Should John Wall and Bradley Beal Stick to Sports?

“Stick to sports” is usually a phrase people use to try to shut up athletes when they use their platforms to take stances those people disagree with. In other cases, “stick to sports” is invoked as a Fifth Amendment-like protection for athletes who want to stay out of social debates for fear of the backlash that comes with having an opinion. Then this past week, it got much harder to “stick to sports” after the Donald Trump was unable to stick to politics and unleashed a litany of attacks on professional football and basketball players for protesting during the national anthem or rejecting his invitation to the White House.

In response to Trump’s comments, many prominent figures in the sports world, some unprompted and others coerced, have publicly offered their two-cents via a statement or demonstration. This includes local basketball stars John Wall and Bradley Beal, who at Wizards Media Day on Monday weighed in on the controversy.

But should DC’s All-Star backcourt involve themselves in political and social movements, or do we Wizards fans want them to just stick to sports?

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Social Responsibility

Lebron James and his band of Team USA teammates set the mark for professional athletes speaking out on social injustices. They’ve put forth an example that obliges the most successful athletes to use the money and fame they’ve gained from sports to stand up for the people from the communities they were raised in.

John and Brad feel that as the established superstars and leaders of this franchise, the call to be vocal on important social issues falls to them. And rightfully so. They’ve been blessed with a combination of great talents and opportunities that has afforded them lives of luxury and a platform for social impact that 99.9% of the population could only dream about. It’s only right that they use those resources to pay it forward and make a positive impact for the less privileged. John even called on NFL stars Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers to use their celebrity to speak out against Trump’s comments.

It’s clear that both Wizards stars subscribe to the philosophy that “with great power, comes great responsibility.” They’re right in that regard. However, their responsibility doesn’t end at expressing their displeasure with tweets from the President. If Wall and Beal want to venture out of their lanes to take on the burden of social and political activism, then they have a duty to the team and it’s fans to be thoughtful, educated, invested, and unified in the issues they speak out about.

Stay Authentic

I’d hope that most Wizards fans, whether or not they agree with the positions John and Brad might take publicly, would respect the young men’s right to express their opinions. That’s probably a naive hope in our politically charged times, and I’ve already seen Twitter commenters blindly bashing the stars for the views they shared Monday.

John and Brad can wield more respect and credibility, however, if they stay authentic and stand up for only causes that they are truly passionate about and emotionally invested in. There’s a new outrage over politically-incorrectness every week, and the Wizkid’s voices will get old quick if they feel they have to weigh in on each one of these uproars. But if they choose to speak up about topics that truly affect them and the people they love, well then, who can fault them?

Monday’s comments were a mixed bag in this regard. It was obvious that both John and Brad are passionate about what is going on in the country, but it wasn’t clear which issue they were taking a stand on. Were they mad about social injustice, the Hurricane Maria response, or Trump’s attacks on professional athletes? Being authentic also means being focused.

What’s Your Message?

Another responsibility that falls to Wall and Beal is that they need to have an actionable message. Okay you’re upset, but what do you want done about it? What do you want us to do about it? What are you yourself going to do about it? Without a clear message, you’re just another angry talking head, and those come a dime three dozen.

John did a good job of conveying a message when he encouraged school students to stay positive in the wake of the Charlottesville, and again when he called on top NFL quarterbacks to be leaders in the anthem protests. But John and Brad missed the mark here at their presser on Monday. What purpose does it serve to tell the world the President is a clown, or that he does not carry your respect? What are the kids watching your interview supposed to do with that? Donald Trump’s value proposition is seemingly his ability to divide people, even on issues that don’t normally incite debate. It’s easy to fall into his trap of arguing and name calling, but that only exacerbates the national divisions you intended to speak out against.

Our local NBA stars have an unparalleled platform for reaching young minds and being a positive influence, so they should use it wisely. They need to rise above the pettiness and spread a word that will actually help people.

