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.