Wilbon maintains a close friendship with many of the former NBA stars. He is extremely close with Jordan, Charles Barkley, and co-worker Magic Johnson. The day after “The Decision,” Wilbon intimated that many former players around the league were less than pleased with the move to Miami. By now, most of us have read some of those thoughts as they have trickled out in public to the press. Magic has disapproved. Barkley has disapproved. The chorus continued to sing.
Jordan’s first comments on the matter were made during an interview at the American Century Celebrity Golf tournament: “There’s no way, with hindsight, I would’ve ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, ‘Hey, look, let’s get together and play on one team…But that’s … things are different. I can’t say that’s a bad thing. It’s an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.” Barkley followed up with: “Mike and I are in 100 percent agreement on this…If you’re the two-time defending NBA MVP, you don’t leave anywhere. They come to you. That’s ridiculous.”
But earlier this week, Michael Wilbon finally gave us a window into the level of anger and disdain that these titans of the game have for the move to Miami. In an interview on ESPN 980 in Washington, PTI partner Tony Kornheiser started into a point with “Jordan was very critical of LeBron…” when Wilbon quickly interrupted with:
You don’t even know the half of it…Let me just say this now that he has gone public: The Jordan version that you see now where he is sort of smiling but saying, ‘I hate this’ – that is one percent of the steam that was rising from Michael Jordan the night [The Decision] happened. He has calmed down a bit.
It was a radio interview that passed quickly and did not get the same attention as Michael’s first comments. Wilbon, however you may fault him for his involvement in the Decision show, is extremely close with these guys and has great insight into both their careers and post-career thoughts and commentaries on the league. Wilbon tried to paint an objective argument for LeBron leaving – in the end, however, he agreed with the former superstars and relayed a few more thoughts he had heard from MJ:
I agree with Jordan that the league was built on rivalries. If you love basketball, you want to see the best play against the best, not hook up. If Bird and Magic had hooked up, where would we be? Michael Jordan was a free agent and Pat Riley tried to get him in 1997 and Jordan said to him, to his face, ‘This is a great honor you show me, but I want to kill you…and you want to kill me.’
I am with Jordan on this. Magic feels the same way. Earvin has not been as strident about it and Bird has not been as strident about it. Barkley has. And they are right.
The best people want to beat the best people. When Isiah beat the Bulls three straight years, as Jordan said to me, did I want to go play with him the next year? [Wilbon speaking as MJ] Three straight times in the playoffs [the Pistons] beat my brains in, the idea is to beat [Isiah].
This is not necessarily breaking new ground and it’s an unsurprising opinion but I had not heard this specific level of disappointment and anger coming from Jordan’s initial comments. My ears certainly perked up while driving around DC on Monday (You can listen here in the July 26, part 2 archive at the 14:30 mark)
AP reporter Tom Withers said in interview on WKNR yesterday that he had heard rumblings that LeBron may issue some sort of message to Cleveland. The booing of any mention of his name at the ESPYs supposedly was a wake up call for him. I imagine the severity of the furor and disapproval from his basketball idol is a pretty big wake up call as well.