March 17, 2018

Back For Season 19

Last week I made the decision to renew all four of my Wizards season tickets for the 2018-2019 season. I handed over my credit card at the Renewal Suite (aka Suite 124) before the most recent game we shouldn't have lost at home (against the Timberwolves) and had $11,560 added to my credit card. That's a lot of money and it took a lot of thought but I decided ultimately that I've had some pretty cheap seasons over the years with the Wizards, I can afford one more really expensive one. I'm sure next year they will ask for more.

I'm also sure next year's decision will be harder. I made this year's decision knowing that the price might be too rich for my friend Mike to participate as he has these last 15 years. I might have to make a different decision next year if he's out and I have to bear the entire cost of these seats myself. I wanted to get to at least 20 years but if the cost is just too high, I might be stopping at 19.

All that means I'll be back at 601 F Street for an unspecified number of home games next season. It will not likely be anywhere close to all 41. I'll likely be replaced by Golden State Warriors fans, Cleveland Cavaliers fans, Houston Rockets fans and Boston Celtics fans for between four and six games and I may have to give up a few more. It sucks that I will likely miss most of the big regular season games next year and it sucks more that there may be road team fans in my seats in those games but all of that sucks way less than the cost of season tickets going up (for me) over 19%. I offered some suggestions in 2016 to get more season ticket holders to every game. I guess nobody at Monumental Sports is listening to my suggestions if they are even hearing them.

At this point, I guess I can give up seeing the Wizards win a big regular season game. What I really need is the Wizards to win a big game in the Eastern Conference Finals or the NBA Finals. Winning games in the regular season or the first or second rounds of the playoffs is no longer good enough at this price point. We need some better results.

So for all my hard earned and spent cash, I've got 41 sets of tickets to home games next year plus three preseason games. Why preseason games aren't free for season ticket holders is beyond me. I get that the arena needs to pay staff during these games and it costs money to open up the building, but preseason games in the NBA are a complete joke. When the Cavaliers visited the Wizards last October 8, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose all sat out. Thank God some poor schmo bought my ticket for that "contest." The team should give these tickets to season ticket holders for free. They could make them all electronic and non-re-sellable / non-transferable so we couldn't profit off them if they wanted. But they absolutely should be free.

By renewing early (before March 16) I get $25 per seat of food and beverage credit that I have to use sometime during the rest of this season (regular season only; no playoffs). Hey, $100 is $100. It's not like I'm not going to spend $100 on beers during the remaining seven home games. I also get the standard array of Wizards benefits like tickets to the Meet The Team Party, open skating at Kettler Ice Arena and the like in addition to a brand new seat next year at Capital One Arena. Of all the advertised benefits for season ticket holders, I'm looking forward to the advertised VIP access at Wizards SummerFest the most. I'm not sure that even has been held since about 2014. If they don't have it, do I get some of my money back? I'm guessing no.

I love being a Wizards season ticket holder. Yes, I know we have one of the worst track records of success among the 30 NBA teams in the 18 years I've been doing it so far but I still love showing up for games, participating in season ticket holder events and just being proud to be a Wizards fan. I promise this post is the last time I will complain about the price of season tickets for a while. I just needed to put it down that the rising costs are making this long time ticket holder think twice or three times about the value I get out of this experience. I know someone will take my place if I quit; well, maybe not during the down times I've seen since 2000.

For Wizards season ticket holders still thinking about it, you have six more days to renew. If you decide you are in, don't renew online. Get yourself to the Renewal Suite at Capital One Arena next Friday and renew there. If you do that, you'll get the chance to select an envelope off the renewal board which will give you an extra prize. We got VIP lower level wristbands in our envelope this year. Just saying you may as well get everything out of your renewal costs that you can. See you next season if you are in.

March 12, 2018

Jersey Patches

I can't believe it's March and I haven't published a blog post about the advertising patches that have been popping up on NBA jerseys all over the United States (Canada too, I guess, but just in one spot, not all over) in the last six months or so. I'm using last week's announcements by the Dallas Mavericks with 5miles and the Los Angeles Clippers with Bumble as an excuse to remedy that situation. Before I start ranting in earnest, let me say the Clips couldn't have picked a more perfectly named partner.

Want to know how I feel about advertisements on jerseys? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. Quite frankly, I hate them. But I'm going to try to be a bit more nuanced in this post and soften my stance a little. We'll see how that goes.

Maybe a little history is in order. If you watch soccer on TV, you will probably struggle to recall a time in the last 30 years when the teams you were watching did NOT have a sponsor company's name emblazoned across their chests. That's because sponsorship deals for European football clubs have been standard fixtures since the 1980s. I can't recall any across the jerseys of my favorite teams growing up in England but that's because the first club in major English soccer latched on to this idea in 1979, the year I left the country.

I don't, despite my earlier statement about hating these things, object to advertisements on soccer jerseys as much as I feel I should. Maybe it's because there are, in most cases, just one company's logo on the shirts. Maybe it's because traditionally there were no jersey numbers of team names on the fronts of the shirts. Adding a logo was just filling blank space on the shirt. It didn't require any adjustment to the other parts of the uniform.

For the most part, this single endorsement rule has held up, although recently, there have been secondary advertisements popping up on the sleeves of some teams, like the Huddersfield Town jersey shown above. I like this less. Some sports have gone to a more extreme level. My favorite rugby league team, Wakefield Trinity, puts on jerseys for each game that are covered in advertisements. How many are there on that jersey? Nine? Ten? More? It's craziness. Way too much.

Soccer is, not surprisingly, the dominant sport in England and most of the rest of the world. Over the last three plus decades, revenues from jersey advertisements have poured in to add cash to the vaults of clubs whose games at the time when they were adopting advertisements on their kits were largely not televised. I'm sure they helped out a ton financially.

