December 29, 2013

Two Nenês

Last night, the Washington Wizards played their final home game of 2013, an impressive 106-82 victory over the Detroit Pistons. With that win in the books, the Wizards ended calendar year 2013 a more than respectable 26-13 at home. Not too shabby at all. That sort of mark almost looks like a playoff team's home record, although this season at Verizon Center has proved less successful than the last three and half months of the 2012-2013 season.

Last night's win also snapped a seven game losing streak to the Pistons dating back two plus years. Detroit manhandled the Wizards in the season opener this year so the dominance the Wizards demonstrated last night was extremely gratifying. Not even Will Bynum, who always seems to kill the Wizards, could save the Pistons yesterday. Before last night, I was starting to wonder if we would ever beat this team. We'll see if we can do the same thing tomorrow night in Auburn Hills in the third game of this season's series.

The stampede for bobbleheads after the gates opened.
While what happened on the court was encouraging for this season's continued success, last night was the one and only bobblehead giveaway during the 2013-2014 season so you can bet I was at Verizon Center early last night so there was no chance I would miss this giveaway. Now I have not one, but two, Nenê bobbleheads, on my bobblehead shelf (OK, shelves) after acquiring the first in last year's season ticket holder gift starting five bobblehead set. They are different, and they both have their own separate merits. Let's take a deeper look, because honestly I have nothing better to do on a rainy Sunday morning.

If last season's Nenê bobblehead (on the right in the picture above) is the angry dunking Nenê we've seen with regularity on the court this year, last night's bobblehead is the kinder, gentler smiling Nenê. Both bobbles fit his personality well. If you watch the Wizards regularly, Nenê smiles all too often on the court, almost constantly except when dunking angrily or complaining about the fouls that rarely get called on his defender (what's up with that?).

As far as craftsmanship goes, the smiling Nenê definitely got manufactured and painted by the Chinese workers assigned to produce free-to-the-general-public bobbleheads. There's absolutely no comparison between the two. The paint work on the base and head of last night's bobble is a little sloppy and the hair looks like a bunch of limp spaghetti rather than Nenê's actual hair. The shorts and jersey are also missing the NBA logo, which I suppose is a level of detail that just won't fly for free, and there's a strange shiny finish on Nenê's body, as if he's sweating profusely or somehow lacquered. The season ticket holder bobbleheads from last year eclipse all other bobbleheads in my collection from a quality perspective. I'm not sure that's ever going to change.

There are some nice details on the new Nenê bobblehead, however. I love the elbow pad on his left arm to match the one he wears every game. That's the first shooting sleeve or elbow pad on any bobblehead I own, despite the fact that a ton of guys use these things. I also love the lack of stripe on this season's jersey which allows the number to be seen clearly. Huge improvement there.

And while the back of his jersey doesn't feature the monument ball logo just below the neckline like a real jersey (and last season's Nenê bobblehead), the new bobble does have the circumflex above the second "e" in his name on both the jersey and base of the bobblehead. This is a detail that was missed in last season's starting five set, so it's nice to see that error get corrected this season.

I'm adding the new Nenê proudly to my bobblehead shelf this morning. There's no ceremony or anything associated with this which I know might sound surprising. I'm happy to add bobblehead number 30 to my collection. I'm hoping for more than one in the giveaway schedule next year.

December 22, 2013

No Rivals

Last Sunday, the Washington Post Sunday Express featured a cover story questioning if the Washington Wizards had any true rival, rolling out the Redskins-Cowboys and Capitals-Penguins rivalries as examples of what the Wizards may be lacking. The article was based on an informal survey of game-going Wizards fans conducted by the author prior to the November 19 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Verizon Center. The most popular answer to the survey turned out to be the Cleveland Cavaliers, followed by the Miami Heat.

My answer, quoted in the article next to Trevor Ariza's opinion that all teams are our rivals, was nobody. That answer finished third. Sorry, Trevor, I like your thought but if you played for a team with a real rival, I don't think you would have given the same politically correct, non-bulletin board material answer. A rivalry in sports is based upon a genuine dislike of another team where each team beats the other with somewhat regularity in important situations. I don't think there is a team in the NBA that the Wizards beat regularly enough and dislike enough to legitimately claim rival status.

I believe true NBA rivalries are made in the post-season, not the regular season so that's why I answered the question as nobody. We haven't, after all, made the playoffs since 2008. Sure, the division title is important, especially when you haven't won one since 1979 like the Bullets/Wizards, but true rivalries come from repeated hard fought playoff encounters. The NBA realignment of 2004 killed most of the Wizards old time traditional division rivalries with the New York Knicks (based on history) and the Philadelphia 76ers (based on geography) anyway. Having the closest legitimate NBA franchise in your own division in Atlanta makes it difficult to maintain any sort of geographic rivalry.

When I think of some recent NBA rivalries, I think Celtics-Lakers, Pistons-Bulls, Bulls-Knicks, Knicks-Pacers and, this year, Pacers-Heat. There are more and my attention is naturally more often on the Eastern Conference, but all of those rivalries featured decidedly nasty playoff battles between the two teams. I'm already looking forward to an Indiana-Miami Eastern Conference Finals as the marquee series in this year's playoffs after the same matchup last year and the second round series two years ago. There's a genuine dislike between those two teams and I can't wait to see how the series ends this year, especially if Indiana can secure home court. And yes, I am conceding that no other team is getting to this series; it's a two horse race in the east this year, barring some catastrophic injuries to one team or the other.

I can understand the Cleveland Cavaliers as the top answer from Wizards fans and the Miami Heat finishing second. The three playoff series against the Cavs in three consecutive years was a rivalry despite LeBron James' arrogant claim that it wasn't. The Wizards beat the Cavs enough over those years and the boos were louder enough with genuine dislike to get under LeBron and his teammates' skins when they stepped into Verizon Center. And in the playoff years of 2005-2008 we tried to fight the Heat for the division crown and got swept out of the 2005 playoffs in the second round by that team.

