January 15, 2018

April 4, 1968

Today is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. As I have done each year the Washington Wizards have played at home on this holiday since I started writing this blog, today I am publishing a post dedicated to the memory of Dr. King. Each year I have done this I have strived to write about a site I have visited that is related to today's holiday. Last year, I ran out of sites that I'd seen in person so I wrote a quick history of the civil rights movement. This year, I am back to writing about places I've visited.
In the early evening of April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was standing outside room 306 on the front balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  Across the street from the motel in a boarding house, James Earl Ray, an escaped convict with multiple convictions, was aiming his 30-06 Remington rifle right at him. He fired and hit Dr. King in the neck with a single shot. About an hour later, at 7:05 that evening, Dr. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital in Memphis. Just like that, the most visible leader of the civil rights movement since the mid-1950s was gone.
The Lorraine Motel is still standing today, although not as a waystop for travelers passing through Memphis but instead as the National Civil Rights Museum. I visited Memphis for the second time earlier this month and the Museum was the number one spot on my list to visit. Yes, I missed it the first time I was in town, likely because I was focused on my own agenda of taking in as much musical history as possible and not really paying attention to more important subjects above and beyond my own needs. There's a lesson there, I think.
The museum is spread over a number of building: the original Lorraine Motel to the south and a series of (now) interconnected buildings to the north, including the boarding house where Ray fired the shot that killed Dr. King. The exhibits in the Lorraine Motel building cover the beginning of the slave trade; then address the Jim Crow era in the United States after the Civil War; then finish with the civil rights movement up to April 4, 1968. Across the street, the exhibits focus on the assassination of Dr. King and the aftermath; the aftermath here meaning both what happened right after the assassination and the position of minorities and women in American society since that time.
The Museum is an uncomfortable place to be and deservedly so. If I wasn't uncomfortable then I would really start to question my basic humanity. There are many many exhibits that made me realize just how cruel we as humans can be to people who are so little different than we are.
The unease starts in the first room after passing through the rotating exhibit space right after buying your ticket, a room dedicated to the slave trade that occurred almost as soon as Europeans arrived in West Africa in the 1400s. The facts and stories are chilling. It was the largest forced migration in the history of the world; an estimated 12.5 million Africans were involuntarily removed from their homes and transported across the Atlantic Ocean as property. By the year 1820, nearly 4 Africans arrived in the new world as property for every one European.
It doesn't stop at numbers. There is a cross sectional diagram of a cargo ship showing the tiny space that the people were transported in. The space allocated to their human cargo is staggering, a condition made all the more obvious by a full scale mockup of a section of the hold in the Museum. There's no space whatsoever for people to move to even extend their limbs just a bit. The sounds of the ship's wood creaking, people coughing and chains clinking piped into the room emphasize the point while I'm sure not conveying even a small degree of how awful it was. The terrazzo floor of the first room explains how these conditions "seasoned" the slaves, making them used to abuse and disease, presumably making them more valuable for having survived the ocean voyage, as if it was actually a market-facing strategy to increase the value of the products being offered. 

The Civil War, which raged from 1861 to 1865, was supposed to have fixed all that, right? No way. As I wrote last year in my post, the Federal Government pretty much turned a blind eye to what the states in the Union were doing with their laws after the withdrawal of Union troops from the former Confederate states in 1877. How did they think that was going to go, assuming they thought about it much at all?
The response was for each state to adopt lots of rules. I don't mean things like poll taxes and literacy tests to votes with "grandfathered" exceptions that allowed all illiterate whites to vote like I wrote about last year. I mean laws and codes that were so specific in some cases as to be excessively picky and petty. Prohibitions on children of different races playing together. Bans on different races playing pool or billiards (not just one or the other; no loopholes here) together. Restrictions on white and non-white marching bands playing in the same parades. Just unbelievably specific codes to prevent any notion of equality.
And it wasn't just the South. If there's one message that hit home loud and clear for me in the National Civil Rights Museum it was that this was (and is) an American problem, not a problem that only existed (and exists) in the former Confederate states. California passed a law in 1906 that prohibited intermarriage between whites and blacks and whites and mulattos (their word, not mine). And there is a lynching map of the United States that shows every known lynching in the country including occurrences in California, New Mexico, Idaho and, well, every state actually. I think we tend to think today of places like California and Oregon as places of acceptance and integration. I think we are likely fooling ourselves if we think there's no more work to be done everywhere, including those places.
There are a lot of historical artifacts and a lot of stories throughout the Museum. Some, like the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the lunch counter sit-ins in multiple locations, will likely be familiar to most people. Stories of people being beaten unconscious by angry mobs of white people for no other reason than supporting a non-white's right to ride a bus across state lines are despicable but obviously true.
But there are a lot of stories that I just didn't know about. In addition to making me understand the national nature of the civil rights struggle, the Museum also made me realize how hard it was to overcome laws and actions everywhere. By that I don't mean every state, I mean every county, every campus, every town and every street. Rescinding oppressive laws or rules wasn't going to help. The people that fought to try to erase a little of the institutionalized inequality did it bit by bit and inch by inch. I can't imagine how frustrating and discouraging it must have been to engage in that struggle every hour, day, week and month.
The first portion of the Museum ends at a spot between the original Lorraine Motel rooms 306 and 307, which were two of the rooms rented by Dr. King's party. Each room is reconstructed to show what it would have looked like at the time but more importantly, it allows you to see the boarding house across the street where Ray fired his rifle. It's the small second floor, white painted window in the building right above the tunnel to which is the gateway to the Museum's second half.
The view from where Dr. King would have been standing to where Ray fired his rifle.
The opposite view: from Ray's vantage-point towards the Lorraine Motel. The wreath marks room 306.
There is far more to see in the first half of the Museum than in the series of buildings which include the boarding house Ray was using as his assassin's perch. But the second half of the place has some essential exhibits. The first rooms are focused on Ray's flight and capture and the circumstances leading up to the assassination, including some very obvious coverage by the local media and police about just where Dr. King would be staying. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist (call me naïve and I'll probably agree with you) but it kind of makes it easy for someone to kill someone else if you let the whole world know where the target of a murder is going to be when he or she is in town, right?
Dr. Martin Luther King was 39 years old on April 4, 1968. It seems amazing to me that he was that young considering the leadership role he played in the civil rights movement for more than a decade. Within one week of his death President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited the sale, rental or financing of housing on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex. The Fair Housing Act was the last significant piece of civil rights legislation ever passed. I'm not sure if our government thought that was enough or what, but it certainly didn't fix everything. We still haven't fixed everything. We are still talking about a lot of these same issues today and leadership, if you can call it that, at the top isn't helping one bit.
If you are a first time visitor to Memphis, I'd encourage you to add the Museum to your must see list. Even if you think you have no interest or are cynical about what's inside. There's surely something in there that must touch the humanity in all of us. If you do, give it some time; we spent a little more than three hours in the place (with a stop for lunch between the two parts) and we didn't read everything in there by any stretch of the imagination.
Wizards - Bucks today at 2. Go Wizards!
The Lorraine Motel's reconstructed room 307.

