What Can We Learn About and From the NBA Champion 1978 Washington Bullets?

What Can We Learn About and From the NBA Champion 1978 Washington Bullets?

The Wizard’s series of promotions and ceremonies commemorating and celebrating the Bullets 1978 NBA Championship has been a success – serving not only as a convenient distraction from the current team’s woeful early spring, but also as an instruction in the franchise’s ancestral tradition of winning that most fans under 40 probably never fully appreciated.

Sure, any semi-competent Wizards fan knows that the team has one NBA title to its name, but it was won so many years ago that any pride new generations of fans might hope to extract from it has long since expired. The lone championship banner hanging in the Capital One Arena has always been like the black-and-white pictures of your long-deceased great grandparents that your mother displays on the piano; the single Larry O’Brien trophy in the mezzanine trophy case like the forgotten antique crystal vase stored away in the china cabinet to preserve the family heirloom from wear. We know these relics carry some significance to our heritage, but their origins are so far removed from our everyday experience that we struggle to attribute the appropriate value to them.

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As such, the 40-year anniversary of this franchise’s crowning achievement has proven an opportune time to recount the old legends of our success and sustained excellence to fans who have known only mediocrity and disappointment. I, for one, have learned a ton about this team’s history – history I previously only vaguely understood – by watching the documentary on our banner year, listening to interviews of our former champions, and reading profiles both new and old of our winningest teams. Perhaps this is even the optimal time for reminiscing on our solitary triumph, as the highest-potential Wizards squad since that championship team limps into a playoffs where it hopes to take the next step to winning a second trophy.

I think all of us – fans, media, and the WizKids players themselves – can learn some valuable lessons from the ‘78 NBA Champions and from what it took for them to earn that title. Then, this anniversary celebration can be more than just an exercise in decades-late self-applause or a marketing ploy to sell more season tickets. Here are a few takeaways that the 1978 Bullets can teach us about our NBA heritage and about what it takes to be a champion.

A Heritage of Winning: We are the descendants of winners.

This is the most critical fact that the Bullets40 hashtag calls us to remember. Winning is in our blood. Winning on the largest of stages. Hard-earned winning. Perennial winning.

Younger fans can be forgiven for underestimating how great our team once was. Our championship was won just before Larry Bird and Magic Johnson galvanized the league, and while the highlights of those stars’ triumphs are easily accessed in YouTube montages and 30 for 30’s, the footage of our heroes is grainy and rarely aired.

Maybe that’s why fans seem to only vaguely recall our championship story, some misremembering it as a fluky playoff run, or dismissing it as from a time when the level of competition was subpar. The championship documentary sets the record straight. The Bullets of those days were serious contenders each and every year, making more Finals in the decade than any other team (4 times – ’71, ’75, ’78, ’79), being heavy favorites in some of those Finals, and making a return trip to the championship round the year after their banner-raising season. That’s no fluke, that’s sustained excellence. And the level of competition in the NBA was higher, not lower. With only 22 teams in the league, each squad was stacked with premier talent. Of these, the Bullets were the best.

Team Identity is Set at the Top: The 1978 Bullets, much like their counterparts from forty years later, were led by an All-Star duo whom teammates relied on for energy and to establish the team’s identity. Hall of Famer big men Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes dripped with contagious motivation, and they dictated that the team’s persona would be a punishing one. Hayes made his living putting in work in the low post, and Unseld – built like the Hulk – did the dirty work on the boards, on the defensive end, and anywhere else he could fling his massive body around to help the team win. Taking the lead from Wes and Elvin, the team’s mantra became to do whatever it took to win. Opponents knew when facing the Bullets that every game would be a dogfight.

John Wall and Bradley Beal can take a page out of the book of their forerunners in this regard. The WizKid pair are already the undisputed leaders and brightest hopes for this roster, but to take the next step they need to take it upon themselves to set the standard for how this team plays every night. Wes and Elvin were bullies in the paint; John and Brad need to be the same on the perimeter.

