Dreading the 2011 NBA Lockout
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Washington Wizards

A professional basketball team in the Eastern Conference of the NBA.

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Washington: Last in Politics, Last in Basketball

  • Oct 17, 2012
All baseball fans who know the history of the sport are familiar with the old expression about the Washington Senators that summed up their on-field prowess: Washington - first in war, first in peace, last in the American League. That expression could easily read Washington: First in war, first in peace, last in professional sports. Good thing The District has its politics, because it sure doesn't seem to have much else going for it. Sticking to sports, though, to wit: The Senators managed to win three Pennants and one World Series title, but they mostly sucked hard. Then they were moved, replaced, moved again, and replaced again by the Washington Nationals when the Montreal Expos moved in. (Although the Washington Nationals have built themselves from a laughingstock into the most formidable team in baseball. They won their division this last season and would probably be on their way to the World Series if the Saint Louis Cardinals didn't suddenly catch fire.) The Washington Capitals possess one of the worst losing streaks in NHL history. They won the Eastern Conference Championship in 1998 only to get stomped by the Detroit Red Wings, and most recently they're dominating with one of the league faces, Alexander Ovechkin, until the playoffs begin and Ovechkin disappears, which is how the team is then summarily dismissed from the first round. The Washington Redskins are one of the classic teams of the NFL, but they've only had two sustained periods of real excellence despite winning five Championships, including three Super Bowls. I won't even go near the fact that their nickname is a racial slur. And of course, the NBA's Washington Wizards.

The Washington Wizards were founded in 1961 and quickly became the second major professional team to fail in Chicago, after the Chicago Stags bit the dust. See, the Wizards were originally created as the Chicago Packers, and for those who haven't been there, naming anything the Packers in Chicago is doomed to fail. Chicago, you see, has this really awesome football team called the Bears, and sports politics dictate that they have to really, really HATE this one football team in Wisconsin called the Green Bay Packers. This is the oldest rivalry in the NFL. It took only a year for the team owners to realize their mistake and change the name to the Chicago Zephyrs, which was at one time a name used by MLB's Chicago Cubs. Too little too late, I guess, because by 1963 Chicago once again failed to hold an NBA team, and the Zephyrs departed to become the Baltimore Bullets. They were named after an earlier team, and that year they finished fourth in a five-team division.

Just before the 1965 season started, the Bullets completed a major trade in which they sent Terry Dischinger, Rod Thorn, and Don Kojis to the Detroit Pistons for Bailey Howell, Don Ohl, Bob Ferry, and Wali Jones. It worked, and the Bullets were in the playoffs for the first time ever that season. They made a go of it too, knocking out the Saint Louis Hawks 3-1, getting to the Western Conference Finals, and splitting the first four games with the Los Angeles Lakers before finally bowing out in six. In the late 60's the Bullets drafted Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe, both Hall of Famers, and got even better. They made the playoffs the next few years but were trounced by the New York Knicks the first couple before going all the way to the Finals in the 1971 season, where they were trounced in four games by the Milwaukee Bucks.

Earl Monroe was traded to the Knicks in 1971 for some reason. Makes no sense to me how trading him could have made the team better, but it happened. Besides, the Bullets were soon able to rectify that mistake by drafting Kevin Porter and getting Elvin Hayes from the Houston Rockets. In the 1973 season, they made the playoffs and again lost to the Knicks. An even bigger deal that year, though, was the team's move to Landover, and their name change to the Capital Bullets, not to be confused with the aforementioned Washington Capitals. They finally changed their name to the Washington Bullets the following season to prevent confusion, not to mention the fact that it just MAKES MORE FUCKING SENSE! It was about this time that the Bullets were one of the best teams in the league, constantly favorites. In the 1975 season, the Bullets made it to the Finals, where they were favored to win. It turned into one of the biggest upsets in NBA history, though, when the Golden State Warriors slaughtered them in four games. By the 1978 season, the Bullets were the longshots. In the playoffs, they met the San Antonio Spurs in one round, and the Spurs managed to beat them in a game. Obviously that had people excited in San Antonio, as a sportswriter felt the need to remind everyone that "The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." The Bullets adopted that as a rallying cry, and it turned into the origin of what is now the common expression "It ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." The Bullets won that series, went to the NBA Finals, faced the Seattle Supersonics, and beat them in seven games for their first NBA Championship.