January 9, 2018

Beal(e) Street

This past July, I wrote a post about my continuing quest to get to all 29 NBA cities and arenas (yes, there are 30 NBA teams; L.A. has two teams in one arena). Part of that post looked forward to the then-upcoming 2017-2018 NBA season and included my own personal NBA city top five destinations for the season. I wrote that post without really understanding what the schedule had in store for me because the season schedule hadn't been released yet.

The number two city on that list? Memphis, Tennessee, home of the Memphis Grizzlies and blues. And maybe a little bit of rock and roll and some pretty darned good barbeque. Or at least I hoped there would be all that when I took off last Friday to the banks of the Mississippi River for a couple of nights to watch the Wiz play the Grizz and see what else I could get up to.

I'd been to Memphis once before a little more than ten years ago on a bourbon and music trip that had me spend a couple of nights each in Memphis and Nashville followed by a few days visiting all seven (at least that was the count in 2007) bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. Since that trip, I'd been back to Nashville and a couple of Kentucky's distilleries. Now it was time to get back to Memphis. I couldn't wait. Blues is one of my very favorite types of music to see live. Last time I was there I club-hopped one night before settling into some outdoor alley bar with some phenomenal piano blues that had me back there the next night as soon as they started playing.
Blind Mississippi Morris and band warming up.
So let's start with the non-basketball stuff and then we'll get to what happened at FedEx Forum on Friday night. Music first. Food second.

If you love music and you've never been to Beale Street in Memphis, I encourage you to go sometime soon and then go back maybe once or twice more. Think a much smaller but way better Bourbon Street if you know New Orleans at all. Or a little smaller Broadway if you've been to Nashville. Although from a musical level maybe Broadway is better because Nashville is the epicenter of the country music recording industry and it's big big business. Blues in Memphis or anywhere else for that matter? Not so big business, which is unfortunate for folks who prefer blues over country.

If you go, take some bills for tips because all four of the bands we saw this past weekend at B.B. King's Blues Club, Rum Boogie Café and Blues City Café were playing for tips and tips alone. The best two bands we saw were definitely Earl "The Pearl" Banks (unexpected Bullets tie-in there) and Blind Mississippi Morris. Any bluesman named "Blind" has to be good. There are historically a whole series of bluesmen with the blind moniker. And yes, they were all blind, as was Blind Mississippi Morris. Hard-driving guitar and harmonica based blues classics from both these bands was just what I was looking for alongside plenty of local Memphis beer when I was in town.
Last time I was in Memphis, I struggled with my food choices. I basically did no research into where I should go and ate nothing remarkable whatsoever. Foolishly, I accepted the recommendation of my hotel when I was looking for some barbeque and they sent me down to some very disappointing tamales and ribs on Beale Street.
Not so this time around. I checked out several "best of Memphis barbeque" lists before heading out of town. If you are looking for some serious smoked meat in reasonable walking distance of Beale Street, your choices are going to be kind of slim. Based on all the lists I reviewed, I came away with one: Central BBQ Downtown, which is about a 15 minute walk south down by the National Civil Rights Museum. After a half rack of ribs with some turnip greens and baked beans, this is definitely a place I'd go back to. The meat was flavorful and fall off the bone and I can highly recommend the spicy barbeque sauce on the side for some dipping.
Lunch Saturday was over at Central BBQ. Lunch Friday? Gus's Fried Chicken. I'm not a fried chicken guy at all but this was probably the best fried chicken I've had in my life. I've never had a batter so light and crispy that kept breast meat that juicy. It was absolutely phenomenal. I can't take credit for this find; I'm glad here that my friend Bryan is as concerned about eating good food while out of town as I am. Thanks, B!
But this is a basketball blog, right? Let's talk hoops.
In a season of trap games that have become so frequent that any game can become a trap game for this Wizards squad, a Friday night game against the injured and underperforming vs. expectations Grizzlies was the poster child for an unexpected road loss against a team far back in the standings.

