Since the Capitals decided to be an absolute disgrace this season, there really wasn’t anything else to do this spring when it came to watching sports with pure joy. You can make a case for watching the Nationals, but they keep losing all the time to the stupid Braves and Cardinals. Also, call me when Bryce Harper puts up the exact same stats as Albert Pujols at his prime instead of another failed but hyped-up youngster with an attitude problem this city has seen too much of this past decade and a half. Others would say that I should be watching the Orioles and my response to them is three things. One, they are in the AL Beast. Two, Manny Machado is injured and that makes everyone sad. Finally three, the same issues that creep up with the O’s every year, they never have a real world-class starting rotation.
That leads us to the Wizards. Yes, that is the basketball team that everyone hates calling by their actual nick name because of the lost nostalgia from the previous one, the Bullets. There’s a reason why it has taken forever to change the football team’s nick name from the Redskins. As if there isn’t further evidence that Washington DC is a poor sports town, almost no one remembers that this team won an NBA Championship in 1978. Unfortunately, there are plenty of reasons behind that. First, Wes Unseld, Bobby Dandridge and Elvin Hayes were the proverbial “Big 3” of the team, but the team went 44-38 that season. They literally were the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes of the NBA; a team that has a championship banner, but one that won’t have anything special to be remembered for. Three years before that, the Bullets won their still franchise best 60 games, but lost to Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors in the finals (A little did you know. The 1975 NBA Finals had Bullets Head Coach K.C. Jones (the same K.C. Jones who would win two NBA Championship with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics) try to outwit Warriors Head Coach Al Attles. It is the first ever championship that featured two minority head coaches among the United State’s four major professional sports). In 1979, the Bullets will not only play in their last NBA finals in franchise history, but also have the last of their five 50-win seasons.
Since 1988, Unseld was in his first full season as head coach and the team would never be the same again. The Bullets would only be in the playoffs five more times in 26 years, have the greatest player of all-time make an attempt to sabotage the team and have a player that thought it was a good idea to poop in other people’s shoes capture our imagination for a brief moment. The Bullets, and then Wizards fell out of the local consciousness as Lefty and Gary’s Maryland Terrapins and John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas took over our viewing pleasure on the basketball court. American, George Mason and VCU would add to local mix throughout the last decade, too. Chris Webber, Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard (even Gheorghe Muresan) tried to capture some form of playoff success, but to no avail.
However, I can still remember 2005-2007 like it was yesterday. When “Agent Zero” was still at the peak of his powers, you could not take your eyes of him. Time and again, Gilbert Arenas would make game winners and score 50 points or more in his sleep. He would lead the Wizards passed the Chicago Bulls and into the second round for the first time since 1982. They would go on to play Shaq, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat but would get swept in easy fashion. But the Wizards made it! They would then go toe-to-toe with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2006, but would lose the series in a heart breaker in Game Six, leaving the season knowing that the team left something in the tank and should do better next year. Initially, things went according to plan. Arenas played in three NBA All-Star games, but 2007 would be the year that he would start in an All-Star game for the first and only time in his career. Then, April 4th happened. That was when Gilbert Arenas tore his ACL 18 days before the playoffs started and he would never be the same again. As fate would have it, the Wizards would never get passed James and the Cavaliers in two more occasions and the team would never be the same again.
Despite being in the training room more times than on the basketball court (oh wait, that wasn’t true! He was playing pickup at Barry Farms.), Abe Pollin decided to give Gilbert 6 years and $111 million. Wizards fans blamed GM Ernie Grunfeld, but people forgot that Abe Pollin was 14 months from passing away and he demanded to see Arnas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler win a championship while he was still alive. It never happened. And then Gilbert and some random bench player named Javaris Crittenton thought it was a good idea to put an end to a gambling dispute with guns at the Verizon Center locker room. Soon after, Jan Vesely and Otto Porter happened. Andray Blatche being named captain, getting extended and then amnestied happened. Nick Young and JaVale McGee being BFFs for life a bit too much happened.
But then, John Wall happened. On a Kentucky team full of young and naive freshman, Wall seemed like the more mature of them all. He would lead them to an Elite Eight appearance in the NCAA Tournament under John Calipari, one year after Kentucky went through the infamous Billy Gillipie era. Under new owner Ted Leonsis, Wall was a no brainer selection and he was taken number one overall. But like his days at Kentucky, Wall had to deal with more knuckleheads except maybe less talented ones in Arenas, Young, McGhee, Blatche and even Jordan Crawford and Josh Howard. Soon, firing head coach Flip Saunders and replacing him with sidekick Randy Wittman happened.