The next season the Bullets returned to the Finals, where they played the Sonics again. This time, they lost in five games. The Bullets were the only team to make it to the Finals four times during the 70's, and it remains the zenith of their history. By the 1980 season, age had caught up to the team. They went 39-43, and somehow that was enough to squeeze them into the playoffs, where they were naturally killed by the Philadelphia 76ers. Their old form was clearly gone, and despite a 43-39 record and fairly strong play, in the 1981 season Washington missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. The Bullets were now playing bad basketball, but due to the anomaly of the playoff expanded format, they still managed to squeak in only to lose quickly. In the 1986 season, the Bullets went 42-40. It was their last winning record until the 1997 season, the 1988 season was their last playoff appearance until about that time too. They were quickly wiped out by Detroit that year.

The 80's did see a bit of a talent influx, though. In 1985, they picked up specialty shot blocker Manute Bol and Moses Malone, who led the team in scoring. In 1987, they drafted Muggsy Bogues, who at 5 feet 3 inches of height, is the shortest player in NBA history. Despite his height, Bogues did establish himself as a great passer, a fantastic ball-stealer, and a guy who could outrun Sonic the Hedgehog. Bernard King averaged over 20 points per game.

The Bullets were languishing in the 90's. They did manage to nab Chris Webber after trading draft rights with the Warriors, but they still finished 21-61 the following season, which was their worst ever at the time. Later in the decade they started to improve a bit more. The drafting of Rasheed Wallace was a big help, and in the 1996 season Washington managed to post a 39-43 record, a respectable losing record which just missed the playoffs. The following year, they won 44 games and were finally back in the playoffs. Webber and Rod Strickland led the way. The Chicago Bulls swept them in the first round, but they only lost those games by a grand total of 18 points, a sign that the series was much closer than the sweep made it look and could have gone either way.

In 1995, the city of Washington, DC was a gangland with a ridiculous crime rate. Seriously, the national capitol had turned largely into an impoverished dump with a murder rate that was growing out of control. The owner of the Washington Bullets, Abe Pollin, was getting very uncomfortable with the violent connotations which come with the word "bullet," and had reservations about running a team with that name. He happened to be friends with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995. That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and Pollin finally announced that the name "Bullets" was officially on the clock. A contest was held to decide the new name, and the choices were eventually narrowed down to Dragons (I like it!), Express (honestly, what the FUCK is peoples' obsession with calling teams the Express?! It reeks of 90's marketing hubris while sounding generic as hell at the same time! There's no way I would EVER cheer for a team called the Express!) Stallions (another excellent choice), Sea Dogs (well, it certainly has distinction, but I can't say I'm wild about it), and Wizards. Wizards was the winning pick. It caused some controversy since Washington DC is 67 percent black and wizard just happens to also be a rank in the KKK. That did nothing but add to stances against political correctness and prove - again - that critical theorists are better at creating imaginary societal interpretations of things only they can see than they will ever be at solving society's actual problems.

In their first season as the Washington Wizards, the team went 40-42 but missed the playoffs. It was the first year of a spiral down, and people just plump forgot the Wizards existed until 2000. See, what happened that year was the second retirement of Michael Jordan, and the Wizards used the opportunity to snap him up as their president and minority owner. In September of 2001, he decided to return from retirement again, and this time he would be suiting up as a Wizard! His abilities were clearly on such low-power fumes by then, though, that even deploying his legendary temper and competitiveness couldn't will the Wizards to glory. He played through the 2002 and 2003 seasons, averaged 20 points per game with 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals, and for all the shit Jordan takes for his stint with the Wizards, the team actually did improve significantly. The Wizards went 37-45 both years he was there. After 2003, Jordan finally hung it up for good. Unfortunately, NBA rules forced him to divest ownership of the team in order to play, and he laced 'em up again with the expectation that he would get his ownership back afterward. Pollin proved otherwise by firing him, citing his detrimental effects on the team. Jordan's stint in Washington didn't end as badly as that of his old foe Isiah Thomas's presidential go-around with the Knicks, but he still made bad trades and wasted draft picks. He came back with the Charlotte Bobcats, of course, but the job he's doing there is actually worse, and he has pretty much now fallen into the level of Thomas during the Knicks disaster.