It almost was. This was another game where the Wizards seemed to have things comfortably in hand in the third quarter before thinking they could just put the bench in the game in the fourth and kill some clock later in the fourth and walk out of there with an easy win. And die-hard Wizards fans know what happens when this team tries to do that: the ball sticks and we end up getting a rushed isolation shot by John Wall or Bradley Beal with a second or two left on the shot clock. With the bench not on their best game for the second straight contest, this game was the Wall and Beal show all the way. And by that I mean they were great in the first three and the problem in the last half of the fourth playing iso-ball.

Beyond watching the game and being a completest in terms of seeing the Wiz play the entire rest of the league on the road, one of the things I love about traveling to other NBA cities is seeing what it's like in other arenas. You can't really get a sense of what that's like watching a road game on TV. Besides the awesome viewpoint from pretty much straight away center on the Pinnacle (read: second) level of FedEx Forum in Memphis, there were a whole bunch of things worth noting about this arena.

First of all, I love the scoreboard. This may be the most awesome scoreboard in the NBA that I've seen so far. It's enormous, gorgeous and super bright. I also love the rounded corners which double as mini-stat boards, although I have to say I'd prefer to see names rather than faces by the stat lines. I can get our guys by the numbers but I don't watch enough other teams regularly enough to know them by their jersey numbers or faces.

Like most arenas in the NBA, FedEx is huge compared to our home sweet home Capital One Arena. This is mostly I believe because other cities haven much larger lots than the confined city blocks that make up the District of Columbia. The result is much larger concourses so the home team can load up on circulation space, have cafeteria style restaurants on the upper level or have their upper levels not overhang the seats below. All these seemed to be true in Memphis.

But the Grizzlies' home seemed to be bigger in another dimension (the up dimension) that caused an excessively quiet environment in the place. I know this is going to sound strange coming from a Wizards season ticket holder that's seen more than a few mid-week games against non-popular teams over at 601 F Street in the last dozen plus years, but I don't think I've ever been in a building as quiet as the one in Memphis. I'm serious. From our seats in the second level, we heard high five slaps as guys substituted, crystal clear directions from the refs during in bound plays and individual fan voices in the crowd again and again.

We even heard one fan yell to Marcin Gortat "You are not an actual wizard!" during a free throw attempt, which was both notable for its crystal clear audio quality in the building but also for its undeniable truth. I should note for the sake of completeness there were likely no actual wizards besides Marcin playing at all that night, just like there were no actual grizzlies playing on the court. Although...if there were grizzlies or wizards playing, it would have been way easier to spot the grizzlies than the wizards. Just saying.

Beyond the scoreboard and the church-like atmosphere, there were all manner of cool and quirky things to note about the game environment at FedEx Forum last Friday night. What, you might ask? How about the signage on the marquee (shown above) right inside the front door which I assume has to be changed by hand each game night? Or how about the pictures of musical artists with Memphis connections on the walls of the lower level concourse? Check out Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash (who both recorded on Memphis' Sun Records) either side of Sam and Dave (Memphis' Stax Records) above.

Not cool and quirky enough for you? How about people dressed up in toothbrush and toothpaste costumes to promote a local dentist's office? Or two mirror balls (that's two) hanging from the ceiling of the arena? Still not impressed? Ever seen a burger stand at an arena which counts down the number of burgers available to impress customers with the freshness? Might need to stock up. The photo below shows just 36 burgers left and that was before the game. The restroom signs were awesome too: singing girls with beehive hairdos for the women's room and singing boys with pompadour for the men's (hoping I got my hairstyles right). They just got a bit weird when they went family on us. Is the baby being tossed or does he really just have some amazing hops? 

Hurry! Just 36 burgers left 'til BC Burgers is sold out for the night!
Maybe the sign's not as quirky as I think but I think it's pretty interesting.
But despite all the burger countdowns and mirror balls and jumping babies and toothpaste mascots, the thing worth spending the most time on here is the wrestling. Nope, I'm drunk or anything. They had wrestling Friday night. Grind City Wrestling. I'll try to explain succinctly.

First the Grind City thing. The Memphis Grizzlies until this season were perennial playoff contenders. Their run of playoff appearances was fueled by hard work by hard working players. The words grit and grind became associated with their (mostly) superstar-less teams fighting and clawing for every win they could get. The team nicknamed Memphis Grind City.

Now let's try the wrestling thing.

When I was in junior high school and maybe just into high school, I used to watch pro wrestling or what would be later known as the World Wrestling Federation. Of course, pro wrestling is really nothing of the sort; it's all just theater. Back then this was not big business like it is now. We used to watch matches with the Magnificent Muraco or Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka taking on some local stiffs on network television on Saturday afternoon. I think I got about as far as the emergence of the Strongbow Brothers before realizing it was essentially a total waste of time.

Anyway...apparently after I stopped watching this stuff, Jerry "The King" Lawler was one of the wrestlers in Vince McMahon's stable. Jerry (now 68) is from Memphis and Friday night at the Grizzlies game was Jerry "The King" Lawler night, which featured the most elaborate halftime in game entertainment that I have ever seen, taking a story all the way from the beginning of the game with a marquee halftime wrestling match in an actual wrestling ring to pretty much the end of the third quarter. Almost every time out until the beginning of the fourth quarter featured a touchpoint to the story of how Lawler had the Grizzlyweight World Championship belt (yes, there was an actual belt) stolen from him and how the Grizzlies were going to get it back from him.

