Friday evening, while many Northwestern students took part in the usual weekend activities, true sports fans were at Coon Auditorium listening to Mike Wilbon (Medill ‘80), co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, speak about his campus experiences.
“You guys,” said Wilbon as he walked toward the lectern. “Your social lives must suck.”
It was the beginning of an almost two-hour question and answer session with the audience during which Wilbon answered questions about a hodgepodge of topics ranging from the NBA playoffs to fatherhood.
The Washington Post columnist said he decided to make the event an “interactive discussion” instead of a speech because a lecture is not what college students want to hear on a Friday night. Indeed, throughout the session he demonstrated his understanding of the Northwestern student body. His understanding transcended the purple sweater and collared shirt that he wore underneath his suit and the purple pocket square he wore in it. Wilbon made it apparent that he was a Northwestern student, and that he still is a Wildcat.
“Don’t take the football team for granted,” said Wilbon. “Don’t be jerks; take your asses to the games.”
Although the sports teams at NU have drastically improved since the days when Wilbon roamed the halls of Fisk Hall, his allegiance hasn’t grown — it just hasn’t wavered. Wilbon described his Northwestern experience as the best four years of his life. That special loyalty to Northwestern prompted A&O to invite the sports personality to give a talk at his alma mater.
“We feel like Mike appeals to a wide swath of campus: journalists and sports fans and people that love Northwestern as much as he does,” said A&O chairperson Adam Pumm.
But Wilbon’s discussion wasn’t only about his Wildcat pride. With students asking questions, he naturally gave career advice as well, guidance that he admits seems really simple.
“Try to figure out what you like to do, not what you want to do,” said Wilbon. “The notion of people not loving what they do freaks me out.”
He gave the advice out of personal experience. In his talk, Wilbon mentioned that he chose his career path because of his love of sports. By age 16 — after a Pony League baseball game against future hall-of-famer Kirby Puckett crushed his dream of playing second base for the Chicago Cubs — Wilbon knew he was going to be a sports journalist because he knew he loved sports.
That passion was apparent during his lecture. He went on a ten minute NBA-basketball-is-better-than-NCAA-basketball argument and offered his personal insight into Michael Jordan’s personality and career. Wilbon also admitted that his girlfriend (and now wife) once asked him who he loved more, herself or Michael Jordan.
“I love you more than Scottie,” Wilbon answered, referring to the Chicago Bulls’ second best player at the time, Scottie Pippen.
And that wasn’t the only sports moment that Wilbon took over his significant other. In 1996 Northwestern made a Rose Bowl appearance that attended, and will never forget. The event was not only the second time in history that the Wildcats played in Pasedena, but also a combination of two Wilbon’s greatest passions: sports and Northwestern.
“My wife hates that I say it was the greatest weekend of my life,” he said. “But it was the greatest weekend of my life.”
Wilbon left students with advice to cherish their time at Northwestern and lead the auditorium in applauding some of NU’s key athletic figures, Athletic Director Jim Phillips and Head Football Coach Pat Fitzgerald.