August 28, 2016

NBA Logo Rank 2016 Update

Three years ago in this blog, I ranked every NBA mascot from 30 to number one. Two years ago, I did the same thing with team names. Last year, I offered my thoughts on each of the logo packages (one just isn't enough any more it seems) rolled out by the franchises that make up the Association.

Team names are pretty much a constant so I don't think I'll be needing to update that countdown any time soon. But mascots and logos are an entirely different story. I've had to update my mascot rank each of the last three years because the NBA owners can't leave well enough (or bad enough) alone when it comes to sticking some dude in a costume. I rolled out my revised mascot rank last month. This month I'm tinkering with my logo rankings because well, folks keep tinkering with these things. Here's what the same and what's new and how I believe this all stacks up this year starting with the bottom of the bottom.

30. Los Angeles Clippers
One year into their 2015 re-brand, the Clippers logo package looks as terrible as it did when it was first rolled out. I struggle to believe Steve Ballmer sleeps well at night knowing he paid some good money to have a group of marketing folks come up with the awful wordmarks and graphics that the Clippers sport. Going to be difficult to convince me the Clips are ever going to climb out of last on this one.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder
On the other hand...the Thunder aren't much better than the Clippers. I still don't get the design of the Thunder's logo. I love the nod to native American imagery that the bulging triangle represents but it's just not doing it for me. I'd prefer a cartoon grey cloud to what they have now.

28. Denver Nuggets
For me, the Nuggets have one of the golden oldies of the old ABA in their miner with a pickax in one hand and a red, white and blue ABA ball in the other. Recently, the Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors have re-worked their old beloved logos to spectacular effect. Please, Denver, do the same here. The bulging Nuggets wordmark topped with the mountain ain't doing it for me.

27. Detroit Pistons
Detroit, just like Denver, had one of the best NBA logos of all time. All they had to do was, well, nothing. Just leave it alone. But instead, they had to go get some hack logo designer to draw them a new horse with tailpipes logo in some amazingly bad shade of dark teal. About a decade later they realized the error of their ways and went back close to the original logo (the NBA doesn't allow exact resurrection of old logos since for marketing rights they are all owned by a separate division of the NBA...or something like that) but the small differences make all the difference. Top 10 logo for sure mutated into a bottom five logo. Smh...

26. Dallas Mavericks
I could easily put the Mavericks further down towards the bottom of this countdown. I think they are saved by the fact that they have never had a super exciting logo that they've tried to resurrect and screwed up like the Pistons. The Mavs are pretty much the definition of boring in the graphic design department. Although I have to confess, I have no idea what's going on with the sideways leering "M" logo that looks like something out of a Spy Vs. Spy comic. Time to re-brand. Just don't do what the Clips did.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers
Boring in Dallas is preceded by boring in Cleveland. I hate the font the Cavs have elected to use here, almost as much as I hate the team itself. The Cavaliers have never had a good logo in their entire history and I think now that they have won a title (God, I hate writing that!) I think we are stuck with this sort of mediocrity for a while.

24. Orlando Magic's a basketball with some stars. Doesn't seem that magical to me. However, it's better than six other logos in my opinion. Might be higher if it weren't for that terrible font the Magic insist on using.

23. Phoenix Suns
In 1968, the Phoenix Suns joined the NBA and rolled out the logo above. WHY WOULD YOU EVER CHANGE THIS LOGO??? It's simple, it's clear, it's a sun (the Suns aren't always that clear on equating their name with symbology - check out their mascot) and it's of its time. It looks like it's straight out of the late 1960s. I love it. I'd take this logo over any logo in the NBA today. Keep this intact and the Suns would be number one. As it is, they go with a flaming ball with their airport code. Pass!

22. Houston Rockets
Houston, we have liftoff. Unfortunately, the current Rockets logo doesn't do it for me. It's not the worst logo the Rockets have ever had by a long shot but it's not good all the same.

21. Minnesota Timberwolves
Rounding out my bottom 10 are the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team with a logo so complicated and intricate that there's no way a kid sitting in study hall could quickly and easily draw this thing (I spent a lot of time as a kid drawing sports logos in study hall - it's like a litmus test).  Word is that Wolves owner Glen Taylor is exploring a rebrand. They have to move up, right? I mean they just have to. Dear Mr. Taylor: don't hire the folks the Clippers hired.

20. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets are the anti-Timberwolves. They have definitely erred on the not complicated side of the equation. For sure. And this definitely passes the kid in study hall test. The problem? The kid can't spend ENOUGH time drawing this thing. Love the black and white. Don't love how simple it is.

19. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks, like the Pistons, decided to resurrect and update one of the NBA's classic logos, the so-called Pac-Man Hawks logo. They had to change it a bit but it looks pretty much as good as it did when the team abandoned it 21 years ago. Way better than the Pistons. Bravo! But then the Hawks went off the rails with a secondary logo that looks like a winged teardrop missing the top part of the drop. I don't understand this thing at all. Big drop because of the secondary logo, Atlanta. If I were a Hawks fan no way I'd wear anything with this weird thing on it.

18. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers logo is classic, simple, understated and boring all at the same time. However, they have won 16 NBA titles so that's good enough to get them almost in the top half of this ranking.

17. Sacramento Kings
The big news of the offseason this year in the NBA logo department is that the Sacramento Kings finally, mercifully abandoned the tired and clunky crossed lances logo they've been using for the past 22 years. Last year, I had the Kings ranked 26th among NBA teams logo-wise. This year, they move up nine spots.

The Kings, much like the Golden State Warriors, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers have done recently are drawing on their past in determining their future. In other words, they are going back to what worked, which in the Kings' case, is totally smart. When the Kings moved to California, their logo consisted of a basketball topped by a crown which sort of doubled as a mountain range (see above left). I love the mountains and how they relate to the mountains around Sacramento, even though the team first used this motif when the franchise moved to Kansas City. I've been to KC and there are no mountains around there so I don't quite get that but it totally works in Sacto.

The new primary logo (above right) is pretty much a copy of the old one but in purple and gray. These are just horrible colors for this logo but maybe it will grow on me. While it's a huge step in the right direction for the Kings, I greatly prefer the proportion of the old logo to the new one and the font in the new logo quite honestly is not very good; waaaaaay too boxy. The old logo's not perfect; it's just better than the new one.

Of course since it's 2016 and the more logos you have, the more merch you can sell, the Kings have produced not one, not two, but three alternate logos which are shown below. Very briefly (left to right): I don't like it (too heraldic - I get that's the point - and that lion looks worse than the clumsiest big man ever dribbling a basketball; I hate it (just lose the crown logo - it's just way too simple); and I kind of like it (I like how the seams of the basketball integrated into the lion's mane).

Much improved, Sacramento, but I think at least half the NBA is still ahead of you. 

16. Indiana Pacers
Top of the bottom half and the Pacers are about the cusp of the logo sets that I actually really like. But they are not quite there. I like some aspects of the Pacers logos, but the font is off-putting for sure.

15. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors deserve a ton of credit for turning things around in the logo department the last couple of years. and for that, I'm moving them up two spots over last year's ranking. For the first 20 years of their existence they were convinced the way to get people excited about their team was to roll out a logo that looked slightly (and I really mean slightly) more scary than Barney. Their new raptor claw marks on a basketball logo is way better. Their name still sucks though and they should still change it. Huskies, please.

14. Milwaukee Bucks
I love pretty much everything about the Bucks' re-brand of last year from the colors right down to the logo package. I love how Wisconsin-centric it is to include more than just the city of Milwaukee. Can't help thinking of a deer's head on a wall when I see their primary logo though. It's going to take a long time to get over this one. Maybe like forever.

13. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have a primary logo, a partial primary logo, three secondary logos and an alternate logo that comes in four different color schemes. No other team has even close to this many truly different logos. I would say I dislike their primary logo (and partial primary), one of their secondary logos and all of their alternate logos. But I so intensely love the Crescent City Hoops and the Pelican-de-Lis logos that they make up for all the failings of all the other members of their logo family. If I were a Pels fan, I'd load up on apparel with the logos I like and aggressively boycott the others.

12. Philadelphia 76ers
I love the current 76ers primary logo. Unfortunately for the Sixers, it's not quite as good as the one they replaced which is pretty much the exact same thing but just a bit better. Also, the Ben Franklin dribbling a basketball is not a good image. Lost points for that one, Philly.

