December 23, 2016

Wizards Christmas Ornaments

A few years ago, in my quest to Wizards-ify every aspect of my life (a quest that continues today), I decided I'd try to pick up a few Wizards Christmas ornaments to hang on the family tree around the holidays. I thought this would be a pretty simple task. I'd just sign on to the NBA Store website and buy some. Turns out I was wrong. Unbeknownst to me when I thought of this idea was that they just don't make Wizards Christmas tree ornaments. Presumably because nobody wants to buy them.

Don't believe me? Sign on to the NBA Store website and type the word "ornament". When I did it earlier this month, it yielded 203 results. Want to festoon your tree with 16 different San Antonio Spurs ornaments? You can do that by going on a deluxe online shopping spree. How about satisfying your lifelong dream to own a Dwyane Wade elf ornament or a Los Angeles Lakers s'mores ornament or a Golden State Warriors soda cooler ornament? Yep they got all those on the NBA Store site too. Brookyn Nets star ornament? Philadelphia 76ers LED light up ball ornament? Boston Celtics stadium chair ornament? Absolutely, for sure and yes! But a single Washington Wizards ornament? No. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

But where there's a will, there's a way. And thank God for eBay. One man's trash is another man's treasure. And oh boy did I get some treasure.

The simple glass ball ornaments were pretty easy to find. I picked up a garish original Wizards bronze blue and black vintage motif ball (God that logo looks terrible now) and the rebranded version with the oh-so-sophisticated red, white and blue color scheme on the slightly rotated wizard that fools nobody into thinking it was an actual rebrand. I got both of those for less than $15 combined including shipping. You can go ahead and say that's a total waste of less than $15. I don't care. I like these things.

But my ornament quest required some deeper mining to find some real gold and that came from a company called The Memory Company, which has produced some pretty funky NBA ornaments over the last few years. I can't imagine there's ever been much of a market for these sorts of things in general but for sure I appreciate it because I can pick up some classic swag for very little. 

Last year I found a Santa Claus with that awful old blue color robe (instead of red...clever, right?).  I featured that ornament on my Christmas post last year, which I swear is not intended to be an actual thing but I've admittedly blogged Christmas week the last two Decembers before this year. At Santa's feet is an NBA basketball and he's holding a wreath with the old Wizards logo at the center behind some kind of plastic cover which has faded to yellow in a very non family heirloom way. 

This year I hit the daily double with The Memory Company and found a nutcracker ornament with the almost current Wizards logo on his hat. He's holding some kind of instrument ready to fire up the crowd I guess. Too bad we don't play this Christmas Day. This is about as non-Wizards an ornament as you can find. It actually looks like a traditional nutcracker ornament. You really have to squint to identify the branding.

I haven't asked my mom how she feels about this quartet of ornaments on her tree that is covered with decorations that in many ways mark our family's history. Maybe next year she'll make me move them to the back side of the tree like the metallic blue steamboat ornament that my grandma got us about 45 years ago.

Enjoy the NBA action this Christmas, Wizards fans. There's no pressure this year because we ain't playing. And I dare anyone to top my collection of Wizards ornaments. Happy holidays and go Wizards!!!

December 17, 2016

Scott Brooks Bobblehead

Show me a Washington Wizards fan who's happy with the way the 2016-2017 NBA season has started for our local hoops team and I'll show you an almost empty Verizon Center on pretty much any given game night. While things have gotten a little bit easier on the schedule front and the level of play picked up against Oklahoma City and San Antonio before cratering at home against Orlando and collapsing on the road in Miami (all losses by the way), there hasn't been much to be happy about as a Wizards fan this last month and a half.

That all changed in late November when the Wizards quietly released their first Monumental Rewards-exclusive bobblehead. Hooray!!! Finally something to be universally glad for as a Wizards fan this year. Especially with the holidays right around the corner (these things would look great under the tree...) and Monumental Rewards points set to time out for the first time in the program's existence. Spend up, kids. Use 'em or lose 'em.

Now this was not totally unexpected. We saw the Wizards', Capitals', Mystics' and 33% of the entire Arena Football League's parent company roll out an exclusive Andre Burakovsky bobblehead wearing the Caps' home red last spring. That move, which I praised in this blog, gave me some hope one day we'd see some not-available-to-the-public Wizards bobbleheads as well. That day is now here.