I still to this day dislike those two teams more than any other in the NBA for knocking us out of the playoffs the way they did. Miami humiliating us in 2005 and Cleveland whining, complaining and ultimately beating us three years in a row from 2006-2008. I'd love for the Wizards to get another rivalry going. Hopefully this year can be the start of something in the first and maybe second round of the playoffs. Of course, we have to qualify first.

December 9, 2013

What Happened To Halftime Shows?

With Monday's tenth home game of the season in the books, the Washington Wizards regular season on F Street is now about a quarter complete and to date, we have not had a halftime show at Verizon Center. Now there's a total disclaimer to be made here. By halftime show, I don't mean some kids playing a game of basketball for a few minutes and I don't mean the newly rolled out Monumental Network Talent Showcase, which features local people doing what they do in front of crowds, sort of a low budget America's Got Talent I guess. We've had both of those things in spades this year.

By halftime show, I mean an honest to God, professional NBA halftime show like we used to get in years past. I thought the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated before the 2011-2012 season would put a few more dollars in the owners' pockets. I didn't see cutting the halftime entertainment budget as a realistic fallout of the new CBA. And I'm not asking for this every single game. I'm fine with kids playing hoops in the intermission every other game or two out of every three even. But let's get something different in the 14 minutes between the second and third quarters once in a while.

There's a little bit of an irony in me writing this post, because I generally don't care for the NBA's attitude that you must be entertained every minute that you are in the arena. I've claimed in the past, and I still maintain this attitude, that I am there to watch the game. I don't need fancy pyrotechnic laden player introductions, or stuff thrown into the crowd at every time out (although I pine for the suddenly extinct Chipotle Burrito Dash this year) or even, yes I'll say it, halftime shows. I also think there's a lot of merit in having local youth basketball teams come in and play on the Wizards court. I bet some of these kids are justifiably thrilled.

But over the last 13 years plus, there have genuinely been some halftime shows which are awesome, whether it's rescue dogs catching frisbees; Rubberboy stuffing his double jointed body through toilet seats and tennis racquets; guys jumping on trampolines in skis; or athletic displays like the University of Maryland Gymkhana and the Beale Street Flippers. Some of these shows are worth keeping my butt in my seats while the halftime speeches are going on in both locker rooms.

So let's assume for a moment that we will actually get real halftime shows at some point this season. I'd like to consider this post my pitch to management that if there's a tight budget for this stuff, put all your money on the biggest bang for the buck. I'll take 38 games worth of the Talent Showcase and kids chucking it at the hoop from the three point line if I can see my three favorite halftime shows of all time which I'll list in reverse order below.

Number Three: Red Panda
Contrary to the name, this halftime act does not feature any red pandas. Red Panda is actually an Asian woman riding an eight foot high unicycle flipping bowls onto her head while some vaguely Chinese (?) series of about 12 notes plays over and over and over again. Sound exciting? It actually is. The accuracy with which this woman flips bowls onto her head is astounding. I must have seen this act at least 10 times and I think she missed one flip once. The hypnotic rhythm of the music is mesmerizing too. I can sometimes hear that trademark sequence of notes at halftime when I'm watching the NBA on TV and I know exactly what's happening in the arena.

Every so often I think about ways people make a living and am baffled as to how some people make a buck. I'm not sure if this act is her profession, a side gig, a way of seeing the country one NBA arena at a time or whatever but I'd love to know just how she came up with this. Did she start out on a small unicycle and start flipping bowls onto her head or did she master a really high unicycle and then just get bored riding the thing around so added bowl flipping as a way to make it more interesting? And was the act a case of turning a hobby into a way to get some extra cash or was there a plan all along? Too many questions here. Some of these questions were answered when she appeared on America's Got Talent doing her thing. It's missing the music but check it out here.

Number Two: Drums of Thunder
There's something slightly off about a group of fourth and fifth graders from Montclair, New Jersey trained in their elementary school to play an elaborate percussion routine for paid engagements all over the mid-Atlantic with their band director, Louis D'Amico. I'm not sure how that works. Do the kids get paid? Does the school get part of the money? I mean this is a public school supported and funded by the state. Just like with Red Panda, there are questions I have about these guys that I probably won't ever know the answers to. But I know one thing for sure, these guys can play.

I never really embraced all percussion musical performances. I never got into the mostly percussion Carl Palmer side of Emerson  Lake and Palmer's Works, Volume One although that may have been because that entire ELP project pretty much sucked. But listening to and watching Drums of Thunder multiple times makes one appreciate the difficulty and precision with which tens of elementary school kids play drums and cymbals in a completely coordinated fashion for six or seven minutes solid. And I always love the part of the show where D'Amico takes off his jacket and twirls it over his head and makes whoever is paying attention go crazy, even though I know it's coming every time. I'm not sure about the dancing routine that he's added in the last five years or so for some of the boys; that seems a bit sideways. Nonetheless, I'd love to see them back at Verizon Center sometime this year. Check out the video on the Drums of Thunder website.

Number One: Quick Change
And then there's Quick Change. Far and away way way way way better than any other halftime entertainment I have ever seen. It's almost not fair to label these two as halftime entertainment.

Their act, which involves an astounding number of costume and hair changes by primarily Dania but also by David, who orchestrates the whole affair, is literally one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. I must have seen this act a dozen times from multiple locations in Verizon Center and I still can't figure out how the whole thing works even though it's right there in front of me and everyone else in the building. My friend Mike and I have had multiple discussions about how we have the whole thing figured out before watching Quick Change only to retract our statements right after we are done watching. I don't get it and I likely never will.

All of that, of course, is the reason why Quick Change is so compelling. It's magic and I know there's no such thing, but multiple watchings get me no closer to figuring out how they do it. I would take seeing these two this season only rather than having Red Panda and Drums of Thunder every year for the next three years. They are that good. I don't know what's going on with NBA halftime acts and America's Got Talent but just like Red Panda, they took their turn. The looks on the judges' faces are priceless.

The first quarter of the season is done. We still have three more to go. So if anyone in Wizards management happens to read this, please hear my plea and get the three acts above in place sometime during the 2013-2014 season. I'll thank you if you do.