Fast forward 20 or so years to the United States. Major League Soccer, the third or fourth attempt at professional soccer in this country, decided to introduce jersey advertisements into their league. They are the first major professional sports league in the USA to do this. For the purposes of this blog post, I'm considering major sports leagues here at home to be MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, MSL and WNBA. Debate that list if you feel you need to.

For me, this introduction of jersey advertisements in this league in 2007 is fairly seamless. We as consumers were already softened up to this idea by the rest of the world and, again, the ads are not taking away from anything on the uniform. There's nothing where the sponsor name is going.

Four years later, the WNBA would introduce advertisements onto their uniforms. I'm surprised it took that long. Honestly, if there's a league in need of all the advertising revenue it can handle, it's the WNBA. These advertisements probably literally saved a few franchises from going out of existence. My philosophical objection to a single (or maybe two in some cases) advertisement on a jersey to help a franchise or league from going bankrupt is waived. I'm all for this.

Then last year, on the heels of one of the richest television deals in major sports history, the NBA decides it needs more money and allows its 30 teams to negotiate deals with sponsors to advertise in the space on the jersey on the left chest. This comes in conjunction with the new uniform deal negotiated with Nike which includes, for the first time, the right for the jersey manufacturer to add their logo to the NBA jerseys.

The Lending Tree advertisement is unreadable from a distance. Too many letters and not enough space.
So first, let me say the NBA does not need this money. Maybe that's not a good argument for them not pursuing it. But it's totally unnecessary for the NBA team's owners to do this from a monetary standpoint. 

Second, I know it's not requiring anything moving around on the uniform, so based on my argument about soccer jerseys, I should be OK with adding something, right? Not so much. There's too little space in the spot where the league has designated the ads be restricted to. Some look just plain awkward and some are about impossible to read. Does that make the ones that fit well or are graphically clear more acceptable? Oddly enough and surprisingly, for me the answer is yes. Before you get all up in arms about this, just read on. There just aren't many that satisfy this criteria for me.

So far, 21 of the NBA's 30 teams have elected to sell advertising space on their jerseys. The Golden State Warriors are getting $20 million per season from Japanese company Rakuten. That's the richest deal by far. The second most money generated from a club selling its soul for money is a reported $7 to $10 million per year to the Cleveland Cavaliers from nearby Akron, Ohio based Goodyear. It goes down from there. The split of this money by the way is half to the players, a quarter to the rest of the teams and a quarter to the team whose unis sport the logo.

Among the 21 companies who have bought in, there are some banks, some software companies, some internet apps, Western Union, Harley Davidson, Disney, Fitbit, a couple of food companies and the charity arm of a software developer in addition to the two companies mentioned in the paragraph above. Are any of these sponsorships acceptable in any way to me? Reluctantly, I have to say yes.

Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age but I find from a local business standpoint Harley Davidson (in Milwaukee),  Zatarain's (in New Orleans) and Disney (in Orlando) appropriate for sponsoring these teams. I've written posts in the past on this blog ranking team names. I've always thought highly of teams with names with local origins. I'm appreciative of teams making local connections with businesses, although I hate the orange of the Harley Davidson logo on the decidedly non-orange Bucks jerseys and Disney is becoming way too big and powerful. Too much Disney these days.

I also appreciate the Utah Jazz partnering with a charity (5 For The Fight, which raises money to combat cancer) and on a totally different level the Philadelphia 76ers partnering with StubHub and the Minnesota Timberwolves hooking up with Fitbit. At least these two products and services relate to sports or athletics in some way.

Hate to say it but if I had to have a jersey patch on my uniform, the Goodyear patch is one of the best.
Graphically speaking (I'm an architect after all), I can't get on board with many of these jersey ads because they either just don't fit well into the space provided (particularly the horizontal advertisements with a lot of letters like the Charlotte Hornets' Lending Tree patch which is just unreadable) or the colors clash with the team's colors a la Harley Davidson in Milwaukee. In the end I've boiled this whole thing down to two acceptable patches: the Goodyear one on the Cavs' jerseys (I appreciate the way the company altered their colors to the Cavs' admittedly awful color scheme) and the StubHub one on the Philadelphia 76ers unis. Both are acceptably shaped to fit into the available uniform space and have some local or topical tie to the franchise or league.

I am grateful that the Washington Wizards have not sold out and allowed some company to post their logo on our gorgeous uniforms (particularly the home whites). It makes me feel like there is something worth believing in about this franchise in the midst of a mini-collapse without John Wall. On the other hand, I'm dying for some influx of cash so die-hard fans like me don't have to pay more for season tickets next year. In the end though, even with $20 million extra cash like the Warriors have per year and which the Wizards won't get, spreading that revenue out between the players, the rest of the teams and 20,000 fans or so to discount season tickets would only get the average fan a savings of $250 per seat per year. I think I'd rather have our unis advertisement free. Although any help I can get on season tickets would be appreciated too. Less than two weeks to decide.

March 6, 2018

Is Wizards VIP Dead?

We are now a couple of weeks into the annual Wizards season ticket renewal period. I published a post last week on this blog offering my thoughts on my almost 20% increase in cost for next year. I'm still not sure what I'm going to do about my renewal, but while pondering if I really want to spend about $2K more for season tickets next year, the Wizards have slid back into 5th place on the heels of their first three game losing streak of the season. Great timing!

One of the subtleties that I didn't pick up on at first when the renewal information was posted (blame it on sticker shock!) was the changes to the all-inclusive VIP program for next year. While this doesn't really affect me at all when it comes to ponying up some dough for the next season, it will affect me in a big way one or two nights next season and I assume every season after that. I tried not to be too melodramatic in the title of this post but I think starting next year, VIP access for the average fan is going to effectively end. And I think that's really too bad.