Gotta’ Beat the Best to Be the Best: For anybody fretting that the Wizards won’t have a chance in the playoffs if they fall to too low a seed, and for those with designs of manipulating our way to the 7th spot to face-off against the depleted Celtics, let me remind you the ’78 Bullets made it to the Finals after knocking off the #1 and #2 seeds. The Bullets took down George “Iceman” Gervin’s Spurs in the Conference Semis before toppling Dr. J and the Sixers to advance to the Finals

You have to beat the best to be the best. And by beating the best, you become even better. So, let’s not sweat about playoff seeding and matchups over the last weeks of the season – Cavs, Raptors, Sixers, Pacers – it’s all the same! It’s more important to focus on how we’re playing as a team, which brings us to the next point.

Success is All About Timing: As mentioned before, the 78 Bullets won the title after finishing the regular season with a record far off the league-best mark, posting a record of 44-38 (is it fate if we finish with an identical record??). The team had a tumultuous season that saw them lose six of the first ten games and then suffer a season-ending injury to key contributor Phil Chenier. Despite the turbulence, the Bullets started gelling at the end of the season, playing their best basketball and carrying the momentum into the playoffs where it translated into success.

The current Wizards can draw a lot of parallels between their uneven season and that of the old championship squad. Player controversies, injuries, and poor performances have characterized the first nine-tenths of this campaign. However, like with the 78 Bullets, there still remains the opportunity for the team to change this narrative by coming together and playing its best ball over the last games of the year. Especially with John Wall coming back soon, the focus needs to be on getting everybody on the same page, playing together seamlessly, and geared up for a deep post-season run.

Homecourt Advantage is Critical: The onus of this key takeaway rests solely on us, the fans of the Washington Wizards. Several of the Bullets champions credit the fans of the 70’s for being a huge motivator, source of energy, and competitive advantage. They say the home crowd made the Capital Arena the loudest place they’d ever played. Who’s ever said any of these things about the spectators in the MCI Center/Verizon Center/Capital One Arena?

I’ve heard all the excuses – DC is a transient town, fans in the district have become wary of getting disappointed again, “I’m saving my voice to scream for free Chickfila in the 4th Quarter” – and they’re all crap! If we want a championship-quality team, we fans need to do our part by being of that same caliber. That means showing up early, cheering the whole game, standing up for important possessions, and heckling the hell out of opponents and all their bandwagon fans. Game 3 of the 2015 Wizards-Bulls playoffs, our first home playoff game in 8 years, was the loudest, most raucous I’ve ever seen our arena, from pre-game to final buzzer. We need to collectively bring that level of intensity every time out from now til the player debriefs in the summer.

In Conclusion: Conventional wisdom says that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Maybe for the Wizards it will prove that by learning from our history we’ll be able to repeat it.

As we participate in these 40-year anniversary events and re-educate ourselves on our previous success, we must do so with a mindset intent on picking up clues for how to replicate that success. The 1978 Bullets have reminded us that we’re winners at our core, that we come from the stock of champions. They’ve also taught us and inspired to hope to be champions once again.

Are 2018-2019 Wizards Season Tickets Worth the Money?

Are 2018-2019 Wizards Season Tickets Worth the Money?

I am a 2-year Wizards season-ticket holder. No, I don’t currently have season tickets, which might compel you to describe me instead as an ex-season-ticket holder. I, however, subscribe to the theory that season-ticket holder status – sometimes used as a badge of one’s fandom – is more akin to martial arts belts, which are progressively earned through cumulating experience, than to Costco membership, which you either pay annually to retain or you don’t. I contend that you can’t lose your season-ticket holder status, you can only develop it, moving up to higher ranks through additional years of patronage.

All this is to say that while I’ve remained stagnant as a Level 2 Wizards STH, I still harbor ambitions of someday returning to the DC12 Club and graduating to the higher ranks of its membership. Alas, Ted Leonsis’s seemingly annual price hikes, combined with the financial responsibilities of new fatherhood, are pushing that goal farther and farther into the realm of distant pipe dreams. Nevertheless, I’ve persisted in the practice I’ve maintained over the past few seasons of documenting the individual game ticket prices for the purpose of evaluating whether Wizards season tickets are or are not a good deal. Here’s the analysis for this upcoming season:

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Methodology: Each year, including this one, my approach to collecting and analyzing ticket data has grown more sophisticated. In the past, I did my best to monitor ticket prices to find the best deal possible for each home game for two tickets in one of the Lower End sections – since this is where I used to have tickets (Section 117 Row S represent!!). This year, I managed to cobble together an application that pulls statistics of the ticket inventory available on StubHub, letting me see the cheapest available tickets for every section in Capital One Arena for each upcoming game. Not only does this give me more accurate and comprehensive data for this year’s analysis, I’m also now able to evaluate the STH-decision for every section in the arena.

