December 29, 2012

Wizards Basketball Card Optimism

Now that I have a blog mostly about basketball (although it's really about me), I have an excuse to do stuff I couldn't in all good conscience do before, like buy basketball cards. I'm currently tracking down the Wizards players in the sixth of at least 12 basketball card series that Panini America, the officially licensed card manufacturer of the NBA, is producing this season. Who knew there was such a market for this stuff? There are cards which sell on the secondary market for over $2,000. Admittedly, there are some which are absolutely gorgeous but paying that much for a 3" by 4" piece of cardboard is insane! I'm not spending anywhere near that much money on these things; I may be obsessed and waste way too much time and money on this team but I'm not THAT stupid!

Just like the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid, the fronts of the cards show an image of the players and the backs of the cards contain stats as well as some random facts or future projections. I don't know who at Panini America writes the stuff on the backs of the cards, but some of it is pretty ironic with the Wizards off to a 4-23 start this season. In fact, you could make the case that some of it is just downright deluded. I thought I'd share some of my favorites. Or perhaps considering the context, my least favorites.

Hoops Card No. 175, Nenê
"Nenê has only hit the court 11 times with the Wizards, who acquired him from Denver via a trade. Assuming those 11 games were a preview of how it will fare with the Brazilian in 2012-13, Washington could be in for a gripping season." 

Gripping is probably a good word to describe our season so far, but I'm sure it's not what the author of the quote above quite had in mind. It's hard for me to pick on Nenê because he's far and away the best player on our team. There's no question we are a way better team with him on the court than on the bench.

Hoops Card No. 176, Kevin Seraphin
"Only 22 years old and in his second NBA season, Seraphin had an amazing closing kick to the 2011-12 season. He started all 15 of the Wizards' games and averaged 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds while putting the ball through the net 53 percent of the time. April may have been his launching point."

Well, maybe not. While Kevin started the season strong, he's tailed off. He's currently averaging 10.7 points and 5.4 rebounds, which are both career highs, but his field goal percentage has dipped from last year to 45.1 percent. He needs to get better at recognizing double teams. Once he does that, I'm hopeful we'll see great things.

Hoops Draft Night Card No. 3, Bradley Beal
"There's not a whole lot this guy can't do on the basketball court. Beal is a great 3-point shooter, first and foremost."

Some nights this season have clearly been a struggle for Bradley as he gets used to being in the NBA on a bad team. But there's no question we are still waiting for "greatness" from the three point line: Bradley ranks 131st in the NBA from downtown and Martell Webster, A.J. Price and Jordan Crawford are shooting better from that range on our team.

Prestige Card No. 109, Emeka Okafor
"Okafor has been good for a double-double just about every night for his eight-year career."

Well, not this year. Okafor is averaging 7.5 points and 6.5 rebounds this season and has tallied a double-double in only two games. It's clearly the worst statistical season of his career. What is it about Washington that does that to people?

Prestige Card No. 178, Jan Vesely
"His popularity is on the rise in Washington."

I have no facts to dispute this claim, but it's not. It's just not. Sorry. And I like Ves a lot. I hope it all turns around when Wall returns.

Prestige Card No. 193, Shelvin Mack
"He was steady for Washington all season long, earning high marks from his coaches."

Not disputing the steady claim here but I doubt the high marks from the coaches considering we cut Shelvin during training camp. But...since we just re-signed him after firing his replacement (Jannero Pargo) and his replacement's replacement (Shaun Livingston), maybe he should have been on the team all along. Welcome back, Shelvin!

Totally Certified Card No. 8, Trevor Ariza
"After the club acquired him from the Hornets in the offseason, Ariza told The Washington Post, 'I definitely believe this can be a playoff team.'"

Well, believe away, Trevor. It's not going to be in 2012-13. The Wizards currently have the worst record in the NBA and it's not really that close. Admittedly, we are only 9-1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference but it looks bleak, especially since we have only won four games so far. I believe the team deviated from the rebuild plan when trading for Okafor and Ariza in the hopes those two would get us over the hump. Doesn't look that way so far.

Totally Certified Card No. 28, Trevor Booker
"In his first two seasons since leaving Clemson, Booker has developed into a potentially dominant force on the glass for the Wizards."

I'm afraid I'm going to have to take issue with this whole statement. While Book has had some nice games, he's far from a "dominant force" or even a potential one. In his first two years, he averaged 3.9 and 6.5 rebounds per game but this year has dipped to 5.6 while only playing in nine of our first 27 games.

Totally Certified Card No. 158, Emeka Okafor
"After three seasons with the Hornets, Okafor now joins a young Wizards team with a strong nucleus that is looking to make a big jump in 2012-13."

We're still looking to make that jump. So far, our winning percentage has dropped from .303 last year to .148 this year. Even though I can feel good about last night's win over Orlando,  there is still a long way to go.

Totally Certified Card No. 236, Jan Vesely
"With Vesely, former No. 1 overall pick John Wall, and 2012 first rounder Bradley Beal, Washington has the makings of a high-speed, high scoring team this year."

I know this is unfair because Wall hasn't played a single minute yet, but "high scoring" absolutely positively cannot be used to describe the Wizards this year. The team is dead last in scoring  in the NBA this year at 89.2 points per game, a full 2.2 points per game behind the next highest (or should it be lowest?) team. We are also on track to set a franchise mark for fewest points per game in a season.

My friend Mike asked me a couple of weeks ago why every other team seems to get better and the Wizards don't. I don't have a good answer to that question. No doubt injuries have killed the Wizards in the first third of the season, probably making anything we do in the rest of the season irrelevant. And it's difficult to judge based on what happened last year, but most of our guys are clearly struggling. I'd be a much happier guy if just some of the stuff above were true and believe me, I really really want it to be true. Maybe when John Wall finally plays this year. Or maybe next year, right?