December 8, 2013

Martell Webster Bobblehead

I had planned to blog this weekend about the Washington Wizards' winning record after their crushing defeat of the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the worst record in the league, in front of a rabid home crowd Friday night at Verizon Center. The ensuing above .500 record would have been the latest that the Wizards had owned a winning record in a season since the 2007-2008 campaign, the last year the team made the playoffs. But I guess the Bucks didn't want to cooperate and the Wizards came out in a lackluster fashion, let Khrys Middleton drop 29 on us, came back, and then let the Bucks push us around in overtime en route to a disappointing 109-105 loss.

Fortunately, I have enough going on Wizards-wise in my life to fill the space before the first in-season winning record lets me write the post I wanted to write this weekend. Maybe the next couple of weeks will let me get back to that other post. In the meantime, I found something else to write about courtesy of the United States Postal Service.

If there's one thing I look forward to more than most things during the NBA season, it's adding a piece or two to my expanding Wizards bobblehead collection so when I finally get my hands on the season's promotional schedule, I comb it instantly so I can understand when exactly I have to be in line early to get my hands on the one or maybe two bobbleheads the team offers during the year. This year, I was hoping to find a Martell "My Favorite Wizard" Webster bobble on the giveaway schedule considering the new four year deal the team and he agreed on in the off season. Instead I found only a Nenê bobblehead on December 28. Now I like Nenê but I already have a Nenê bobblehead as part of last year's season ticket holder gift so naturally I was disappointed. 

I got set up for disappointment a little on this one. My anticipation for a Webster bobblehead had been extra high this year because I saw an advertisement for the G Wiz Kids' Club on the Verizon Center scoreboard before the first preseason game which promised delivery of exactly the bobblehead I wanted. Why can't I, devoted fan and diehard bobblehead collector, get what kids are getting just for having their folks shell out $20 to join the Kids' Club? I mean I'm at VC every game watching the Wiz and have shelves full of Wizards bobbleheads. 

So naturally, I did the only thing a rational human being can do in that situation: I signed my niece up for the G Wiz Kids' Club! Fortunately my niece is a little too young to have bobbleheads, so I'll have to hang on to the miniature version of Martell until she's old enough to appreciate the amazingness of the collection I'm forming. Just before the Bucks game Friday, her package arrived and I finally had what I wanted.

The Kids' Club package this year includes a backpack, membership card, folder, pencil, temporary tattoos, activities, a lanyard and the piece-de-resistance, one Martell Webster bobblehead. I'm vowing right now to keep my niece in this club at all costs. If I have anything to do with it, she'll be raised a Wizards fan. Of course everything in the package is important, but I'm focused on the bobblehead and put all that other stuff to one side so I could open up the box and see what my investment had brought me.

I love adding bobbleheads to my shelf and having Martell as part of my collection is an important addition. Despite being a Wizards season ticket holder for the last 14 years, there are probably only a handful of players who I would consider as favorite players. Martell is, despite only one year on the team, one of those guys.

He was drafted straight out of high school in 2005 by the Portland Trail Blazers as the sixth overall pick. After some success with the Trail Blazers got him a four year contract extension he was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves where he underwent two back surgeries that essentially killed his T-Wolves career and left him labeled by some a "draft bust" and "done" at the age of 25.

The Wizards took a chance on Martell in the fall of 2012, signing him to a one year, $1.6 million deal and it paid off for both sides. Martell not only performed at an all time high level on the court, he brought veteran presence and leadership to the locker room. He also infused the Wizards with genuine personality the likes of which we haven't seen since Gilbert Arenas, although the effect of Martell's personality on the locker room is unifying rather than divisive. For evidence of Martell's personality, I suggest you watch his interview of Marcin Gortat or the brand new CSN Washington's Mar-Tell It Like It Is, which may or may not be on ongoing segment. But if you truly want to understand what I think Martell brings to the team, you should read Sarah Kogod's discussion with him over a pedicure.

So as for the bobblehead itself, I have mixed emotions. I love the monument ball logo base and the home uniform detailing, including this season's deletion of the stripe on the back of the jersey. I think our home unis rival any in the league as the best and the removal of the blue stripe on the back which used to run right through the red number (making it sometimes illegible) is one of those devil's in the details things that improves the overall appearance way more than it would seem possible.

But the head of the bobblehead…well, I can't decide if this really looks like last season's Martell Webster (he's missing the beard this year). On a purely academic basis, garden gnome and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine (discounting the skin color, of course) come to mind. I think the way too pointy nose is responsible for the garden gnome effect. But the more I look at it, the more they got a lot of the details right: the hair and beard, if nothing else, are spot on. They just needed to do something about that nose. I'm glad I can place Martell on my shelf with the other bobbleheads and slide Jordan Crawford to the rear (turned backwards in accordance with my own personal tradition, of course).

Unfortunately, the high of picking up my new bobblehead wore off quickly. Friday's loss to the Bucks was sort of a triple whammy of bad news. In addition to losing to the team with the worst record in the league, we also may have lost Nenê and Martell to injuries for a while (although Martell is currently listed day to day). This in addition to already being without Bradley Beal and Al Harrington may make what looked like a favorable mid-December schedule a lot worse for us.

But I'm confident in our ability to keep going while and if these two are out. We still have three solid starters in John Wall, Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat (who is fast climbing my favorite Wizards board) and first round pick Otto Porter made his season debut Friday. I'll keep the faith and hope our guys heal quickly. In the meantime, I'll keep showing up in my number 9 jersey game after game. Can't understand why there aren't more Webster jerseys at VC. Just baffling to me.

Next bobblehead post: as soon after December 28 as I can find to write.

Martell Webster taking Jordan Crawford's place in last year's team bobblehead set. We need a Marcin Gortat unannounced bobblehead giveaway badly.