Do Your Homework

Beal and Wall each only went to college for one year, but they’re two bright guys. That’s good, because a top pre-requisite for athletes venturing outside of sports is that they’re educated on the topics they engage on. If you’re going to raise awareness or advocate for your fans to do something, you better know what you’re talking about.

Fortunately, both John and Brad appear to be well informed on current events thus far. They’ve clearly been following the news closely and talking to affected people. Thus they were able to speak intelligently on the topics at hand. Let’s just hope they continue to do so. It will get harder to stay educated as the season kicks into gear, but it’s imperative if they want to establish themselves as social leaders.

A Unified Front

An important thing for John and Brad to remember is that wherever they go, they’re not representing only their own views, but also the Washington Wizards as a team and an organization. So in this regard, they have to make sure that everyone is on board with their activism, lest their comments about non-basketball issues lead to problems in the locker room.

This past weekend in the NFL, we saw that more important than whether a team stood or kneeled for the anthem, was whether they did it together. In London some Ravens players kneeled while others didn’t and the coach said the only time he’d kneel was to say a prayer. They got historically pummeled by the Jaguars. The Steelers opted to stay in the locker room for the anthem, but one player bucked the team and came out alone to hear it. The team lost to a Bears team they were supposed to beat easily. Meanwhile, the Cowboys kneeled in unison as a team before the anthem and locked arms during it. They walked over the Cardinals on the road. Team unity matters.

John and Brad are NBA veterans now and they’ve earned the respect of their locker room. I wouldn’t anticipate much turmoil coming from their fielding questions on politics. Still, they have to be sure that whatever they do or say, that they do it together and that they have the full support of the rest of the squad.

Do Your Job First

John Wall and Bradley Beal’s status as star basketball players may allow them to be advocates for social change, but at the end of the day they’re basketball players first. Therefore, basketball has to remain their primary focus. Regardless of how authentic, educated, and unified the pair are in their activism, Wizards fans are going to be upset with them if their play slips and they start losing games. Conversely, if they’re killing it on the court, they will have far fewer critics of their not sticking to sports, not to mention more media attention and a bigger reach.

That means don’t let your social commentary become a distraction. Make a statement when the time is appropriate, but spend most of your time playing basketball and talking about basketball. Then, when you win D.C. a championship, you’ll have our full attention when you want to urge us to take action on a divisive issue.

As Wizards fans, we should be proud of John Wall and Bradley Beal’s evolution from young pups into bonafide stars eager and willing to make a social impact. We saw Monday that they’re ready to take on the challenge of being social leaders, and that they have big hearts that look out for others. Still, while their comments came from the best of intentions, they showed that John and Brad still have work to do in this new role they’re assuming. They need to be strategic, deliberate, and well-researched with the topics they speak out about. If they do this, then we fans will accept their social commentary and their role in offering it. If they don’t, then yes, they should probably stick to sports.

Wiz-Warriors: Let’s All Boo Cupcake Kevin Durant

This past weekend, Kevin Durant, the one-time NBA darling turned bitter front-running villain, returned to his old home court to a much-deserved, nasty homecoming.  His welcome-back presents were a chorus of boos and profanities from his old fans, and a bevy of hard fouls and harsh words from his old teammates.  The antagonistic reception was to be expected, regardless of Durant’s lengthy resume of past exploits for the team, after the biggest superstar in franchise history abandoned ship to join the one squad that had prevented the franchise from returning to the NBA Finals.