It took many failed draft picks and signings under Grunfeld, but eventually all those knuckleheads and lack of cap space turned into Nene and Marcin Gortat, two of the most beautiful frontcourt passers in basketball, and Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza, two of the better three point shooters in basketball. After failing on the promise of Jan Vesely’s kiss, Grunfeld took Bradley Beal second overall in 2012. Some were calling him the second coming to Ray Allen, but like tough hockey players that score goals are compared to Milan Lucic or Cam Neely, Wizards fans could only take the compliment with a grain of salt. Then, this year’s trade deadline happened and the Wizards traded Vesely for Andre Miller and put him on a second unit of Al Harrington and Drew Gooden. That is two players that are getting paid almost ten times less than what Gilbert is getting paid right now…when he is not playing.
I have been to two games so far this season: the February 1st game against Oklahoma City Thunder and the March 28th game against the Indiana Pacers. Both games were won comfortably with the offense moving the ball with absolute precision and the defense that was howling anybody that wanted to drive to the hoop. However, I couldn’t help but feel like both opponents were not at their best. Indiana was going through their embarrassing swoon and Oklahoma City just laid the smack-down on Brooklyn less than 24 hours beforehand. But hey, I got my first t-shirt from a t-shirt toss (to be fair, I don’t get involved in these things anymore, but you know things are going your way when a significantly more enthusiastic fan drops the t-shirt thrown by a Wizards cheerleader and have it land perfectly on top of your lap) !!! If anything, the Eastern Conference was a disgrace as always. Forget the Knicks (like we always should), the eighth best team in the conference had a worse record than the TENTH BEST TEAM IN THE WESTERN CONFERENCE BY TWO GAMES!!! Again, why do we have conferences and divisions?!?!
So the playoffs began for the Wizards on Easter Sunday, but it was against Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls. Since becoming the head coach, with or without Derrick Rose, Chicago always brings an intensity that resembled the steam coming out of the bulls logo. You just knew that it would be at least four games of Thibodeau outcoaching Whitman time and again and the Bulls pounding the snot out of the Wizards time and again. But at about 9:30 pm, I caught myself saying “Let’s go Wiz” in a very serious tone. Not since 2008 have I ever watched a game without a hint of sarcasm in my brain. I got nervous for every John Wall jump shot clanging the rim and I was scared for why Bradley Beal, despite being 20, decided to disappear again. I also couldn’t be happier to see Nene constantly score over this year’s NBA Defensive Player of the year in Joakim Noah. I couldn’t be happier to see Ariza and Gortat cut around Nene and constantly put layups over a shockingly confused Chicago defense. The Wizards won Game One. I was shocked, but it was one game and this is Washington D.C., a city that can’t do anything right.
On Tuesday, Beal came alive. I smiled in glee for Bradley Beal’s and-one chest bump the same way I did with Alex Ovechkin’s, um, belly bump two years ago. Soon, the Wiz had a 17-point lead turn into a 10-point deficit. But then Beal proved me wrong and just took over that night. Now I can’t help but try to find any merchandise that revolves around this gif. Nene and Gortat were not the same as they were in Game One as Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah found that extra gear on the offensive boards. John Wall, however, would find his inner Chris Paul and finally had his night in the playoffs. It did look like it would end badly when he committed an offensive foul in overtime, but Kirk Hinrich and his goggles would miss the front end of two free throw shots and the rest was history.
Now the Wizards are on the front page of the Washington Post. Andrew Sharp just can not contain himself. Even Bill Simmons and Charles Barkley are loving us. The Phone Booth is going to look awesome tonight and Sunday. You know you’ve hit it big when the legend, Tom Boswell, is writing glowing things about you. But again, this is Washington D.C., a city that can’t do anything right. What should I do? This is exactly how I felt about the Joe Gibbs-era Redskins, the Alex Ovechkin-era Capitals, the Ron Wilson-era Capitals, the Gilbert Arenas-era Wizards, the Davey Johnson-era Orioles, and if things don’t turn around anytime soon, the Davey Johnson-era Nationals. The scars are still painful and real; things my doctor stated could only get worse over time (kidding, but still). But even though hockey has captured my college and adult years, it was basketball that was my first love. When Michael Jordan captured your childhood and you born and raised in an area that developed Juan Dixon, Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay, Greivis Vasquez and some dude named Kevin Durant, how could you not be caught up in hoops?! Even Folarin Campbell, a member of the 2006 George Mason team, was a year older than me and played for my rival high school at Springbrook. So why can’t DC return as a basketball town? Until Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and company take over the league, should I enjoy the ride and try to see Wall and Beal lead the Wizards to a championship within ten years. You’re right, maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know. F@#! it, this post is done!