I'm guessing this is not the first time the Grizzlies have had some sort of wrestling night, although I don't know that for sure. If it's not, if this is truly a one time event, I have to admire the time, effort and money that the team put into this narrative. There is some true dedication involved here. There's no way this can be the only time they've done something like this. I mean they have an actual custom made belt and everything.

The story starts out with a "genuine tape" of a wrestling match between Lawler and some other dude (shown above; ironically considering how much I'm going to write here Lawler is not pictured in this post) in front of about 25 fans (maximum!) going at it until Jerry is robbed of his belt through foul play. Yes, I am too disinterested to look up who this other dude is. Anyway in the process of stealing the belt, he also hurt The King's shoulder, meaning he couldn't fight to get it back.

So...the Grizzlies brought in Tennessee's own Jeff Jarrett to fight for Lawler's belt and I guess his honor. But...as it turns out Jarrett is from Nashville, not Memphis, so after winning back the belt (in actual wrestling ring on the upper level of the arena) he keeps it for himself and taunts Lawler enough that despite the injured shoulder he fights anyway (again, in the actual wrestling ring on the upper level of the arena). Of course, after a rough start to the match, Lawler wins. But he doesn't. Because the referee was stunned by Jarrett and didn't see Lawler pin Jarrett. Ultimately through more foul play, Jarrett wins. What a bummer!!!

Yes, there's an actual wrestling ring inside FedEx Forum during a Grizzlies game.
Until...the Grizzlies mascot Grizz (ranked number 20 on my latest NBA Mascot Rank) wins it back from Jarrett in the third and final live wrestling match of the evening. Got all that? And this was during a basketball game, like between halfs and quarters and during time outs and stuff. Like I said, you have to admire the Grizzlies for their dedication to this show. Pretty amazing promotional department they got down there in Memphis, I have to say.

And I lied earlier: this is not the first time the Grizzlies have had wrestling night. Not sure how far back this goes (telling the truth this time) but they've definitely done this before.

So that's it. That's my report of my experience at my first ever Grizzlies game. That checks off my third NBA game in a Southwest Division arena and I now have 20 game experiences (with a few asterisks - see here and the post referenced at the top of this post) in the 30 NBA arenas. Long way to go. One more scheduled for this year then I think I'm home for the year. Detroit up next in a week and a half. Wizards home tomorrow against the Jazz. Go Wizards!!!

For some reason during the out of town scores update, the Grizzlies showed them beating themselves 100-4.

January 1, 2018

Stocking Stuffers

First of all, Happy New Year to everyone. Let's see if the new year does anything to cure the Wizards of this malaise they seem to have been in for this entire season. Spoiler alert: it likely won't. This will continue to go on for another month or more despite Markieff Morris' confident assertion that good things are coming and all will be well soon.

I took that last couple of weeks of 2017 off from this blog for some R&R and while I was (virtually) away, there were a handful of Wizards fan mini-events that happened around the holiday week that are worth probably discussing as a group but not necessarily worthy of their own posts. Yes, I'll touch on the continuing underperforming vs. teams with losing records but I'm pretty much glossing over that issue, much like the Wizards gloss over how to play hoops vs. inferior teams and then come up with excuses after those same losses. To tackle that issue in a blog post right will be too painful so I'm sort of skipping it. Let's go chronologically shall we?

Winter Solstice (December 21)
For the second straight year, the Wizards were good enough to host a holiday party / happy hour for season ticket holders in the Etihad Lounge on the floor level of Capital One Arena. Before you non-season ticket holders get too jealous, don't.

Yep, there were games and prizes and free holiday cocktails and free food. But the prizes were sort of left over surplus (I played trivia and came away with a shooting sleeve and a Wizards plastic bracelet; no idea what I do with those) and the grub didn't measure up to the usual Etihad Lounge fare which is typically pretty good. Notably bad were the fairly stale cupcakes with the wizard jumping over the crescent moon/basketball logo (maybe they were the same vintage as the now-retired logo?).

The couple of free holiday cocktails were a nice gesture but I could have done without the $11 price tag on the 16 oz. Budweisers. I'm complaining about something I didn't have to go to, I realize. This stuff's all part and parcel with the cost of tickets. Free or $5 beers would have been appreciated. Maybe next year?

Christmas Eve Eve Eve (December 22)
Just ten days after losing in Brooklyn to the miserable Nets, the Wizards made a return trip to New York to avenge their mid-December loss. Except that they didn't. Avenge it, that is. They were down 40 at one point in this game! 40!!!! To the Nets!!! Bradley Beal claimed after the game that teams were targeting the Wizards because the Wiz are an Eastern Conference contender or some such nonsense. You don't get down 40 to a team as bad as the Nets because of some onslaught of desire to topple one of the better teams in the league. The Wiz aren't serious and Beal's post-game narrative is a complete cop out. We need more locker room accountability.

But...I said I wasn't going to go into the Wizards' hopelessnesses against bottom feeders. Nope, what I want to talk about here is our hometown television coverage.

During each Wizards TV broadcast, announcers Steve Buckhantz and Kara Lawson highlight some plays during the game that become sponsored by NBC Sports Washington's advertising partners. These are ideal times for the folks that pay advertising dollars to the station to have their products mentioned alongside a Wizards highlight from the game. The issue I have here is that the highlights for the Honda Drive of the Game and the Campbell's Chunky Maxx Performer that night weren't of Wizards players doing good stuff but were instead of Nets players taking it to the hoop for a bucket (uncontested I might add).