So let's pull back a little. Whether you know it or not, during every Wizards home game, there's a bunch of people seated in the areas closest to the court who have access to an all-inclusive food and drink area on the lowest level at Capital One Arena. At the east end of the arena, there's the Etihad Airways Lounge which was redesigned a couple of seasons ago; at the west end of the arena, there's the slightly more dressed down and utilitarian space sponsored by MGM National Harbor. Both areas serve the same sort of food and drink so the biggest difference between the two spaces is the décor unless they only have your favorite flavor or beer at one end, which happens sometimes.

For a Wizards fan, this experience, if you can manage to get it once or twice a year, is really special. I'm a moocher at heart so I love the all you care to eat and drink experience (I can eat and drink a lot when I put my mind to it) but more than that I love the fact that you get to walk along the edge of the court just feet from the players warming up. It gets you connected to the game experience in a different way than just sitting in your seat elsewhere in the building.
Over the past several seasons, I've been able to make it to a game as a VIP one or more times per year. Years and years ago, our account representative was allowed to get us a pair of wristbands to games about once per year if we requested it as a perk. When the Monumental Rewards program went into effect, the once per year courtesy experience went away but VIP wristbands were available for purchase using reward points. Eventually, the team limited purchases to once per month then moved to the auction system and then eliminated them entirely once the VIP area was renovated and reinvented as the Etihad Airways Lounge. I quizzed my account representative about the removal of all-inclusive access via Monumental Rewards and he pretty much told me the people who paid for VIP seats didn't want other people (read: riff raff) who hadn't paid at their level in the space.

I spent one season (the 2015-2016 season) effectively locked out of the VIP experience. Then the team introduced the Fluid Tickets Program, which allowed season ticket holders to turn in seats they can't use in exchange for account credit to use towards the purchase of other seats. Lo and behold, there would be some all-inclusive tickets available from time to time. Last season the program worked great; this season the opportunities have been more limited as people (I think) have found there's very little use in turning in high priced tickets because there are few occasions where you might actually redeem your credit.

Now, just as the opportunity for reasonably affordable access to the Etihad Airways lounge seems to be getting squeezed again (I've even resorted to buying tickets on the secondary market to enjoy this experience this year) via reduced availability on Fluid Tickets, the team appears to have shut down access almost entirely through changes to their ticket policies.

Let me summarize.

This season, anyone who holds tickets inside the hockey boards gets access to the all-inclusive experience. That means the courtside seats at the two ends and north (non-scorers table) side of the court; the Owner's Seats and the seats behind them right next to the players' benches; the three rows behind courtside at the north and south sides and one row behind courtside at the two ends; the four corner boxes of 12 seats; and the 10 or so rows of seats behind the baskets beyond the walkway in the end zones. Next season, the 9 of the 10 rows of seats behind the baskets are going to be shut out of the VIP areas; only the first row beyond the walkway will retain all-inclusive access. By my math, that reduces the number of people with VIP access from 1,122 per game to 718.
So what? Who cares, right? Well I do. And if you ever get to experience the all-inclusive lower bowl treatment and want to do it again, so should you because the price point is going to be way higher. That means the price point on the Fluid Tickets Program is going to be that much higher (plus the inventory is lower, remember) and the price point on the secondary market is going to be higher. How much higher? I'm thinking double. And I'm really thinking there won't be any on the Fluid Tickets Program.

The lowest priced VIP tickets next season? The strange fenced-in corner areas the team added a few years ago.
This season the cost for VIP tickets on the secondary market has been between about $110 and $190 for a game against a reasonably unpopular opponent. That's for tickets sold to season ticket holders in the mid-$100s. Next year the lowest price for a season ticket with all-inclusive benefits is $230 per game and those are in the strange caged in sets of seats in the corners of the arena. Keep in mind there are only 48 of those in the entire building. The next lowest price is $300 for the first row of seats behind the basket beyond the walkway at that location. The prices are going up from there. The odds of any of those seats being available on the secondary market for less than $175 or so? Way low. And forget Fluid Tickets having these below season ticket discount value (if they even have them at all).

The bottom line here? Fans not willing to spend $250 or more on a seat with lousy sightlines (because these seat DO all have lousy sightlines) ain't getting into the VIP area next season. Honestly, for the average fan (or riff raff, if you prefer) being able to get a reasonably affordable all-inclusive experience on the lower level in what will now be a pretty empty Etihad Airways Lounge (with 1/3 of this season's folks kicked out!) just won't be possible any more. Congratulations, Monumental Sports, you've finally made this experience about as exclusive as you can get. If you aren't paying a lot for this, they aren't going to let you have it any more. It pretty much sucks! This one hurts way more than the other benefits I've lost over the years.

The lousy view from this year's end zone seats. The best thing about these seats was the all-inclusive benefit.
While I'm wallowing in self pity about this issue, I have to say that I feel terrible for the people who have been sitting in the seats where the all-inclusive benefits are going to be removed. Yes, they are getting a price break this year and a few bucks per game of concession money (not really much consolation for losing all-inclusive) but they are now forced to pay a lot of money for seats with view just not commensurate with the price point or go find some seats elsewhere. The irony of this second option of course is all the good seats by now are pretty much taken. The team has totally pulled the rug out from under these folks.

For a team that seems to every so often advertise that they value loyalty to their season ticket holders, killing this benefit just so people with a lot of disposable income can have a little more elbow room in their all you can eat and drink room just doesn't seem consistent with that ethos. I guess there's not a whole lot we can do here, right? Just not a fan at all of this move.

February 27, 2018

Annual Season Ticket Hike

The NBA All-Star break seemed like a good time for me to take some much deserved personal time off so I've been out of town and mostly out of touch for the last two weeks, including missing the last two Wizards home games. Seems like there's a lot been going on here around this team recently. And of course it's all been typically Wizards-like.

Let me see if I got all this straight.

Bradley Beal participated in his first All-Star Game, scoring 14 points in 17 minutes of action for the victorious Team LeBron. For his efforts (which I'm thankful were limited to just 17 minutes) Bradley picked up a cool $100K for his team winning the game, which I'm sure helped offset the sting of not making it out of the first round of the Three Point Contest on All-Star Saturday Night.