So who's the lucky player? Well it's not a player, which I think could be reasonably inferred from the title of this blog post. It's head coach Scott Brooks which makes it the first coach bobblehead I've acquired as a Wizards fan. I've got two mascots and two broadcasters but until I picked up my Scotty bobble before the November 26 home game against the Spurs, zero head coaches. Now I got one.

Before we get to the replica of the man himself, let me say this is a little bittersweet for me here. I've begged the Wizards on two separate occasions in this blog to hand out a Randy Wittman bobblehead to no avail. Heck, I even provided an image in one post that they could have used free of any compensation to yours truly. And here we are less than two months into the season and Randy's replacement gets a bobblehead of himself? Totally unfair. And yes, I'll let the Randy Wittman thing go eventually. Probably. I still feel the team missed out on a golden opportunity to celebrate the winningest (from a percentage standpoint) head coach in Wizards playoff history.

Having now obligatorily complained about the lack of a Coach Witt bobble, let me say I'm perfectly happy with my new Scott Brooks bobblehead. Brooks automatically became my third favorite Wizards coach ever (behind Wittman and Eddie Jordan, who led the team to four straight playoff appearances) when he signed with the team and he'll look great standing on my bobblehead shelf with current team members John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter (until March that is when Kelly Oubre will join him).

There's nothing fancy about the Brooks bobble. He's standing arms crossed with a facial expression that's either a slight smile or a disbelieving smirk at either the team's performance or the calls we don't get from referees this year (take your pick there). I think there's no question this looks like Coach Brooks. Some of this comes from both him and the bobblehead being white, wearing glasses and having short hair over his entire head. When I compare this one to some of my other bobbles, he's actually probably in the top third or quarter as far as accuracy to the actual person goes.

The suit and tie are well painted on the bobble I was handed at the Monumental Rewards window on the 400 level of Verizon Center. I'd grade this as better than average on the paint job side. Maybe it's because this one is reserved just for season ticket holders that the quality is above the free average we see for some in-game giveaways. The base of the bobblehead follows the circular wood like surface motif the Wizards have been fond of lately and I love the little Wizards logo standing up on the base; it makes it seem like a freebie because this is where they would put the sponsor's logo.

Scotty of course comes in a box. His container is covered with his accomplishments as a coach in the NBA, none of which he achieved as a Wizards head man (he's only been on the job less than a season after all) and none of which have been achieved by a Wizards head coach (note I wrote Wizards not Bullets here) except for the time when Eddie Jordan coached the All-Star Game in 2007. The box underscores the lack of Wizards success over my 16 plus years as a season ticket holder; it's just one more thing.

That's about all I got on this one. Bravo to the Wizards for rolling out Monumental Rewards exclusive bobbleheads. I may complain about bobblehead giveaways every year but at least there are a couple of other ways for Wiz fans to get their hands on some team issued bobbles. Now all he has to do is turn the entire franchise around. No pressure there.

December 6, 2016

The Bobblehead Bar

This past weekend I took a couple of days off work and headed out on the road for my almost annual NBDL trip, an effort to get me into smaller-than-the-NBA time pro basketball and some parts of the United States I wouldn't ordinarily get to. Before I arrived in Canton, Ohio or Erie, Pennsylvania, I spent a night in Cleveland. This is the second of two posts about that city before we get to some words about the D-League. For my minor rant on how I feel about Cleveland, read the last post.

In 2011, my friends Mike and Bryan and I hopped in a car and drove across America. It's a trip most people do right after they graduate from college. I waited until I was 43. Better late than never I guess. We took the northern route which ran us roughly out to St. Louis; then straight north to South Dakota; then pretty much westward through Deadwood, Yellowstone and the Bitterroot Mountains to Seattle. I recommend everyone take a major road trip in the U.S. at least once in their lifetime. It was incredible to see the country that way.

