's going to be bigger than ever. Just make sure when you come down here that you iron your suit because we were making fun of Tony Kornheiser. I mean, it probably bothers you to no end that he was inducted last year before you. And man, he didn't iron his suit at all. I don't know what he was doing. Iron his suit? I've never ironed a suit.

I don't know what... It was wrinkled. It was wrinkled.

I think that was the larger question. What happened with his suit? I think it was just wrinkled. A wrinkly suit. Well, he better get to a dry cleaner. He better not be handling the iron himself.

That I won't have happen. But no, it not only did it not bother me that Tony went in. I was thrilled that he went in. And he certainly is as deserving as just about anybody in that fraternity now. And so Tony was one of the people who was the first to congratulate me when he heard I was being honored. So that's...

Believe me, there's no, not even one second of professional jealousy there. But now I want to see a picture of this suit. I wonder what the heck he did with it on the way from Washington down to North Carolina. And I think I said iron.

I meant dry clean, of course. Michael Wilbon with us here on Sports On Track. Man, it's cabin fever, man.

We're all indoors. It's tough. Michael Wilbon is with us.

I'll tell you somebody who doesn't iron his suits. Michael Jordan. And speaking of speeches, I've said his Hall of Fame speech in 2009. It was probably the last public representation of what Jordan was like as a player.

And some people criticized it at the time when they saw the things come out and you saw some of the trash talk. I remember you were talking to him around that ceremony and you've gotten to know him, of course. And we're excited about the docu-series that's going to launch on Sunday. The 10-parter, The Last Dance that I hear is just fantastic.

You're going to be a part of this as well. And I'm wondering how good of a job do you believe this documentary does of capturing what Jordan was like as a player? The side that we never saw. Well, I haven't seen it. I'm not going to watch it until it airs. I'm not going to take a sneak peek, even though I could.

I'm not going to do that because I want to consume it the way everybody is consuming it. As a documentary event, which is what it's being called. And that's what it is. It is an event. Particularly, it would have been an event during the NBA Finals if it had been airing a schedule. But now in these times when we have next to no sports content, it is definitely going to be an event. And I am told by people who watched it that it is riveting, compelling. Those are a couple of the words that I've heard from other people. Again, I can't offer any testimony firsthand yet.

But just given what I've heard about it, what I know of it and having sat for a few questions, it's going to do a great job. It's Michael. It's Michael deciding, okay, I'm going to talk about all these things that I didn't talk about publicly over that period of time. And the last answer is not just about the last year. It's really about his career as seeing through the lens of that last year.

And in the context of it, of not going back, of having some finality. And I'm excited to see it. I know some of it, but I know there's a lot of stuff in there that I have no idea about. There's going to be stuff talked about from plane trips with the team and I'm sure on buses and in the locker room and just things that Michael's decided to talk about publicly for the first time. And I'm excited to see that. Every day this week, we're going to have somebody who got to know him, either playing against him or playing with him. Johnny Dawkins from UCF, the head coach there who played at Duke all those years.

Of course, he's going to be with us later in the week. And Joe Wolf played with him with the Tar Heels, now the head coach of the G-League's Greensboro Swarm. We're talking with Mike Wilbon here on Sports Hub Triad. So I remember reading one of your stories and you described Michael. You were doing a story on Alonzo morning, I think, and he learned that you were writing that story. And he said, he's not going to score that night. And you even said Michael made sure to remind Georgetown guys, Ewing, Alonzo morning about the game winning shot, which you covered in New Orleans in 1982, winning the national title.

I mentioned all that to set up this. How proud do you know Jordan to be of his days in Chapel Hill? Oh, God, I mean, they set up everything, which he's not. Look, he didn't even go to school in a one and done era.

He's all we need to know. He cried. He shed tears, real tears when it was decided that he wasn't going to go back for his senior year. And I've listened to him tell the stories about talking to Coach Smith and crying when, you know, I'm sure his parents and Coach Smith talked about what they thought he should do and made a strong recommendation.

