If I were a smart basketball fan, I’d have jumped on the Lakers or Cavaliers bandwagon years ago and saved myself the pain that comes with growing up alongside an unlucky franchise. But, I’m not and I didn’t, and now I’m stuck with the Washington Wizards.
The recent break-up of the only good thing D.C. basketball had going for it, the big three (Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler, and Antawn Jamison), only tested my commitment.
Still, as they say, love is blind, and I guess that’s why I’m tuning in to watch Randy Foye, Mike Miller, Josh Howard, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee every other night.
The Washington Wizards had four great years this millennium. They knocked out the Chicago Bulls in 2005 to win their first playoff series since the days of dinosaurs (question Washington’s love for basketball? watch this ).
A year later, Washington grabbed Caron Butler, and kept winning games. When playoff time came, Butler and company gave fans all they could ask for with an exciting matchup versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. During game two of the series, LeBron James committed one of the most blatant travels on a game winning shot (link here ).
From that day forward, I was committed to a rivalry against LeBron, even if the Wizards drew the short end of the stick with Soulja Boy instead of Jay-Z.
Finally, halfway through the first century of the new millennium, I had a relevant basketball team to root for. The squad was led by a flamboyant NBA.com blogger and soon to be self-proclaimed Hibachi Grill also known as Gilbert Arenas. I could compare Caron Butler to almost every small forward in the NBA, and raved about Antawn Jamison’s crazy hook shots that always seemed to drop in the basket.
Midway through the next season, the Wizards were first in the Eastern Conference, and Eddie Jordan was coaching the All-Star game. The days of Kwame Brown seemed like a distant past.
Then Gerald Wallace showed up.
Most people don’t remember the true moment the Big Three collapsed. I can still picture the play—Arenas fell back awkwardly after Gerald Wallace drove for a layup, and limped off the court. It didn’t look too bad, until Arenas’s MRI revealed a torn meniscus.
Boom. Back to irrelevance, the place where Washington has been dwelling ever since.
And yet, I waited for Gilbert’s explosiveness to return, for Butler to avoid injury, and for Jamison to get the credit he deserved for often running the show solo. None of it ever materialized.
These past two months have been like the sports version of And Then There Were None.
We all know the story. Gilbert Arenas told Javaris Crittenton to “pick one,” and now he’s been eliminated from the Verizon Center as if Men in Black stepped in and erased Washington’s collective memory of Agent Zero.
A month and half later, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood made their much-anticipated debuts for the Dallas Mavericks, a team fighting for Western Conference supremacy.
The next day, only minutes before tip-off of a game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves, Antawn Jamison, the last crux of stability in the D.C. big three, sped off in his Bentley Continental to a team that was considered the arch nemeses of the nation’s capital just two years earlier.
And I sat and stared at my television, stunned at the prospect of rooting for the guy known for his marijuana exploits and hangovers (Josh Howard), instead of the guy who gave up a life of crime to dedicate himself to basketball (Caron Butler).
As a native of Washington, D.C. now living in Dallas, seeing Caron Butler in a Mavs uniform has been the hardest to adjust to—it feels like I just saw an ex-girlfriend with a new guy.
Now, when I’m taunted for wearing my Wizards sweatshirt to school, my sorry comeback is, “Oh yeah, well if the NBA draft lottery is rigged, which it is, John Wall is all ours!”
For the rest of the season, I’ll see the Wizards trudge across a hardwood wasteland. At least half of the current team will be gone when the 2010 season starts. To quote my history teacher, “This is the period of reconstruction, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.”
Somehow though, I refuse to give up on this team. Just recently, I was jumping up and down like a little girl at a Justin Bieber concert when Washington beat the Denver Nuggets.
I’ve already renamed Javale McGee to JaVale McCAMBY, in honor of his defensive prowess (and as homage to Marcus Camby), and Andray Blatche’s unpronounceable name has been uttered from my mouth in at least 500 different ways after his hot start since the All-Star break.
Heck, Washington might be able to grab a big-name free agent after all the salary dumping at the trade deadline.
So no, I won’t quit on the Washington Wizards (unless we resign Kwame Brown, at which point all bets are off). A new era of D.C. basketball is dawning, and I plan to make the most out of it.
As for the past? The Big Three of D.C. was the first group of stars I grew up watching, and they’ll forever have a special place in my sports heart. And who knows, I might even root for Antawn Jamison and the Cavs come playoff time. Well, as long as LeBron doesn’t show up on my television set.
Washington Wizards Big Three R.I.P. (June 24, 2004-February 17, 2010).
Portions of this article also appeared on vype.com