No one expected the Wizards to win after that, and they didn't. They did sign Gilbert Arenas, though, and he actually had a positive effect on the team. In the 2005 season, the Wizards went 45-37, their best record in 26 years, and made the playoffs for the first time as the Wizards. They even beat the Bulls in the playoffs that year. From then on, Arenas managed to guide the team to respectable records until about 2008, when the Wizards fell back into the basement.

Washington Wizards fans are another base waiting for a repeat of their old glory years from the 70's, but things in the immediate future look a little maddening. They've certainly had their good years since then, but they haven't been truly dangerous. No one is afraid of them. It looks like their window in the 70's was THE WINDOW, that one chance any NBA team has on really capitalizing and taking a Championship or two before fading out again and being relegated to maybe a couple of Conference Championships in the following few decades if they're lucky. The big identifying mark for the team itself is Michael Jordan's stint with them, which doesn't say anything very good.

Nine Hall of Famers have played for the Washington Wizards, in total. Since the team has had so many name changes, very few of them have played for them AS the Washington Wizards. Hell, one of them, Walt Bellamy, actually goes all the way back to the Chicago Packers days. Bailey Howell was strictly a Baltimore Bullet, as was Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes began in Baltimore and stuck around through Washington. Dave Bing and Moses Malone were only ever Washington Bullets. And Michael Jordan is included in the team's history solely on the basis of his work with the Washington Wizards. Monroe, Hayes, Johnson, and Unseld have all had their numbers retired. Unseld was a league and Finals MVP and a First Team guy, an honor he also shared with Hayes and Monroe. The All-Defensive First Team included Johnson with Bob Dandridge and Larry Hughes. There were a ton of players voted to the All-Rookie First Team, though, including Rod Thorn, Jeff Malone, and John Wall. Rasheed Wallace made the All-Rookie Second Team.

Elvin Hayes is Washington's face, still. It's pretty bad that his throne was usurped by the evil version of Michael Jordan.

Washington's big rivalry is with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it came to a head in 2008 when Gilbert Arenas began taking verbal potshots at Cleveland before a playoff series. DeShawn Stevenson got in on the act too, and said LeBron James was overrated. James chose a backhanded way to return the insult when he said he wouldn't return the insult because it would be too much like Jay-Z returning to a comment made about him by Soulja Boy. Both rappers got involved in this little battle, Soulja Boy showing up at a game to support the Wizards while Jay-Z actually recorded a song trashing Stevenson. There were skirmishes in games five and six, and the Wizards lost the series 4-2.

How long does one want to cling to Michael Jordan once owning and running and unretiring to play for the Washington Wizards as a badge of honor? It doesn't seem like these guys currently have a whole lot else to go on. They have great importance, but they haven't won much of anything since the 70's, which was not only their glory years, but the last time they won so much as a division title. It looks like the only way the Wizards could bring back the 70's as soon as an embarrassed fan would like is by enacting some kind of legislation saying the Washington Wizards get automatic first place in the NBA. And even then, every liberal and conservative in The District would still be fighting about it.

This concludes my NBA series! I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you've all enjoyed reading it. Also, I tried linking my other team reviews, but I gave that up because Lunch is a stubborn monster when it comes to switching pages, and it was taking too long. I started my teams series with baseball last year, but I only wrote up eight teams before football season began and I simply switched at random to go with that. So my next league to complete will be Major League Baseball!

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Nicholas Croston ()
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Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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