Post Watch: Wilbon's Problem Isn't Tony, It's Cheesecake

By: Harry Jaffe

Mike Wilbon after a heart attack is the same prolific sports columnist and TV talking head—minus the doughnuts. And the fried chicken. And the ribs.

“No more trips to Leon’s, my favorite ribs place in Chicago,” he says a month after a mild heart attack. “No more steak dinners with Charles Barkley at 2 am, with cheesecake and chocolate sauce for dessert.”

 

A week after the heart attack on the last Monday in January, Wilbon, 49, was back on TV jousting with Tony Kornheiser on their ESPN sports talk show, Pardon the Interruption. His first call was from Washington Post head man Don Graham.

“Do I get a vote?” Graham asked, according to Wilbon. “You are back too soon.”

Work wasn’t the problem, his doctors said. Wilbon has a family history of diabetes and ate a fast-food diet. If there were an Olympic event for eating at McDonald’s, Wilbon would have won a gold while covering the Athens games. “I ate at Mickey D’s 25 days straight,” he says.

“What’s killing me is breakfast,” Wilbon adds. “I am addicted to pancakes, waffles, and Frosted Flakes. But when the cardiologist tells you there’s no wiggle room—change your diet or die—it’s pretty simple.”

Not that simple, of course. When Wilbon gives in to the need for a little fat, his diet brigade shows up. “Sally Jenkins and Liz Clarke are on me like big sisters,” he says of the two Post sportswriters. “They say: ‘Can you stop living like a 16-year-old?’ ”

In the aftermath, Wilbon will keep writing a couple of columns a week, covering basketball for TV shows, spending about 50 days a year in his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, and doing verbal battle with Kornheiser on their PTI show.

Doesn’t Tony’s neurotic banter stress him out?

“It’s not work that stresses me out,” he says. “It’s the other stuff.”

Like cheesecake and chocolate sauce.

This article can be found in the April 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.