For this analysis, I’m only focusing on the sections in the lower bowl of the arena because, let’s be honest, it doesn’t take much critical thinking to see that upper level season-tickets are a god-awful proposition. Why anybody would pay over $1,500 – much less the $3,200 some upper sections cost (WTF??) – for a worst experience than you can get from the comfort of your couch at home, is beyond me. For that money you can get good to great seats to a bunch of good games, so why opt instead to lock yourself into paying full price for the shittiest nosebleeds to all the crappiest games? Seriously why?

Regular-Season Numbers: The essential question when evaluating the value of season tickets is this: does buying a season ticket package get me cheaper tickets over the year than buying tickets individually?

Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to each purchasing strategy, such as the flexibility of buying tickets on a by-game basis, versus the pride and perks that come with being a STH. Putting all the fringe benefits aside, however, let’s just look at which option is cheaper by comparing the STH prices to the prices you could pay on the secondary market (i.e. NBA Ticket Exchange, Stubhub) to get into each game. The spreadsheet below shows a summary-level view of this comparison:

STH High Level

This isn’t an exact science, as the STH prices we’re citing are the cheapest ones for each section, as are the secondary market prices. There is likely to be rather large of prices within a single section. However, it is noteworthy that the STH discount is universally less than 7%, and even negative for the most expensive sections.

These numbers will be disconcerting for incumbent and prospective STHs. When you purchase professional basketball in bulk, you’d hope that you’re at least getting a better deal than the guy sitting next to you who’ there for his one game of the season. It seems that Ted has set the STH prices to purposefully make these numbers line up pretty closely, possibly to put upward pressure on the prices of resale tickets – which routinely undercut Monumental’s individual game prices. Strategically planned by Leonsis or not, at face value, the economics of season tickets are rather lackluster in financial appeal.

Click here for a detailed view of the STH vs per-game price comparison, with a breakdown of the secondary market prices for every home game.

A Tale of Two Markets: If season tickets save you very little money compared to buying tickets on a per-game basis, then why does anybody do it?

Because the costs of admission to the premium games are so high. More than any other American professional sports league, the NBA is star-driven. Moreover, the average sports fan only knows and appreciates the very top echelon of All-Star players, which constitutes only a handful of guys. The result? Rabid demand and extraordinary prices for only the most marquee matchups on the Wizards schedule. Everybody wants to see the Cavaliers and the Warriors, sending the prices for those games skyrocketing.

The table below shows the prices on the secondary market for the Top 7 games by ticket price on the Wizards calendar. Cells highlighted in green show where STH prices constitute at least a 25% saving over individual game prices.

STH Top 7

This is perhaps Monumental’s biggest selling point. A Wizards fan (probably more casual than diehard) wants to see the squad take on the NBA heavyweights, but every time he looks for tickets to one of the good upcoming games, the costs are crazy high. He starts envying the folks who got into these games for a fraction of the prices he’s looking at, and considers signing up for season ticks for the upcoming season.

There is a flip-side to this pricing dynamic, however. It’s true that being a STH gets you a great deal for the most hotly anticipated tilts of the year, but it also locks you into a bad bargain for a larger slew of less stellar matchups. The table below shows the prices on the secondary market for the Bottom 12 games by ticket price on the Wizards schedule. Cells highlighted in red show where individual game prices constitute at least a 25% saving over STH prices.

STH Bottom 12

As you can see, over the course of a season, any money/savings you accrue on the top tier games are wiped out by what you lose/overpay on the games at the lower end of the spectrum. Thus, it’s wiser to get your tickets a game at a time, even if you really want to go to all the expensive contests – you may pay a surcharge for those games, but at least you don’t get stuck with a heavy bill for tickets to games nobody else wants to attend.