Kevin Durant and his supporters will maintain that KD’s only obligations in his free-agency decision were to himself and to his family, and that he had the right to go wherever he pleased.  This is certainly true and it’s difficult to imagine how anyone could argue this point. It’s also true, however, that those betrayed OKC players and supporters are similarly only obliged to support members of their own franchise, and they maintain a right to react to KD’s abandonment however they please. Considering the self-serving decision that Kevin Durant made, one that bucked every tenet of the spirit of competition, as well as the circumstances in which he made that cowardly choice, it would be surprising if KD is ever able to return to Chesapeake Energy Arena without getting heckled and chastised.  If that was my team, and sixty years down the line Kevin Durant came back to town for a Throwback Thursday night, I’d be sitting front row donning a cupcake t-shirt, with a “F*** KD!” sign taped to my walker.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Washington Wizards

Fortunately for me, I’m not an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. Nope, I’m a Washington Wizards fan and I’m rooting for John and Brad and Jason Smith right now as write this while watching the two teams match up tonight. (BTW who would have thought when OKC was 1 game away from returning to the Finals and the Wizards had been out of contention since early April, that just 9 months later it would the WizKids who had the brighter future??)  But even though I wasn’t personally betrayed by Durant teaming up with the basketball equivalent of the Galactic Republic, I was completely repulsed by the choice all the same.

Two weeks from tomorrow, Kevin Durant is scheduled to visit another one of the towns he previously called “Home” for his first time as a Warrior – in what is currently 2nd to only Kobe’s last game in DC for the most ridiculously over-priced basketball ticket in Verizon Center history (It is beyond me how anyone can justify paying $200 for the worst Lower Level seats when the same seats consistently go for under $20 at other games!!) With the exception of the boos he induced last year with his comments deriding the #KD2DC fervor, Kevin has generally enjoyed a warm reception when he’s  returned to his native DMV to play professional basketball games. But just as KD is no longer welcome anywhere in the state of Oklahoma, the image of the Bay Bridge on the front of his jersey should also preclude KD from being treated as anything less than an enemy at the Phone Booth. Durant has been beloved as the basketball pride of the region, and therefore it’s easy to imagine that arguing to heckle the man could be considered a hot take. But here are some quick thoughts on why it should instead be considered an obligation for any true Wizards fan.

Shame the Bandwagoners

As anybody who’s been to a Wizards game knows, the city is full of fans from other NBA teams. No matter what game you go to, from a tilt versus the Memphis Grizzlies to one against the Portland Trailblazers, there will always inevitably be a sizable contingent of fans in the Verizon Center rooting for the road team. Being that DC is a mixing pot of folks from all over the country who move to the city to work in government or politics, the presence of away fans is a fact of life.

When this becomes a problem is when sports fans born and raised in the District jump on the bandwagon of the day rather than root for the hometown team. Over the past decade, the Wizards have seen its fan base dwarfed by the likes of the Lakers, then the Cavs, then the Heat, then the Thunder, then the Cavs again, and now the Warriors. (Why do you think these tickets are so damn expensive?) The band wagon obsession is more than a problem that has afflicted our city; it’s a virus. Bandwagon n***as marry bandwagon b*****s and have bandwagon kids. Now, Kevin Durant, who is supposed to be our hometown hero, and whose presence on the Thunder made it the one team outside of the DMV acceptable for DMV residents to root for, is following the same trend as all the pathetic flakes who buy themselves and their kids jerseys that say Curry and Thompson on the back rather than Wall and Beal. Us Wizards fans don’t accept this behavior from our fellow basketball fans, so why should we accept it from the biggest basketball figure to come out of this area? What’s worse, it’s all too obvious that bandwagon fans from DC will conveniently site their support for KD as the reason they suddenly support the most talented team in NBA history. The same way that we use the jumbotron to tease those DC fans with too little inner fortitude to rock with the home squad, we need to mock the NBA player too scared to fight for a championship with anyone but the most stacked team ever.

Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City?

