Washington Wizards: 10 Times They Were at the Center of the Sporting World
For a team that has been victorious in all of one postseason series in the last 20-something years, the Wizards have managed to take center stage in the sporting world quite a number of times.
I compiled a list of the top 10 times the Wizards captivated fans across the nation without equal. Some of the times are note-worthy; some of the times are gag-worthy. Whether good or bad, these are the moments and moves that called the most attention to our beloved franchise.
Just as a note, I only looked at the Wizards franchise and did not explore the happenings of the team while they were named the Bullets. Feel free to leave any feedback or comments that you see fit.
10. Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas Fight
Haywood didn’t do much fighting for points or rebounds while with the Wizards, but he certainly found time to fight with a teammate. Haywood and Thomas "took it outside" during a practice and settled their differences. In the end, there weren’t many differences between the two. They were both oft-injured, disappointing big men with little to no offensive game.
I am not certain who won that fight, but Haywood won the battle for playing time on the team, and eventually won his ticket out of town and a championship ring with Dallas. Thomas is now out of the league.
Haywood also engaged in a slap-happy version of fisticuffs with the Chicago Bulls during his tenure with the team. Other than fighting and fouling, Haywood didn’t leave much of a legacy behind in D.C.
9. Andray Blatche Is Shot
Talk about starting your career with a bang; Andray Blatche made headlines when he was the victim of a car-jacking gone wrong in D.C. before his rookie season even started. It’s not often that one takes a shot before the first game of the year, but fortunately Blatche was not seriously hurt.
Although not necessarily his fault, Blatche would continue to be linked to negative headlines by way of arguments with the coaching staff, altercations with teammates, and appearances at strip clubs. Blatche was probably just at the wrong place at the wrong time with regards to the shooting, although this would describe most of his six-year career on court with the Wizards.
8. The Losing Streak
The wrong part of the history books awaited the 2010-11 Wizards team as they began the season with a solid 0-25 record on the road. The streak even featured an appearance on SportsCenter’s "Not Top 10 list" when Kevin Seraphin accidentally wore his shorts backwards and had to change in-game.
Fortunately for the team (if you can look at it that way), there were the Cleveland Cavaliers, who weren’t vying for worst road team ever, but worst team ever period.
The bad met the ugly on Feb 13when the Cavaliers hosted the Wizards and were beaten thanks to a 25-point performance by Nick Young. The streak was finally over, but the foul memories of being one of the worst shows on the road since Bob Saget got into comedy still linger with the organization.
7. Eddie Jordan, the All-Star Game, and the Big Three
Times weren’t always so tough in D.C. One has to only go back to 2007 when the Wizards had the best record in the east at the time the All-Star coaches were chosen. Jordan led the East All-Stars which included his own players Arenas and Caron Butler.
Antawn Jamison, the third member of the big three, didn’t get the nod but played at an extremely high level, helping the team to defeat the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons on numerous occasions. Happy days were not here to stay though.
Possibly inspired by the calls of Wizards announcer Steve Buckhantz, Cleveland stuck a dagger in the heart of the Wizards playoff run that year, as has turned out to be the team’s postseason fate for much of the 21st century.
So what happened after this year? Jordan was soon fired, the big three were broken up a few years later, and re-building was once again the theme of the professional D.C. hoops scene.
6. DeShawn Stevenson, LeBron James, and Soulja Boy
Many people hated seeing LeBron James have any success in the 2011 NBA playoffs. Well, I hated seeing DeShawn Stevenson out there beyond the three-point arc draining shot after shot, all the while thinking about the .368 three-point field-goal percentage Stevenson carried with him while playing in D.C. He couldn’t sink a shot while here, but his childish antics aided in sinking the team against the Cavaliers in the 2008 playoffs. LeBron dominated, and Stevenson was rendered helpless as the sporting world looked on.
With the Dallas Mavericks this year, Stevenson never stopped talking to LeBron and never stopped shooting from beyond the arc. Just as the Wizards luck would have it, his shots were now going in, and he was backing up his LeBron James trash-talking instead of just playing like trash.
5. New Uniforms
The Bullets of the '90s were an eyesore, but at least their uniforms were worth the price of admission. The team lost one of the best things about the franchise when they changed from red, white and blue outfits to blue and bronze in 1997.