11. Utah Jazz
So let's start this with my standard disclaimer or complaint or whatever you want to call it when I discuss the Utah Jazz: worst nickname for a team given the location ever. I cannot think of a bigger disconnect between a state and a thing than Utah and Jazz. But these logos...damn they are works of art. The Jazz have made them even better this year. Not a complete re-design; the Jazz refer to it as "refreshed brand identity."

First, let's go back to last year. My biggest complaint about the Jazz logo when I first ranked all the NBA teams'  logos was the one on the left above. Like everything about it. Well, now it's gone. No more Jazz wordmark like it's going down a ski slope with some mountains on top of a basketball in the background. See ya! Good riddance!

The rest of these logos? I mean what can I say. I'd be quibbling with any negative feedback. Sure I'm not crazy about the font but I love the colors, I love the musical note and I love the reductive form of the note as a simple basketball. I love all of this. 

Except I can't get beyond Utah and Jazz. For that, these works of art finish 11th. Up five spots from last year but I'm still stuck on the name thing.

10. Portland Trail Blazers
What on Earth is the Trail Blazers' logo? It's unlike any other logo in professional sports in that it's an abstract artistic statement about the game the team plays and has nothing to do with the city or the nickname of the team itself. For that reason alone, it's timeless and never needs changing in the slightest (although the Blazers have tweaked it from the original). Rather than being confused and angry about it's lack of laterality, embrace the statement that it represents.

9. Charlotte Hornets
Depending on how you view the Hornets logo package, you might be able to argue that they have as many as the Pelicans do. But I disagree. I think the Hornets have four different logos and I think most of them are pretty good to pretty great. I don't like the C-H logo with the strange crown on top of it. Ditch that thing and the Hornets might be top five for me.

8. Miami Heat
I have a strong dislike for four Eastern Conference franchises and three of them are in the top eight in my logo rank (see 25 above for the other). Miami is the first of these three. Simple, clean, no fuss, no clouding the picture with a series of other logos. The Heat logo does the job. So why aren't they higher? Well, just like the Pelicans and Hornets, the Heat had to go tinker and introduce a second logo which is about as unimaginative as they come.

7. Golden State Warriors
I don't love the Dubs' rebrand of 2010 as much as a lot of people out there but I think it's still pretty good all the same. It bothers me tremendously that the cables on the bridge in their logo (which I assume is the Golden Gate Bridge) run diagonally not vertically as on the real thing. I like the "SF" secondary logo which they'll need if they ever finish designing and building a new arena on the San Francisco waterfront.

6. San Antonio Spurs
Silver. Black. Spur. This is the image of the Spurs that I love. It's simple, to the point and I don't even mind their reductive partial logo that they introduced in 2002. Most people I talk to about NBA uniforms and logos generally view the Spurs uni and logo design unfavorably. I think it's awesome. It's non-fancy and it wins. Just like the Spurs the last couple of decades.

5. New York Knicks
New York City Subway token logo? A+!! Basketball logo? A+!! Knicks primary logo with the triangle behind it? D-!! The Knicks are sort of the like the Pelicans here for me: two incredible logos and the rest are just bleh! Fortunately for the Knicks in this ranking, they only have one logo I dislike as opposed to the Pelicans' four to seven objectionable logos.

4. Memphis Grizzlies
The grizzly bear head is the best logo in the NBA today. So why not number one? Well, because they have other logos which are diluting the product. Not the one with the text underneath it. Just the head. Don't change the head, Memphis.

3. Washington Wizards
Go ahead, tell me this is yet ANOTHER homer pick (see my year after year mascot rank that has the Wizards at number one). I won't quite believe it 100%. I think the Wizards 2011 repackaging was well done, ditching the horrible Wizard jumping over the moon logo while also harkening back to the past of the Bullets without actually having to change the name. Maybe it's just so good to me when compared to the Wiz blue, black and bronze color scheme days. Regardless, they are number three for me.

2. Boston Celtics
The Celtics are one of those franchises that I truly dislike and yes, it's all because they beat the Wizards (and historically about everyone I guess) more often than not in front of a pro-Celtics crowd at Verizon Center. So I truly hate that I think their logo is better than the Wizards logo. But it is. Some of my best memories at Verizon Center came sitting in Section 402 when the Cs had Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and watching the Wizards beat Boston while seemingly surrounded by Boston fans.  Those memories take the sting out of me ranking the Celtics at number two here.