While DC has always showered Kevin Durant with much love and respect, he’s never exactly returned the favor. And now, his latest decision shows how little concern he truly has for this town and its fans.  As Wizards fans, we can’t begrudge Durant for not coming home to play for the Wizards. Having lived here, he must know all too well how quickly promising dreams turn to dashed hopes within this city’s sports scene. It happens every year and in every sport. That’s precisely the reason why every self-respecting Wizards fan is enjoying every moment of the team’s recent success, but not yet visualizing even a game past the first-round of the playoffs. Still, couldn’t KD give just a little bit of acknowledgement of our support for him? You mean to tell me that he couldn’t even take the time to take a meeting with the Wizards, even if it was just to politely say no thanks? If for nothing else, than to validate that all the time we spent tagging our tweets with #KD2DC was not totally in vain?

Nope. Durant had no time to entertain the dreams of his hometown fans. In fact, the only comments we ever got about his view on playing for the Wizards was a rebuke of the fans around here.  Not only that, as an extra insult to Washington fans, Kevin opted instead to hear the pitch from the Boston Celtics, the recently buried, new DC rivals.   Seriously, KD!? That’s how you feel? You’d wear that ugly green jersey, sell your soul to Tom Brady, and go play for those Massholes before you’d play for the city that raised you? Damn, bro.

Partially, this is our fault for always being a little too eager to reunite with Durant; for being a little too available. Just like juvenile boys like Durant have been doing to naïve girls since the beginning of time, KD teased our interest, soaked up our affection, and then ultimately left for the sexier suitor, leaving us heart-broken with nothing to show for all the time we spent trying to make this relationship happen. If Kevin isn’t going to realize what he had with our support until it’s gone, then let’s show him how far gone it really is: with boo-birds every time he touches the ball.

Not My Precedent

The final reason that fans of the Washington Wizards have a duty to deride the Hell out of Kevin Durant when he visits in two weeks is a self-serving one. The example that KD is setting for NBA players, one of taking pay cuts to leave the teams that drafted them in favor of diminished roles and pressure on super teams, is a dangerous one for second-tier franchises like our own.

The Wizards have a former lottery pick up for a new contract this summer in Otto Porter. A few years down the line, it will be John Wall’s turn to test the waters of free-agency. Looking even farther ahead, we’ll eventually draft another franchise player who will one day have to decide between taking the harder route of pursuing a championship in Washington or opting for the easy route of joining a team full of All-Stars. Granted, our players like John and Otto are too valiant and have too much pride to make the same gutless decision that Durant did. Still, with our sports luck, we can’t rule out any tragedy, and we have to do what we can to get ahead of such an unfortunate situation.

Therefore, it is imperative that we set the tone now for how our fans are going to reproach the players who ditch this team versus how we’ll reward the players who make a commitment to our fans and to our city. Every player in the league, and especially those that wear the letters “dc” on their shorts, needs to see first-hand how the nation’s capital reveres athletes who stay loyal to the city and abhors endlessly those who do the opposite.

That all starts with Kevin Durant in two weeks’ time. When everyone sees how mean we are to a player who turned his back on a team that isn’t even ours, they’ll start getting the picture for how serious we take loyalty in DC.

Conclusion

There you have it. That’s my plea for why we have to make Kevin Durant’s next return to DC one of his most combative encounters yet. This goes further than simple discontent with KD’s free-agency decision. This is more about protecting our turf and demanding to be taken seriously as NBA fans.

Now, I’m not saying KD should be doomed to eternally be derided whenever he comes to DC. But though Durant is the DMV’s native son, like all children, he needs to be disciplined. Maybe one day, KD, like Lebron did for Cleveland, will realize his transgressions against his hometown and work to right them. If and when that day comes, I’ll be the first to say we should forgive him and welcome him back into the DC fraternity. After all, hand in hand with parental discipline, comes the opportunity for mercy and redemption.

That being said, for the time being, every Wizard fan with tickets to the Wizards-Warriors game on February 28th should be rocking a red and blue cupcake t-shirt and a stockpile full of insults and boos for Kevin Durant.

Where Do John Wall & Bradley Beal Rank Among Best Backcourts in the NBA?

Where Do John Wall & Bradley Beal Rank Among Best Backcourts in the NBA?