What's up with that? I realize I'm picking about the most devoid of Wizards highlights game of the season but there were some highlights that were equal to Joe Harris (top photo of this post) or Spencer Dinwiddie (photo immediately above) scoring at will. I'm also not in favor of homer-ism to the max (or Maxx if you are Campbell's) but the TV station that covers the team ought to be able to have a policy of assigning these advertising moments to actual Wizards highlights, shouldn't they? I'm disappointed in NBC Sports Washington here.

By the way, is Marcin Gortat really pushing Otto Porter into Dinwiddie in the pic above? Or is it just a caught in the moment glitch? I mean he's shoving him with two hands, right?

Christmas Eve Eve
One night after the Wizards got drubbed by the lowly Nets, they headed home to take on the similarly bad Orlando Magic. After an embarrassing loss, the Wiz were up for this game and cruised to a 20 plus point victory. It was routine and it should have been.

The excitement I expected this game was the Wizards' unveiling of their fourth jersey or what Nike is referring to as the "City Edition". Based on the schedule on the Nike website (clip shown above), the jersey design, which was somehow leaked for every team on the NBA 2K18 videogame the previous week, was supposed to be released that night. Instead of getting a look at a maybe motivated but just equally as likely unmotivated Wizards team in their new kit, we got a look at the blue unis one more time (still missing the stripe that would make these threads killer). The conspiracy theory I started working on in my head about the players hating the City Edition turned out to be a fabrication. Turns out the "Jersey Dates Subject To Change" warning on the Nike site was true.

Christmas Day
About a month ago, I wrote a blog post summing up my thoughts on the first quarter of the season. One of my peeves about the first 20.5 games was the emergence of the Celtics as a legit Eastern Conference contender after turning over basically 3/4 of their roster while the Wizards stood pat / maintained consistency (depending on your point of view) and were struggling at a little better than .500.

So of course the underperforming Wizards went up to Boston on Christmas Day and knocked off the Celtics, the first time in more than three years (including four losses in the playoffs last year) that they have accomplished that in Beantown. Go figure. It was one of the finest performances in the season to date in a series of quality road wins. Surely this would be the turning point, right? Right? Right?

But that's not the important part of Christmas Day. I deliberately did not ask Santa for any Wizards stuff this year considering the state of play so far. I got one Wiz gift anyway and it's pretty much the best Wizards gift ever. Yep, it's a John Wall Funko Pop figurine. I love these things (we may have Jon Snow and Ghost figures at home already...OK, we do) so it's awesome to see the NBA partnering with Funko to get some of these made for fans like me. I love it. Not much more to say here other than he's not wearing the Nike uni. The Easter egg on the bottom of the shorts is intact. See here for more on that.

The Day After Boxing Day (December 27)
I'm  not very good at conspiracy theories. The day after a quiet (NBA-wise) Boxing Day saw the official release of the Nike City Edition jerseys. The Wizards' entry? A white on white offering sporting "The District of Columbia" where the "Washington" and "Wizards" appears on their other three jerseys.

It's not the worst thing in the world. Like a lot of folks out there on Twitter I'm not thrilled with the "of Columbia" part of the jersey but also agree with a lot (maybe the same lot) of folks who have made the point that people don't refer to D.C. as just "The District" much. It's generally in keeping with the theme of the Wizards' other jerseys (unlike some other team's City Editions) which I love. I'm not crazy about the marble-esque pattern on the sides of the jerseys but it's not going to keep me up at night.

I do LOVE the D.C. flag on the "belt buckle" of the shorts. This is one of the truly great flags in the world. If I ever get a tattoo (I know...I'm almost 50), 80% chance it's a variant of that flag. I think we got away with a good design here. I'm going to hate the Wiz wearing these things at home because deep down inside I believe teams should wear home unis with the team nickname on them, not the team city. But since Nike's blown that whole thing up with the abandonment of home / away threads, I'm going to let it go.

As an aside here, New Era (one of the NBA's official hat partners) has released a series of hats to mirror the City Edition unis. I hate the faux marble veining on the hat and I object to white hats in general (they show dirt although marbling will admittedly counter that) but I'm seriously thinking about one of these.

So that's my essay on the holiday season 2017, Wizards style. Back in action Wednesday against the Knicks. We have to win that one, don't we. A little more confidence at this point after the Bulls win.

December 19, 2017

Bobblehead Nation 2017 Update

So we are a couple of months into the NBA season and about that same length of time since I posted my Bobblehead Nation post for this calendar year, my annual roundup of all the bobbleheads I can find advertised as in-arena giveaways on various NBA teams' websites. I've written a post like this each of the last four years and I always miss some because some teams just don't roll out their promotional schedules on a timeline convenient to me. Imagine that, right?

So this year to be more of a bobblehead completist I have decided to post an update to my original post based on some new intel from some teams around the league. Turns out I was just missing a couple of teams and there have been some TBDs clarified since my initial post. The Milwaukee Bucks lead the way here with a ton of throwback bobbleheads. Let's get right to it, starting with some that have already come and gone.

Well, before we get to that, let me say just how awesome the James Harden bobblehead the Rockets gave away earlier this month is. OK, now let's get to it.

15 Bob Dandridge (Milwaukee Bucks)
In my first bobblehead post of the season, I covered in detail the Phoenix Suns' plans to celebrate their 50th season in the NBA with a series of five bobbleheads this year, one for each decade that the team has been playing ball. There's another team celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and that's the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the most creative teams out there when it comes to giveaways. The Bucks' reaction to turning 50? Well, I thought based on their initial promotional schedule that it was pretty much nothing. Turns out the Bucks were waiting on the announcement of the good stuff and are actually rolling out seven bobbleheads to celebrate their half century, starting about a month ago.