And Michael didn't want to do that. He loved his time in college. I mean, we we've talked about that all the time. And, you know, look, I've had a chance to talk about a lot of these things in informal settings and formal settings. And you mentioned Johnny Dawkins, who was one of my favorite people on the planet.

He's awesome. And I got to see Johnny Dawkins play in high school in Washington, D.C., where I have lived my entire adult life and wrote for The Washington Post for 30 years. And I also live with a wife who went to Duke Law School. So I got a classmate of Jay Gillis. I think you're all in North Carolina, the Tar Heel Duke stuff back and forth, which I don't care about because I didn't grow up on Tobacco Road and I didn't go to ACC school, but I had to hear a lot of that.

My wife and Michael and Johnny and Michael and all the people that Michael comes in contact with. He loves that. He loves to wear his Tar Heel-ness on his sleeve, on his chest. I mean, it's famous that he wore this, you know, the shorts underneath his basketball.

Your honey loves it, loves it, loves it, loves it, loves it, and loves everything about his time at North Carolina. And I think anybody who listens to him knows how he wears it, man. He wears it. It's a badge of honor. This is not like, you know, these guys who you see introduce themselves as pros and say they're from so-and-so high school.

No, no. Michael Jordan, you know, it would say, you know, he was being introduced now, you know, and, you know, from North Carolina, like in the Chicago introductions in Chicago Stadium and the United Center and, you know, and from North Carolina. That's what it said. And that's what he was proud of. It's NSMA Hall of Fame inductee Michael Wilbon joining us from ESPN. And I was reading a story from Richard Diesh of The Athletic yesterday who has watched much of The Last Dance, which again debuts Sunday, the first part of a 10-part series, parts one and two, I should say, Sunday at nine o'clock. And this is something I found interesting that the director mentioned in a conversation with Jordan that didn't make it into the doc. He said as they were just getting to know each other, he asked him the question, and this is from Richard's story, why do you want to do this? And Jordan said, I don't.

And he responded, why not? And this quote I think stands out to me. He said, when people see the footage, I'm not sure they're going to be able to understand why I was so intense, why I did things the way I did them, the way I acted and why I said things the way I said them.

How concerned do you believe Michael to be about his image as this documentary series is set to be released? Well, I know that's 100 percent. It rings true because, look, there are times where I thought, well, there are conversations that we had off the record. And I had gone back to him and said, hey, let me use this.

This illustrates whatever it illustrates. And it could have been like months later, years later, decades later. And that was sometimes when Michael goes, all right, fine, go ahead and use it. I'll put it on the record so you can use it in a story. And there were times he said no. And I would say, why do you care about this?

He said, people are going to go crazy. I'm like, you're Michael Jordan, why do you care? And we would go back and forth about this and that. And I knew he cared. I knew he cared. I didn't understand all the time why he cared.

Just because that's my sort of thing. And it's funny, like, there are things where, you know, Charles Barkley and I, Charles is one of my dearest friends. And there are things that Charles would say or write. And I edited two of Charles's books. And Michael would see me later or call me and say, if I said that, if I could never get away with saying what Charles said.

And I said, yeah, you could. You just can't care. You can't care about it.

You can't care about the reaction. And he does care about the reaction. And that's who he is.

You know, that's who he is. He is very different. You know, there are three, I'm fortunate to have kind of worked with Magic Johnson in addition to knowing him already and covering his career and knowing him.

I worked with him for the better part of eight years at ESPN and ABC. And he and Michael and Charles are often compared, obviously those guys were really the core of the dream team and they've had these relationships and they played against each other. And they're so different.

They're so, so different. And Michael does care about his image and how he's perceived. And to the point where I had said, why do you care about this? And I know that story. And that story dealt in part with Scotty Burrell. And he uses an example with the director. He said, listen, I might've screamed to him.

I might've gotten him every day. I might've done this so that I could get into a place where I thought he'd be ready for the pressure and the distraction and the grueling nature of the NBA finals. And I don't know that people are going to understand why I was doing that. I think the answer from the director was, okay, then this is your chance to make sure everybody understands. And I'm glad he took him up on it because I think I understood most of it, most of it, not all of it, but I did understand it.