Playoff Numbers: If there’s any potentially redeeming quality about the DC12 Club, it’s the cheap access STHs get to the Wizard’s home playoff games. This pitch is what got me to originally sign-up for season membership, and the lack of this benefit after the 15-16 season is what made it a no-brainer not to renew that year. Of course this playoff benefit has to be taken into account when evaluating the worth of season tickets.

The value of the perk is a tricky thing to gauge, however, when the Wizard’s chances for playoff success, and even the identity of their potential opponents, is very up in the air. How many home playoff games will we get? Will it be one series worth or three? Will the series stretch to Game 7 or will be swept out? And equally important, what team will we be matched up with? Any DC playoff ticket will be a hot commodity, no doubt, but there’s a huge difference between the frenzied buzz that would surround a matchup with Lebron’s Cavs and the modest intrigue that we might expect from a first-round matchup with the Pacers.

These things are impossible to know. The best we can do is use the data we have to project the playoff ticket prices, and then keep a close eye on the standings. The table below gives a rough estimate of how much STH access to playoff tickets are worth for a 1st round series against our various potential opponents. Note: These numbers are calculated by STH price minus secondary market price (assuming playoff tickets on StubHub, etc. go for 1.5X the price of the identical regular season match-ups) times an expected 2.5 home games.

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The figures show that there is a very wide range of outcomes. Depending on who we face-off against in the playoffs, and whether or not we beat them, and if we do beat them then who we face-off against next, the yield from the STH playoff access can fall anywhere between minimal and gargantuan. The ideal situation from this perspective would be for the WizKids to fall to #7 to take on the Celtics in the first-round, beat them in six games, and then go on to play the Cavs in a 3-seed vs 7-seed matchup. The nightmare situation would be for the Wizards to get bounced by the Pacers in a first-round series.

You’ll have to decide for yourself what you want to make out of this playoff benefit. You certainly have to take it into consideration, and there is the possibility of it yielding tremendous upside. However, there is so much luck and uncertainty involved that banking on any playoff returns is as good as gambling.

Wrap-Up: In the end, the analysis shows that Wizards season tickets – especially after price hikes – are a poor deal, with the one caveat that a favorable combination of playoff success and lucrative match-ups could potentially push the numbers from red into the black.

For me, though I’d love to be able to call myself a STH, the flexibility and value you get from cherry picking tickets on secondary markets is too good to pass up. Low prices for unheralded matchups are a gold mine for hardcore fans – there’s no such thing as a bad game when the main attraction for you is always the home team. And the ignorance of the average fan means you can score cheap tickets to great games – you mean I can see Anthony Davis, the Greek Freak, and the Raptors all for cheaper than STHs? Yes, please!

Maybe one day I’ll be able to rejoin the likes of the DC12 club. Barring a major price decrease, the introduction of some additional value-add benefits, or the serious potential for a playoff run to the NBA Finals, I don’t see it happening any time soon.

Are Wizards Season Tickets a Good Deal? Here’s a Detailed Analysis

Click here to read the new analysis for the 2018-2019 NBA season.

If you go to a few Washington Wizards games at the Verizon Center, you might discover that there is a peculiar breed of fan. These fans seemingly attend every single game, even the mid-week contests against Eastern Conference bottom feeder. These fans appear to have some obsessive compulsion that mandates that they always sit in the exact same seats at every game. It seems that each and every one of these fans owns the same red Wizards sport jacket, and you might hear them refer to a mysterious society called the “DC 12 Club”. Though all the evidence points to these fans being members of some satanic basketball cult, the truth is that these fans are in fact Washington Wizards season ticket holders.

For most sports fans from the DC area, the idea of a season-ticket holder is probably at best a very abstract concept. It’s hard enough to get folks to attend one Wizards game, so the prospect of willingly signing on to pay for admission to 41 regular season NBA games plus an additional 3 pre-season exhibition games is beyond inconceivable. Even for big Wizards fans, this is a tough sell. Having been a season-ticket holder for two years before opting out after the catastrophe that was last season, I can attest to the fact being a season ticket holder yields no value in and of itself. Individual game tickets, purchased from Ted’s Monumental Sports or elsewhere, get you into the arena just as well as season tickets, and they even grant you access to the very same game. The only rational reason for not buying Wizards tickets on a strictly game-by-game basis is that you expect to receive a quantity discount.