The Bucks have won just one championship in their 50 years in the league and they did it in 1971, just three years into their existence. Bob Dandridge was the starting small forward on that team after being drafted by the Bucks the prior season. Dandridge played a total nine seasons in Milwaukee (his first eight plus his last year in the NBA). In between? He was a Washington Bullet and picked up a second championship in Washington the very first year he played here in D.C. Many credit Dandridge with being the guy who pushed the Bullets over the edge and got them a title. Maybe it's about time for a Dandridge bobble in D.C. too? Wishful thinking, I know...
6 Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks)
It's been so long since the Bucks were really good that it's easy as a fan of today's NBA to imagine them as a perennial doormat or middle of the pack team for their entire 50 year history. Sure they got that one title in 1971 but that was so long ago (I was two years old) and they almost made it to the Finals in the early aughts (lost in the Conference Finals to Philly in 2001) but what about the rest of the 48 years?

Here's the news: the Bucks had a couple of eras where they were really good. They won five division titles in the early and mid 1970s back when they won it all. They also won seven straight division titles from 1980 to 1986. And this was when division titles actually meant something. There were only four divisions back then after all. The guy anchoring most of those teams in the 1980s? Sidney Moncrief.

Over those seven seasons (including his rookie year in 1979-1980) Moncrief started a minimum of 72 games per year. He made the All-Star game five times. He made the All-NBA First Team once and the second team four more times. He flipped that script for the NBA All-Defensive team, making the first team four times and the second team once. Oh, and he was also the Defensive Player of the Year twice en route to getting his number 4 retired in Milwaukee. Earlier this month the folks in Milwaukee got him in bobblehead form.

3 Bob Lanier (Milwaukee Bucks)
After single bobbleheads in November and December the Bucks crank up the heat a bit in January and hand out three. First up? Bob Lanier, who got to the Bucks the same year Sidney Moncrief did. Well, almost.

Lanier was likely already a hall of famer before he got to Milwaukee, posting seven All-Star appearances (including the 1974 All-Star Game MVP award) in his first nine and a half seasons in Detroit before being traded to the Bucks during the 1979-1980 season. In Milwaukee he became part of the core that won the first five of those seven straight division titles. Lanier's number 16 is retired in both Detroit and Milwaukee. In 2006, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Three down, four to go in Milwaukee.
6 D'Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets)
After a violation of the bro code with Nick Young (bye, Iggy!) and (more likely the reason for his L.A. exit) the Lakers drafting Lonzo Ball, former number two overall pick D'Angelo Russell found himself shipped off to Brooklyn and the worst team in the NBA this past offseason. Worst team last year anyway.
So how are things in Brooklyn this year? Well, record-wise about the same as things are for the Lakers? And Russell? Well, up and down. Up because he was putting up good numbers in the beginning of the year and he gets himself a bobblehead in early January. Down because he hasn't played for the Nets since early November with a leg  injury. No timetable for recovery right now but at least he gets a bobblehead, which apparently is some sort of ongoing curse this season for Nets players. Read on...
8 Jeremy Lin (Brooklyn Nets)
As bad as D'Angelo Russell has it with a leg injury and no schedule for getting back on the court, he's got it good compared to Jeremy Lin, who gets his own bobblehead just two days after Russell gets one. Lin's fate this year? One game and 25 minutes played, one ruptured patella tendon in his right knee, gone for the year. Terrible. Awful luck. I'm sure a bobblehead helps this situation in no way.

10 Brian Winters (Milwaukee Bucks)
To this point in the season, the Milwaukee Bucks have celebrated players who played on their early 1970s and early 1980s teams. With the rollout of the Brian Winters bobblehead on January 10, they celebrate both. Winters arrived in Milwaukee as part of a trade for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, after making the All-Rookie First Team with the Lakers during the 1974-1975 season.

If you are thinking being traded for Kareem is kind of a tough act to follow, you'd be correct. Winters was not anything close to the player Kareem was. But he did manage to make a couple of All-Star teams in 1976 and 1978 and did enough I guess in Milwaukee's eyes that they retired his number 32 jersey.
12 Charles Barkley (Phoenix Suns)
No, this is not a new bobblehead giveaway date, but at the time I wrote my initial post, the Suns hadn't yet revealed the player to be honored in bobble form this date. All bobblehead dates for the Suns' 50th anniversary season were determined by fan vote. January 12 is 90s night at Talking Stick Resort Arena and of course the fan choice HAD to be Barkley. For the record, I nailed the Suns yet to be announced results in my first post. See March and April below.

17 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks)
So if you are the Bucks, there had to be a dilemma here, right? Do you go with a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar bobblehead or a Lew Alcindor bobblehead? Kareem played six seasons in Milwaukee after being drafted by the team in 1969 out of UCLA and while he had already converted to Islam, he was still known on the basketball court as Lew Alcindor, a name he continued to use publicly until after his second NBA season, the same year the Bucks won their one and only championship.

So...two seasons as Alcindor and four as Abdul-Jabbar but the championship came as Alcindor. What to do? The Bucks, apparently, are choosing Kareem over Lew. I'm not sure I'd make the same choice here but it's probably what Kareem wants. So be it. Regardless, Bucks fans get the best player to every suit up for the team on January 17. I'd be there early that day if I was a Bucks fan.