On the Wizards side of things, the team went 3-0 on the road, including coming back from a 27 point deficit in New York against the Knicks and beating the Cavaliers in Cleveland. They celebrated that victory over the Cavs by laying an egg at home in true Wizards fashion against the Charlotte Hornets two days later before rebounding Sunday night to pound the super hot Philadelphia 76ers (I get the Sixers had a favorable schedule recently) into submission for an easy win. If this team could just stop losing to teams it should beat easily...

On the player movement front, it looks like the Wizards missed out on Joe Johnson, Brandan Wright, Greg Monroe and Marco Belinelli and settled for handing a 10 day contract to point guard Ramon Sessions. Why we continue to insist on finding a point guard rather than getting a reliable shooting guard to back up Bradley Beal continues to amaze me. Jodie Meeks ain't working out, folks. Please get someone who can knock down a shot behind Bradley Beal before his body completely wears out this season.

Oh...and then season ticket prices went up. Again. And that's what this post is really about. This is not a tradition I like at all.

Let me say I was dreading this news. I got the email while I was somewhere in Tanzania and had to open it immediately. I needed to know what the damage was. The resale market for Wizards tickets is hotter than I have ever seen it since I first started tracking it during the 2013-2014 season so I thought it would be bad. I'll have more on this after the season is over but suffice it to say that if I know the secondary market is hopping, so do the folks that run the Wizards and price the tickets.

The introductory screen to my renewal information features a ticking clock and a statement from the Wizards about how happy the team was to present me my renewal information. I bet they were.

So let's have it. What's the damage?

Not yet.

First up? A description of the upcoming renovations to Capital One Arena. New seats? OK, sure, I'll take a new seat. Better food choices? I've been pushing for those for years. Upgraded clubs? Why do I care? Can't get into those anyway. Better sound system? Won't turn that down but does it win us more games? Retail store open all year round? Don't care. New sponsors? Who on Earth cares about that? Wait, is all this justifying the increase in season tickets that's coming later in this same announcement I'm reading? Can you just tell me how much more I have to pay?

Not yet.

Gotta go through benefits of being a season ticket holder first, including the less-exciting-than-last-year fluid tickets program, flexible payment options that I don't use, Monumental Sports Network that I don't watch, 6th Man referral program that I can't take advantage of and a decal with my name that I guess is nice but doesn't really add that much value for me. You know what? I know all the bennies already; I've been doing this almost two decades and they pretty much get worse every year. Just give me the bad news.

Nope, not quite yet. 

Up next is the Events & Milestones section, including VIP access at SummerFest which hasn't been held in years (we'll see if that comes true; my money's on no) and then the Renewal Incentives section which basically is $25 of food and drink credit for early renewal. Yes, there's the ability to buy playoff tickets for this offseason (woo hoo!) and a Bradley Beal autographed basketball if you use your Capital One credit or debit card (I won't) but for me, it's basically $25 or like two beers.
NOW, we get to the pricing.
So how bad is it? Well, honestly, not as bad as I expected because when it comes to Wizards ticket prices, I'm a glass half empty (or maybe 3/4 empty) guy. But that doesn't mean there is not a stiff hike here.  It's actually pretty bad.
Let's start with the less bad news (for me) and that's that my seats in the upper deck are only going up $4 per game, which still translates into an increase of $164 per seat for the regular season (a little more with the three preseason games we are forced to buy). Despite the fact that it's only $4 per game more, I'm still kind of annoyed about this. Resale prices have been hovering at an average of about $36 per seat, so technically season ticket holders may be paying more than tickets can be had for on the secondary market. There's still about a 1/4 of the season left so those numbers may ultimately end up being different but I honestly thought this year was the year they would freeze prices upstairs at least for one season. Guess not.

Downstairs, things are worse. Much worse. My per game ticket increase is $16 per game, from $80 this year to $96 next season. Ouch! That's a full 20% above this year's price and pretty much at the same price before season ticket prices were frozen after the 2010-2011 season for a period of three years. Since that freeze was lifted, my seats in the 100 level have increased in price by 92%!!! My season ticket bill this time last year was $9,680; this year, it's $11,560. That's an increase of $1,880 or 19.4%. In one year!!! YIKES!!!!

And I'm not necessarily getting a superior product on the floor. Last year the Wizards won 49 games and made it to the last game of the second round of the playoffs. This year there's probably no way they are getting to 49 and can they really make it to the Eastern Conference Finals? Let's make no mistake here: the only reason prices are going up is because people are willing to pay to go see this team play now. It's not because the team is better.
So what does this all mean for me? Honestly, it means I have to make the same sort of choice next year as I've made this year: pay more to attend every Wizards game which is what I really want to do or start skipping some games so my costs don't go up as much. I've missed more games this year than any single season since my second year as a season ticket holder when I was splitting the games with another person and the biggest reason I've cut back is the cost is getting too steep, particularly to watch a team that has lost to the Mavericks, Jazz, Suns and Trail Blazers.
For a die hard Wizards fan that's about to re-up for his 19th season (with only one division title to date) that choice is difficult to make. I realize the Wizards have every right to keep pace with supply and demand (which is ALL the team is doing here; charging more because they know people will pay) but it doesn't show a ton of loyalty to those fans who've poured money into season tickets for more than a decade. I'm in for another season, but it's getting harder and harder every year and I'm not rushing right out and renewing at the earliest opportunity. This team talks about treating season ticket holders well; I'm not feeling it right now.

February 7, 2018

A Haters Guide To The New Celtics

The Boston Celtics are in town tomorrow night to play the Washington Wizards. This is a big deal, right?