December 26, 2012

Missing Games

From late October to mid-April (and sometimes later if I am really really really lucky), I organize my life around the Washington Wizards schedule. That may sound extremely sad, but it's true. That means a few things.

First and big picture-wise, I schedule no vacations from October to April without first understanding how the basketball schedule lays out. That doesn't mean no vacations during this period, just none without understanding how our home schedule works. In really good years, and quite honestly during the beginning of every year when playoff optimism runs high for me, I extend this window to June in case (and don't laugh), we make the NBA Finals. OK, go ahead and laugh. It IS funny, after all.

Second, I reserve certain days for basketball related activities. That means a half day off work on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the mostly annual matinee game (except for inauguration years, meaning no MLK Day game this year for me); a whole day off work for the NBA trade deadline; and no plans at night during weeknights in late October for the Meet the Team Party. The NBA trade deadline, which surprisingly, is not one of my company's floating holidays, has only been an annual event once (in 2012); I just got tired of surfing the internet at work during the afternoon for trade rumors and decided I would just go ahead and take the whole day off this past year. The Meet the Team Party is especially important; I once left a regional management meeting in Roanoke early so I could get back to DC for that one year. Thanks to my boss for covering for me on that one.

And third, I check the schedule magnet on my fridge at home before committing to any plans during the season. For some reason, this annoys some people (I can't imagine why!) but my friends are mostly tolerant of my neurosis and somehow manage to accommodate me. Sometimes, I have to take risks and commit to things ahead of knowing the schedule but if that's the biggest risk I have to take in life, then I think I'm OK with that.

Sometimes, despite my best efforts, I miss a game or two. I missed the November 30 thrashing by the Knicks in New York this year to go see Neil Young at the Patriot Center and I'll miss west coast games every year because it's just not worth it to stay up really late to watch the Wizards lose to the Kings/Lakers/Clippers/Warriors/Trailblazers (just pick one) on a school night and have to feel like a zombie the next day at work. If we win, it would be worth it; but let's face it, most times, we don't.

While I'm OK with missing road games once in a while, I hate missing home games. Absolutely hate it! I am a fan and feel it's my duty to show up and cheer on the home five, no matter how bad it gets. Despite my best efforts, I've only once made it to all the home games in a year (in the 19-63 2008-2009 season) so I'm used to missing at least one a year. I still don't like it.

Worth missing a game for? I think so. She's already equipped with her own stuffed G-Wiz!
But sometimes, there are things in life which are more important than basketball. That is not a typo; it's true and I really believe it. And Christmas with my family, and especially my six month old niece, is one of those. Even though she has no idea what's going on and won't remember any of this, I wouldn't miss her first Christmas for anything. Usually I spend Christmas within driving distance of Verizon Center so I can get to home games even though I am away for the holidays. This year, I am not within reasonable driving distance of VC so with the Wizards sitting at 3-22 and riding a seven game losing streak, I am missing tonight's game. I'll have to "watch" the game on the NBA Game Time app on my iPad and hope that the Wizards somehow pull it out against the still hated Cleveland Cavaliers with what I presume will be 11 healthy players, two of whom we signed three days ago. It'll be alright, even if we lose, it's more important to be here right now. Merry Christmas!

Let's go Wizards!

December 7, 2012

Beating LeBron

Randy Wittman: "That was a complete game for us, start to finish. I'll be able to sleep tonight."
This past Tuesday, the Miami Heat came to town to take on the Wizards in what looked like a laugher: the reigning NBA Champions against unquestionably the worst team in the league. The Heat came in sporting a Southeast Division leading 12-3 record and the Wizards were still struggling to find their second win of the season. Even worse for Wizards fans, when you looked at the upcoming schedule, you could maybe, and I stress maybe here, circle the December 11 game at New Orleans as a game which we had a shot at. The Wizards were home underdogs to the tune of 10.5 points Tuesday night; even with that line, I'm not sure too many would have put some money out there on us.

However, what emerged was the Wizards best effort of the season, a game in which we outshone Miami in almost every statistical category and came away with a four point victory. The fourth quarter was rough as the Heat just failed on a comeback attempt that  featured two missed three point shot attempts in the last couple of minutes by the league's supposed best player, LeBron James himself. It's games like this that make it worthwhile to buy season tickets.

Over my 12 plus years as a Wizards season ticket holder, my team hasn't had a lot of statement victories against the Heat. In fact, I think it's fair to say that we have had none. We've pretty much been dominated by Miami over that period of time. Since the 2000-2001 season, the Wizards are 14-37 against the Heat, a run which included a paltry eight home wins. We were swept six of the last 12 years, including three consecutive season sweeps from the 2003-2004 season to the 2005-2006 season. It got so bad in 2004-2005 that we actually got swept twice by the Heat: going 0-4 in the regular season and 0-4 again in the second round of the playoffs.

But if there's one team the Wizards have been able to beat regularly (at least at home), it's teams with three-time league MVP LeBron James on them. And beating those teams, whether it be the Cleveland Cavaliers or his current team, the Heat, is so special because LeBron has been such a villain over the years in Washington. The latest win continued that tradition and allowed us fans to feel for a moment that we might be way better than our 1-13 (now 2-13) record indicated. Now our team needs to build on that game and our fans need to start believing again. Oh, and start booing LeBron every time he touches the ball as we did in the past few years. I'm confident he couldn't hear my solo booing from Section 402.

While Tuesday's win made me feel hopeful again, it's probably the fourth best win over LeBron teams I've attended. So in honor of our two days of post-win game-free gloating, I feel it's appropriate to re-live the top three wins over LeBron in my time at Verizon Center. It always feels good to reminisce about these games. And yes, I know I'm hung up on this whole hating LeBron thing and I don't care. I'm in good company: Dan Steinberg and Michael Jenkins are right there with me.