10 Allen Crabbe (Brooklyn Nets)
If I'm Allen Crabbe, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. The third and final Nets bobblehead recipient this year has so far escaped major injury, unlike D'Angelo Russell and Jeremy Lin. I'm sure he's hoping there's no connection between bobblehead nights and injuries in Brooklyn. If there is, he can kiss his season goodbye soon.
Crabbe took the long way to Brooklyn. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers out of school who sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers that same night. After his third year in the league, the Nets signed him to an offer sheet that was matched by Portland. About a year later they decided Brooklyn could have him anyway, sending him to New York for Andrew Nicholson who they ended up waiving instantly. The Nets are obviously thrilled enough to make sure he has a bobblehead night this year. Let's hope there's no curse. For his sake.

15 Jon McGlocklin (Milwaukee Bucks)
Bob Dandridge won a title in Milwaukee in 1971 and gets a bobblehead this year. So did Lew Alcindor / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Bucks are handing out a third bobblehead celebrating that team in the form of Jon McGlocklin. McGlocklin is way less celebrated than the other two, having made just one All-Star appearance in his career and winning no significant postseason honors. But he's spent the longest time of any of the three around the Bucks team, serving as a member of the Bucks' broadcasting team for the last quarter century. His number 14 hangs in the rafters of the building where he calls home games.
1 Kyle Korver (Cleveland Cavaliers)
If I nailed the bobbleheads that the Suns would be giving away, I totally whiffed on the Cavs' choices. You just traded for an All-Star (Isaiah Thomas) in the offseason and you go with Kyle Korver and (spoiler alert for March 19 here) Derrick Rose? Sure each of those guys have been on the All-Star team in the past and yes, Thomas is currently injured but he's playing at some point this year, right? Otherwise you traded Kyrie Irving for Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic. I'm stunned there's no Isaiah Thomas bobblehead in Cleveland this year. Show up March 1 for your Korver bobble, Cavs fans.
2 Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns)
I predicted Barkley in January for the Suns' 90s night and I was right. I predicted Nash in March for the Suns' 00s night and I was also right. No flies on me. At least not here. Cleveland's another story. I guess I understand the fan mentality more than I do that of Cavaliers' ownership. Thank God for that!

7 Junior Bridgeman (Milwaukee Bucks)
Six down, one to go for the Bucks. The last Legend of the Rafters bobblehead giveaway in Milwaukee features Junior Bridgeman. Bridgeman (who's full name is Ulysses Lee Bridgeman) came to Milwaukee in 1975 along with Brian Winters in the trade for Kareem and spent 10 years with the Bucks in two separate stints, spending time on the rosters of both the great 70s and 80s teams a la Brian Winters.
In their 50 year history, the Bucks have retired a grand total of eight numbers. Their series this year is called the Legends of the Rafters bobbleheads. But there are only seven giveaways. The missing player with the eighth retired number? Oscar Robertson. What gives?
19 Derrick Rose (Cleveland Cavaliers)
So I've already expressed my surprise about the choice of players to receive bobbleheads from the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier in this post. My only other question here is does your new Derrick Rose have doubts about his suitability to be a bobblehead? Is he going to take unexpected absences every so often to contemplate whether he really should be standing with the rest of your Cavs bobbles? I'd still go with Thomas. Just saying.

6 Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns)
The Suns' 50th celebration wraps up with a bobblehead of a player on their current team on April 6. Who else could it be but Booker? Three for three on Suns predictions. Congrats on your five bobbleheads this year Phoenix fans. It's about all you got this year.

That's it for me this year in the league-wide bobblehead department. There may be some schedules out there yet to post but I'm done searching these things out. All told, there are a ton of bobbleheads for fans to collect this year. For me, I'm waiting for the Wizards solitary bobble in March. Patience...

December 17, 2017

Healthy Scratch

No, I'm not posting from tonight's game. The photograph above is from the Wizards-Cavaliers game on November 3 of this year. 

Every so often I miss a Wizards game. I'd say over the past ten years or so I've missed a maximum of four home games in any one year, including a couple (or at least one since I've been writing this blog) of zero miss (or perfect attendance) years. Sometimes life gets in the way. Christmas. Vacations. Birthdays. Weddings. A Smiths/Morrissey cover band at the State Theatre. Whatever. Inevitably something most years takes me away from Capital One Arena (or previously Verizon Center / MCI Center) at least once per year and has me checking the score on my phone or watching a game on the iPad even though my Wizards team is in action just a few miles from my home.

Tonight is not one of those nights. 

Let me clarify. Tonight is not one of those nights where life has gotten in the way of the Wizards home schedule. The Wizards ARE playing at home and I am NOT there and I am sitting at home watching. It's Sunday night and it's an early evening game and I'm on my couch with some snacks watching the Wizards playing the Cleveland Cavaliers on television and I have no excuse for missing this game. No excuse except Wizards tickets are getting just too darned expensive and the prospect of selling my tickets to someone else on a Sunday afternoon in December got to be too much. I had to take a pass on this game. If it were March or April or even February and definitely not after April I wouldn't have done this.

I feel like hell. I feel like I'm letting my team down by not contributing just a little to the boos that used to be rained down on LeBron James or the applause for a John Wall drive or Bradley Beal three pointer or Marcin Gortat rebound or whatever it is going on center stage on the Cap One Arena court. For sure I should be there. This is literally the first home game I have watched on TV from my home since November of 2009 when I was laid up at home unable to walk due to a massive gout attack (totally my fault; who knew cranberries were loaded with purines) after a road game in Indiana. 

