January 22, 2015

All-Star Starter

For the first time since the 2007-2008 season, the Washington Wizards have a player in the NBA All-Star Game in consecutive years. Last year, John Wall came off the bench in New Orleans to pace the Eastern Conference in the mid-season classic victory and this year he's going to be in New York hopefully helping the East win again. Oh, he also managed to walk off with the Slam Dunk Contest win last year. Not bad for a couple of nights in the Big Easy. In case you were wondering, Caron Butler was the last Wizard to post back-to-back All-Star appearances in 2007 and 2008.

Now, John being in the All-Star Game again is not really much of a surprise. His numbers are not that much different from last year (shooting percentage, assists, rebounds and steals are all up while total points, three point shooting percentage are down and unfortunately turnovers have increased along with other positive metrics) when I feel he was clearly deserving of a spot. But the Wizards ARE a whole lot different, sitting second in the Eastern Conference with a 29-14 record as opposed to a 20-20 record last year, and I believe team success should inform All-Star selections. While I'm not putting the team's improvement squarely on John's shoulders, he's clearly the guy who makes everything go for the Wizards.

What IS a surprise to me is that John is an All-Star STARTER, joining LeBron James, Pau Gasol, Kyle Lowry and Carmelo Anthony as the East's starting five. Not that I don't think he deserves to start in the All-Star Game. He totally does. Way more than last year's starter at point guard in Kyrie Irving (ignore the All-Star Game MVP that Irving won last year). Right now, I wouldn't trade John for any guard in the NBA. In fact, I might not trade him for any player in the NBA. This doesn't mean I think he's the best player in the NBA by the way; it means I wouldn't trade John and the next four years on his current deal for someone possessing superior skills now and diminished skills four years from now.

So why does it surprise me that John is a starter? Because I've always considered the All-Star Game starters, who are voted in by fans, to be the most popular players on the most popular teams in the NBA regardless of individual talent, team success or even, in some cases, playing time. Last year, Kobe Bryant was voted a starter despite playing in only six games. Clearly Kobe couldn't be one of the best players in the NBA in just six games. Sometimes the fans' choices are clearly baffling. I find it interesting that Kevin Durant finished outside the top three in frontcourt voting in the West this year; maybe his popularity is not as resilient as Bryant's.

My opinion here is that John is not one of the most popular players in the NBA and I'm pretty sure that the Wizards, despite their very very recent success, are not one of the most popular teams in the league. Now I'm basing this almost exclusively on jersey sales (I mean, why not, right?). Last week, the NBA released their list of the top 15 selling jerseys and John's jersey (or collection of home, away and alternate only-worn-on-Wednesday jerseys I guess) is not on the list. Of the ten starters voted into the All-Star Game by the fans, four (John, Kyle Lowry and the two Gasol brothers - Marc's starting for the West) are missing from that list. I guess I'm surprised the three of them are starting also then. I do think the pendulum has swung here a bit. Kyle Lowry finished ahead of Kyrie Irving (he was behind on the first two public releases of voting results) and rocketed past Dwayne Wade since the third public release of the voting results presumably based on Toronto's early season success. That's encouraging.

On the other side of the Kyle Lowry coin, no Atlanta Hawk finished in the top 10 guards or frontcourt voting and Atlanta is clearly the class of the East in the first half. I'd be willing to bet that the Hawks fall far into the bottom 20 of the NBA teams in popularity, just like the Wizards do. The NBA released a list of the top 10 teams in terms of merchandise sales last week when they released the jersey sale numbers. Not surprisingly, the Wizards are not on the list which leads me to believe the franchise, just like John, is not that popular. The attendance and enthusiasm or lack thereof at Verizon Center lead me to the same conclusion. I'm surprised John got as much love as he did. Maybe it's all those day after day after day Tweets that I and other Wizards fans sent in. Maybe we have quality if not quantity.

Anyway, despite all the rambling above, congratulations are in order for John. We haven't had an All-Star starter on the team since 2007 (Gilbert Arenas). Now we just have to wait for the reserves to be announced. Based on Carmelo Anthony taking a spot undeservedly and no Hawks being voted as starters, there are precious few spots for other Wizards. Maybe you can make an argument for Paul Pierce or (dare I say it?) Nenê but I don't see those guys making it. You have to add Chicago's Jimmy Butler, two or three Hawks (I'm thinking Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and maybe Al Horford or Kyle Korver, but not both) and call me a conspiracy theorist but I have a feeling Kyrie Irving and Chris Bosh are going to somehow sneak on the team. That leaves one spot left. We are second in the conference, why can't we have it? I'm not holding my breath but why not? Congratulations, again, John! D.C. is lucky to have you.