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And yet, Ted Leonsis will soon announce the prices for next year’s Wizards season tickets. For incumbent STH’s, the news compels them to decide whether or not to re-up for another year. For the less-invested fans like myself, this is an invitation to join the likes of the DC 12 Club members.

Is there any sensible reason that somebody would purchase Wizards season tickets? How much money can you actually save? Are there circumstances where it makes sense to make this investment? Is it possible to actually make money of this deal? Let’s take a look:

 

How Much Can I Save With Season Ticket versus buying Individual Game Tickets?

For two years, I had season tickets in Section 117 Row S. These tickets were in the sections behind the basket, which from my experience gave you the best value for your dollar. I was a single grad school student, so I had plenty of time to attend games and no one to answer to about my how I spent my money. Still, like even the most ardent fan, I didn’t have the time nor the finances to attend every home game. So I attended about a third of the games and sold the rest of the tickets on the secondary market, trying to strike a balance between attending good games and recuperating a decent amount of my costs. Being a business student, I of course tracked what I paid versus what I made back, to gauge if the season ticket deal made sense for me going forward.

This current season, after a second consecutive year of price increases for my seats, is my first one back to buying tickets one game at a time. Still, I’ve been tracking what the prices are in my old section for each game on the secondary markets (I buy on NBA Ticket Exchange), versus what I would have paid for a year’s worth of tickets. Those numbers are in the spreadsheet below.

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What you might be surprised to see by looking at the above table, is that in reality, there is a quantity surcharge instead of a quantity discount that came with buying Wizards season tickets this past season. Simply put, Ted Leonsis priced his tickets above market value. You could have bought two tickets for every game individually and saved $175 as compared to signing a deal for season tickets. That’s without even taking into consideration the fact that in all likelihood you’d have zero interest in going to many of these games, chiefly three worthless preseason games.

Regardless of what combination of games you wanted to attend, it was always cheaper to buy those tickets individually. STH overpaid for the majority of this year’s games. To put this into perspective, here is a lineup of Wizards games you could have gone to for $1,250, less than a third of the STH price: Raptors, Hawks, Rockets, Cavaliers, Suns, Spurs, Magic, Nuggets, Bucks, Hornets, Timberwolves, 76ers, Trailblazers, Grizzlies, Celtics, Pelicans, and Thunder. Even if you threw in the outrageously overpriced Warriors game, you’d still have paid only 40% of the STH price.

Luckily for fans locked into this deal, the game against the Golden State Warriors and two versus the Cleveland Cavaliers helped make the returns more favorable. Tickets for just those three games on the secondary market went for $1,100, a full $800 more than STH paid for them. On the flipside, it’s hard to be okay paying one-hundred dollars for a Monday night tilt against the Sacramento Kings in November when the guy sitting next to you paid only twenty-eight bucks.

 

How Will Likely Price Increases Figure Into the Equation?

Seeing how Ted Leonsis raised Wizards season ticket prices even in the midst of last year’s miserable season, it’s a near certainty that he’ll continue to up the prices now that the team is experiencing success once again. For season ticket holders that’s obviously bad news.  Now, it might make logical sense that a better team should translate to higher ticket prices, at both the individual game and full-season level. However, the truth is that the relationship between on court success and fan support for basketball in DC is not so perfectly linear.

The Verizon Center has lousy attendance, and we’ve seen in the past that not even a deep playoff run is going to do much to change that. If the median market for individual game tickets does see a bump, it will probably be offset by lower prices at the highest end of the spectrum. Resale prices this year for the Warriors game are astronomical, due to the intrigue of seeing Kevin Durant in his first return to DC since joining the Bandwagon team of the moment (who btw we should boo mercilessly). But those tickets priced should come back closer to Earth next year when that novelty wears off a little bit.

All in all, any raise in the price of season tickets are probably going to mean a worse deal for season ticket holders. Every extra dollar you pay for season tickets is probably just one more dollar that you’re overpaying.

 

What About Buying Season Tickets and Selling Them?

Based on regular season games, you should not try to do this. You’ll be able to accomplish this, you just won’t make any money.

The figures in the chart above are what buyers pay for tickets on the secondary market. The amount that sellers make is typically, at best, twenty percent lower once the selling platform takes out their fees or commissions. So that $4,075 figure that I could have paid for individual tickets would translate closer to $3,200 for the people who sold those ticket. You don’t a business degree to know that that is not a good return on investment.