Bronze Medal Winner: January 4, 2009 a.k.a. the Crab Dribble Game.
The 2008-2009 NBA season saw the Wizards fall precipitously. After four consecutive playoff appearances and three hard-fought postseason series against LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers, our team was officially lottery bound again. By the time this game rolled around after the 2009 new year, the Wizards were mired in last place with a 6-25 record and the Cavaliers were riding high at 27-5. The two teams had met a couple of weeks earlier on Christmas Day where the Wizards made a game of an early blowout and ended up losing by four. This game went the exact opposite way, with the Wizards building a sizeable lead before the Cavs made a run and the Wizards did their best to fumble the game away. What made this game special was how it ended.

With 10.5 seconds remaining, the Wizards led by 2 and the Cavaliers had the ball. Of course, the last play started with LeBron who drove the lane into traffic and drew a whistle. But incredibly and clearly audible and visible from our spot in Section 109, the whistle was for traveling. Traveling? On LeBron? Is that possible? LeBron of course went nuts, stupefied that the referees dared to call a travel. I've sat through enough games with LeBron calls that went against our team that I was similarly stunned. If only we'd had some of those calls for charging in past playoff years when Jared Jeffries was in place in front of LeBron. Despite LeBron's protests, the call stuck and we won the game.

But after the game, LeBron wouldn't let it go. The move, which he claimed the referees didn't understand, was a crab dribble. I guess when you get away with this stuff for long enough, you start to believe you are in the right. The post game quotes say it all.

LeBron James: "Bad call. That's one of my plays. You know, it kind of looks like a travel because it's slow, and it's kind of like high steps, but it's a one-two. I think they need to look at it again and need to understand that's not a travel."

Antawn Jamison: "He said he's seen the play a couple of times and didn't think he traveled, but we all know what traveling is. They got the tape to prove the history of that signature move that he has, but it was a travel, hands down. When he beats us on end-of-game situations or finds a way to get it done, we give him credit, but it didn't happen and the right call was called."

Caron Butler: "It's a travel. It was the exact same move two years ago in the playoffs. I definitely knew he traveled, but I didn't think they were gonna call it. You know, two years ago, looking in hindsight, it was the same thing that happened in the playoffs. And we get that call, who knows what would have happened with everybody healthy. But that was one of them situations in which a great player made a move, good officiation, and they called the call. And I was just like, 'Aw, man. There is a God. There is a God.'"

LeBron James: "WAAAAAAAHH!" OK, so that's a made up quote; he probably didn't actually say that. Probably.

Runner Up: November 18, 2009 a.k.a. DeShawn Stevenson Bobblehand Night.
When the Wizards put together the giveaway schedule for the 2009-2010 season, they chose the first home game against the Cavaliers as DeShawn Stevenson Bobblehand Night. That's right, bobbleHAND, not bobbleHEAD, in recognition of D-Steve's I can't feel my face move (where he waves his open palm in front of his face) as a celebration of big shots made. This is by far the coolest bobble I own and I assume the Wizards picked this night for the giveaway in recognition of DeShawn's history of verbal sparring with the Cavaliers' star.

Like the Crab Dribble Game, this game featured an underachieving 2-7 Wizards team playing an 8-3 Cavaliers team on its way to a second consective first place conference finish. Also like the Crab Dribble Game, the two teams had met a couple of weeks prior in Cleveland and the Cavaliers had emerged victorious. The Wizards were in the midst of an abyssmal start (or at least it seemed abyssmal back then) and needed a good game to get on track.

The Wizards killed the Cavs that night. It wasn't even close. But the best part was LeBron's behavior. The Wizards put DeShawn Stevenson on LeBron on the defensive end, which is really matching our shooting guard against the Cavs' small forward, and LeBron seemed to be pissed off about that, as if we would have the nerve to think that DeShawn could cover him. LeBron ended the game with 34 points but the kind of basketball he played was not team basketball and it killed the Cavs. Basically DeShawn got inside LeBron's head and made him give up the game. It was perfect. LeBron even managed to hurt his hand a little when he dunked aggressively on a fourth quarter breakaway when the game was far out of reach just to show how hard he can dunk.

For another perspective, I recommend you read Dan Steinberg's article about this game. OK, so it's pretty much the same perspective, just funnier and with more pictures. This may be the finest piece of sports writing ever.

The Champion: April 24, 2008 a.k.a. the Soulja Boy Game.
How is there ever going to be a game more fun than this one in the near future? I'm not sure that there is going to be, is the answer. Let's go to the transcripts.

March 13, 2008: The Wizards beat the Cavaliers at Verizon Center 101-99. DeShawn Stevenson after the game: "[LeBron's] overrated. And you can say I said that."

A few days later: LeBron James: "With DeShawn Stevenson, it is kind of funny. It's almost like Jay-Z saying something bad about Soulja Boy. There's no comparison. Enough said."

March 19, 2008: The Wizards beat the Orlando Magic in Orlando 87-86. DeShawn Stevenson after the game: "I hope we play Cleveland. I'm going to get Soulja Boy courtside seats and have him wear a DeShawn Stevenson jersey."

Sure enough the playoffs rolled around and the Wizards ended up in the first round against Cleveland. And sure enough, just like DeShawn promised, he sat Soulja Boy in the first row in a DeShawn Stevenson jersey. Trailing 0-2 in the series, the Wizards came out strong in game three. It was a 16 point game at the half, a 26 point game at the end of three and at the final buzzer, the Wizards had won by 36, the largest playoff margin of defeat for the Cavaliers and the largest playoff margin of victory for the Wizards ever. It was gloriously not even close and the building rocked.

The best moment came in the fourth quarter when Soulja Boy danced from his front row seat while making DeShawn's I can't feel my face motion. Moments later DeShawn hit back to back threes. Over James. The absurdity of this situation is not lost on me but it's one of my most cherished moments as a Wizards fan ever.

Now we just need to start winning more games like Tuesday's game this year. Atlanta up tonight.