If you know me at all, you'd suspect we stopped at a lot of bars and breweries on that trip. And you'd be right, of course. The Old Point Tavern in Indianapolis; the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis (total American pilgrimage); our hotel bar at Yellowstone National Park (where we drank the amazing and awesomely named Moose Drool); Pike Place Brewery in Seattle; and countless (OK, so maybe four or five) breweries in Portland, Oregon. But the best bar on the trip hands down was in Cleveland.

When assembling a list of bars to visit in Cleveland I used a very scientific evaluation criteria: wherever people burned LeBron James jerseys the previous summer after LeBron announced he'd be taking his talents to South Beach. That meant two places: Harry Buffalo and The Winking Lizard Tavern. We hit up both while we were in town and found the former to be way too deserted on a non-Indians summer game night and the latter to be too big and sprawling, likely because of its elongated triangular floor plan. Neither of these turned out to be the best bar of that trip. And I didn't visit either last weekend.

The best bar in Cleveland (and in the entire country that summer of '11) for me turned out to be City Tap, which is located right next door to The Winking Lizard. We stopped in there after a disappointing drink or maybe two (the memory is fuzzy after five plus years) at the Lizard next door and I instantly fell in love.

I know, you are dying to know why it was the best. Was it the incredible tap list? Nope, although their range of draft beers is impressive. How about the featured Thirsty Dog brews from nearby Akron? No, not that either. The Carling Black Label in cans? Uh uh, although I love me some Black Label. Surely, it wasn't the UV Cake / Pinnacle Chocolate Whipped vodka shot, right? It wasn't, although just try it sometime and tell me it's not really good. 

No, the reason I fell in love with City Tap is because they have the most incredible bobblehead display I've ever seen in a bar anywhere.

City Tap's beer board. Tell me you've heard of all these breweries. I dare you.
OK so maybe I ought to qualify that last sentence. First of all, the subject matter (all Cleveland and Ohio State) is deplorable to this Wizards fan and Michigan grad but I guess you can't expect anything more considering the location. But if you can overcome that and appreciate the prominent way these things are displayed front and center among the liquor bottles backlit in multiple colors, I would go there about every night until I got sick of the place, which I may never do.

We rolled into Cleveland last Thursday at about 3:30 pm. 30 minutes later we were at the City Tap bar working our way through the beer list. I started with a Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas Ale, just because I'm  a fan of the brewery after that one night there five years ago. We sat about where we sat last time we were in town towards the north entrance near the hoop bobbles and away from the Indians bobbleheads on the south side. Since we'd been here last, they actually expanded their collection, moving a good number of the Ohio State football bobbleheads to a new display case nearer the north entrance. This kind of dedication to bobblehead collections is impressive, even if the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love caused the expansion.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, it should come as no surprise that bobbleheads occupy a significant spot in my Wizards fandom world and I'm all in favor of showcasing any bar that goes to the lengths that City Tap goes to demonstrate a commitment to poorly painted overseas manufactured bobblehead replicas of athletes that may or may not resemble the actual athlete. I'm proud to call this place my bar when I'm in Cleveland which is not likely to be very often.

As of last Friday (or likely way before that to be honest but I just became aware of it last week), City Tap is no longer stocking Carling Black Label. That sucks, honestly. Every bar needs a cheap local (Canada) brew to keep folks like me going after guzzling a few pints of the stronger stuff. And no more cake flavored vodka either. Don't let either of those things keep you from going to this place.

Finally (and of course) there's a Wizards connection here. Look on the fifth shelf up in the basketball section and two spots from the left end you'll find former Wizard Larry Hughes, who helped take the Wiz to the second round of the playoffs in 2004 before defecting to the Cavs. I never thought Boogie should have bolted town for Cleveland but they were offering more money so I guess you take what you can get in life. Larry's not waving; I assume he's playing some D.

Save me a bar stool next time I'm in Cleveland. Until then...go Wizards.

Larry Hughes in Cavaliers hell. Shoulda stayed in D.C., Larry. You and Gil could have done good things.

December 5, 2016

Trolling Cleveland

A few years ago, I decided it would be worthwhile attending some NBDL games. My thought here is it would get me a window into what pro basketball is like below the NBA level from the player and fan perspective while also getting me into parts of America that I usually wouldn't visit. In February 2013, I made my first D-League trip down to Texas to see games in Frisco, Hidalgo and Austin. I followed that trip up about a year later with a New England swing to Springfield, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine and an overnighter to Delaware about 10 months after that.