1. Chicago Bulls
50 years. One logo. Got it right the first time. Winner!!! I'd have a difficult time believing the Bulls will ever be anything but number one in this ranking. The only thing that can possibly screw this up is if they decide to start introducing alternate or secondary logos that dilute their brand. Don't do it, Chicago.

About 12 months until I do this again. I guarantee someone will change something in the next year.

August 18, 2016

Team USA

The more I think and blog about my beloved Washington Wizards, the more dubious distinctions I find in the franchise's history. I don't necessarily do this deliberately and it's certainly not some sort of self-flagellation type of punishment (although I would not blame you if you interpreted things that way). It just sort of happens, kind of like the way the Stay Puft marshmallow man popped into Dr. Ray Stanz' head in Ghostbusters. It's not my fault; it just happens.

Last night the United States men's basketball team defeated Argentina in this year's Olympic Games to move into the tournament's semi-finals. That got me thinking: how has the United States' basketball team been represented across the NBA and how come there never seem to be any Washington Wizards on the USA roster every four years in the Olympics? I mean as far as I can remember I don't remember any Wizards (or Bullets) suiting up for America. I probably should have let that thought die there.

Up to and including the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, NBA basketball players were prohibited from participating in Olympic completion under the pretense that it would give the United States an even bigger advantage in a sport they already dominated internationally every four years. But the 1992 Games in Barcelona would change all that and the USA responded by putting forward the Dream Team, the greatest collection of basketball players every assembled on a single team, to mop the floor with the rest of the world. And they did. And since then, Team USA has been represented solely by NBA players.

So who are all these players? Well, they are typically All-Star players on good NBA teams. Of the 83 slots filled by NBA players in the last eight Olympics, six of those spots have been filled by players from the Miami Heat (Hardaway, Mourning, Wade twice, Odom and James), New York Knicks (Ewing, Houston, Marbury(!), Chandler and Anthony twice) and Utah Jazz (Malone twice, Stockton twice, Boozer and Williams). The remaining 71? Various players from 25 of the other 27 franchises in the NBA. Yes, there have been two franchises that have never been represented on Team USA. The Atlanta Hawks and, of course, you knew this was coming, the Washington Wizards.

I know what you are thinking. That can't be, right? I mean there are some really bad teams out there or teams that just don't have the superstar caliber players to make it to a US Olympic roster, right? How about the Nets? Well, the Nets sent Richard Jefferson in 2004 when they were in Jersey and Deron Williams eight years later from Brooklyn. How about the Grizzlies? Well, almost not. Shareef Abdur-Rahim represented the US in Sydney in 2000 when he played for the VANCOUVER Grizzlies. But surely not the Bobcats / Hornets. Well actually, yes, again. Emeka Okafor in 2004.

So despite all those players representing our country, no Wizard has ever made it? How about Michael Jordan, Mitch Richmond and Christian Laettner? Sure, all three of those guys made it to the Games and they all played for the Wizards. But Jordan was the 1992 version of his airness, not the MJ that played in the District from 2001-2003. Mitch Richmond was close, just a couple of years from being broken down entirely and shipped to Washington for an almost in his prime Chris Webber, who appeared in four All-Star games for the Kings after being run out of town by the Bullets. And Laettner was just a college kid on the Dream Team, the reason that 83 of the 84 roster spots were filled by NBA players; Laettner got number 84. And we've already talked about Emeka Okafor.

Now, there have been some good players that have been on either a Bullets or Wizards roster since the Dream Team was formed. Webber and teammate Juwan Howard each made an appearance in an All-Star game but never sniffed Olympic competition. Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler each made two All-Star teams in the mid aughts but were offered as much as Webber and Howard. True, Gilbert Arenas and John Wall (the team's only three time All-Stars in recent memory) and Bradley Beal got some consideration (Beal actually got an invite to be on the team this year) but ultimately didn't participate. Nothing.

In my three plus years writing this blog, I've written about the Wizards winning nothing since I started buying season tickets: no division titles, no conference titles and no NBA titles. Now you can add no USA Olympians to that list. Thank God for Atlanta here. I really thought the Wiz would end up as the lone team without a Team USA representative. When's the season start again? I gotta have something to take my mind off of this stuff.