November 25, 2013

1,000,000 Steph Curry Fans Can't Be Wrong

Earlier today I saw a tweet from Golden State Warriors' guard Stephen Curry announcing he had hit one million followers on Twitter last night. My initial thought was there's no way the Warriors have a million followers, let alone Steph Curry. But sure enough Curry was right. As of this writing, he's more than 2,000 followers north of a million and I assume that number will only get bigger. But sure enough I was right too. The Warriors don't have anywhere close to that many followers. To be precise as of 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, the Dubs have only 302,158. I'm sort of astonished.

Now, I know the NBA is a players' league. I get that every time I watch the Wizards play the Knicks, Bulls, Heat, Lakers or Celtics in what are supposed to be the friendly confines of Verizon Center. In the last couple of years, that message has been hammered home even harder when I see Clippers and Thunder "fans" packing the stands in our building. I mean who has even been to Oklahoma? None of the so-called Thunder faithful we have talked to at the games that's for sure. But Steph Curry pulling in three times as many followers as his own team? This might be worth digging into on a slow Monday night.

At his current total of 1,002,668 Twitter followers, Curry has more followers than any team in the NBA except five: the Los Angeles Lakers (3,491,382 followers), the Miami Heat (2,000,728 followers), the Boston Celtics (1,295,295 followers), the Chicago Bulls (1,203,143 followers) and the Orlando Magic (1,137,208 followers; I'm assuming they are benefitting from the Dwight Howard years). Not only would he rank sixth in followers in the league if he were his own team (I'm ignoring the possibility of other players being their own teams for just a minute), he'd have more followers than the bottom five teams in the NBA combined. My beloved Washington Wizards, who currently rank 26th in the Twitter follower contest, are one of those bottom five teams.

I have nothing against Steph Curry. I actually like him as a player and I love that he re-signed with Golden State for significantly less than the maximum he could have negotiated which will give the team more flexibility to go out and get other parts to make the team a winner year after year. And it's not his fault that a million people read what he writes 140 characters at a time on Twitter. But I find the notion that he has more fans than the team he plays for to be a little puzzling. And he's nowhere near the top of the food chain in Twitter when it comes to NBA players. Kevin Durant has almost 5.5 million followers and Dwight Howard has over 4.6 million. That's nothing compared to LeBron James of course, who topped my brief search at 10,572,075 followers. That's significantly more than the Lakers, Heat, Celtics, Bulls and Magic combined. In case you are wondering, I am not one of the ten million plus!

I don't understand this mentality of following players rather than teams. I realize this probably happens more with the NBA than any other sports league but as a die hard fan of sports teams, I've always resented the casual sports fan who picks up whatever team happens to be doing well or has the biggest star. I guess it pays off; you rarely miss the playoffs when you pick the best team in the league as your team. I'm a fan of the Wizards and I'm going to suffer through whatever pain they put me through for however long it takes to be successful and I realize I may never achieve the high of winning a championship that way. I'll live with that commitment.

I follow all 12 of our players who have Twitter accounts and I will until they leave the team and in some cases beyond that. Some ex-players like Andray Blatche get dropped as soon after they are released as I can find a computer. Others like Caron Butler, Roger Mason Jr. and Emeka Okafor who I think genuinely advanced the cause of the franchise get to stick around for a while. That doesn't mean I'm rooting for their teams to succeed. I want whoever gets the Wizards closer to the playoffs to win and that's who I'm pulling for.

None of the Wizards' current players are as popular on Twitter as Steph Curry, although John Wall is less than 100,000 behind him with a number of followers five times greater than the Wizards team has. And I really don't care how many followers the Wizards have as long as they succeed and reward long suffering fans like me with some great memories in the future. The team is at a mere 186,282 followers as I finalize this post. The Lakers are in town tomorrow. I'm just looking for a win there but I'm sure based on the number of Twitter followers, there will be plenty of Laker "fans" in the building. I'm wondering how many know enough about the team to know Kobe's out. I'll find out tomorrow.

One last thing: two of the 186,282 Wizards followers are not Trevor Booker or Marcin Gortat. That seems like some low hanging fruit to me. Hopefully those guys push the "Follow" button soon.

November 24, 2013

The First Dozen

When the 2013-2014 NBA schedule was released back in August of this year, I highlighted the Wizards' performance in the first 12 games of the season as a critical indicator of the season's success. Eight of the first 12 games were away from Verizon Center but only four of our opponents in those first dozen games made the playoffs last year. For a team last year that struggled on the road and against non-playoff opponents, I saw this first stretch of games as a potential bellwether of how our season might turn out.

Friday's road loss against the Toronto Raptors in Canada marked the twelfth game of the Wizards 2013-2014 season and I'm still not sure what we have. Our record this year is clearly way better at 4-8 than it was last year at 0-12 but my hopes that this year's team can duplicate last year's mid-season form, when we ran off a 21-15 record between January 7 and March 22, haven't been realized. In fact, I'm not sure we are any closer to understanding if this team is the playoff team they want to be after the first 15 percent of the season.

So in my confused fan state right now, and after having watched the Wizards knock off the New York Knicks last night behind a quality second half at Verizon Center, below is a six pack of thoughts about the first dozen games of the current season.

1. The East Is Terrible
OK, so this thought is not so much about the Wizards but about the Eastern Conference in general. But this fact, unless it changes drastically, is going to continue to keep the Wizards in playoff contention even if our record continues to languish below .500. At the close of Friday night's games, only four teams in the Eastern Conference could claim winning records: the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls. Every other team in the conference, including the Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors and championship hopefuls the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks, had lost more than they had won.

The Conference is almost begging a team or two to take a step forward and fill in behind the four winning teams listed above and I don't see why that can't be the Wizards. Sure, we're not going to win the Eastern Conference title this year. As of this date, that looks like a two team race between the Pacers and Heat. But why not step up and make the playoffs, even if it's as a seven or eight seed? I see an enormous opportunity, especially with the Nets and Knicks in questionable at best shape. Go for it guys!

2. What Happened to the D?
Last year the Wizards managed to finish in the top third in the league in defensive efficiency behind some underrated individual defenders and some solid team defense. This year, the Wizards are hovering around the top of the bottom third of the league in that same category. Better than at the bottom of the bottom third, but not like last year.