Last season, I didn't get the opportunity to make a minor league trip. These things can only happen for me when the Wizards road schedule and a couple of NBDL teams' home schedules align and last year didn't work out. But this year did, and I'm happy to say the Canton, Ohio and Erie, Pennsylvania combination that I've been eyeing for years finally happened. I'll be writing about what I found there over the next month or so.

But before heading to Canton and Erie, I stopped in Cleveland and I'm going to start my story of this trip in that city. This is the first of two posts about my one night in northeast Ohio's busiest city. I have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with the city of Cleveland. On the plus side, I fell in love with the midwest when I went to school at the University of Michigan and spending time in the late fall and winter in that part of the world brings back good memories. On the downside, I can't stand the Cleveland Cavaliers, their star player or their owner. Call me petty or jealous or whatever you will.

Before we get going, let me admit that this post would have been a lot more fun had the Cavaliers not managed to win an NBA Championship. It's difficult for a Wizards fan to truly troll the city of Cleveland now they have some hardware. Anyway, here's some of what happened.

The front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
One of the reasons I love Cleveland is that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there. It is probably, all things considered, the biggest tourist attraction in the city today. Now, I have my issues with the Rock Hall and its close close close relationship with Rolling Stone magazine but I love any place that celebrates the history of music. And I guess I love that enough to almost overcome whatever feelings I have about the undue influence that the magazine seems to wield over the Hall. If only they would recognize the achievements of The Moody Blues and Mark Knopfler, we'd be in a much better spot.

The Rock Hall, like any other non-profit, needs donations. One of their primary methods of raising money is to have folks like me purchase memberships on an annual basis to help them out with whatever financial needs they have. I've been a member on and off since before the Hall opened; I was a charter member before deciding to fund some other charities and then deciding I should return. These days, I've been renewing my commitment to the Hall each year through my annual membership dues.

In addition to memberships, which get you free admission to the Museum plus some other benefits, there are some ways to contribute which are a little more imaginative and visible. One of the signature ways of donating to the Rock Hall is to purchase a legacy brick which is then placed for all to see in the plaza in front of the building. There are two sizes available and as part of your gift, you can specify the language on the brick. The larger of the two bricks available for purchase is shown below. Not surprisingly, I think I'd see eye to eye with Chuck Degraf on at least one or two bands.

A couple of years ago, I thought it was finally time for me to pony up some dough and get myself a legacy brick in front of the Rock Hall. After all, I believe in this place enough and could afford to give a little more than just the cost of a membership one year, right? There are two designs available: one which is all text and one which allows fewer characters but also includes the Museum's logo. Since they send you a replica brick as part of this program, I opted for the design with the logo.

But what to have written on the brick itself? Well there's no doubt I'd want my name and some kind of nod to Mark Knopfler, who's absolutely my favorite artist ever, on there. I chose to have the name of one of my favorite MK songs ("What It Is", the first song on his Sailing to Philadelphia album) precede my name on the first three lines. One line left.

Since the Rock Hall's in Cleveland and knowing how I feel about their pro basketball team, I decided it might be fun to have "GO WIZARDS!!" written on the last line. It doesn't change the result of the three playoff series we lost to these guys a decade ago but it would bring me a small measure of happiness to know that there was a brick supporting the Washington Wizards in front of Cleveland's number one attraction. So I did. And then I never visited Cleveland. Until this past weekend.

I found my brick this past Friday morning. I got up early, walked from my hotel before the Museum was open and spent about 20 minutes trying to get the best photographs of a grey brick possible. My brick ended up in an awesome spot. It's pretty much perfectly in front of the main door of the building right behind the red letters spelling LONG LIVE ROCK. All told, I spent about 20 hours in the city of Cleveland. This alone was worth the trip. Maybe next time, I'll stay long enough to make my second visit inside the place.

I'll continue to support the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with or without The Moodies and any Mark Knopfler band being inducted. I'll also continue to support my beloved Washington Wizards. My support is on display for anyone in Cleveland to see and I love that. GO WIZARDS!!