 

How Do Playoff Tickets Play Into the Picture?

Considering the numbers in the chart above, it probably seems like a no-brainer that Wizards season tickets are an all-around terrible idea for fans, right? Well no, not exactly. There is one season ticket holder perk, really the only one that has any value at all, that can potentially alter the balance of this equation: guaranteed tickets to this year’s home playoff games. Those fans that commit to the full slate of next season’s tickets (sorry all you current STH’s, you get nothing) receive the privilege of buying tickets to all of this year’s postseason games at a low, fixed price. For the lower level sections behind the basket, that fixed price has historically been somewhere between $45 and $65 per ticket depending on the round, which is considerably less than what these playoff ticket will go for on Stubhub, NBA Ticket Exchange, etc. when the Wizards hype starts really rolling.

Since we’ve been defining the value of season tickets by the difference between what season ticket holders pay and what one pays on the secondary market, these cheap playoff tickets make a season ticket package more attractive. Depending on who the Wizards match up with in the playoffs, how many home games they get in each round, and how deep they ultimately go, it is possible that this playoff ticket perk will yield enough value to actually make season tickets worthwhile. If nothing else, this perk offers enough to make you take a second look. Here are some estimates for how much playoff tickets in my old Section 117 could be worth versus what they’ll cost DC 12 Club members:

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What is the Final Verdict?

So what’s the final verdict on whether or not Wizards season tickets for next season will ultimately be worth the investment? Well, like most things in life it depends. In this case it depends on how far you think the team is going to make it in the playoffs. If you think the team is doomed for a first-round disappointment, then you can easily rule against season-tickets (then again, if you think this is how our season ends then you’re obviously not a real fan, so why would you even want season tickets?). If you think the Wizards will repeat recent postseason history by winning the first-round and then fizzling out in the second, then you probably still want to stay away from season tickets. That result will bring you some value as compared to buying individual tickets, but certainly not enough to warrant having to start making payments now for tickets to games months down the line.

However, if you are bullish on the team and foresee them charging into the Eastern Conference Finals to challenge the reigning champ, then this season ticket package is almost too good of a deal to pass up. A series against Lebron and Kyrie, one of the greatest to ever do it and one of the most overrated to ever do it, will be the biggest sporting event of the moment, not to mention possibly the biggest ever in DC. Watching those games would be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and getting those tickets for cheap will save you a pretty penny if you go to the game, or make you one if you opt to sell. The numbers show that Wizards season tickets derive their value from the chance to buy playoff tickets for cheap. Therefore, this purchase decision is one that needs to be made on a year-by-year basis, depending on the team’s postseason prospects. If you paid for membership for the DC 12 Club last season when there were no playoff games to attend, you got hustled big time. But if you’re thinking about buying them for the upcoming season, it could actually be a good deal.

In the end, the question isn’t necessarily are Wizards season tickets are good deal, but instead how far do I think this team will go this season and am I willing to bet on that? For my part, being a diehard Wizkids fan and eternal optimist, I’m already trying to figure out how I can explain to my wife why we need to spend thousands of dollars on basketball tickets.

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.

How Can We Build Up the Wizards Fan Base?

As a huge Wizards fan, I was quite discouraged to hear that one of the reasons Kevin Durant never considered DC as a viable free agency destination was that he felt the team lacked fan support.  Of course, there is a very obvious person to blame for the team’s failures in the free agency market.  Still, KD’s reported sentiments strike an insecurity that all true Wizards fans have: that our fanbase is pretty weak.  The Verizon Center is routinely half-empty, our franchise player is chronically underappreciated, and the fans themselves are often regrettably apathetic.  It seems you can’t go to a game and cheer for the Wizards without having to yell over a contingency of fans from the road team.  Nights like Kobe’s final game in DC highlight this unfortunate reality, and the home record speaks to the lack of any realized home-court advantage.