I guess I'm hoping that part of this is early season jitters. In the first month of the season teams often struggle to defend more than they do score. Great defense over a long period of time relies on team play and a deep understanding of defensive schemes and responsibilities. Everybody has to be on the same page. Great individual offensive outputs can often be pulled off at the expense of poor defense and thus it's easier to have great individual offensive games than great team defensive success.

But there's no doubt we miss Emeka Okafor and probably to a lesser extent A.J. Price. I'm not knocking the Emeka for Marcin Gortat trade. I completely believe we made the right move to bring someone like Marcin in (we'll talk about the draft pick later) but he's not a premiere rim protector like Emeka. The last line of defense is often missing at the hoop without Okafor. We've been exposed badly in some situations especially by opposing teams' point guards either dribble penetrating or cutting to the rim without the ball. Hopefully with time and commitment from everyone, team D will improve to maybe the low teens.

3. The Team Is Paper Thin
One of the most glaring deficiencies about the Wizards team last year was a noticeable lack of depth. Other than Trevor Ariza, we really lacked dependability when we went beyond the starting five. Four of our roster spots were taken by guys (Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin, Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely) who were inconsistent at best, and that may be really kind, and we had effectively no backcourt depth.

So one of the off season priorities for the front office seemed to be to correct that situation. We re-signed Martell Webster, inked Eric Maynor to back up the point guard position and towards the end of the summer added free agent Al Harrington. I'm not sure that's fixed our lack of depth. Before the game against the Raptors Friday night the Wizards ranked 29th in bench scoring, ahead of only their opponent that night. In the 96-88 loss that night, the Wizards amassed only nine bench points, far behind Toronto's 25.

Admittedly, both Ariza and Harrington missed that game due to injuries, but Jan Vesely being the first man off the bench speaks volumes about the team's depth. Despite Jan's improved play in this first month, he can still only score on fast break and putback opportunities. Maynor as the backup point guard hasn't added much at all so far and I don't think Garrett Temple, while a quality third string guard, is the answer as a first backup in the backcourt. The team has managed to pull off wins in three of the five games both Ariza and Harringon have missed which is encouraging. But eventually somebody needs to step up and become a dependable bench player. Maybe first round draft pick Otto Porter is the guy, if he ever gets over the hip flexor and suits up.

Marcin Gortat's addition has been key through the first 12. I can't imagine where we would be without him.
4. Personnel Decisions Continue to Haunt Us
The Wizards' roster this year consists of four true backcourt players, one true center and ten other frontcourt players. Martell Webster and Trevor Ariza are still being used as shooting guards for periods in some games but they are really small forwards. Who's kidding who there?

One of the reasons for the Wizards being so forward heavy is our draft history. In 2010 we nabbed two forwards in the draft in Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker. A year later we selected Jan Vesely and Chris Singleton. Despite middling or lower production over the years each of those guys has been on the team, they are still all under contract and consuming roster spots. At this point in the season, only one of those four is averaging more than 15 minutes per game (Vesely) and the four combined are contributing less than ten points per contest. Singleton's out with an injury so these comments are a little unfair to him, but I'm not sure he's cracking the rotation in a significant way. That's four first round picks taking up almost 30 percent of the roster and contributing less than ten percent of the offense. Ideally, I'd love to have someone more dependable in one of those spots. Fortunately, all four are not under contract next year; that doesn't help us this year.

I see two potential personnel decisions that might loom large in the coming year. First, Eric Maynor has a player option on a second year with the team. I know it's only 12 games in but Maynor does not appear to be the answer at the backup point guard position. There's such a noticeable dropoff between him and John Wall. Second, there's that 2014 first round draft pick we gave to the Phoenix Suns in the Okafor-Gortat trade. I hate trading first round draft picks but if it gets us into the playoffs this year, it's probably worth it. If it doesn't, Gortat's likely gone and so is our draft pick at some point.

5. There Are Concentration Lapses
I know basketball is famously a game of runs. More than any other sport mostly due to just the frequency of scoring in the games, there are going to be periods in the game when teams just outscore the other team by an astounding margin. And it's likely going to happen whether you are the winning team or the losing team. Having said that, the Wizards' scoring droughts in some games have been so obvious and noticeable that it has either put them totally out of the game; put the game out of reach quickly; or almost wasted an outstanding effort.

Most noticeable in the first 12 games were the San Antonio Spurs' 16-0 run after the Wizards had battled back to within three in the third quarter; the Oklahoma City Thunder's ten point comeback to force overtime with less than three and a half minutes to play; and the Cleveland Cavaliers' 36-13 run to almost steal the win after the Wizards led by 27. In each case, the Wizards seemed to lose focus on what it was they were supposed to be doing on the court, and they lapsed into lazy, one-on-one hero ball and it cost them at least the Oklahoma City game and it almost took the Cleveland game from them. We haven't won in San Antonio since 1999, so it's pretty difficult for me to argue that unselfish play would have won that game.

I know this team is young to the point where arguably the two best players on the team are 20 and 23 (in Bradley Beal and John Wall) and I also realize neither of those two has had a veteran to mentor and teach them how to play their positions at the NBA level. But they have got to remember to listen to head coach Randy Wittman. I'm sure Randy is reminding them to share the ball and run the offense. They need to do it. It will save Randy's job and may save the season.

6. We Should Be 7-5
I'll end these observations on a hopeful note. In all honesty, this team should have won seven of the first 12, not four of first 12. We held a double digit lead against both Philadelphia and Cleveland in the second half at home and managed to squander both games and let the visitors walk off with a victory. We also had the Thunder dead to rights in Oklahoma City before Nenê picked up his second technical foul and the team lost all focus. There were also no games we won in the first 12 that we should have lost, so the three additional victories we should have is a true number.

In spite of that optimism, however, we didn't win seven of the first dozen games but the three we threw away should serve as a reminder for the team to realize they can achieve a winning record if they put forth 48 minutes of concentrated effort per game. I know that's going to be difficult for this team. Ideally everyone would like a few games where they can mail them in, but it doesn't appear our team is talented enough to do that. 48 minutes guys, not 36, 40 or even 44. 48! Do that every game and we might be OK.