Magic did it in a way that was different than Michael did it, then LeBron does it, then Kobe did it. Then, if you want to go to other sports than maybe with the way Tom Brady did it, or does it, can't put them in pass tests yet. But yeah, I know that.

That is not something put on. That is not something that Michael was saying to hide behind something. That's how he felt at the time in real time and really staked out that territory and said, no, I'm not going to move outside this because I'm not sure how people are going to perceive it.

And I owe my teammates that protection. Brought to you by the director that gave us the entree, the giant HBO doc, and also the fab five 30 for 30. It's going to be the last dance Sunday, nine o'clock being joined by Mike Wilbon here on Twitter at real Mike Wilbon.

You can shoot him a follow. He is an NSMA hall of fame inductee for this year. But I mentioned the hall of fame speech and you're talking about things that bothered him. Like he could have, he could say the things that Charles Barkley, uh, says, but he just, it would bother him the way people would criticize it. How much do you think him being affected by slights and not wanting to slight others, um, is a, is a big part of his career because he has David Thompson speaking because he didn't want any of the tar heels to feel slighted by choosing just one of them. And also his bulls team at teammates as well.

And you mentioned all these stories. He had Leroy Smith, the guy who made it a varsity high school team at Laney high school in Wilmington at the ceremony. He talked about Brian Russell. Um, how much do you think that is an integral part of figuring out Jordan, this idea of slights? Well, it cut both ways because he, there were times where he went to great, great lengths to protect people that he wanted to protect that were close to him, that meant something to him. Um, and then there were times where he, he perpetrated the slight. I mean, when he invited him to the hall of fame ceremony, I thought that was great because like you said, when we started this conversation, I think all of that reflected who Michael was as the competitor.

Um, and I, I take it as it is. I know people who love him, who were so offended by the hall of fame ceremony. I, my, my brother who's a banker in Chicago is probably, I mean, there's no bigger Jordan fan.

He has season tickets at the bulls games all of that time that Michael played all of it in Chicago. He's, he's, he's as big as Jordan, you know, fan as there is. And the whole, he called me up after the hall of fame speech and he says, I can't believe he did this. And I'm like, dude, what did you think? Who did you think he was? Why did you think he was able to be the player that he was? And people don't get it.

That's that good. That's the point that Michael talks about. People don't get it often, but I think it coupled ways and I think it was a big part of who he is, but the people he's protective of, I mean like coach Smith and some of the guys he played with who aren't as famous roommates and teammates and people that are important to him his whole life.

I mean those people, man, Michael would take you to the mat to protect them and to demonstrate how he felt about them and his loyalty to them. Last thing for you, I know in conversations with Kornheiser, you guys aren't allowed to talk about golf outings with the former president of the United States, Barack Obama, but I don't know if that rule applies to the GOAT, Michael Jordan. Do you have a good golfing story regarding Mike? I don't. I mean not really. It's funny and we don't want to talk about the outings with President Obama. The funny thing is no one's ever asked me. I don't think anybody's ever told me not to. We just don't.

I mean those are, you know, I think the interesting thing for people who've been reporters and paid to make things public for decades is that there are times we don't, we're not interested in that. And with Michael, I'll tell you one. So I was playing in a, I was playing a Michael's event in the Bahamas and Jerome Bennett and I were partners and we're probably playing better than most people. Bennett is a much better golfer than I am.

And I was even then he was like a six handicap when I was in 11. Yeah. But we're playing pretty well.

We're playing pretty well in the final Sunday and we're making parts and we are, we're rolling and we, I don't know that we can win it, but we, you know, we're not out of it. And across a fairway, from his green across to our green comes Michael's striding to talk trash while we're trying to make a putt. And it was so like, I just remember thinking I'm finally getting trash talk in a competitive circumstance by Michael Jordan.