August 11, 2016

The 2016-17 NBA Schedule

Early to mid-August. This is the time of year when I'm crawling up the walls of my condo trying to fight off the shakes of NBA withdrawal. It's almost mid-way between the end of Summer League and the beginning of training camp. I'm sure the NBA would love it if everyone out there got the cravings like I do. They'd mint money during the season. Oh, wait a minute, they already do that. 

So what am I to do to solve my need for hoops? I get this way every year and I really don't know the answer. Fortunately for me, the 2016-2017 NBA Season schedule dropped today and that will at least scratch my itch for a bit.

This is the best day of August every year NBA-wise. I love this day. Finally a chance to see what lies ahead and start thinking about a time when the Wizards are tied for first in the division, conference and league with, well, every other team at 0-0. Time to mark the calendar with opening day. Time to see who's playing on Christmas Day. Time to take it all in and digest the whole thing for like two hours before the nothingness that comes after for the next month plus.

I've now done all the taking in. Here is my annual lucky seven things I get out of today. Yes, there's a ton that's similar to the last three posts that I've written. What can I say, I look for the same sorts of things every year.

1. The First Dozen
Assuming everyone remains healthy through the summer, training camp and preseason and assuming John Wall heals sufficiently from offseason knee surgery to start opening day, the Wizards return all five starters from last year for the start of the season. That's great news. I'm not sure how many teams can say that this year in the NBA.

The flip side to that is pretty much everyone else on the team is brand new. Just Kelly Oubre, Jr. and Marcus Thornton remain on the bench from last season which means I expect a lot of growing pains at the beginning of the season. Growing pains here translate for me to turnovers, defensive lapses and losses. So it would really help if the league gave the Wizards a friendly opening, right? Maybe three or four games against Brooklyn and Philly in the first dozen or so?

Well not so much. But it's not brutal either. Yes, there are games against Toronto, Memphis, Boston and Cleveland but we also get Atlanta (twice), Orlando, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. Now I might be kidding myself about the Wizards being better than Atlanta but I have to think that team is going to be going through some growing pains just like the Wiz with a new starting point guard and arguably their best player in Al Horford bailing for Boston. I'm optimistic we can survive with a 6-6 record although there's a distinct possibility the Wizards will start out 0-3 with roadies against Atlanta and Memphis and the home opener against Toronto. I'm prepared for a rough first week and hoping it looks up from there.

2. Prepare To Booooooo!!!!!!
For the last decade or so, I've been booing LeBron James every time he touches the rock during a game at Verizon Center. It's a dying tradition that really needs reviving by much of the VC crowd. There have been a couple of others over the years: Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Andray Blatche and Kwame Brown come to mind for completely different reasons, although last year I had a hard time making myself heard over all the Kobe "fans".

Last year, at his own urging, we added Kevin Durant to the list and KD's staying on my list this year, not for leading Wizards fans on (he didn't), but for telling the world that the crowd at Wizards home games sucks. I'm also adding Al Horford, who before this year was pretty much the most innocuous All-Star player in the league. This year, for choosing the Celtics over the Wizards and throwing some indirect shade at me and my few fellow die-hard fans, Al's on my list. I have November 9, January 24 and February 28 circled on my calendar for Durant and Horford. I'm going to have a lot more to say about this subject later this year in this blog. We have GOT to get Verizon Center louder, Wizards fans!

3. Cheering The Opponent
On the flip side of booing Kevin Durant, Al Horford and a number of other folks this year, I will actually be applauding some of our opponents for their past service to the Wizards organization. This year, Jared Dudley will likely get some polite very muted applause from me; I thought Duds was great in the first half of last season and I respect the smarts he brought to the court but he was here just one year and he seemed lost in the second half coming off the bench.

Getting slightly more love from me will be Garrett Temple, a guy the Wizards plucked from the D-League during the 2012-2013 season and who ended up staying for three more seasons. If there's a poster child for professionalism, hard work and smart play paying off, for me it's Garrett Temple. He managed to get a four year, $32 million dollar deal from the Sacramento Kings this offseason and I couldn't be happier for him.  Well, except the fact that he's playing for the Kings.