November 30, 2012

I Never Thought It Would Get This Bad

November 28, 2012: First win of the season! The season started October 30.
Before Wednesday night's Wizards home game vs. the Portland Trail Blazers, my friend Mike and I were sitting at the bar at a season ticket holder happy hour at the Verizon Center's Dewar's Club when we overheard a fellow fan say that the Wizards (the only winless team in a league where all other teams have at least three wins) probably had a good chance to win that night's game because Portland did not play well on the road. I responded to that comment by noting that we don't play well at home and Mike piled on noting we don't play well anywhere, which is absolutely true.

A couple of hours later, it seemed like the Wizards were well on their way to the first victory of the year with a 79-64 lead with 8:53 to play in the fourth quarter, having expanded the lead by six in the first 3:07 of the final period. Then the offensive struggles that have plagued our team all season emerged and Portland caught up and then took the lead 80-79 with 2:05 remaining. That's right, we managed to score zero points in a six minute, 48 second span of game time. Zero! It looked like another collapse was imminent, albeit a larger one than we had demonstrated the ability to pull off so far this season. But then Jordan Crawford hit an ill-advised three and that seemed to get us back on track and when Portland missed a shot in the last ten seconds and we secured the rebound and got fouled with a mere 0.5 seconds on the game clock, it seemed like we'd emerge with victory number one of the 2012-2013 season.

But then our inbound attempt failed and Portland caught the ball as time expired. At least it was a win, even if it didn't come very spectacularly! The referees didn't agree. They huddled and it appeared that they were either going to grant a time out or call a foul; from our seats at the other end of the court, we couldn't tell. The decision was made to put 0.2 seconds on the clock and award Portland the ball (but no foul, which would have been two free throws). For a moment, this played out eerily similar to a game we played against the Indiana Pacers on December 12, 2009, when time expired, but the referees huddled and put 0.5 seconds on the clock, only to have us foul on the inbound pass and have Mike Dunleavy hit two free throws and send us home with a 114-113 loss. But this time, Portland's inbound pass clanked off the rim and time expired with no foul, allowing the Wizards to become the first team in NBA history to win their first game in their 13th try and more importantly gain their first victory of the season. Now we are only at least two games behind everyone else. Wow we are bad.

Two years ago, our team's new owner, Ted Leonsis, offered season ticket holders a deal: renew your season tickets for 2011-2012 and prices would be frozen for three seasons. That promise, coupled with a slashing of lower level season prices which allowed us to buy a full season downstairs for the same price we had been paying for a 21 game package, seemed like a bargain and we gladly took it. We had just come off John Wall's rookie year and we were in a rebuild mode around him. The price freeze was clearly an indication that ownership intended for the team to perform poorly over the next three years but in my mind, we couldn't get much worse than we had been over the last 11 years, with two 19 win seasons and seven playoff-less seasons.

As it turned out, I was wrong (again) about our team's ability to perform. Last year, we set a franchise record for worst start by losing our first eight games. This year, we set another franchise record for worst start by losing our first 12 games. Through the first 13 games of the season, we are dead last in points per game and field goal percentage and 28th (out of 30) in 3 point percentage. Our point differential is worst in the league by almost a full two points, which is huge in the NBA. Pretty much anyway you look at it, we are last in the league and it's pretty obvious that our offense is the reason. I realize that we built this entire team around John Wall and that he's been out all year but surely we can't be this bad offensively without our third year point guard; Wall's just not good at this point in his career. The Timberwolves are still winning without Ricky Rubio. Why can't we win without Wall?

From the Wizards iPad app. Clearly this is part of the problem.
While losing is frustrating, I've had enough practice that I am sort of used to it by now but I was hoping for some sort of turn around this year. This year on the heels of the last few is wearing on me. I just honestly never thought it would get this bad. Two years ago, we finished with a better record than three teams: the Toronto Raptors, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Minnesota Timberwolves. This year, Minnesota almost has a .500 record with their two best players sidelined and made a push for the playoffs last year. Cleveland and Toronto have both won three games, which is not great but it's three times more than we have won. Last year, we finished ahead of only one team, the Charlotte Bobcats, who have already won the same number of games they won all last year in the first month, which is six more than we have won. It seems like lately, all we do is stay near the bottom while other teams leapfrog us. Our first draft pick last year, Jan Vesely has more fouls than points this year and played only 0.2 seconds in our victory over Portland. I've always been a big supporter of Ernie Grunfeld and I hope it's too early in the season for a full evaluation but after this 1-12 start, maybe it's time for new leadership soon. I guess I'm still hoping for a reversal of fortunes but the playoffs seem out of reach in the first month of play. Discouraging.

November 21, 2012

Mark Knopfler At Verizon Center

No pics allowed in Verizon Center for this show.
With the Wizards off to a worst-in-franchise-history 0-9 start and moving towards cementing irrelevancy for the 2012-2013 season in only the first month of action, there hasn't been a whole lot about the trip to Verizon Center to get excited about lately. But Tuesday night the building took up the hardwood and made way for a Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan show. For me, this was a can't miss show. Even though I regularly miss Bob Dylan shows in the area, I couldn't even consider passing this one up. I was jealous last year when they toured Europe together; now I don't have to be jealous any more.

In my pantheon of music gods, Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan occupy special places. Dylan, without doubt, is absolutely the greatest ever. There has been so much good music produced by Bob over the last half century and his music satisfies on so many levels. Every year I sit down and make a list of the 50 albums I would keep if I could only have 50 albums for the rest of my life (thank God this doesn't actually happen) and I always have a difficult time deciding which Dylan albums to put on that list. Realistically, I couldn't bear to be without Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Nashville Skyline (no, that's not a mistake), Blood On The Tracks (if only just for Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts), Desire, Time Out Of Mind and some of the Bootleg Series Albums (the live versions of the Desire songs on the Rolling Thunder Revue album blow away the studio versions). When Dylan hangs it up or dies, I'll mourn that loss, even as I am comforted by everything he has given us. All those albums don't make the list of 50, by the way. There's just too much good music to spend six or more spots on Dylan.