As tempting as it may be, nothing will get solved by wallowing in self-pity or hunting for a culprit to blame.  Instead, we should be productive and proactive in rebuilding the culture around being a Wizards fan.  We have to take it upon ourselves to foster the growth of this fanbase into one that free agents want to play for and opponents are scared to play against.  In that spirit, here are some strategies that Ted Leonsis and the core group of passionate Wizards fans can employ to build a stronger fanbase:

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Appropriate Season Ticket Prices: Okay, so this one is squarely on Ted.  Perhaps the most important variable in determining how many Wizards fans fill the arena is the price of season tickets.  And recently, season tickets prices have risen to levels that are clearly above market value.  After my first season as a ticket holder, I saw that the price increases following the 2015 season resulted in many of my fellow Section-117 plan holders opting not to renew.  After the most recent price hikes, even I couldn’t justify buying a season’s worth of tickets from Monumental when I could get individual game tickets on secondary markets for a fraction of cost.  Based on how many times Monumental extended my renewal deadline, I have a hunch that there will be a more dramatic drop in season ticket holders this upcoming season. Obviously, this attrition means that many of the most tenured and ardent fans are going to be replaced with more empty seats, or worse, bandwagoners in Cavs or Warriors jerseys.

Of course, Ted is running a business and he has to make money.  The marginal success the team has experienced over the past few years and the growing popularity of the league overall certainly justify some increase in ticket prices.   But prices above market value are hard to justify, especially when they come at the cost of lower attendance by the team’s most enthusiastic fans.  Ted, who has a vested interest in maintaining a base of loyal, repeat customers, should meet season ticket holders halfway.  Fair prices will allow more devoted Wizards fans to come more games, creating a better atmosphere in the stadium.  This will help develop a home-court advantage that results in a better team, which will drive fan interest, which will ultimately yield more demand for Wizards tickets.  In the end everyone benefits: Leonsis, the players, and the fans.  But it all starts with Ted setting the season ticket prices back at an appropriate level.

Special Cheering Group/Sections:  One of my biggest gripes against Wizards fans is that as a group we’re very subdued.  John Wall infamously commented that the fans seem to get more excited about free chicken sandwiches than they do about a win.  And if you are somebody who likes to cheer loudly and heckle the opposing team (me), quite often you’ll find yourself the recipient of reproaching glances from your neighbors.  We need to redefine the code of etiquette for attending a Wizards basketball game.  To do that, I propose starting a Designated Cheering Section.

This idea is not all unique; it comes from supporters of the University of Maryland Men’s Soccer team who started a fan club called The Crew.  The club started in 2003 with a small group of students who would sit behind the goal, loudly heckling the opposing goalie and raucously cheering on the home team.  The group quickly grew in size and sophistication, coordinating outfits and organizing chants.  The result has been a spike in interest in the team and a long standing reputation for one of the best home field advantages in college soccer.

We should bring this idea to the Verizon Center in the form of a few sections, preferably behind the basket, where fans are encouraged to cheer, yell, and heckle opposing players.  Obviously, fans are encouraged to do this all throughout the arena, but these sections would be reserved for the loudest, rowdiest, and most energetic fans.  Putting all these fans in the same section will allow them to feed off of each other’s energy, and also to coordinate chants and jeers.  These sections of boisterous fans will lead the rest of the arena in rooting for the team while teaching casual fans the proper way to cheer.

The Cheering Section would start small, but it will grow quickly as other fans see how much fun it is.  Passion is a contagious thing.  And once fans have yelled and screamed their support for the WizKids, they’ll probably find themselves more invested in the success of the team.  As the group of cheerleaders grows, signature chants, norms, and traditions are sure to develop and embed themselves in the culture of the team. Hopefully the end result is a more lively and intimidating home crowd and a few more Wizards wins at the Verizon Center.

Own the Wizard: I, like many of my fellow fans, think that “Wizards” is pretty silly moniker for a collection of world class athletes.  But I figure that if we’re not going to change the name back to the Bullets, then we might as well take ownership of the name that we do have.  That’s why my friend and I went to last season’s home opener on Halloween dressed as Wizards.  As in actual wizards; with hats and beards and a staff that got confiscated by security.  It was incredibly silly, but it was one of the best times I’ve had at a game.  I think the team should encourage more things like that.  We have a weird mascot, so let’s have fun with it.

