It’s hard to be a protective parent of young children in the year 2020 – what, with Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig constantly bombarding our kids with sex and materialism, and Nike feeding them the lie that Kevin Durant has the heart of a champion.
ESPN can keep spinning this change in NBA culture as the “player empowerment era” until it can’t walk straight, but those of us who’ve been following basketball since before Twitter recognize this as one of the oldest evils in the game: bandwagoning. The only difference now is the players are getting in on taking the easy way out too.
Yes, I knew what I was getting into when I chose to have children outside of a major basketball market, but at the very least it used to be it was left to the parents to decide if and when to have the “talk” with their kids about the ESPN/TNT national broadcast schedule, All-Star fan voting, and referee superstar treatment. Nowadays, however, I can’t take my boys to a park in MD without some knucklehead 12-year-old with absentee parents scandalizing my kids’ innocence by rocking a Steph Curry jersey, flaunting his new Kyrie 6’s, and practicing James Harden step-back threes from the half-court circle. “F*** you, kid! Don’t you know second-hand hero ball is extremely hazardous to young children!?!”
Declining fandom fertility (fervor-tility) isn’t a problem unique to the DC basketball fan. All over the country, NBA fans who don’t reside in the Northeast, LA, or Texas go through the same struggle of keeping their kids above the influence of basketball players who are their own brand.
For us in the DMV though, the imperative of passing on our Wizards fandom goes deeper than trying to avoid raising a kid you’ll resent every Christmas Day during the NBA marquee games. For us, transmitting faith in the Wizards is a matter of survival vs. extinction – because if we fail in this calling, our kind will go the way of G-Man, never to be seen again. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis couldn’t build a fanbase if he purchased a Vornado Air Mover from Lowe’s with no assembly required. And the legions of spineless copycats that comprise NBA Twitter certainly won’t be joining our bandwagon any time before we land Lebron ‘Bronny-Bron” James III in the 2045 NBA Draft. It’s clear then that the only viable way to preserve our tribe is to dutifully indoctrinate our sons and daughters in the history, culture, and rituals of Washington Wizards basketball.
I’ve fathered two human beings to date, and from the moment the older one drew his first breath three years ago, my highest priority in this world has been the fulfillment of my parental obligations: to protect and provide for my sons, to teach them, and to make damn certain they Rep the District. But these days just talking to your kids isn’t enough to keep them subscribing to the First Take podcast, or from succumbing to the temptations of the Duke Blue Devil.
We need to be more vigilant. Being a parent of a #DCFamily is a full-time job, and it takes a full Capital One Arena to raise a WizKid. With that in mind, I’m outlining some tricks-of-the-trade for my fellow Wizards moms and pops (and future Wizards moms and pops too) of how to help your young children grow up to be the best Wizards fans they can be.
1. Enhance your kids’ memorable milestones with Wizards gear: People claim all the time that they’re lifelong fans of whatever team, but do we really believe they were worried about repping a particular sports squad when they were still nursing at mom’s chest and pooping in their pants? Give your kids ammo to stake that claim credibly by making sure that when the pics of their big firsts get posted across ten different social media sites they have them sporting the Wizards logo. Hey Facebook, here’s baby coming home for the first time – and look! he’s got on a Wizards newborn onesie. 110 Likes. Look Instagram, here’s a video of baby exploring his first snowfall, and of course he has a Wizards hat keeping his head warm! Memory complete with a snazzy caption and Wizards hashtags.
2. Tailor holiday traditions to be Wizards specific: Every holiday, we parents go through a lot of trouble and elaborate backstories to spoil our kids with new toys and candy, so we might as well leverage all that undue stress to stoke their love for our basketball team. In my house, it’s John Wall not Santa Claus, who brings gifts on Christmas (honestly, isn’t a an All-Star with a $40M salary generously giving back to the community more believable than an old guy flying around on a sleigh?); people give us candy on Halloween to commemorate the anniversary of Bradley Beal’s first points as a Wizards; and since last year, the 4th of July fireworks are a celebration of our independence from Ernie Grunfeld.
3. Implement your own Wiz50 promos at home: Food promos like Papa John’s Wiz50 do well to give fans an extra incentive to root for team success – I for one never order pizza unless the Wizards won and scored 100 points the previous night. Why not take that tactic a step further and start conditioning your children to enjoy it when the Wiz win? For my boys, if the team wins, we get ice cream. If the team wins against Kyrie Irving or the Celtics, we get ice cream AND brownies. And if the Wiz ever win the championship, we’ll be going to Disneyland, Disney World, and Disneyland Paris.
4. Figure out how to explain to your toddlers what exactly a wizard is (“It’s like a man who can move rocks and things by twirling a stick..”) and why it’s totally badass and awesome (think Gandalf and Voldemort, not Wizards of Waverly Place): It would be much easier for kids to understand what our mascot was if it was something easy to grasp like a Bull, or a Hawk, or even a Sun. My two-year old says “wizards” all the time, but I’m pretty sure he thinks the word means 6’ 65 black guy.
5. Teach your kids how to dougie and groove to Mambo Sauce’s “Welcome to DC.”
6. Sign your kids up for the Wizards Kids Club: Not because it will help them become better fans, but because they sometimes give out exclusive bobbleheads that you’ll want to add you personal collection (which is obviously kept out of your kids’ reach.)
7. Get your kids to the arena early and often: This past MLK Day, I took my two toddlers to their first Wizards game and my immediate takeaway was I should’ve taken them sooner. We have the Wiz on at home all the time, but until my boys witnessed a contest in person, I’m not sure they really understood that what they’ve been seeing on the television represents live events taking place elsewhere in the world. Also, kids under 3 don’t need a ticket, so you should start building up their fandom resume while it’s free.
A couple tips, based on my recent experience, for parents taking their little ones to Capital One Arena:
– The player introductions are loud. With the blasting go-go music, the intense light display, and the flames shooting out of the backboard, your kid might get hit with sensory overload before the game even starts. My oldest hid in his face in my arms and my youngest fell into a wide-eyed trance. Depending on how your kids do with things like fireworks or police sirens, consider taking your seats after tip-off.
– Pick your seats to maximize space. If your kids are anything like mine, the only thing they’re going to sit still for two hours for is a Pixar movie on Disney +. So, when planning your Wizards excursion, try to find seats that are going to allow for your tots to move around a little. We managed to sit in the first row of a section, allowing our boys to play on the stairs without having to worry about anyone passing by. Also target games that might be more sparsely attended – we got lucky in having four empty chairs next to us and the extra space helped a lot.
– At the game we went to the Pistons were wearing their alternative red jerseys, which led some to confusion for our boys who were wearing red Wizards shirt and therefore uncertain of why their parents were cheering the team in white. Ideally, you can take your kid to a game where the opponent’s green, purple, or orange jerseys clearly delineate the good from the evil.
– Nothing is going to settle your kids down when they get antsy better than some ice cream, but after halftime, the line for Rita’s was over thirty minutes. Plan your soft-serve run ahead of time, whether it’s drawing lots for which parent goes to pick it up and bribing a teenager near the front of the queue to let you cut in line.