Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mike Wilbon's Big WaPo Finish

Raised in northern New Jersey, I didn't grow up reading Mike Wilbon in The Washington Post. I was reading Bob Klapisch on baseball in The Bergen Record, Peter Vescey on the machinations of the NBA in the New York Post and Bill Rhoden on grown-up angles that I hardly would have though up on my own in the Times.

Even at an early age, I must have intuited that Mike Lupica was a blowhard jerk because he wasn't really on my radar. And that's before my uncle crossed paths with him while each was coaching youth basketball in the suburbs of Connecticut. I may be remembering this wrong, but I believe that each of the handful of times that they met in a grade school gym or had to speak on the phone (only once, I believe, to re-schedule a game canceled due to inclement weather), Lupica insisted on introducing himself as "Mike Lupica of the Daily News" as if they had never met previously or as if his profession was somehow relevant to their interaction as the coaches of 8-year-olds. Eight-year-olds, dude. My dad's younger brother is a sweetheart who will make several stops each morning to make sure he can read a print edition of each New York sports section. He loves following the Knicks and loves coaching his children, yet Lupica insisted on big timing him over grade school hoops. But I digress.

Despite not hailing from the WaPo delivery area, we're all very familiar with Wilbon at this point thanks to Pardon the Interuption. That and his co-authorship of Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man with Charles Barkley. Which is why I felt compelled to read the final column that he filed with The Washington Post. As he severs his last remaining ties with the newspaper, a break in the works since PTI first aired on ESPN on Oct. 22, 2001, Wilbon takes a look back at his mentors and subjects. Not surprisingly given his starting date in 1980, he reveals that Michael Jordan is the most dominant athlete that he covered and that Len BIas' death was the one of the most tragic events of his tenure. On the whole, he comes off as much more gracious and inquisitive in his writing than he does on television.

Considering that Wilbon's transition to television, along with his past and future cohort Tony Kornheiser, is but one small piece in the deterioration of the newspaper business it felt somewhat odd reading this final column on computer screen instead of in print. But I guess that's part of the story, too.

WWOD? Re-Runs: A Date Which Will (Also) Live in (Lesser But Still Significant) Infamy

(This story initially ran on 12/8/09)

Aside from being my mom's and Larry Bird's birthday, Dec. 7 is also the anniversary of the surprise attack by the Japanese Navy on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The following day US President Franklin Delanor Roosevelt delivered speech to a joint session of Congress. During his address he referred to the previous day as "a day which will live in infamy." Less than an hour after completing his remarks a formal declaration of war was made and it was on. The US had entered WWII.

The day, Dec. 8, of the "infamy" address is also itself a date that has a tragic legacy. On Dec. 8 1980, John Lennon was gunned down outside of his apartment building in New York City. He was returning home when he was shot in the back. The assailant was captured and imprisoned. While there was no formal declaration of war or famous piece of American oratory that resulted, there was a collective moment of national shock when the news was relayed by sportscaster Howard Cosell during a Monday Night Football telecast.



Making Cosell's announcement (slightly) more poignant was the fact that Lennon had previously been a guest in the Monday Night Football booth.