Last night’s big performance by John Wall and Bradley Beal reminded Wizards fans just how good the young duo can be when healthy.  At the same time, the close win over a poor team and the abysmal record thus far this season show that their brilliance can easily be weighed down by a lack of talent elsewhere on the roster.  So, how good is this backcourt really?  Over the past couple of years, their strong playoff performances and youthful upside have garnered them mentions in the conversation of best guard duo.  But how do they compare against the other top guard combinations in the Association this season?

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Here are the rankings and stats of the best backcourts in the NBA based on reputation and performance thus far this season:

  1. Steph Curry &Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 46.4 PPG, 8.2 APG, 6.8 RPG, 2 SPG, 0.6 BPG

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The Splash Bros. are the obvious title holders for Best Backcourt in the NBA.  Even though their stats aren’t the gaudiest thus far this season, they easily retain the title based on their reputation and record.

  1. DeMar DeRozan & Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 50.8 PPG, 10.9 APG, 10.7 RPG, 3.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG

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The boys from the North are balling better than any other backcourt pair from the East.  But will that be enough to allow the Raptors to challenge the Cavs this year?

Note*: Let’s not forget the WizKids duo swept these two out of the playoffs just a couple years back.

  1. Russell Westbrook & Victor Oladipo – Oklahoma City Thunder

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 48.5 PPG, 12.9 APG, 13.8 RPG, 2 SPG, 0.6 BPG

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This backcourt has more of a Batman-Robin dynamic than others on this list.  Anybody plus Russell Westbrook is going to make a good a duo when he’s average near a triple-double.

  1. Damian Lillard & C.J. McCollum – Portland Trail Blazers

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 50.9 PPG, 7.9 APG, 8.9 RPG, 2 SPG, 0.7 BPG

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The highest scoring backcourt in the league and one that wasn’t even in the discussion not that long ago.

  1. James Harden & Eric Gordon – Houston Rockets

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 44 PPG, 14.9 APG, 11.1 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 0.5 BPG

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If the dynamic of the Oklahoma City backcourt resembles Batman-Robin, the Houston backcourt evokes memories of perhaps Iron Man & his Jon Favreau-portrayed chauffeur.  Still, even if James Harden is doing the majority of the heavy lifting here, the combined stat line puts this combo definitively in the Top-5.

  1. John Wall & Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 46.4 PPG, 11.5 APG, 6.6 RPG, 2.8 SPG, 1.3 BPG

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Wizards fans probably didn’t expect to see their young stars this far down on the list.  However, they do have the fewest total minutes played this season of all the duos on this list. Hopefully, as the two get healthy and accustomed to their new coach’s game plans, they’ll rise up the rankings.

  1. Isaiah Thomas & Avery Bradley – Boston Celtics

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 44 PPG, 9.3 APG, 10.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG, .5 BPG

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Al Horford chose to go team up with this pair instead of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

  1. Kemba Walker & Nicolas Batum – Charlotte Hornets

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 38.8 PPG, 10.2 APG, 10.6 RPG, 3.1 SPG, 0.7 BPG

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I really thought that Batum was more of a small forward.  But he’s technically a shooting guard, so these two have can’t be overlooked in the conversation.

  1. Chris Paul & J.J. Redick – Los Angeles Clippers

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 33.8 PPG, 9.9 APG, 7.1 RPG, 4 SPG, 0.4 BPG

Image result for chris paul jj redick

Their stats are not the best, but they get the nod here because of the team’s success so far this season and because Chris Paul is still one of the best and somehow most underrated guards in the league.

  1. Eric Bledsoe & Devin Booker – Phoenix Suns

Combined 2016-2017 Stats: 38.06 PPG, 7.57 APG, 8.5 RPG, 1.92 SPG, 0.4 BPG

Image result for eric bledsoe devin booker

These two went toe to toe with House of Guards last night and almost came away with the W, showing that they belong in the conversation for best backcourts.