January 19, 2015

I Have A Dream

Today is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Later today, I'll be sitting in Verizon Center watching my beloved Washington Wizards destroy (I'm hoping here, but probably not unrealistically) the visiting Philadelphia 76ers. It's the second year in a row the Wizards have played the 76ers on this day. It should be a sure victory (I mean the Sixers are barely an NBA team at this point) preceded by a half day of work and a lunch with beer followed by more beer and some pool at a place I once loved but now just gets a once a year visit. Today's full itinerary will be the same as last year's agenda, which I documented in a post last January on this blog.

Today is not about basketball. The games today really take a back seat to remembering the legacy of Dr. King and what he and everyone else involved in the civil rights movement achieved. It's sad that we had to go through the civil rights movement at all, especially considering the United States prides itself so boastfully on equality and freedom. There should never have been separate rules for different races in the first place. While I am sure some folks in this country are proud of the progress that has been made, the events in Ferguson, Missouri and other places in the last few months have proved we have a long way to go here. Now is not time for rest. It's amazing that we are still talking about something which is a basic human right. I mean it's the 21st century, for crying out loud.

Last year, I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall and wrote about it in this blog as a way of commemorating this day and spending time to remember and broadcast a little something about Dr. King's life so that hopefully others may benefit from what I wrote and be reminded of what work is still left to be done. This year, I've decided to make the same commitment. By visiting the Lincoln Memorial.

On August 28, 1963, Dr. King stood on the top step of the podium to the Lincoln Memorial and delivered what is surely his most famous speech, the I Have A Dream speech, as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The March, which had been contemplated by a number of civil rights leaders since the 1940s, was intended to bring attention to the fact that despite black men having been granted voting rights for 100 years, there were still laws in the United States in the 1960s that institutionalized racial discrimination and fostered economic inequality between races in parts of this country. The March was also intended to lend vocal and visible endorsement to civil rights legislation proposed by President John F. Kennedy in June of 1963.

By most estimates, the March attracted a quarter of a million people. It is credited with being instrumental in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Voting Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Yes, we had to pass laws to make these things happen.

The speech itself was voted the top American speech of the 20th century in a poll of scholars of public address (who knew there was such a thing?). It references Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation and it is truly powerful. My family didn't live in the United States in 1963 but I like to think it would have made me ashamed to be a white American that year. Maybe that's presumptuous or arrogant of me to make such a statement but it sort of shames me even today. I can't believe the country that I love so much was so disrespectful and ignorant just 50 years ago.

Today, the spot where Dr. King stood and gave his speech on August 28, 1963 is commemorated with an engraving in the stone step and you can look out over the reflecting pool towards the Washington Monument and decide for yourself if we have really made all the progress in race relations that we should have made since that day over 50 years ago. I'm hoping your answer is no. Remember. That's all I ask for whoever reads this post today or in the future. And don't forget. Ever.

If you have 17 minutes and 28 seconds to spare today, I encourage you to watch Dr. King's speech that day. If you do not, the full text of the speech is below.
I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. 

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. 

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. 

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children. 

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. 

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. 

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone. 

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. 

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. 

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. 

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. 

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. 

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. 

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring." 

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! 
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! 
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California! 
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! 
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! 
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring. 
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
The view of the reflecting pool and Washington Monument on August 28. 1963...
…and today.

January 12, 2015

At Sixers And Sevens

During each of the last two NBA seasons, I've managed to take a break when the Wizards were on a west coast road trip and get away to watch some games in the NBDL, the league which is quickly morphing towards becoming a sort of NBA farm system the likes of which is used by the National Hockey League or Major League Baseball. Two years ago, I took a week long trip to Texas to see games in Frisco, Hidalgo and Austin; last year, I got away for a long weekend in New England to see my first hoops in Springfield, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine.

I love attending D-League games. There's something about pro hoops below the NBA level that appeals to me, at least once a year, anyway. I love seeing how different the environment is, watching guys play for a spot in the show and very often seeing a small town side of America. Sure, some of these games aren't exactly played in small towns, but they are smaller than Washington, D.C. so they are small to me.