On to the next 72! I feel better than I did last year.

November 8, 2013


It's been about a year and a half since I started this blog to detail the joys and struggles I experience as a Washington Wizards' fan (OK, mostly struggles). It was always intended to be a fan's story of what it's like to pour your heart and soul into a sports team (rather than being about the game of basketball). I often appear to joke in this blog about scheduling my life around the Wizards' schedule but it's actually not a joke. I really do schedule my life from very late October to at least mid April around the NBA schedule. Holidays, days off, vacations all get coordinated with the home schedule. This game and this team are important to my life.

So in between a packed slate of meetings this past Monday at work, I took an early lunch at Hard Times Cafe across the street from my office in Clarendon and while I was waiting for my Buffalo Chicken Wrap at the bar, I scanned through the Twitter posts of the morning. I can't even begin to describe my surprise when I saw a Tweet from Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis titled simply "My Swag Was Phenomenal." No way could Ted have gotten a hold of my blog and Tweeted it to the world. But that's just what had happened. I spent the next 15 minutes wolfing down my sandwich and fries dying to get back to a real computer so I could see all this on something other than my four year old Blackberry.

I don't know if this adds to my 15 minutes of fame that I feel I should be allotted or not. It just made me proud to know that the owner of the team saw my work and said a few nice words about it. I'm thrilled. Hopefully the Wiz can win their second game of the season tonight against the Brooklyn Nets. I'll be booing Andray Blatche vociferously from my upper level seats in Section 415 every time he touches the ball. Win or lose tonight, this has been a good week for this Wizards fan although a win tonight would obviously cap off the week in style.

November 3, 2013

Meet The Team

As of this writing, the Washington Wizards are off to an inauspicious start to the 2013-2014 season, going 0-2 in their first two games with honestly no realistic end to the losing with upcoming games against Miami, Brooklyn, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. It might just take a fluke of a game. I figured we could pick up a couple of easy Ws against the Philadelphia 76ers both here in D.C. and in Philly in the first four games of the season but somehow Philly has managed to go 3-0 to start the year so I'm counting on a loss Wednesday when we play up there at this point. So before I get too frustrated to deal with writing about this team for a while in a positive light, I thought now would be an appropriate time to look back on last Saturday's Season Ticket Holder Party at Six Flags.

The Season Ticket Holder Party (or the Meet The Team Party as it used to be called) is one of the most important events of the year for the rabid season ticket holder. I once left a business meeting in Roanoke, VA early so I could get back to D.C. for this thing. It's the event where fans like me can stand in line for about an hour to get some stuff which is essentially worthless autographed by my favorite players and add it to my rapidly expanding autograph collection, which is displayed in various locations throughout my condo in and around my also expanding bobblehead collection. And yes, I know I'm too old to be collecting autographs and bobbleheads. Let it go!

This is how it all starts: standing in line to get to the spot in the park when you really stand in line.
I've attended the Season Ticket Holder Party / Meet The Team Party every year since the 2003-2004 season. I missed out the first three years of my tenure because the team didn't have this sort of thing during the Michael Jordan years (presumably because it would have been a complete mob scene if MJ was signing) and I think I bought tickets too late the first year I signed up in 2000-2001. The format and location of this event has changed over the years drastically. I love the current format because it rewards resourcefulness and planning (which I have in spades) and aggressiveness (which I don't have; just can't knock little kids out of the way) is of little to no value. Let me explain.

The first couple of years I went to this event at Verizon Center were pretty much a free for all. The players were rarely at tables signing in an orderly fashion but were instead just standing around in random spots around VC or in some cases giving locker room tours. I remember talking to Jared Jeffries one year as he helped kids into the moon bounce set up at the west end of the building. I think that same year I almost literally bumped into Gilbert Arenas while trying to get my bearings and Kwame Brown was giving locker room tours; we each shook his hand before the tour and he introduced himself ("I'm Kwame"; yeah, no kidding!). In those days getting autographs was literally a mad scramble: it was almost impossible to plan because there was no rhyme or reason to where guys were located and the lack of lines meant that sometimes getting something signed involved pushing your way to the front of a loose mob. There were also no name tags so it was sometimes difficult to tell who was who. My friend Mike helped me identify Larry Hughes one year by the "LH" tattoo on his neck.

There's plenty of this going on. Notable here are Jan Vesely knowing he's just had his fourth year declined on his rookie contract and John Wall, who is not exactly Mr. Personality during these things.
The event stayed at Verizon Center through the 2009-2010 season (with one random year at the Newseum) but the team decided to change the format once we started to make the playoffs. In those middle years of my season ticket holder tenure, the team decided to distribute color coded tickets to attendees which allowed you to stand in one (and theoretically only one) line to get autographs from 2-3 preselected players. There were ways to get additional tickets if you tried, including grabbing more than one ticket the years they handed them out at the door and trading for different colored tickets with other fans the years they mailed them. These years were the worst. They rewarded neither resourcefulness and planning nor aggressiveness. It didn't matter how early or late you got there and you had no control over who you wanted to stand in line for: your fate was predetermined by the color of the ticket you owned. It also hindered any ability to get a single year's team collected on a single ball or whatever other object you elect to get signed. I like to use the box the season tickets come in.

Chris Singleton, Jedi Knight, with Bradley Beal and Glen Rice, Jr signing away furiously.
Then when Ted Leonsis took control of the team, he moved the event out to Six Flags in Prince George's County. This year the event was held on a Saturday afternoon in the picnic area of the park since the place was still open to the public; the past three years, it's been held at night on a weekday. In all four years I have been going to Six Flags for this thing, the format has been essentially the same: players are arrayed in different positions around the park with orderly lines set up and start signing about an hour after fans are admitted. For those who are resourceful and can plan, the hour before signing allows scouting out of locations to determine who is where and laying out the ideal sequence to get players in priority order. It's been tight the last two years but I've been able to get the entire team both years so I can check that box in my neurotic obsession about this stuff.