To make matters worse, they earned a position on many people’s "worst uniforms of all time" list with the black and gold additions in 2005. At first I enjoyed the uniforms, simply because they were a departure from the blue and bronze. I quickly joined the swell of public opinion when I saw the uniforms hit the court. Like the blue uniforms, they are now nothing but another unsavory fashion memory.
The team is now on its way back to aesthetic success with the return to red, white and blue. Although described as 1970s tube socks, 1920s swim trunks and, my personal favorite, something my mom would have bought me from Sears when I was a kid, the recently revealed Wizards uniforms are a vast improvement on the last 15 years or so.
4. Gilbert Arenas’ 60 Points vs. Lakers
Out of all the game-winning shots, the online blogs, the playoff winning shot vs. Chicago, and the three all-star appearances, this was probably the high-water mark for Gilbert Arenas’ time in D.C. Arenas outdueled Kobe and the Lakers, and followed it up with a 54-point performance against the Suns later in that same road trip.
He recorded the most points in a single game in the NBA that year, and is up there with MJ, Kobe, and Wilt for one of the greatest regular season performances in NBA history. Sadly, Arenas’ name is also down there with Sprewell, Stephen Jackson, and Artest for the longest suspensions in NBA history as well.
3. Number One Draft Picks Brown and Wall
The Wizards make another appearance on the “all-time worst list” by way of drafting the beleaguered high-school phenom Kwame Brown.
The Wizards won the draft lottery and selected Brown first overall, but that would be the last time that Brown’s name would be linked with anything that had to do with winning for the team. With the body of a horse and the hands of a jockey, Brown would constantly miss dunks, fumble passes, and turn the ball over during his ill-fated time with the team.
Was Jordan too tough on him as a mentor? Quite possibly. Whatever the reason for Brown’s failings, he has yet to be challenged for worst number one draft pick of all time. Thankfully, being the first overall pick is about the only thing that John Wall shares with Brown.
The Wizards were again center-stage when Wall was selected, and the team enjoyed a lot of positive publicity with the story of how Irene Pollin wore her lucky yellow jacket to the draft lottery that year. In Walls first few weeks as a pro, he had already coined his own dance, and headlined highlight reels with his triple double against the Houston Rockets.
2. Gilbert Arenas Incident
Gym bag contents: Shoes? Check. Ben-Gay? Check. Extra-long shorts? Check. Handgun?
We all are far too familiar with this story to unwrap it all over again for this list. Looking back on it, all the ominous signs were there with Arenas, which probably lessened the surprise of many Wizards fans when they heard this news.
Arenas’ odd behavior was considered quirky and cute when the team was winning, but quickly shifted to neurotic and deranged after his bout with severe injuries. The near shoot out at the Verizon center was well chronicled by the national press, and even earned the team a spot on Letterman’s Top 10 list. My personal favorite entry was, "Arenas wanted gun close-by in case team tried to trade him to the Nets."
All the dust has yet to clear as far as Arenas’ legacy in D.C. Will he be remembered for the game-winning heroics and accessible blogging of his early career with the team, or the franchise-hobbling injuries, unsavory remarks, and locker-room gun incident of his later years?
1. Michael Jordan’s Return to D.C.
The circus came to town for two years and sold out every night when MJ decided that he could better help the team on the court than in the front office. He was the best player on the floor even as his body wore down, but constantly questioned the rest of the team’s work ethic and motivation as the losses mounted up.
The team is probably still making a profit from all the merchandise, concessions and season tickets that they sold during Jordan’s tenure here. There should be a small statue of Jordan in the team’s accounting offices.
After kicking down the front door of the sporting world by returning for one final stint as a player, Jordan’s time in D.C. ended with him ducking out the back door quietly after butting heads with the late Abe Pollin. Many say that he should never have returned; we in Washington disagree. I, for one, think it was worth trading two years of franchise building to see the greatest of all time suit up in a Wizards uniform.
Far from being like the return of Michael Jackson in 2001, where most people could only shake their heads at the output of the former King of Pop, Jordan still showed his age badly while living and dying by the fade-away jump shot. In the end though, Jordan’s Wizards' years hardly tarnished the much revered image of MJ as the greatest ever in most people’s eyes.
I can still close my eyes and see Jordan in those throw-back 1970s Bullets jerseys any time I need to remove myself from the reality that is the Wizards of today.