I still want to take a D-League trip to the midwest to catch games in Erie, Canton and Fort Wayne and a California trip to see games in Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Santa Cruz. But this year, my NBA travel budget and schedule appeared to be too overbooked for a trip to the minor leagues. I've already made a trip to Toronto to see the Wizards play in Canada in November and before Christmas I was down in Miami to see us take on the Heat in an all too close game. Those trips, combined with an All-Star Weekend in New York, seemed to preclude any NBDL games this season.

But where there's a will, there's a way and a little more digging this season revealed an opening in the Wizards schedule this past weekend to allow me to squeeze a game in. With the Wizards having played Chicago this past Friday at Verizon Center (an awesome statement victory) and a matinee game in Atlanta on Sunday (a game which showed just how far we have to go), Saturday night was open and it just so happened the Delaware 87ers (or the Sevens as they are called) were at home in Newark, Delaware, for a game against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, who just happen to be the Wizards D-League affiliate this season. It was just too close and too tempting to pass up.

Second quarter action from the Bob.
The Sevens have been playing ball in Newark for a little more than a season now. Their debut season was last year as the wholly owned affiliate of the nearby Philadelphia 76ers (insert joke here about the Sixers being about as good as a D-League team). The team struggled in their first year in Delaware posting a 12-38 record, good for last in the East Division. As of Saturday's game time this year, the team is doing a little better, sitting third in the brand new five team Atlantic Division with a 7-10 mark. When the Sixers bought the Sevens (don't think about that too hard), they were actually a dormant franchise. The 87ers began life as the Utah Flash in Orem, Utah who played in that city from 2007 to 2011 but folded after the 2010-2011 season. I have no idea how buying a dormant franchise differs from an actual expansion franchise, but that's how the team got to Newark.

The 87ers name is a reference to the year Delaware ratified the United States Constitution, the first state to do so. Since Delaware was one of the original 13 British colonies, it is pretty likely that the area in and around Newark has a pretty substantial history. And I guess that's true. Being around for a while builds history, I guess. The town was established in 1694 and officially recognized by the British government and King George II in 1758. Since 1833, the town has been home to the school that would ultimately become the University of Delaware in 1921, although it took about 11 years off for a stretch before re-opening. The enrollment at the University is about 20,000; the population of Newark stands at about 32,000. It's no surprise therefore that the town and the University are pretty much one and the same.

The 87ers play ball in the Bob Carpenter Center (or the Bob), which serves as the home for the University of Delaware's men's and women's basketball teams and the UD women's volleyball team. The arena sits approximately 5,000 people for a basketball game, although only about half those seats are available for a D-League game. With the reduced seating availability, it ends up being the smallest arena I've visited in my six NBDL games seen to date, coming in at even smaller than the tiny Portland Expo Center I visited last year, which seats a little more than 3,000 in bleachers. The Bob opened in 1992, which means by now it's starting to age a little.

Dahntay Jones and Will Frisby discussing strategy on the bench.
One of the main reasons I rushed to attend this particular game was that the Wizards' Glen Rice, Jr. had been assigned to the visiting Mad Ants in mid-November and I hadn't seen or heard much about his game since he was sent there. I figured this would be a great chance to not only check another site off my years long D-League tour, but also catch up with one of our own players. Unfortunately, as I figured out last weekend, Rice was waived by the Wizards this past week pretty much as a cost saving measure. Let's face it, Glen wasn't playing with the team anytime soon based on his pecking order in the lineup; his poor shooting percentage when he did play in the big leagues; and his on court verbal exchange with head coach Randy Wittman during the November 7 game in Toronto. Saving $400K plus by waiving him might come in handy later on this year.

Rice's D-League story is an interesting one, as I wrote last week. But if there's one thing about the D-League, it's that it's not short on interesting stories. A couple of years ago, the Wizards own Rasual Butler was playing in the NBDL at the age of 33, trying to convince clubs that he still had a part to play in this league. I actually caught Butler playing for the Tulsa 66ers on my Texas swing two years ago. Last year, it paid off for Rasual as he played 50 games for the Indiana Pacers, even though he only saw the court for a bit more than seven minutes per game. Whether his stint in the D-League allowed the Pacers to notice him or the Wizards to sign him this year, where he is averaging double digits in scoring and shooting in the top five in three point percentage, can be debated. But there's no doubt his story is a compelling one. Without the D-League he may not have had any place to play at all.