This year I spent more on Washington Wizards tickets than any year in my life. $9,680 to be exact. I realize some folks spend way more but $10K per year is nothing to sneeze at. And it's going to go up. I'm dreading my season ticket renewal notice in late February or early March. I've been shelling out money for Wizards tickets for the last 18 years of my life and I've gotten very little emotional satisfaction in return. For sure, winning in the first round of the playoffs four times has been sort of satisfying and watching John Wall and Gilbert Arenas has been nothing short of amazing. The passes John makes are unbelievably skillful and Gil's cold blooded daggers were just spectacular back in the day. But one division title in the first 17 years of me buying season tickets and nothing playoff-wise beyond the second round? I'm not doing too well on return for my investment.

So I'm home. And I'm hoping the Wizards win. For what it's worth, I'll be cheering loudly from my couch in Arlington, while I'm munching on Cheez-Its and drinking $10 per bottle wine (just one bottle, I promise). Not that it will drown out the cheers of the (probable) Cavs fans sitting in my regular seats. Although, let's face it, they are probably just cheering for LeBron James and have never actually been to Cleveland. 

I would love that I didn't have to do this and honestly I probably didn't have to but there's only so much per year I can spend on tickets. I would love it if the Wizards would incentivize fans to attend home games through non-sellable low cost tickets like I proposed towards the middle of last year to get us to come to the games every night and recognize a savings. Even better I'd love for the Wizards to offer discounts over and above the current season ticket prices for fans that have suffered through 19-23 and 25-57 and another 19-63 and 26-56 and 23-39 and 20-46 (labor dispute shortened season) and 29-53 seasons. Do they realize I've shelled out cash for each of these seasons?

I don't expect anything. So I'm here at home watching the Wizards on TV. But I'll be there on Tuesday, rooting for the Wizards to beat the Pelicans. And I won't stop doing this until the Wizards price me out of my seats completely rather than for just one game per year. Let's hope they never do that. They've already forced me to sell this game. Here's hoping the next years won't be like this. I'm not holding my breath. 

Tonight is also the Wizards' annual toy drive. Love this graphic.

December 3, 2017

Kids Club News

If you know anything about me from reading this blog, you know how much I love bobbleheads. They are a central focus of my life as a Wizards fan and I'm in favor of any way to get any additional team-issued bobbleheads. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you'll know I've been fairly critical of the Wizards frugality in the bobblehead department. While teams like the Golden State Warriors or Dallas Mavericks are issuing five, six, ten or 12 bobbleheads in a season, the Wizards have stuck to their guns with the steady one per season.

But over the last couple or three years, the Wizards have started to show more flexibility. Four years ago, they offered a Martell Webster bobblehead with the Slam Dunk Kids' Club membership and then continued that tradition over the next three years with bobbles of G Wiz, Otto Porter and then Bradley Beal in street clothes. Now all you had to do to get more bobbleheads was find or invent a kid, pay $20 and pick up a free-quality team issued bobblehead. Then last year, the team issued a Monumental Rewards-exclusive Scott Brooks bobblehead. Things were looking up up up in the bobblehead department for Wizards season ticket holders.

Then this past summer, Monumental Sports and Entertainment made the decision to cancel the Monumental Rewards Program. Just like that, an opportunity for additional bobbleheads disappeared, along with my 97,107 Monumental Rewards points. Now, it seems they've done something similar with the Kids' Club.

No, the G Wiz Kids' Club hasn't disappeared. But the bobblehead component has. At least for this year. I've been tracking the Kids' Club announcement on an almost daily basis by checking the page on the Wizards website based on a promise from the team to have something announced by the end of November. They finally swapped out the information from last year in the last couple of days. This year for your $24.99 (yes, they raised the price) you or your kid (real or imaginary) get a drawstring bag, earbuds, pedometer, lanyard and water bottle. My niece already has a drawstring bag and water bottle from past years' memberships. I get the fitness focus for this grab bag but do we really need kids wearing pedometers? I say bring back the bobblehead.

I'm assuming part of the deal here is that the Wizards just feel like they ran out of bobbleheads to include with the Kids' Club. Martell Webster was an ideal fit for the Kids' Club because of how focused he was on his family. Otto Porter has also had a presence at Kids' Club events (as has Kelly Oubre, Jr.) so he seemed like a good bobblehead to issue. G Wiz of course fits well since his name is on the Kids' Club. Last year's Bradley Beal seemed like a stretch.

So an ideal theme for Kids' Club bobbleheads to me would be rookies. But since the Wizards have a tendency to just totally disregard the value of draft picks most years (including this year and last year), I guess they can't do that. Kelly Oubre, Jr. would be great but he just had an all-fans bobblehead giveaway last year. John Wall? The team already issued three Wall bobbles over the last few years (four if you count the season ticket holder only "starting lineup" bobblehead set). Marcin Gortat or Markieff Morris? Maybe a little scary? Not too popular with the kids? Markieff especially?

So why not go a little deeper into the team? I know issuing a bench player bobblehead goes contrary to the Wizards recent history of bobblehead issues (with the exception of Jordan Crawford instead of Emeka Okafor in the aforementioned starting lineup set) but other teams do it all the time. The Mavs issued bobbleheads 12 deep last year. If you made the team, you pretty much got a bobblehead. This year I could easily see Jason Smith who seems great with kids based on me standing in line for about five minutes at Six Flags to get Jason's autograph and who just had his first kid this summer. If he's not good, what about Mike Scott? He's covered with emoji tattoos. What kid doesn't love emojis??? Reach a little here, Wizards.

I'm dreaming, I know. Consider this blog post my appeal to bring back the bobblehead component of the Kids' Club next year. The Wizards know where I am if they need my input.

Is this the all-time Wizards Kids' Club bobblehead collection? Here's hoping the answer is no.