It is for me. I had this date with the Celtics circled on my calendar as soon as last season ended. Never mind that we didn't know the specific date until mid-August. I couldn't wait until John Wall, Bradley Beal and the rest of the Washington Wizards renewed their rivalry with the hated team from Boston. I was dying for our team to have their next crack at Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart and the rest of the Celtics here at home, a game that I was sure (after how many home wins in a row?) that would result in a W for the Wizards. Heck, maybe it would even be another funeral game, something we managed to pull off but the Cs...well, not so much.

But then the summer happened. Kyrie Irving wanted out of Cleveland and the Celtics made it happen. The Celtics also coveted Gordon Hayward and needed to free up some cap room. Isaiah Thomas? Gone to Cleveland. Jae Crowder? Also gone to Cleveland. Avery Bradley? Traded to Detroit for Markieff Morris' brother (seriously?) and then to the Clips for Blake Griffin. They needed cap room, remember? And speaking of cap room, no bucks to re-sign dirty-player-in-residence Kelly Olynyk (now in Miami) or Amir Johnson (gone to be part of the process in Philly). Of the 13 players who appeared in more than half of Boston's 18 playoff games last year, nine are no longer with the team, including four of the five starters. And this was a number one seed team.

So if you are like me, maybe you are questioning if you really hate the Celtics any more. Trust me, you do. And I'm here to help. Let's get ready for tonight's game by taking a look at who will be out there on the court taking on the Wizards tomorrow. There's plenty not to like.

Tier 1 Players to Hate: The Leftovers
By the leftovers, I mean those players who played any significant role in the Wizards' second round playoff loss to the Celtics last year. Let's go in order of most hated to least hated.

Marcus Smart: If there's a Public Enemy No. 1 on the recent Celtics teams as far as the Wizards are concerned, it's Marcus Smart. Without his toughness on D, I'm not sure Marcus Smart has much of a profile in the NBA. But it's precisely because of his toughness and his willingness to mix things up that he is both in the league and at the top of most Wizards' fans' least liked players list. For me, it starts with Smart giving Bradley Beal a concussion and broken nose in a game in January of 2016. Follow that up about 10 months later when he got John Wall ejected based on a questionable and potentially (from this fan's point of view) embellished foul. Then after the Celtics eliminated the Wizards from the playoffs last year, Smart claimed John Wall's legs "were gone" in game seven of their second round series. Reserve your loudest jeers for Smart tomorrow, folks.

Al Horford: Summer 2016. Relatively weak free agent class. Tons of dollars available that offseason for like every team in the NBA. The Wizards' top two targets? Nicolas Batum and Al Horford. Batum, apparently was not interested in even sitting down to listen to the Wizards, preferring to stay in Charlotte of all places. But this post is not about Batum. Horford dragged it out a bit but ultimately picked the Celtics based on the hard sell by guys like Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder (Ha! Ha!). After the decision, it was reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowksi that Horford might have preferred the talent in Washington to Boston. No kidding! But he still chose Boston, blaming it on the fans who show up at 601 F Street.
If don't hate Horford enough for (a) picking the Celtics over the Wiz and (b) saying Wizards fans suck, remember he managed to strategically place his foot where it had no business being to make sure Markieff Morris sprained his ankle in game one of our playoff series last year. Horford can be as dirty as Smart. Make sure he's booed loudly tomorrow.

Terry Rozier: OK so I admit it. After Smart and Horford, there's not a lot to dislike about the Leftovers. If you are searching for something on Terry Rozier (and I am; I really am) remember his tussle with Brandon Jennings in last year's playoff when both players got tossed in the same game Kelly Oubre went after Kelly Olynyk. Yes, this was a Brandon Jennings moment at its finest and Rozier did nothing wrong really except to fall for Jennings' bait but it happened nonetheless and I can find some way to call it a continuation of the Olynyk thing. I'll be booing Rozier.
As an aside, I loved Brandon Jennings last year. He is a complete a**hole sometimes. But last year, he was our a**hole.

Jaylen Brown: The only thing I got here is Jaylen Brown was a significant contributor as a rookie to the Celtics beating the Wizards in the playoffs. How come the Wizards never have rookies that make a difference in the playoffs. Yep, all I got here is jealousy. I still hate Brown for being associated with the bunch that knocked us out last year. Again, booing!!

Tier 2 Player to Hate: Kyrie
So do I really need to write this one? All Wizards fans should despise Kyrie Irving for two reasons: (1) he was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the first of three number one picks in four seasons as compensation for LeBron leaving Cleveland and embarrassing Dan Gilbert into that childish Comic Sans font rant on the internet and (2) he's frequently compared favorably to John Wall as one of the best point guards in the NBA; he even made the All-Star game before Wall despite being drafted a year after Wall.
So, first things first. Yes, I'm being a conspiracy theorist with the Cavaliers and number one picks. But come on...
Secondly, Kyrie is no John Wall. They are both point guards, right? Point guards get assists, right? Kyrie don't pass. Kyrie's high assist average in a season? 6.1. John Wall high assist average in a season? 10.7. Sorry, maybe we should do this a different way. John Wall's low assist average in a season is 7.6. That's 1.5 assists per game higher than Kyrie's high. Want to do rebounds? Kyrie's never averaged 4.0 for a season. Wall's only season below 4.0 is this current one. Steals? Wall takes Irving every year. Same in blocks. The only thing Kyrie does is score. Point guards are supposed to make his teams better. How good were Kyrie's Cleveland teams without LeBron? 33 wins good in their best year. Awesome. For me, Kyrie slots between Smart and Horford on the hate meter.

Tier 3 Players to Hate: Making Up Slights
Honestly, there's really no good reason to hate on anyone else on the Celtics, but we can always try, even for players who haven't played all year. Here goes, we'll be quick and we'll go in order of most hated to least hated.
Aron Baynes: I know what you are thinking: who? Last season Baynes knocked Kelly Oubre out of a game when he gave KO a concussion when Baynes was playing for Detroit. Dirty play? You didn't hear it from me but you can be the judge by watching it on Fanrag Sports Network's post about the play.