So sure enough, there's a guy playing for Fort Wayne this year with a story very similar to Rasual's a couple of years ago. Dahntay Jones was selected 20th overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2003 NBA Draft. He's played 589 regular season and 38 postseason games in the NBA over 10 seasons with six different teams, although the Celtics weren't one of those. He's 34 years old and most definitely the elder statesman on the Mad Ants team this year. The last time I ran into Dahntay in this noticeable a way was during the Barack Obama fundraiser I attended a couple of years ago. He's trying to do this year what Rasual was trying to do two years ago: prove he's still got something to offer an NBA squad.  He's only two years removed from action in the parent league, so maybe he's got a shot of getting picked up by a team who needs someone reliable on a 10 day contract between now and the end of the regular season. I'm hoping he does.

Dahntay poured in a team high 26 points (tied with Andre Emmett) in the Mad Ants 114-103 victory over the home Sevens Saturday night. He shot an impressive 10 of 14 from the field including hitting on half of his six three point attempts. Along with Emmett, he was clearly the best player on the court for the Mad Ants, who have now won five straight games after struggling with a .500 record earlier in the year. But more notable than his output on the court for me was the leadership he provided on the bench, talking to guys on the team during time outs and offering comments from the bench during the game when he was resting.

The best example of what a guy like Dahntay brings to a team like the Mad Ants was a first half exchange he had with starting center Will Frisby who picked up two quick fouls and was pulled from the game early. I have no idea how talented Frisby is but I know he's never seen a minute of NBA action so he's a long ways behind Jones in my book. At first didn't want any part of Jones talking to him before eventually settling down and appearing to listen for a few minutes. I suppose some guys wouldn't chew out their teammates in the name of making someone else better, preferring to focus on their game so they stand out to NBA scouts. Here's hoping Dahntay makes it back to the show this year.

The Kreston Wine and Spirits Beer Garden.
For me, the game on the court was well played. I happened to be rooting for the Mad Ants (although they really have no significant tie to the Wizards and I know it) so I was pleased when they overcame their early deficit to the Sevens and pulled away for the 11 point win. It was clear on this night that while Delaware's starters were more than capable of playing with Fort Wayne, their bench was no match for the visitors, getting outscored 34-16. So while the game started out in Delaware's favor, once the starters rested, the tide quickly turned and ultimately the Mad Ants left with the W despite the Sevens' Victor Rudd pouring in 29.

The story of D-League games for me though is not completely about what happens on the hardwood. I find differences between the NBA experience and the NBDL experience to be striking, strange or amusing. Whether it's the bouncy playthings and mechanical bull in Frisco, the fan in Austin with a giant Shelvin Mack head on a stick to taunt the opposition's best player, or the Kora Shriners presenting the colors in Portland, there's always something besides the game action which is notable. Sure enough, the same thing happened in Delaware.

Before heading to the arena Saturday night, I knocked back a couple of beers with dinner at the nearby T.G.I.Friday's. I'm sure I could have found somewhere better, but it was close to my hotel and it was really really cold in Newark Saturday night so I didn't bother searching. Now I like to have a beer at a game, even though I'd had a couple before we entered the building and so after getting my bearings, I checked out one of the concession stands and found no beer. Uh oh. Maybe because it's a college campus, they don't serve beer?

I kept going, hoping I was wrong, and sure enough when I got to the end zone, I noticed the Kreston Wine and Spirits Beer Garden signs on the concourse level opposite where our seats were located. The Beer Garden at the Bob is the strangest one I have ever been to. It's an area about 25 feet by 50 feet defined by TensaBarriers with a gap where you enter. At the entrance is a dude checking IDs, collecting the cover charge ($1) and handing out the wristbands which grant you exclusive access to the entire Beer Garden. Once you are in, you can come and go at will and choose from the three beers on offer there: 16 oz Coors Light ($5); 12 oz Keystone Light in the exclusive limited edition (I'm assuming here) Hunting Season Camo Can ($2!); and 16 oz Blue Moon (price unknown - I'm not drinking that stuff).

This is far and away the cheapest beer I've had at a ballgame in a long time, even ignoring the price of the Keystone Light which tasted, well, like nothing and had about zero alcohol in it. But despite it's obvious hokey appearance and the what had to been teenage bartenders in tuxedo bow ties, the Beer Garden was actually a great place to watch the game. The view was perfect and unobstructed and the guardrail side seats overlooking the court offered an ideal spot to take in all the action. We actually spent the second half watching from there. If I attended more Sevens games, I'd just sit here every game. Two thumbs way up!