But despite my feelings about Dylan being the greatest ever, Mark Knopfler is my favorite. I'd have Dylan opening for Knopfler but I guess most people wouldn't see it that way and they probably wouldn't sell as many tickets. I first got into Mark Knopfler's music through Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms album when I was in high school and gradually accumulated all their music while I was in college. When Knopfler put the band on hold in the late '80s and started working on side projects, I bought those albums too. But the side stuff with the Notting Hillbillies and Chet Atkins and the movie soundtracks were just not as good as Dire Straits so I was glad to see him re-form the band for 1991's On Every Street album and I finally got to see them in concert at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse.

But after that On Every Street album, Knopfler called it quits for the band and when he released his first solo album in 1996, I didn't even give it a chance, thinking it would be about the same as his side projects between Dire Straits albums. He continued to release solo albums and I continued to ignore them until June of 2006 when he played Constitution Hall in Washington with Emmylou Harris in support of their album All The Roadrunning. My friend Rachel had an extra ticket because her brother decided not to go to the show so I filled in. It was awesome. Mark Knopfler was every bit as good as he was with Dire Straits.

I always thought Knopfler was a great guitar player and an incredible songwriter, but there's a depth in his solo stuff that I don't get out of his Dire Straits songs. He writes songs about subjects that other people I listen to just don't write about whether it be the migration of working class jobs in England to Germany in the early 1980s or Charles Mason and Jeramiah Dixon laying out the northern boundary of Maryland or the decommissioning of a tanker ship built in Newcastle and torn apart in a country far away. There are a lot of English subjects, especially focused on the north part of the country, which I guess I understand from my family's history. My great grandfather worked in the coal mines for 50 years so Mark's song 5:15 a.m., which is about the effect video gambling machines are having on the population in former north England coal mining towns, resonates on a special level for me. It makes me want to reconnect with my family's history.

I have now bought every one of Mark's solo albums and I've seen every show he's played in the Washington DC area since that 2006 show with Emmylou Harris. Tuesday's Knopfler show was just as good as the rest, even though watching a show from floor seats at Verizon Center pretty much sucks. I managed to get an aisle seat with pretty much a clear view of the stage and I was close enough to see his guitar playing. The show was definitely too short. I would have taken another hour or so of Knopfler songs over Bob Dylan bludgeoning the melody out of some classic songs with his current voice; Ballad Of A Thin Man was the only Dylan song that I thought worked.

Mark opened with What It Is, which is actually my favorite song of his, before hitting four songs from his new double album Privateering. One of my favorite things about live music is hearing songs I love in a new light. His live version of Kingdom Of Gold included a guitar solo at the end which improved the song immeasurably and while Corned Beef City sounded substantially similar to the album version, the three guitars playing at once was amazing to hear live.

The middle portion of the show featured a three piece combo version of Song For Sonny Liston which was pretty powerful and Hill Farmer's Blues which is always more sinister and aggressive live than on the album version. The narrator sounds way more desperate in the live version of that songs and Knopfler's guitar playing is angrier. I love the five song extra CD included with the Privateering deluxe edition because it includes a version of this song much closer to the live version than the rendition on The Ragpicker's Dream album.

He closed with a marathon version of Marbletown, which I just wish he'd stop playing live, and Dire Straits' So Far Away which I love live because the delivery of the chorus is so much different. He also managed to slip in a great version of Done With Bonaparte which included about every instrument his diverse band could play, including accordian ("That's my fault. I love 'em" according to Mark) and uilleann pipes.

The full set list was: What It Is; Corned Beef City; Privateering; Kingdom Of Gold; I Used To Could; Song For Sonny Liston; Done With Bonaparte; Hill Farmer's Blues; Haul Away; Marbletown; So Far Away.

November 6, 2012

Celtics Fans...Or Fans I Love To Hate, Part 1

The Washington Wizards opened their 2012-2013 home season this past Saturday against the Boston Celtics. Not surprisingly, the Wizards lost to the heavily favored Celtics, a team which is supposed to contend for the NBA Championship. Considering our team failed to put the ball in the hoop for the first seven minutes of the game (our two points in that span were the result of a goaltending violation by the Celtics) but also led in the fourth quarter and ended up losing by only three points, the result is both encouraging and discouraging. We need John Wall and Nenê back in our lineup; it's just too difficult for a team like ours to win missing our two best players.

There's a lot to love about Wizards-Celtics games the past few years: the big game atmosphere, the sold out arena and the often-enough wins which feel great on the journey home and for the next few days after just like last year's wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers did. After big wins against good teams, it doesn't much matter what else happens the rest of the week with the Wizards; the feeling of those victories lasts a while, probably because there's been so little big picture-wise to cheer about lately.

But while there's a lot to love about recent Wizards-Celtics contests, there's also one major thing to hate: the number of Celtics fans at the games. Who lets all these people in the building? Saturday's close fourth quarter featured clearly audible "Let's go Celtics!" chants despite the C's fans being in the clear minority. I guess it's not really that fair to blame the opposing fans for being more passionate than the downtrodden home contingent but I hate it just the same. And yes, I realize the number one reason I hate Celtics fans in our building is because the Celtics are just plain better than the Wizards and have been for years and I resent a large group of people with a common purpose pointing that out to me. If there were a ton of Charlotte Bobcats fans in the building, I really wouldn't care because the Wizards most years have managed to beat the Bobcats way more than they have beaten us.

Above and beyond the sheer numbers, Celtics fans seem to have mastered the art of being more obnoxious than any other team's fans. Boston sports teams have been incredibly successful over the past 10 years which seems to have created a culture of entitlement among that city's fans. A Boston team has won a title in every one of the four major sports in the last decade and as a result, most Boston fans seem to think the sports world revolves around their city. To make matters worse for me, most fans seem to actually have ties to Boston or Massachusetts or New England (unlike some other teams' fans who shall for the moment remain nameless) so it's difficult to accuse them of jumping on the bandwagon or being fair weather fans.