Now I know how this feels. Believe me, it had happened before, whether on deadline or writing something. If you got beat on a day, Michael would say to you, if he knew you well, yeah, you know, I don't know if that's a big story. Peter, I guess he had that last week. What do you, Michael knew how he just knew how to do that.

It was, it was what we all did. He just carried it to an art form level, but on a, on a Sunday in a golf tournament, Dennis and I trying to, you know, trying to win. And it just, his voice just comes in its stride across the fairway.

And Jordan comes across and something like, you can't make that putt that's outside your range. And it was just, it was hysterical. I loved it. And I think one of the things I got, I grew up on the South side of Chicago.

I, I grew up with some of the great trash talkers, maybe none of them famous, maybe some of them famous. And I grew up with those guys and this is what we did. And it did not intimidate me.

And that's how I lived from, I don't know, eight years old to, you know, in my thirties when I stopped competing in anything except golf. And I think because I laughed and because I loved it and because I wasn't intimidated by it, I think it was one of the reasons that Michael felt more comfortable talking to me. He knew I didn't take it the wrong way. He knew I enjoyed it. And he knew that some part of me, while I was no good athletic, athletically, by the time he met me, he knew that, that this had been part of my life. And I knew the context of it. He did this in tennis too. Back when he was taking tennis lessons and I don't know if he took them formally, but he, he was starting to play more tennis. We were in, in, in the dream team summer and he was talking trash to me with a tennis racket in my hand. And it was just funny.

I loved it all. And so I, I don't take it the wrong way. I think he's right. I think that Kobe Bryant also had a great measure of this as one of the things they shared. Um, and Kobe always felt sometimes I would say to Kobe, let me put this on the record. Let me write about this or talk about it.

He would say, you know what? I know you get it, but I don't know that the viewers are listeners readers. I don't think they're going to get it.

Let's keep it off the record. And those two guys that were very similar in that way, I think is one of the bonds they shared that they knew they had to go to a certain length to get the result they needed to get athletically competitively, but it didn't mean everybody was going to understand the buttons they pushed. And, uh, I know Michael feels that way.

Like I said, I know he feels that way a hundred percent. And I hope that people get a real glimpse inside of why he operated the way he did and why he fought to protect certain teammates and coaches and people that were close to him, why he sought to protect them from the outside world, knowing about it. Storytelling.

That's what we all shoot to do, whether it's sports talk, whether it's column writing, whether it's television on part of the interruption or something else. And I think what you've demonstrated in the last five or 10 minutes, the stories you shared with us justify the fact that you are going to be an NSMA hall of fame inductee, Michael Wilbon. I've admired your work for a very long time. I look forward to hearing more stories when you come down to Winston Salem, hopefully in 2021. Don't iron your suit forward to it. Don't iron your suit. I would never catch the end of that, but thanks for having me.

Let me just add as a PS. One of the things people are going to find out during the documentary, Michael's a great storyteller, a great storyteller. You know, I'm still not, I, to me as a journalist, not even that I am one anymore, but I certainly have them where they had occasionally stories that are off the record. They go to the grave off the record.

Somebody's craved. And there are some stories that I still, I don't think are going to be in the doc and I'm still there off the record. They, they are that.

And once I call them and say, can I use this? But I know that people are going to glimpse of what I'm going to get a glimpse of what a great storyteller Michael has become. Was he that as a young man?

Yeah, he was, but then he became more comfortable with it. And I've been on the good end of many of those stories and nights where the stories were told and my editors would say, what'd you guys talk about? And I go, nothing much. So those stories, I hope people are going to get a chance to see them starting Sunday night.

If they don't, I'll file it away and I'll try to get them out, get them out of you at the after party at the NSMA next year. So thanks for spending the time, Michael. It's good to hear from you. Thanks for doing this. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. You got it. He's on Twitter at real Mike Wilbon, the NSMA hall of fame inductee from pardon the interruption in ESPN, Mike Wilbon joining us on today's show. That was a real treat.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-11 16:56:16 / 2023-02-11 17:05:58 / 10

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