Third quarter action viewed from the Beer Garden. We abandoned our fourth row seats for this.
Of course, no D-League trip is complete without seeing what the town or area has to offer. Last year it was the Basketball Hall of Fame (Springfield) and a series of breweries (Portland) that kept me occupied during the day. The year before that, it was a cattle drive sculpture series, a giant killer bee sculpture and some of the best blues in the country that satisfied my tourist yen. This year? Ummm…

So I really tried hard to find something interesting to do in Newark. Honestly. But there's just not much here. The best I could come up with was the Battle of Cooch's Bridge Battlefield. The Battlefield, which is just a collection of interpretive signage with an adjacent visitor's center which is open on the first and third Saturdays of the month (I was there on the second Saturday), kills about maybe fifteen minutes of time.

The Colonial position, Battle of Cooch's Bridge.
Cooch's Bridge today. This one was erected in 1922. I imagine the view is not much different than 1777.
The battle, between the British forces and the revolutionary Colonial militia, took place in 1777 and was more a skirmish than a battle, although the estimated 25 dead on each side probably would disagree with me. The conflict was an engagement started by the revolutionaries to bother the British forces who were trying to maintain control over the main road from Virginia to Philadelphia which ran just south of Cooch's Bridge. The conflict was short and ultimately the Colonials were forced to withdraw against superior British numbers. I guess the most notable distinction that the battle holds today is that it is the first time the Stars and Stripes were ever flown in combat, although the signage at the site casts some doubt on that fact, referring to the source of this information as "local tradition".

I'll have to be satisfied with my trip the past weekend as my only NBDL action this year. I want to see more, I just don't have the time or the time off. So I'll have to wait until next year. Maybe my midwest swing will work out perfectly when the schedule is released this fall. One final note: while I didn't see Glen Rice, Jr. play, the Mad Ants or Sevens or someone hasn't forgotten him. He's listed right between Marcus Simmons and Ramon Harris in the free program handed out at the door. These things are essential at this level, because rosters can change day to day, just like it did for Glen.

In memory of Glen Rice, Jr.

January 3, 2015

Where's Glen Rice, Jr.?

Hey, Wizards fans, remember Glen Rice? No, no, not three time All-Star, NCAA champion, 1997 All-Star game MVP, NBA champion Glen Rice. The other one. His kid. Glen Rice, Jr. 2013 Washington Wizards second round draft pick? 2014 NBA Summer League MVP? First guy ever drafted out of the D-League? Supposed to make a major leap this year off the bench for the Wizards? Yeah, THAT Glen Rice. Remember him? It's been a couple of months, right? I think it's time we caught up with him. Is that OK?

Before we catch up, let's go back a bit. Three years ago this month, Glen was enrolled at Georgia Tech playing for the Yellow Jackets' men's basketball team. About a month later he would be suspended indefinitely from the team for undisclosed reasons. That suspension was not his first from the team that year; he was held out of the first three games of the 2011-2012 season for an undisclosed violation of team rules (LOVE Georgia Tech and their "undisclosed" reasons and violations). A month after his indefinite suspension began, Rice was charged in an incident involving the discharge of a firearm outside an Atlanta nightclub and was cut from the basketball team entirely.  After being dismissed from the team, he would never play college ball again.

So at that point, Rice is pretty much a trouble maker, right? A kid who can't deal with society's rules or authority who was likely to just fade away. His next move was a bit surprising: playing for the NBDL's Rio Grande Valley Vipers way down in Hidalgo, Texas after being selected in the D-League's draft in November 2012. For a kid with an NBA focused, presumably comfy upbringing, playing in the no-frills, low low salary D-League with a team right on the Mexican border had to be humbling and tough. 

Keep in mind Rice knew he was stuck there for the year. Since he bypassed the 2012 NBA Draft, he couldn't be called up by a team to the NBA; he would have to wait for the subsequent draft before being eligible for a call up. If he could survive the D-League, he could probably convince most people that he outgrew his trouble at Georgia Tech and had matured and was worth a second chance.