Gordon Hayward: You will not get to boo Gordon Hayward in the game tomorrow because he's still recovering from that gruesome broken leg suffered opening night earlier this year. So why on Earth could we possibly not like Hayward? How about he beat John Wall in the Skills Challenge at All-Star Weekend last year? I told you I was reaching.
Jayson Tatum: Two things here and really neither of them are hate-worthy but look I'm still reaching, OK? First, Tatum went to Duke University and nobody and I mean nobody (except Duke students and alums) likes athletes from Duke. Yes, I get Kyrie sort of went to Duke too but I can't even count that stint there. Second? He's Bradley Beal's guy from St. Louis and Beal is going to congratulate Tatum if he has a good game, even if it's a loss. I hate that. What happened to hating other teams no matter the personal connection?
Marcus Morris: Speaking of guys on our team who don't hate certain opponents...In January of last year, Marcus Morris beat the Wizards on a buzzer beater while Morris was playing for the Pistons. So what was twin brother Markieff's reaction from the Wizards side of things? How about hugs and smiles for his bro and some congratulations after the buzzer. And Marcus hit the shot over Markieff. How about some team loyalty? How about walking to the locker room with a simple handshake? Again, what happened to hating other teams no matter the personal connection?
Everyone Else
So by this time in the post I'm exhausted from all the hating and I've covered the top eight (plus someone who should be in the top eight) on the team already. I'll stop now because there's no reason on Earth for me to hate anyone else on this team (if I've even made a valid case for the nine I've named so far).
I gotta think Wizards fans have to make some noise to let this team know how much we hate them. I have implore fans (and I've said this before) at a minimum to get after Al Horford for the shade he threw at all of us in the offseason in 2016. There's no reason we shouldn't be loud and intimidating as a crowd tomorrow night. Yes, I know there will be tons of Boston fans there. I don't care. There will be more of us than there are of them. Let's make them feel the hate from the introductions before the game until the final buzzer goes off and caps a home team win. This is our moment Wizards fans. Let's not disappoint. After all, I went to all this effort to tell you how to hate.

January 30, 2018

The Washington Otto Show

I apologize in advance for the title of this post.

For the last 15 or so years, I've pretty much scheduled most of my life around the Washington Wizards schedule. Yes, I've had season tickets for 18 years now but the first few I was a bit less fanatical than I am now. Or was a few years ago is maybe a bit more accurate. In a typical year, that schedule involves something like the following sequence of events.
  • Training camp, maybe with a trip down to Richmond or somewhere else;
  • Preseason a.k.a. a total waste of money (still think preseason games should be free for season ticket holders);
  • Meet the Team party (can't miss this one each year);
  • First half of the regular season, hopefully with a roadtrip in there sometime before it starts snowing;
  • All-Star Break (good time to go on vacation or actually to the All-Star Game);
  • Trade deadline (taking the afternoon off work is ideal here);
  • Second half of the regular season, hopefully with a warm weather roadie;
  • Playoffs, if I'm lucky;
  • NBA Draft, if Ernie doesn't trade out;
  • Free agency, in which we never sign anyone good;
  • Summer League in Vegas.
Once you got all that down, you just repeat, repeat, repeat.
One other event that used to appear on this schedule for at least five of those 15 years was the Washington Auto Show, because it seemed like an annual occurrence that someone from the Wizards would be over at the convention center (either the old one or the current one) for a couple of hours during that event saying hi to folks and signing autographs. I first made my way over to this event in 2006, when Brendan Haywood, Jared Jeffries and Jarvis Hayes put in an appearance one Sunday afternoon. The next year it was Antawn Jamison who also showed up in 2010. Brendan Haywood made it back to the Show in 2008 along with Caron Butler and the dynamic duo of JaVale McGee and Nick Young filled in the gap in 2009. Dominic McGuire was supposed to be there in '09 but never showed; either that or I just left before he made it. Not sure which one, although I made it long enough so that there was enough dead time to see some dude pay Nick Young for his couple of hours sitting in a chair.
After 2010, nothing. Not a thing. And I check this stuff pretty religiously.
Well, nothing until this year, when Otto Porter will be sitting at some sort of table signing whatever fans can put in front of him tomorrow night from 6 to 8 pm, although remember we are talking about NBA players here so let's say it will really be like 6:15 to 6:30 before it actually gets underway. He'll apparently be joined by the Wizards Girls; best mascot in the NBA, G Wiz; and Gheorghe Muresan. The Auto Show is taking place over at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at 801 Mount Vernon Place NW.

Why is this even worth blogging about? Well, if you are an Otto Porter fan or just a Wizards autograph collector, it's a great opportunity to get some signatures on some swag from Otto. But sometimes, these things are not that well attended and it's actually a good time to have a quick conversation with these guys, which is something the average fan can't do very well very often. This opportunity was especially true during the McGee / Young year when there was literally about nobody there. If only I could have pondered having an intelligent conversation with either of those guys...
So, if you have something you really want to ask Otto, maybe tomorrow is a good time to make your way over to the Auto Show and ask away, providing the crowds aren't that big. I'm likely headed over there myself if my schedule allows. If there are a ton of people there, you can always just get some stuff signed and then head home or to check out some cars.

If things are really quiet, you might even be able to get a picture of yourself with Otto. There was a photographer there in 2007 taking pics of people with AJ. If they do this again, hopefully your pic looks better than my fattest pic ever wearing a shirt the size of a small tent with some hair that I don't know what was going on shown below. I appreciated the opportunity three years later to tell Antawn that I'd be happy if the Wizards traded him (the team was in the midst of a 26-56 disaster back then) but just not to Cleveland. He laughed. Then 18 days later the Wizards traded him to the Cavaliers.