Basketball cards: my new favorite item to get signed.
Because of the rush associated with this event, there's very little opportunity to interact with players which is too bad (conversation after all slows down the line for others and hinders the annual complete set of signatures quest). But some players can't help themselves and I can't get by Kevin Seraphin without a couple of sentences in French (after a couple of sentences my language skills betray me) and without him showing stuff to his neighbor. Kevin's one of those guys who loves being semi-famous and having fans. He has his own hashtag on Twitter (#KevinSeraphinLife) and loves the spotlight that being a backup center for an NBA team affords him. He's humble but there's also no question he has an ego that he likes to have stroked. Last year I pulled up a picture on my phone of him as Superman and he made me show it to Earl Barron who was sitting next to him. This year he had to show Trevor Ariza the gold basketball card (above) I handed him so Ariza could be impressed by the kind of products Kevin inspires I guess.

This is the sort of event that makes me feel a little more engaged with the team. I know most of these guys must hate sitting at tables for an hour signing stuff for fans who should have outgrown this stuff years ago but I think it's great the team makes this happen. Fans are the reason these teams exist so I guess for one day anyway it makes me feel good as a fan that we get something exclusive for the money that we are forking over. Maybe one day this event will cease having so much value for me. Until then, I'll be leaving business meetings early or whatever else I have to do to get over to this each year.

This year's season ticket holder box, signed by the team.

October 28, 2013

The Wrong Teams

Early evidence of me as a Jets fan.
Wednesday night in Detroit, Michigan marks the start of my 14th season as a Washington Wizards season ticket holder and I'm still waiting for my team to win something. That's right, the Washington NBA franchise has not hoisted a banner of any sort for winning something since 1979, when they won the Eastern Conference championship as the Washington Bullets en route to their second consecutive NBA Finals (they won in 1978 and lost in 1979). Now before you take pity on me for the plight of my beloved Wizards, let me just say I'm used to losing. I've had a ton of practice. In fact, I'd say if I had tried to be more strategic in picking teams in the four major U.S. sports that would not win much at all, I don't think I could have done it.

When my mom and dad moved themselves, me and my sister to the United States in 1979, I was forced to abandon my allegiance to football (soccer) and pick a new sport. This was not a quick emotional decision; it wasn't possible to get any coverage of domestic soccer in this country in the late 1970s, let alone a league all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. Fortunately for me as a sports crazed 11 year old kid, America offered four major leagues to choose from and follow. No longer was I limited to a late summer through early summer sports schedule like I was in England. Now I could follow sports all year round. Unbeknownst to me, I was about to embark on a horrible series of choices in this regard. 

The first American city I set foot in was Boston on the day I immigrated to this country. My family took off from London and landed seven or so hours later in Massachusetts with our eventual destination just east of Hartford, smack in the middle of Connecticut about equidistant between where we had landed and New York City. Over the next 34 years, those two cities would produce a rich sports winning tradition over all four major sports which is probably unmatched in the nation. But I was not destined to take part in any of that. In the months after I got off a plane at Logan Airport in mid-summer of 1979, I'd set in motion a series of events that would prepare me very well for the last 13 seasons of being a Wizards season ticket holder.

The first American sport I took to was probably baseball and the first games I ever watched were between the Baltimore Orioles and the California Angels in the 1979 American League Championship Series. This was back when only four teams made the playoffs in Major League Baseball. I'm not sure why I started rooting for the Orioles although if I had to take a guess, I'd say it was because of the orange in their uniforms (I've always been partial to orange for some reason). The Orioles defeated the Angels before losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series but I stuck with the Orioles as my team.

All things considered, the Orioles were not a bad choice at that time for a first American sports team. They had been one of baseball's most successful teams over the past decade and a half and were stocked with future hall of famers like Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and manager Earl Weaver. In 1983 the Orioles would win the World Series with that lineup and rookie Cal Ripken, Jr. who I can still remember leaping to catch the last out of the decisive game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Next up was football. My initial choice of professional football teams was the New England Patriots. I mean, that's logical, right? We lived in New England. But somewhere between July 25, 1979 when we landed in this country, and the end of the 1979 NFL season, I had become a New York Jets fan. I believe my switch in allegiances was made solely on the basis of helmet design. And I think it occurred while ordering a dessert.

When we first lived in the United States, my dad used to take us to Dairy Queen a lot (my dad loves ice cream!) and in those days DQ used to serve sundaes in miniature football helmets. I believe my memory of this is fairly vivid. I remember looking at all the helmets available and picking the Jets sleek modern looking 1970s helmet over the Patriots' crappy looking Pat patriot helmet for my sundae one day and that was it. From then on until this day, I was a New York Jets fan. Ice cream. It's almost cruel what it left me.

The last American sport I picked up in the '70s was hockey. No basketball yet (ironically); hoops wouldn't enter my life until college, and then only in a casual way. For hockey teams, there was only one choice. In 1979, the World Hockey Association had forced a partial merger with the National Hockey League and one of their four teams to survive the merger was the Hartford Whalers, making the Whalers the only team in the four major sports to reside in Connecticut. The Boston Celtics played a game every now and again at the Hartford Civic Center but the Whalers were Connecticut's only real team. Sold! I'm proud to say I followed the Whalers from their inaugural 1979-1980 season until they split for North Carolina in 1997.

Champions at last in 1998! 20 years in and only one division title.
How smart were my initial choices of American sports teams? Not very. Despite the rosy start to my Orioles fan stint, the team soon faltered. After their championship run in 1983, the Orioles embarked on an unprecedented (for that franchise) run of futility, punctuated by an 0-21 start to the 1988 MLB season, the worst starting mark to open a season then and to this day.

The Jets were a poorer choice. They didn't win anything until 1998 when they finally won the AFC Eastern Division. Yes, it took 20 seasons before my football team won a division title in a division with only five teams. We had a good run as a non-division winner in 1982 when we made the AFC Championship game but couldn't get past a rain soaked Orange Bowl field against the Miami Dolphins.