The Wizards bought it. The team held two second round picks in the 2013 NBA Draft and decided to send them both to the Philadelphia 76ers for the rights to Rice, whom they then signed to a one year, non-guaranteed contract with a team option for a second year, also non-guaranteed. Rice's rookie year was nothing to write home about. Not that scoring is everything, but he averaged just 2.9 points per game on slightly less than 30 percent shooting from the field in 11 games, including one start. He spent most of the time riding the pine or being inactive entirely and spent a few games with the Iowa Energy, who at that time were the Wizards' NBDL affiliate.

After his rookie campaign, Rice seemed to be pretty serious about showing the Wizards that his lack of playing time in 2013-2014 was a mistake and it started in Summer League in Las Vegas. Despite not winning the Summer League title, the Wizards made a strong showing, bowing out in the semi-final game to the eventual champion Sacramento Kings. Rice ended up as the Summer League Most Valuable Player in a unanimous vote. He averaged 25 points and just less than eight rebounds per game while shooting almost 47 percent from the field. While Summer League MVPs don't alway translate to NBA success, it was an encouraging sign for Rice.

The Wizards 2014-2015 NBA campaign started on October 29 and with Bradley Beal out for a couple of weeks with injury, the stage seemed to be set for Rice. He didn't play in the team's opener at Miami but did get involved in the next five games, scoring a season high five points in the Wizards' first victory of the season at the Orlando Magic. It was an ideal opportunity for Rice to crack the rotation in something resembling a permanent way. And if the Wizards needed something with Martell Webster missing the first couple of months after back surgery, it was a reliable scorer off the bench.

In his fifth game, a blowout loss in Toronto, Rice had some words for Randy Wittman when he was pulled from the game in the first half in favor of Rasual Butler. The exchange was significant enough that I noticed it from my seat at Air Canada Centre even though I was supposed to be paying attention to the game. Rice wouldn't re-enter the game. Butler, who has since emerged as the Wizards' leading bench scorer despite being the last guy to make the team, tallied only five points that night but it was clearly the beginning of something that has been one of the brightest spots for the team this season.

The next night as I was watching the Wizards play the Indiana Pacers in a bar in downtown Toronto, I remember a note on the ticker at the bottom of the screen about Rice and Wittman again exchanging words. What was going on? I could understand Rice being frustrated about his limited playing time with the team, but his 20 percent shooting from the field wasn't exactly forcing coach to get him in the game at every opportunity. 

The Toronto game was not the first time I'd seen Rice talking back to our coaches. He blew off Sam Cassell in our second Summer League game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He appeared to be either upset about not getting calls from the referees or maybe Alexy Schved lit him up a bit too much. Either way, he was clearly agitated. Al Harrington, who was serving as a volunteer assistant during Summer League, also got the brush off from Rice that game just before halftime. While Glen was clearly too important to bench for a Summer League game, he's certainly not good enough to talk back during the regular season.

About two weeks after the Toronto game, Rice was assigned to the D-League, this time to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, who had replaced the Iowa Energy as the Wizards NBDL affiliate when the Energy entered into an exclusive arrangement with the Memphis Grizzlies. With the return of Bradley Beal from injury, it looked like the perfect time to preserve Rice's playing time via a D-League assignment. He seemed to have been playing well for Fort Wayne, averaging 12.7 points in 14 games while hitting at over 49 percent from the field. In a loss at Sioux Falls on December 16, Rice went for 22 points on 9 of 11 shooting.

With the Mad Ants playing the Delaware 87ers next weekend on a Wizards off day in nearby Newark, Delaware, I thought it might be the ideal time to catch up with Glen's game. But in the last three games for the Mad Ants, Rice hasn't played a single minute. He's been a healthy scratch for all three games. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette reported yesterday that while Rice is still technically on the roster, it seems unlikely he'll play for the team again.

What's the deal here? Are the Wizards trying to trade Rice or are they just willing to let him sit in Fort Wayne? If the Mad Ants aren't going to play him, does it make sense to recall him? Or has he burned his bridges with the team and coaching staff? Rice's contract for a little more than $800,000 becomes guaranteed a week from today. If they decide to terminate his contract before that date, they owe only $400,000. Seems like a decision is likely looming in the next couple of days. I'm still likely headed up to Delaware next Saturday, but I'm pretty sure I won't find Glen Rice there, although he apparently was in D.C. last night for his birthday party. I'm questioning the "superstar" label in the advertisement below; I elected to stay home rather than texting SWANK to 41411.