EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 2, 2007

Pardon the interruption, but Wilbon is a jerk

Bill Burt

Where is the outrage, Boston?

Where is the outrage from African-Americans who have made Boston their home?

Boston has been "dissed" by a sports celebrity named Michael Wilbon.

Wilbon, who is most known for co-hosting the popular ESPN program PTI (Pardon the Interruption), was on Dan Patrick's ESPN radio program the day after the NBA Draft.

Wilbon, a columnist with the Washington Post, was asked by Patrick why high-profile NBA free agents like Kevin Garnett didn't want to come to Boston.

Wilbon, apparently hurting for the pithy/comedic comments he is noted for on his "PTI" program, pulled an Al Campanis and lost his mind (at least I hope he did).

You remember Campanis. He was the Los Angeles Dodgers general manager who lost his job after implying blacks weren't qualified, mentally, to be executives in baseball.

Wilbon's version is equally of the Cro-Magnon version. He said that "racism" in Boston is the reason, at least he said so much when he wasn't fumbling his words.

It was the strangest interview I've ever heard about "race" in Boston.

Here are a few of his lowlights:

r "Dominicans in baseball don't count, even darker-skinned ones like David Ortiz, because they don't know about the history of the city." If I were Ortiz, I would demand an apology from Wilbon.

* "Why are you doing this?" referring to Doc Rivers for taking the head coaching job of the Celtics.

Why? How about $5 million a year, and a chance to coach one of professional sports' most storied franchises, you knucklehead. And why is an objective reporter wanting to play a role on where a guy he knows works?

* On several occasions, fans in the "Boston Garden," which was replaced by the new FleetCenter/TD Banknorth Garden in 1995, and apparently on the "street" called Wilbon the "N-word."

Is he serious? When did this happen? Did he report this to his editors? Did he call security in the Garden? Does anybody believe this?

Then Wilbon went on to talk about Pumpsie Green, Jackie Robinson and Bill Russell, stories that have been told so many times I get ill.

Weren't we over them? Didn't everyone with a drop of New England blood in his/her veins agree they were not proud times in our region?

Not Wilbon.

He, in fact, basically implied that Kevin Garnett didn't OK a potential trade to the Celtics because of "race" issues.

If that's the case, Garnett, like Wilbon, needs to be educated about this region of the country and the opportunities for blacks, never mind athletes.

Wilbon questioned Patrick about great, cherished black athletes who came to Boston after Bill Russell. Patrick, unfortunately, didn't have a clue and was speechless. Before Patrick was able to pull a rabbit out of his hat, Wilbon brought up Jim Rice and disarmed him by implying Rice, a Hall of Fame-caliber star, was not beloved.

He, of course, used that four-decades-old argument of "Freddie Lynn was loved more."

Of course, Patrick and Wilbon forgot about probably the most beloved Boston athlete of the 1990s around here, Mo Vaughn. I covered the Sox then and this guy was a god compared to Roger Clemens, who was despised by most fans by the time he left here after the 1996 season.

Robert Parish, Andre Tippett and Cedric Maxwell are well-paid and well-embraced ex-Boston superstars who played and stayed here. But the fact that I have to bring that up is patronizing to blacks.

Race is a delicate issue, especially around here. If Wilbon wants to add to the discussion, I'm all for it. All he did the day after the draft was sound like someone who had nothing to say.

As for high-priced free agents, didn't the Patriots cop the biggest and best of them all, linebacker Adalius Thomas, a black man?

Is Thomas crazy? Doesn't he know that Greater Foxboro is whiter than summer lilies? What was Thomas thinking about coming to New England without calling Wilbon?

Wilbon said the Celtics and politicians have a lot of work ahead of them on this matter. I think Wilbon forgot to do his homework on pithy sports talk radio. The No. 1 politician in this neck of the woods is a black man, Gov. Deval Patrick.

Why do the Celtics have trouble getting top free agents here?

Here's a possibility, Mr. Wilbon: Maybe it's because they stink.

Maybe players like Kevin Garnett aren't interested in three or four more years of growing pains because of their young players. They want to win now and this ain't the place for that.

Maybe after 20 years without a title, these "kids" don't care about Celtics history, tradition or pride.

WEEI host Michael Holley, who is black, unfortunately had a chance to make Wilbon look like a fool. Instead, though, Holley walked on egg shells, semi-refuting Wilbon. I still don't know where Holley stands.

Boston has some influential and powerful media members on the national scene but I have yet to hear anybody respond to Wilbon's vitriol. Maybe some of our finest are too close with the popular Wilbon.

Simply put, Wilbon is a jerk. He made some egregious claims, but nobody knows if they are true. Heck, I'm not sure if he was talking about 15 or 20 years ago or if he was talking about last year.

Was he called the "N-word?" Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't. I don't know.

If it was "nincompoop," though, I might believe him.

Bill Burt is executive sports editor of Eagle-Tribune Publishing. You can e-mail him at bburt@eagletribune.com.