But the guy I'm handing out a standing O to when he returns to Washington this year is Nenê. If this Washington Wizards team as it's composed right now ever becomes anything significant (like more than back to back second round playoff appearances), Nenê was the guy who started it all for me. He was the first real professional basketball player in the locker room to teach our young guys about what it means to play and compete respectably in this league. Nenê was acquired at the trade deadline in 2012 and instantly the culture of the team started to turn. Know who was in our starting lineup the game before the trade deadline? John Wall, Jordan Crawford (no longer in the NBA), Chris Singleton (no longer in the NBA), Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee (barely still in the NBA). On the bench? Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Jan Vesely. Nenê gave this franchise credibility. My applause might last a bit longer than the typical returning Wizard. November 7 by the way.

Each of these three guys get one appearance in D.C. this year so I'll make sure I'm there for each one. There are a couple of other first time ex-Wizards out there. I would have considered adding Marcus Thornton to this list but in the most puzzling off-season move, the Wizards re-signed him. Interested to see how that's going to work out. I'm thinking mid-season release if his shot's not falling because he's for sure not playing any D.

4. Surprise MLK Day Game
I expected no home game for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday this season. After all, it's presidential inauguration year in D.C. in 2017 and that seems to always mean that the Wizards are visitors in some other city for this Monday matinee game. But not this year. I guess someone finally figured out it's logistically possible to host a basketball game at Verizon Center and swear in a new president on the same week. I mean, why not, right? It's not like they are going to inaugurate Hillary at Verizon Center. 

This game is special to me. It gets me out of work for a half day for a grilled cheese, some hoops and some pool before a little nosh at Rock Bottom Brewery and an early bed. It also makes me think about the fact that racial inequality still exists in this country in astonishing ways. Yes, I think of that and not that things are better than they were in the mid-twentieth century. We still have a ways to go here, people.

This year the Wizards are hosting the Portland Trail Blazer on January 16, the same team they got trounced by in the MLK Day game last year. I do not have a good feeling about this one, although the effort has to be better than it was earlier this year. The biggest decision for me will likely be what to do for dinner. There's no Rock Bottom this year since they are renovating the Ballston Mall and the whole place is shut down. And I didn't think that mall could get any more depressing. Shows you what I know...

5. Late Winter / Spring West Coast Swings
Every year it seems the Wizards end up starting on the road for a couple of games (that's true this year, it will again be game three before the Wiz play at Verizon Center) then build up a surplus of home slates before heading out on the road for a couple of brutal west coast swings. And frequently these road trips kill any sort of grand designs on playoff positioning (or even qualifying at all).

This season is no exception. There's a difficult four game, six night road trip in late March and early April to Los Angeles, Utah and Golden State. The only relief the Wizards get here is that they get to play the two L.A. teams back to back which is a change from prior years that had them heading to Los Angeles on two separate occasions.

But the road trip to watch starts March 7 in Phoenix. Four nights and three games later the Wizards will have stopped in Denver, Sacramento and Portland. And if all that wasn't enough, the NBA is making them spend an evening in Minnesota on the way back to D.C. for a fifth game. Seven days, five road games. Sure, four of these games are not against the best of the best in the NBA and I'm glad Portland is on the back end, but if there's a critical stretch in the season, this might be it.

6. Three, Not Four
Four games against each of the other teams in the Southeast Division? Check. Every year. Two games agains each team in the Western Conference? Check. Every year. That leaves 10 remaining teams and just 36 games, meaning four games against six of those teams and just three against the other four. And those extra games can make or break a season. Land a fourth game against the Knicks, 76ers, Nets and Bucks as opposed to the Cavaliers, Celtics, Raptors and Hawks and you could be looking at a two, three or four game swing in your win-loss record at the end of the season.

So what's in store this year? Well we got Cleveland (twice at home) and Toronto just three times but we also got Philly three times. Not too bad. We only have to play the far and away best two teams last year in the conference just three times. The fourth? Detroit, who showed they are up and coming. Look I'd rather have Boston three times but I'm OK with this draw. I feel there could be a game or two swing out of this. Thanks, NBA, for the schedule. 