But let's face it, the vast majority of them ARE fair weather fans and here I'm especially addressing the woman sitting behind us a couple of years ago who couldn't recognize the names Kevin McHale or Robert Parrish and the fans who show up in Tom Brady jerseys. Shell out a few bucks for a green t-shirt at least, would you??? I don't recall seeing or hearing too many of you during the 2005-2006 season when the Celtics failed to qualify for the playoffs or the following season when they finished dead last in the Eastern Conference. In fact, it's only really been since the 2007-2008 season, when the C's won it all, that Verizon Center has been frequented by Boston fans. Funny how that works, right?

Not so much green, right? But the "Let's Go Celtics!" chants were heard loud and clear.
Despite my ranting so far about the number of enemy fans in the building, I actually enjoy Celtics games, especially when we win games that we shouldn't. We have two pairs of Wizards season tickets this year: one in the lower level five rows behind the hockey (or this year so far, non-hockey) boards and one in the upper deck in Section 402. When the Celtics and other popular (note: good does not always equal popular and vice-versa) teams play the Wizards, we typically sell our lower level seats and sit upstairs because we can usually recoup our ticket price in full and maybe come away with a buck or two extra to use to subsidize the $8 Verizon Center beers. Of course, the upper deck is where most of the Celtics fans are, which makes it that much more fun when we win. There's nothing like seeing dejected Celtics fans stream past us either just before or just after the game ends. During the 2007-2008 season, with the Celtics sitting in first place in complete rebirth mode with the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, it was oh so sweet to see the Wizards send the Celtics back to Boston with a loss and then go up to Massachusetts the very next night and beat them again.

But the sweetest victory over Boston at Verizon Center came two years ago in January, with the Wizards in the midst of a 23-59 season and the Celtics sitting comfortably in first place. The game started miserably: the Wizards trailed by 15 after one and by 10 at the half and everyone in green around us was celebrating with each made basket. It looked like it was another walkoff victory. But in the second half, the folks around us got really quiet as the Wizards cut the lead to two in the third quarter and took the game away in the fourth, ultimately winning by two. After waving goodbye to all the Celtics fans inside the arena, I actually heard someone say outside that at least the Celtics were still better than the Wizards. But that's not why you went, right? That person came to see her team beat my team, thinking it was a sure thing and it didn't happen. I loved gloating that day. That still doesn't make me hate Celtics fans any less, though.

Saturday's game was the only home game this year against the Celtics and for once, there were not a lot of opposition fans sitting around us so there was nobody to taunt or be taunted by. The loss Saturday night drops the Wizards to 0-2 on the season, good for last place in the Southeast Division. Not a good start to the season. At least Verizon Center didn't play Aerosmith and Boston music like they did in one of the games last season.

October 29, 2012


September 11, 2011: My first home Jets game.
According to Google maps, Verizon Center, home of my beloved Washington Wizards, is 6.8 miles from my current residence. By Metro, I can get there in about a half an hour, meaning if a Wizards game goes a little long, I can make the round trip in about 3 hours and 30 minutes.

In 1979, my family moved to the United States and I picked the New York Jets as my professional football team, probably because I liked the helmet. Last year, I bought Jets season tickets for the first time and I decided to renew this year. MetLife Stadium is 231 miles from my current residence and it takes a lot longer than 3 hours and 30 minutes to do the round trip. A typical day trip consumes anywhere from 12-15 hours to take in a three hour or so game. It can be absolutely brutal. This past Sunday, a pathetic 30-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins, was probably the last time I will make a single day trip as a season ticket holder. While I may still take in a game or two per season in the future, the value of buying season tickets for a team located three to five states away (depending on how you get there and how you view the District), just isn't there for me.

In my time as a season ticket holder, I’ve traveled to East Rutherford, NJ using about every combination of ground transportation I can think of: I’ve driven up and back in the same day; I’ve driven up and back over multiple days while staying with my sister; I’ve taken the train up and back in the same day; I’ve taken the bus up and back in the same day; and I’ve taken the train up and the bus back in the same day. Most of the trips I’ve taken have been smooth and uneventful; just the kind of travel I like. All of the games have been wins or close losses except this past Sunday when we got beaten badly. Did I mention the word pathetic already?

Along the way, there have been some unexpected events or crises to deal with. A
 couple of weeks ago after the Jets whipped the Indianapolis Colts 35-9 our train stopped dead with no power about two miles from Baltimore on the trip home. My friend Chris and I were subjected to a non-stop verbal assault from a guy on the other end of our car thinking he has stand-up talent while Amtrak non-scrambled non-furiously to find a solution. It took about 70 minutes and an all crew meeting in the dining car (announced over the PA system) to finally send another engine to pick us up after about four trains passed us. We ended up getting to Union Station after midnight. I like the train but the concept of customer service seems lost on Amtrak. Still waiting to hear on the resolution to my complaint.

I'd take train stoppages and after midnight arrivals in DC though over the late night hospital visit my friend Mike had to make after the 2011 home loss to the hated New England Patriots. That night could have literally been fatal. When I got a text message from Mike accusing me of leaving him in New Jersey (I was waiting outside the bathroom for him and he had wandered out of the stadium, for the record), my cell battery was literally 15 minutes away from empty. Getting a confused, angry, drunk guy who has lost blood (we didn't know that at the time) to find his way to the train knowing my phone was about to die is something I don't want to go through again. I don't think I've ever been happier to see Mike when I finally found him.

Anyway, I'm probably done with single day trips as a season ticket holder but just for the record, I put yesterday's trip into pictures for posterity.