The Whalers were a little more successful (sort of) than the Jets as a division champion but still only won a total of one division title and one playoff series in their 18 seasons in the NHL. While I can credibly argue that the Whale would have gone on to win the 1986 Stanley Cup if they had just been able to get by Montreal (they lost in overtime in game seven), they didn't. My love for the Whalers died the day they left Hartford and I won't root for the Carolina Hurricanes ever but the team in Hartford sure didn't have much success.

I stuck with the teams I picked as a pre-teen for a long time. I'm still a Jets fan, I picked up the Washington Capitals when I moved to the Washington D.C. area in 1999 (since I had no hockey team at that time) and I defected from the Orioles when the Montreal Expos moved to D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. No great winners in the Caps (despite many many division titles in the last decade) and the Nationals, although the Nats did finish with the best record in baseball in 2012 before bowing out in the first round of the playoffs.

All of that long narrative of hopelessness brings me to the Wizards, who are sort of the subjects of this whole blog. Between living in Connecticut and moving south to northern Virginia, I latched on to basketball as a sport and fell in love with the game. When I lived in upstate New York, I became a Knicks fan, a fantastic choice of teams considering the franchise made the playoffs every year I was a fan between 1994 and 1999 and managed to reach the NBA Finals twice in that span. When I moved to Washington and was presented with a pro basketball team less than ten miles from my apartment, I switched teams and started buying season tickets. Making that decision was like a flashback to the late '70s and it set me on the course of mostly misery I have been on ever since.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post and in my preseason blog post last year, the Wizards have won nothing in my time as a season ticket holder or in fact for a long time before that. Sure, there have been four playoff appearances and one playoff series victory in the last 13 seasons, but in terms of winning something which is represented by a banner in the rafters, the Wizards have nothing. Nada. Zip. And all of that's par for the course for me.

So as if all the whining and complaining in the previous 14 paragraphs weren't enough, let's sum up my lamenting with some graphs to prove my point about how poor my professional sports team choices have been. Each of these graphs have been prepared assuming each team in their respective leagues stands an even chance of either making the playoffs or winning their division, conference/league or championship. I know there's no way this is true in any one year, but over time, it should start to even out a little, right? We'll start with a look at playoff appearances.

In assembling these graphs, I was surprised to see my teams didn't fare worse when it came to making the playoffs (that's optimism, right?). The Capitals and Knicks exceeded the league average during the time I supported those teams which is no surprise considering how good they were or have been in the stretches when I was or still am a fan. The Jets and Orioles also represented pretty well over the last 34 years, finishing at about 90% and 80% of the league average respectively. The real disappointment is in the rest of the teams, which of course includes the Wizards who finished with about half as many playoff appearances in the almost last decade and a half as they should have.

Let's move on to division championships.

While I was pleased with my playoff appearances graph, things start to fall apart when we start looking at actually winning championships of any sort. These are the victories that mean something. Making the playoffs as a non-division winning team is an important step and many teams in all four sports have won championships the same year they didn't win their own division. But if you don't win it all, winning your division counts (at least in my book where I'm craving wins).

Once again, the Capitals show strongly in this category, having dominated the NHL's now defunct Southeastern Division over the past ten years or so. But the rest of the bunch is not so impressive. The Knicks are a touch above the league average in the six years I was a fan but the rest don't look so good. All my other teams have struggled in this category but the worst of them all is the Wizards, who have no division wins with me as a fan.

When we get to the conference championships graph, my teams' performance starts to look really really thin. Now instead of just the Wizards with nothing to show, five of my seven teams are posting a goose egg. Only the Orioles and Knicks have any success in this category and maybe only because when I picked those two teams, they were winning at the time. The other five teams I have supported since I moved to this country are zero for 87 combined seasons.

Finally, there's the championship graph. Despite making the NBA Finals in 1994 and 1999, the Knicks came up empty both times, leaving only the Orioles with a single championship in professional sports since I moved to this country. I've been here 34 years plus and have only one championship to show for all the blood, sweat and tears I've poured into professional sports in that time. It's been 30 years since the Orioles won that lone championship in 1983 by the way. That's a lot of suffering so don't feel bad for me that the Wizards haven't won anything in my 13 years as a season ticket holder. I'm keeping the faith and will continue to do so until it pays off.

Now I know there may be fans out there who think they are long suffering. In the past ten years or so, I've heard the laments of Washington Redskins, Boston Red Sox, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and even St. Louis Rams fans bemoaning their teams' lack of recent success. For all those people, I'll just ask you to re-read the above. But if re-reading all of the above still isn't enough to convince you that I have it worse than you and have picked absolutely the wrong combination of teams, consider these three additional facts:

1. For the first 12 years I lived in the United States, I resided either full-time or part-time in Connecticut. Despite my residence in New England, I have never been a fan of any Boston sports team. During the past 34 years, each of the Boston sports teams in the four major sports has won a championship. The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup, the Red Sox have won two world series, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls and the Celtics have won four NBA Championships. If only...

2. When I arrived in this country, there were seven New York teams in the four major sports: baseball's Yankees and Mets, football's Giants and Jets, basketball's Knicks and hockey's Rangers and Islanders. Of those seven teams, only two have not won a title in their respective sport since I set foot in America. The Yankees and Mets have won a combined seven world series, the Giants have won four super bowls and the Rangers and Islanders have combined for five Stanley Cups. The two teams who haven't won a championship, the Jets and Knicks, are the two teams I picked.

3. Not only have my teams only won one championship when I have been a fan since living in this country, most haven't even won either before or after I have been a fan. The one exception has been the Carolina Hurricanes, the one team I refuse to follow ever for taking my Whalers away. The Hurricanes hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2006.

What a downer!

The 2013-2014 NBA season tips off tomorrow (the Wiz have to wait a day) and once again, I have high hopes for the Wizards' chances of at least making the playoffs. It's the second year in a row that I am hoping for a playoff appearance before the season starts after a few years of really having very little faith whatsoever. I honestly believe that this team is on the right track. I know I'm not winning anything this year but I hope maybe a few years from now I might. I'll just keep hoping.