7. Road Trip! Or Trips!!
The thing I love the most about the NBA Schedule release date is checking out which cities I can visit for road games to continue my quest to see the Wizards play in all the current NBA arenas. Last year it was Los Angeles and New Orleans; the year before it was Miami and Toronto. On the top of my wish list this year? Sacramento, followed by Memphis, Denver and Houston and probably Charlotte. I need some diversity out west and if I make it to a Hornets-Wizards roadie, I'll have seen the Wiz play in all five Southeast Division arenas.

So what does this year's schedule hold? Well maybe not everything I want, certainly not Houston on a Monday. Saturday is the ideal day to travel to road games because it's actually possible to make the trip without taking time off of work. The only Saturday games in cities I haven't watched the Wizards play during the coming season are in Detroit (OK, so not really; it's really Auburn Hills), Portland, Charlotte and Cleveland. Other intriguing possibilities are Friday night games in San Antonio, Sacramento and Utah. Maybe I'll wait until the D-League schedule gets released before settling on a game or two. Who's coming with? 

Now, all we have to do is wait. Like 11 weeks. Sounds reasonable, right? I mean that's only like 20% of a year. At least now I know. I've made my first pass through all this stuff tonight. now it's time for some real  studying. Can't wait for October 27! Let's go Wizards!!!

August 3, 2016

Offseason Shopping

In 2013, the Washington Wizards introduced a new fan rewards system called Monumental Rewards, in honor of the ownership group that holds the Wizards, Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics and (now sort of brand new off the presses) Washington Valor Arena Football team. This program when it was first rolled out was fantastic but over the past almost three years, I've gone from loving it, to complaining about price hikes, to feeling completely screwed, to seeing a glimmer of hope that maybe things would get better.

We'll have to see about the getting better part over the coming season. It's going to take a lot of small moves or one pretty grand gesture to get me turned around on this thing. I'm still hoping the team will re-introduce VIP lounge access on at least a once or twice per year basis and I'd love to see some Monumental Rewards-only bobbleheads for Wizards fans. Please, listen to this fan on this one. There are people out there that really care about this stuff.

At the end of last season, my Monumental Rewards balance was just shy of about 145,000 points. Know what kind of Wizards swag or experiences that would get me as a Wiz fan this offseason? Well just look at the picture at the top of this post: an autographed photo from two years ago (Garrett Temple, Otto Porter and Bradley Beal only); a t-shirt that was given away at multiple games; a travel bag which I already have and which has been sitting in my closet since the day I brought it home; a yearbook after the fact that I don't want; or a John Wall bobblehead, which as awesome as it is, I already have. So basically this offseason there's nothing I want. Unfortunately given the recent history of this rewards program, there's not likely going to be anything during the season that I want either. So I decided to dig a little deeper this summer to see if I could get any value out of this program which I raved about when it was first introduced.

And I actually did find a couple of things. First, I decided to pony up 6,000 points and buy a couple of extra John Wall bobbleheads to take to England as gifts for family during a trip back to my homeland in May and June. Not the most glamorous purchase and I'm sure my uncle Malcolm and my cousin Ryan have little to no idea of what to make of these things but they have them nonetheless. Plus they were a perfect conversation piece during an Iceland stopover when we ran into the radio voice of the Wizards Dave Johnson in Keflavik airport. I've now bumped into Randy Wittman, Ernie Grunfeld and Dave Johnson in airports, although my Iceland encounter with Dave is by far the most random.

But my real source of Monumental Rewards gold (or some less precious metal depending on your perspective) this summer has been the Washington Mystics, a team that before this season I had never seen in person. I attended my first ever Mystics game back in May and after that I started poking around on the Monumental Rewards site to see if there was any way I could cash in a minimal amount of points in exchange for a ticket or two. And indeed there are options for those of us willing to go to a Mystics game or two.

Generally speaking, there are two options. First, you can pick up a pair of tickets in a suite on the 200 Level of Verizon Center for a mere 5,000 points. The suite on the club level is about as far from the court you can get at a Mystics game because the upper deck is closed. Whatever, it's a free game. What else do you want? Similar tickets for Wizards games on Monumental Rewards start at 25,000 points and go up from there so dropping 5K seems like a bargain. Albeit the Wizards games have free all-you-can-consume-at-least-until-it-runs-out food and booze as opposed to the nothing you get with the Mystics so it might actually be worth it to spend 20,000 more minimum here.