6:46 a.m. Ballston Metro, open early for the Marine Corps Marathon. It's usually gated at this time so I'm typically waiting with a pretty sketchy crowd. The homeless guy doing laps of the Metro entrance made it feel like a usual Sunday morning.
7:55 a.m. All aboard! Please please please Amtrak, don't run out of power again. The trip up has always been uneventful. With a storm bearing down on us later in the day, I'm wondering if I've made the right choice with the bus return trip.
10:06 a.m. Philadelphia. This is the only skyline worthy shot until New York. I love checking out the Frank Furness designed Philadelphia Zoo on the way out of town. Sit on the right side of the train. Furness also designed the Wilmington train station that we passed through about a half hour earlier.
11:28 a.m. Switching from Amtrak to New Jersey Transit at Newark International Airport. Switching at the airport is definitely the way to go. This becomes train number four of the day.
12:05 p.m. MetLife Stadium through the filthy window of train number five. As opposed as I am to stadiums built outside of cities, I actually think this one is pretty well designed. They spent some money that they didn't have to here.
12:22 p.m. Lunch. There's something about eating hot italian sausage with peppers and onions with globs of spicy mustard in New Jersey, even if it is just stadium food.
1:05 p.m. Almost kickoff time. Fireman Ed on the screen leading the J! E! T! S! JETS! JETS! JETS! chant. It didn't work on this day. Our team came out flat from the opening kickoff.
2:40 p.m. The Jets retire Dennis Byrd's number 90 jersey. Byrd suffered a spinal injury when he collided with teammate Scott Mersereau during the 1992 season and subsequently recovered sufficiently to walk, although not normally. Nobody on the Jets had worn number 90 since Byrd. He definitely sacrificed for this team. The Jets are losing 27-3 in what has to be one of the most pathetic displays in recent memory. The first half featured almost no offense, a drive sustaining 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty on defense, a recovered onside kick by Miami and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Oh, we also knocked their starting quarterback out of the game and proceeded to make Matt Moore look like an all-pro.
3:31 p.m. End of the third quarter. The game at this point is well out of hand and with Frankenstorm bearing down on the east coast, it's time to get going. If we had come back and won, I would have been pissed at myself for leaving. No realistic chance of that today. I'm thinking "same old Jets" as I'm walking out.
The cattle line for the train back to New York. Since the Jets were getting stomped, there was no line this past Sunday. This picture is actually from the Colts game. I'm amazed nobody panics in these things. That would not be good. On our way out of the stadium on Sunday, I was handed a scratch and win card for an opportunity to secure my very own Mark Sanchez bobblehead. I passed. As much as I love bobbleheads, I just couldn't do it. Not that day.
4:48 p.m. Waiting for the Vamoose bus on the corner of 7th and 30th. I love the Vamoose bus. They are flexible about reservation times (I actually had a 6 p.m. reservation) and they stop in Virginia, not DC!
5:15 p.m. Bye bye, New York after a quick half hour stay. The Lincoln Tunnel has to be my favorite tunnel of all time, although all the cool art deco stuff is best seen from the Jersey side coming into the city.
8:37 p.m. Somewhere in Maryland on the bus. 4-1/2 hours or so of this view. On the iPod on the way home: some shuffling, a movie (Welcome to Death Row) and two episodes of Family Ties. :)
9:58 p.m. Rosslyn. Orange line train to Vienna. The bus on Sunday evening costs about $120 less than the train, which means I can really afford a cab home from Rosslyn. However, finding none, the Metro is always ready.
10:20 p.m. Nothing says home like a New Belgium Snow Day Ale and a bowl of jalapeno cheddar Chex mix. Actually there are a lot of things that say home way more than those two things, but that's what I had when I got home.

October 25, 2012

Free Stuff!

I attended the Wizards Season Ticket Holder party this past Wednesday (no post on that this year but just let me say every time I interact with Kevin Seraphin, he reinforces for me why he is my favorite player) and finally got my hands on one of the little fold out schedules that the team usually has for pickup in various places throughout Verizon Center. Why is that significant? Because the little fold out schedules contain the promotional schedule for the year and I'm just too damn impatient to wait for the schedule to be posted on the team website.

Over my time as a Wizards season ticket holder, I have been handed a ton of free stuff as I crossed the threshold into MCI/Verizon Center as part of Wizards promotional nights. Some of that stuff I have squirreled away in my condo somewhere, some is proudly displayed on shelves and some is long since forgotten. But whether it ends up being a permanent addition to some weird collection or just tossed in the trash, I love getting free Wizards stuff.

So now that I have the schedule, I am able to offer my loyal blog readers a semi-exclusive look at the 2012-2013 promotional schedule. Please note I've not only included the when and what for each promotion but also added my expert insight as to the long term significance (in parentheses) of each item and some words to get you pumped up about buying tickets to the six games that include giveaways. So without further ado, here's the skinny.

Schedule Magnet
November 3 vs. Boston (Essential)
The annual schedule magnet giveaway is a must have, something that gets slapped on the refrigerator door the morning or so after the home opener and serves as a guide for planning my life for the next five and a half months. If the television schedule is part of the magnet, that's even better. Can't miss this game and giveaway. It will be added to my box o' schedule magnets after the season. Yes, I have one.

The Wizards schedule magnet: essential for scheduling your late fall and winter.
Knit Scarf
December 22 vs. Detroit (Pick it up but likely discard)
I hate wearing Wizards apparel with corporate logos. It says to other people that I was either too lazy, too cheap or not passionate enough to plunk down a few bucks on a shirt, hat, scarf, or whatever. I think the last Wizards scarf giveaway was sponsored by VW. The last thing I want to do is walk around with a Wizards/VW scarf (even though I probably had a VW at that point in my life). I'll likely pick this up at the door and discard it later that night. Hopefully I can give it to a kid who came late or something.

Bradley Beal Bobblehead
January 1 vs. Dallas (Essential)
Bobbleheads are a do-not-miss collectible for me. They are far and away the best type of giveaway each year. I can't wait to put Bradley on my shelf with John Wall and past Wizards players in various size bobblehead form. I'll post pictures of this one for sure in a later post!