January 25, 2018

Little Caesars Saved My Life

I will admit before even starting this post that the title of this post is complete hyperbole. But it's also true. Metaphorically maybe. I figured it was an appropriate time to tell this story since I just spent a couple of days in Detroit on a Wizards road trip for the first time in almost 30 years.

In March of 1993 I spent two nights in the Detroit airport (officially the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport). I didn't plan things that way. I even tried to avoid it. It happened nonetheless. I was a (relatively speaking) poor graduate student paying my way through college at that time. And if it wasn't for Little Caesars, I might not have eaten much at all in those two days. And for that they will always occupy a special place in my life.

I was never much of a spring break-er while I was in college. I never went to Fort Lauderdale or Panama City or Cancun or anywhere else college kids go to party their asses off. In fact of the seven spring breaks I lived through while in school, I only went somewhere once and that was in 1993. In a typical March of the school year, I usually retreated back to see my parents in Connecticut and went to see a couple of movies by myself because the University of Michigan seemed to schedule spring break before the schools all of my friends attended. And I was not a slow learner. I did the 7-1/2 year graduate school thing en route to my Master degree. Just explaining that one, that's all.

But 1993 was different. If I recall correctly, my parents had a free flight voucher or whatever it was called back then on Northwest Airlines that was going to expire and they offered it up to me to see if I wanted to use it to get out of town from Syracuse for any reason. I decided I would use it for spring break that year to go out to California since I'd never been out to Cali before. I managed to find a flight that worked, secured places to stay with friends in L.A., San Diego and San Francisco and somehow got a car rental that was affordable (read: cheap) and took off.
Pizza! Pizza! Yummy! Yummy!
Then while I was gone I found out there was a major storm developing that would likely affect travel all throughout the east coast. If you look up that storm today on Wikipedia, it's the 1993 Storm of the Century. And yes it ended up being that bad. I thought it might be a good idea to change my flight back from Oakland to a day earlier to make it back home before the storm hit, especially since I had a final design review a couple of days after the end of spring break and I had a lot of work to do (I honestly had no business taking off spring break that year). I made the flight change and hoped.

It didn't work. Syracuse got 48" of snow over a couple of days and most of the east coast got something similar. And nothing got out of Detroit for next two days, including me who made it to Michigan but couldn't go any further. I couldn't afford a hotel and there weren't any vacancies anyway so I just stayed in the airport until (a) they started letting flights head east again and (b) I could get high enough on the wait list to allow me to fill and empty slot on a flight to Syracuse.

I wasn't the only one. There were a few other folks stranded with no hotel. So at night, there would be people (myself included) sleeping on airport benches and couches. I bought a couple of books to read (Jurassic Park and The Pelican Brief if you must know) and before I went to sleep put my stuff in a locker (including my glasses; extra paranoid back then but no way could I afford something happening to them) and drifted off for the night.
2018 recreation of my nights at DTW in 1993. The couches didn't have arms back then.
While I could go without a real place to sleep, I couldn't go without something to eat. Airport food is not the cheapest. Honestly the only thing that resembled a cheap meal that would fill me up in those days at DTW was Little Caesars Crazy Bread, which was essentially a whole pizza's worth of bread but with garlic and oil or butter or whatever it was instead of sauce and cheese. So for all my meals over the two days I was in the airport I headed to Little Caesars, got myself some Crazy Bread (it came with dipping sauce) and ate. They didn't have Little Caesars in Syracuse back then I don't think but I knew about Crazy Bread from my undergraduate days at Michigan. Crazy Bread kept me fed those couple of days and I'll forever have a soft spot in my heart for that franchise because of those two days.

Ultimately I made it back to Syracuse which was literally snowed completely over, finished my design project, took my C- in that class (I believe I failed but had someone watching out for me) and graduated. And I haven't had Little Caesars since.

Until last weekend. And yes, I know there are Little Caesars spots in northern Virginia. It's just not the same if it's not in Michigan. So how could I go see by beloved Washington Wizards play the Detroit Pistons last Friday night in Little Caesars Arena and not have some Little Caesars food? The answer: I couldn't.

Call this post a belated thank you for saving my life.
Thanks for keeping me alive in 1993 (and 2018).

January 23, 2018

Detroit Rock City

Last weekend I visited Detroit. It was the latest (and last this season) stop in my quest to see the Washington Wizards play in every building in the entire NBA. 16 down, 14 to go.

Because this past Friday's Wizards - Pistons game was the same weekend as the North American International Auto Show, hotel rooms were a little scarce and a little expensive in downtown Detroit so we stayed in Windsor, Ontario, which is across the river in Canada, a decision that had us explaining to customs and immigration staff on both sides of the Detroit-Windsor what we were doing visiting Canada three times in two days. On our way to the game Friday, we explained to the guy letting us back into the USA that we were going to see the Wizards game.

His response? "I thought that team would be better this year. They were supposed to be in the Finals, right?" Yeah. Welcome to my life as a Wizards fan, dude.

After Wednesday's horrible 133-109 loss in Charlotte, I really didn't want to go all the way to Detroit to see the Wizards lay the same kind of egg they laid down in North Carolina. But head coach Scott Brooks promised Wizards fans some changes. About time! That promise, and the prospect of the Wizards being re-energized and looking like the Eastern Conference contenders that they seem to think they should be, had me actually excited about the possibility of watching my new re-invented Wizards team in person for the first time in Michigan. Stop laughing. Seriously.
Warming up for a blowout of the Pistons. One day...
So what happened? How about no changes to the starting lineup and a dreadful start leading to a 10 point deficit after the first quarter. Yes, coach pulled Marcin Gortat a little more than 4 minutes into the game and didn't send him back into the contest until the second half. And sure, Ian Mahinmi got the rest of the first quarter under his belt after being subbed in for Gortat and then also sat the entire second (and third and fourth). And somehow the Wizards pulled even at the half behind superior efforts from Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr. I was (and I can't believe I'm writing this) dreading the starters coming back in when the bench got tired.
The third quarter was totally different. The starters played almost the whole way (still waiting for those changes, Scotty...) and ended up with a 17 point lead (down from 20 earlier in the third) after putting up 45 on the Pistons that quarter. 45!!!! Finally things are corrected, right? The confusion I got from the customs guy letting us back into the country right before the game should be gone now, right? THIS is the Wizards team I wanted to see. Everything corrected. Let's get up by 30 or 35 and cruise to an easy victory with Tim Frazier and Chris McCollough bringing it home.