The other option is to sit in the Mystics "M-Class" seats which come in bunches of two and four for 8,000 and 10,000 points respectively. What are M-Class seats? Well if you were at a Wizards game, you'd refer to them as the Owner's Seats, the group of eight courtside seats right between each end of the scorer's table and the benches of the two teams. Sitting courtside for 8,000 points. Count me in! I grabbed a pair with my eight large for the July 22 Friday night game vs. the league leading (and very very good) Los Angeles Sparks.

One of the most interesting things about being a basketball spectator (assuming you have enough cash and the opportunity) is the choice of seating options and how the game changes as you get closer to and further away from the court. Now I've never sat courtside at an NBA game (one day...) but I've done it in the D-League a couple of times. There are things I just can't see or perceive when I'm that close to the action. I need that space to truly get a big court view. I'm sure if I sat there every game I would learn to be a better spectator.

But what you lose in closeness of vision, you gain in sounds and the small details being that close to the action. You can hear players yelling for help and talking about communication (or in the case of the Mystics a lack thereof that night); you can hear fouls (yes, HEAR); you can hear the head coach yelling profanities at the officials whose names are written on a piece of tape on the floor in front of the bench; you can watch plays being drawn on the coach's clipboard during timeout huddles; and you have to watch your feet (so players checking in and out of the game don't trip over you) and you have to drink your beer carefully (and hopefully not during game action to avoid accidents). I get that it's the WNBA and that experience might not be as glamorous as the NBA, but sitting courtside is worth it, especially being right next to the benches and especially if it's free. I mean what else are you saving your points for?

The VIP lounge at the Mystics game. At least you can stay there and watch the game live...
The M-Class seats we picked up also included free access to the Courtside Club, which is the Mystics VIP food and drink area. Now this I can get excited about! I've loved VIP access with free all you can eat food and free booze when I used to be able to get it at Wizards games. And while I knew it wouldn't be in the Etihad Airways Lounge, I was optimistic about getting some dinner and a few drinks in what I thought would be the space under Verizon Center's 100 Level west end. Just like the men's game, right?

Well...there is for sure a huge difference between the game experience at an NBA game as opposed to a WNBA game for pretty much everyone at an arena. Everything from the crowd size to the media coverage to the players' salaries is smaller for the women's game. Not surprisingly the same is true about the VIP area for courtside customers. Wizards games have two large food and drink areas under the 100 Level seats with pasta, carving stations, hot dogs, salads, cookies, brownies, ice cream, wine and beer. And it's all free except the tips (and please do tip your bartender when he or she is handing you free booze). 

Mystics games don't. There's a plate with raw vegetables with dip; a plate of fruit; a nachos station with some fixin's (chili, nacho cheese, sour cream, salsa and jalapenos); and a cooler full of soft drinks and water. At the end of the arena just behind the west basket. No gourmet food. No cookies. No brownies. No ice cream. No free beer, although a 16 oz Bud Light only at $9 a pop was available. Yep, I've now experienced the WNBA VIP treatment. 

Look, I'm not really knocking it; it was free after all. And it was worth it. Not for the VIP food and drink area but for a chance to see the game of professional basketball from a different perspective. If I want to do this at a Wizards game, I'm basically paying a couple of grand per seat on the secondary market and that's for a Tuesday night game against Minnesota or something like that. If you need to spend some Monumental Rewards points, I can give the Mystics M-Class seats experience a thumbs up. Just keep your hopes at a reasonable level.

The Mystics are off for pretty much the rest of August for the Olympic Games so I'm not seeing any live basketball in person for a while, although I could see myself going to another game if the same seats are available. Who knows, maybe next time there will be cookies instead of fruit in the Courtside Club or something.

Failing that, I'll be carrying my 130,000 plus Monumental Rewards points into the Wizards season with some hope that the availability of rewards will somehow change for the better. I got an email from my ticket representative today letting me know that new items would be available soon but it sounds like beach towels and umbrellas are being added rather than VIP experiences and members only bobbleheads. I should be thankful I got to use some points this summer I guess. Hopefully I'll use them more than once in the coming Wizards season.

Remember, Wizards...VIP and exclusive bobbleheads are what Wizards fans want.

John Wall bobblehead in England.