Wizards Tin Lunch Box
March 16 vs. Phoenix (Pick it up but likely discard)
I've picked up two Wizards lunch boxes in my 12 years as a season ticket holder and I no longer have either of them. Unlike the scarf, this will probably make it home with me, only to be either stood on my counter for a few days or my shelf for a few months before I wonder why the hell I have a lunchbox on my shelf and just throw it away. Just like the pre-Christmas scarf giveaway, this one also has a good (although slightly lower) chance of ending up with a kid who came late to the game.

1978 NBA Championship Replica Ring
April 6 vs. Indiana (Huh???)
In all my years as a season ticket holder, they have never given away anything like this. That's saying something, since once we got a Brendan Haywood water bottle and a stuffed G-Wiz (I still have that). Not sure what to make of this although I guess it is the 35th anniversary of the championship season. Who celebrates the 35th anniversary of something? I'll definitely go to the game early for this one. I wonder how real it will look and I wonder how many people will be hawking Bullets championship rings on eBay the next day. Maybe next year they will give us a replica Larry O'Brien trophy.

Team Poster
April 12 vs. Philadelphia (PASS!)
This item only makes this post so I can say I included all the scheduled giveaways for the year. I won't even bother picking this up at the door.

If you don't have tickets to the games on opening night, New Year's Day and April 6, I'd go buy them now and get there early. I'll see you when the doors open those nights. Don't say you haven't been warned.

October 22, 2012

47 Wins?

Warning! What follows is not pretty. But don't ever accuse me of being a front runner.

The 2012-2013 NBA season tips off next Tuesday, October 30 when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Washington Wizards. At the beginning of the last few NBA seasons, I have wondered if this is the year the Wizards will finally win 47 games. Why 47 games? Because since I became a Wizards season ticket holder in 2000, every franchise except two has won 47 games in a single regular season. One of those two lowly franchises is the Charlotte Bobcats, who maxed out at 44 wins in the 2009-2010 season; but the Bobcats have only existed for eight seasons so they are a little handicapped in this statistic. The other franchise, of course, is the Wizards, who managed 45 wins in the 2004-2005 season, the same year we reached the second round of the NBA playoffs.

That anecodotal futility mark started me wondering: are the Wizards really one of the two worst franchises in the NBA over the last 12 years? Turns out the answer might be yes. Let's take a look.

Wins Per Season
Over the past 12 seasons, the Wizards have won an average of 31.4 games, including the actual win total from the abbreviated 2011-2012 66-game season. That mark is good for second worst in the NBA over that period, 0.7 wins behind the Golden State Warriors but ahead of the Bobcats by a whopping 2.8 wins. Five teams (the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics) have AVERAGED more wins over that period than the 45 games the Wizards won in our best of those 12 seasons. The Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz would be added to that list if you throw out last year's shortened season. We may be thankful the Bobcats have only been around eight years.

From the 2000-2001 through 2011-2012 NBA seasons, there were 17 teams that won fewer than 20 games in a season. The Wizards did it twice: in 2000-2001 and 2008-2009. Three other franchises, the Bobcats, Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, also failed to win 20 games twice during that span. No franchise won fewer than 20 games three times in that span. Note I included last year's abbreviated season in Charlotte's numbers because they only won seven games. Even if the season were 188 games long, they still wouldn't have won 20 games at their pace last season. The silver lining here (it's a stretch, I know) is that in the Wizards' two sub-20 win seasons, they did manage to win 19 games each time.

While the Wizards average win total is second worst in the NBA, their median win total is tied for dead last with the Los Angeles Clippers at 31.5 wins. The Bobcats, who saved us from being dead last in average wins per season, are a full game ahead of us along with the Timberwolves. None of these franchises are models of success, although the Clippers did make the second round of the playoffs last year behind Blake Griffin and Chris Paul and appear to be loaded with talent this year.

The graph below was published in an April 3, 2012 Washington Post article at a time when it appeared last year that the Wizards might set a franchise record low for winning percentage in a season. The Hopwood years start in 2000-2001. Lots of red; I told you it wasn't pretty. Despite that performance, I have never thought of not renewing my season tickets. Take that however you will.

Playoff Wins Per Season
In my time as a season ticket holder, the Wizards have made it to the playoffs four times. That may not seem like a lot to you and it's not. Only three teams, the Bobcats, Warriors and Clippers, have fewer appearances. The encouraging thing here is that if you added the playoff appearances of each of those teams since the 2000-2001 season, they would add up to the total for the Wizards, so I'm counting my blessings (I think) that I am not a Bobcats, Warriors or Clippers fan. And while we only appear in the playoffs more frequently than three teams, there are three other teams (the Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors) tied with us at four appearances so we are not alone in our lack of achievement in this category.

When we do make the playoffs, we don't win much. We have averaged 2.0 wins per playoff appearance with just one trip to the second round where we were unceremoniously swept by the eventual champion Miami Heat. That's better than only the Portland Trailblazers, Knicks and Bobcats, who in their lone playoff appearance during this stretch did not tally a single W. 

Division Titles, Conference Titles and NBA Championships
Nothing. That pretty much sums this up. No division titles, no conference titles and no NBA championships. Granted, over the past 12 years, the NBA Finals have been dominated by a small group of teams. Only six franchises have won a championship and another five have come up short by losing in the Finals. But of the 30 franchises in the NBA, 21 have won division titles over that period, led by the Spurs with eight and Lakers with seven. The ones that haven't: the Atlanta Hawks, Bobcats, Warriors, Houston Rockets, Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Knicks, Trailblazers and, of course, the Wizards. That record puts us either last or tied for 22nd, depending on how you look at it. I'll go with tied for 22nd.

So after all that, are the Wizards one of the two worst franchises in the NBA over the last 12 years? Maybe so. If not, they are pretty close to that. There is definitely some company; the same teams appear over and over in my description above. That doesn't make me feel any better.

So as this season starts, I'm again hoping for 47 wins. That seems more realistic than hoping for division titles or championships at this point. Hopefully this is the year. It all starts Tuesday.