Almost as good as it got. A win's a win, I guess. I LOVE this scoreboard.
Of course not. The 20 point margin that had become a 17 margin was down to 4 with less than four minutes to play. Luke Kennard was warming up to become the next in a long line of Wizard killers. What the heck is going on with this team? I can almost understand blowing a 20 point halftime lead to Brooklyn (although not really) but a 17 point lead in one quarter? To a Pistons team missing a couple of guys? It's almost as if the Wizards collectively were like "We scored 45 in one quarter. That should be enough to win the game. Let's just coast for the other three quarters." Fortunately, that attitude didn't kill the team this time. Some clutch free throw shooting and a career game from Kelly Oubre put the Pistons away.
There were a ton of Wizards fans at this game. Maybe more than I've ever seen in an opponent's arena. Despite the lazy and completely lacking any sense of urgency or opportunity style of play the Wizards have enjoyed (maybe the wrong word there) this season, it appears John Wall and company are catching on beyond the DMV. And I guess that's a good thing for the Wizards. I just hope those new bandwagoners can handle the stress of being a Wiz fan.
I've been itching to go to Detroit for a game for years. Unfortunately for me, the Detroit Pistons didn't actually play in Detroit for, like, forever. So before this year, going to see the Wizards on the road in Michigan would have meant just that: going to Michigan (not Detroit) to Auburn Hills, a full 45 minutes or so away from the city whose name graces the team's jersey. But not this year now that the brand new Little Caesars Arena is open downtown. So of course no Wizards road trip report would be complete without a little something for me to say about the arena. This one is really pretty cool.
Like most arenas (or likely all arenas), the new one in Detroit is bigger than our own building down on 601 F Street. Like most places I've seen the Wizards play on the road, that translates into larger concourse areas, but Little Caesars is probably taking this to the extreme. On the south and east sides of the building, they've managed to create an interior street of sorts with stores, restaurants and bars on either side of the really really wide walkway. I suppose from a climate standpoint (and a moneymaking standpoint) this is a smart move. Get people inside out of the cold as soon as possible and have them eat and drink inside the stadium. The food choices are pretty diverse. Sure there are two Little Caesars stands in the building but there's also a ton of other stuff, including two food courts with multiple food stands arrayed around a communal seating area. Unfortunately, they also let Kid Rock into the building. You don't have to go there. Just saying...
The other cool feature of the indoor streets is that it allows the upper concourse to be expressed in the building as an object, making the arena appear like a stand alone stadium within a larger urban box. It's a pretty creative idea, but one that will only work with the kind of space that you can get in a city other than Washington. I definitely get stadium envy when I travel.
The center of the arena where the action takes place is equally well done. And it's not just the new-ness of the place, although sitting on months old brand new Redwing-red (this place was built for hockey and the Detroit Redwings, not basketball and the Detroit Pistons) seats rather than purple-ish 20 year old MCI Center/Verizon Center/Capital One Arena seats was surely nice.
There are a few features that make the main performance space really special. First, the lighting system is incredible. I never really think of the lighting system in a building adding much value to the experience (although I thought the same thing in Brooklyn a few years ago also) but my couple of hours in this building reminded me of how I can forget things. Almost every timeout had some kind of lighting effect that was pretty spectacular. It was almost as if the building staff were showing off their new toy.

Second, the scoreboard is fantastic. I raved about the scoreboard at the Grizzlies game two weeks ago but this thing blows away the one at FedEx Forum in Memphis. It's bigger, crisper and the square corners are actually way better than the radiused corners in Memphis. This scoreboard there is pretty much perfect. The colors, just like the colors in the light shows, are amazing.

Finally, and oddly enough, it's the small things. The lighted ceiling, rather than the painted black exposed utilities ceilings you see in most arenas, makes a huge difference to the atmosphere of the space. I've written that the ceiling at Madison Square Garden makes all the difference to that building; the blue luminous ceiling at Little Caesars is a great update to MSG's ceiling for the 21st century.

During the fourth quarter we started talking to four dudes in front of us a little about the game. They were complaining about the Pistons losing to everyone they should beat and beating a team or two they had no business beating every now and then. Sounds familiar, right? Ultimately, I think the Wizards are better than the Pistons. After Friday's closer than it should have been win, we are 3-0 vs. the Pistons this year. That's how it should be. Thank God I didn't go to Charlotte or Dallas either side of that game. Ultimately we need someone to step up in this organization and get people to perform at the level that is required. It's clearly not going to be the players and it doesn't appear that Scott Brooks is going to be that guy. OKC is up Thursday. I can't honestly see that game going very well. Trade deadline is less than a month away.

Two final notes about Little Caesars before I close this one. First, the interior streets in the arena come complete with manhole covers. I'm assuming based on their somewhat random placement that these are actual manholes to access actual underground utilities, although whether they are or not doesn't really matter. In some spots, the generic manholes are replaced with custom made covers with the names and playing dates of Pistons and Redwings legends. Ben Wallace's is shown above. I think it's a great way to celebrate past team legends.

Second, and because it's Detroit and a hockey arena, there's a statue of Gordie Howe in the building. Gordie is an NHL and Redwings legend of course. But he's also the first guy I can remember knowing about in hockey as a kid in Connecticut when he was playing for the New England and later Hartford Whalers. Mr. Hockey ends this post.