For starts, every year the game that falls on or closest to Halloween has to be costume night, where everyone comes dressed up as their favorite Wizards.  This past year I was Gandalf, but let’s fill the stands with some Harry Potters and Hermione Grangers and Merlins, etc.  Bonus points for wearing a jersey over your costume.  Next, we should build out G-Wiz’s backstory.  He must be some sort of wizard, but what kind of powers does he have, what kind of quests has he been on, what the hell species is he?  Someone needs to answer these questions.  And one more suggestion: Since the NBA is making new alternate jerseys each year, can we get something wizard inspired?  Like maybe the team can warm up in hooded cloaks for a couple games.

Bandwagon Shaming: Among the worse symptoms of the Wizard’s underachievement this past decade is that we have a lot of bandwagon fans in DC.   It’s easy enough to understand where they’re coming from: they haven’t had a home team to root for in the NBA playoffs so they pick another team to support.  Still, it’s pretty lame when they just pick the best team to root for, and even more shameful when they’re rooting for those teams against the home squad.  We need to call these fugazi’s out.  We need to remind everyone that the only fans that get respect are loyal fans.  We need to shame the bandwagon fans clogging up the Verizon Center.

The Wizards were one of the first teams to get into bandwagon shaming, with the Bandwagon Cam on the jumbotron a few years ago.  I say let’s take this a step farther.  Let’s rig the nightly seat upgrade promotion so that a Warriors groupie wins, but then let’s upgrade them to the last row in the 400 section.   Let’s raise the stake on the Bandwagon Cam and show losers in Cavs jerseys on the jumbotron with the nerdy Snapchat filter.  Let’s send G-Wiz out into the stands to prank clowns wearing LA Clippers gear.  Or we can give a kid in a KD jersey a chance to play someone 1-on-1 for a prize, but then have him faceoff against one of our D-League players.  This may sound like a harsh way to treat these confused fans, but the truth is that we’ll be doing it for their own good.

Bonus Thoughts:

-A Wizards branded sports bar near the Verizon Center that fans have a place to come for road games or before and after home games to kick it with other fans.  Maybe they can set it up so that every now and then players will roll through after the game to interact with fans.

-Let people send SnapChats to the team and pick a few of the best ones to display on the jumbotron or the CSN broadcast.

Bring back G-Man.

-Fire Ernie Grunfeld!

 

Mr. Brightside: Reasons To Stay Positive Despite a Gloomy Season

Even though the Wizards aren’t yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the current mood of Wizards fans is somewhere between depressed and suicidal.  Everywhere you look, on #WizardsTwitter, Facebook fan groups, Wizards blogs, or the team subreddit, fans are calling for the heads of management, threatening ending their fandom, and writing off our young stars. This is understandable after a season that started with great expectations but is ending with large regressions.  Even I, who recently put out ideas for coping with the pain, am having trouble not hopping on the bandwagon of dismay.   But I think it’s gone too far.  Being a fan is supposed to be about having fun.  And there’s a risk that this negativity will carry into next season and divide our fan base.  So in the interest of sending out some positive vibes, here are some reasons we Wizards fans should still be looking on the bright side:

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Washington Wizards’ John Wall, left, and Bradley Beal poses for a photographer during NBA basketball media day at the Verizon Center in Washington, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

We have young stars: John Wall will be 26 at the start of next season and Bradley Beal will be 23.  Both players have a lot of room to grow, but they also have time to get there.  Hopefully after this year of disappointment they’ll attack the offseason with a invigorated spirit and come back next season as better players and leaders.

We’ve been through much worse: In times like these it’s helpful to have some perspective. This season has surely been letdown, but at least we have expectations at all.  Just a few years ago, our season was over before the All Star break each year and there was no reason to watch a Wizards game in April except for Shaqtin A Fool moments.  Personally, I’d rather experience a disappointment than be numb to losing altogether.

Next season will be the pivotal year: Ernie’s plan (if you can call it that) was always to position the team to make big moves this summer.  This past season was a bridge year.  Obviously, it would’ve been better to win in the interim, but at least there’s hope that we bring in a few big name free agents and arm the team for next year.

We still have great playoff basketball to watch: There’s nothing better than watching your team in an NBA playoff series.  But if you can’t have that, the next best thing is competitive and interesting playoff series.  With the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, and Cavaliers, there are surely going to be some good games to watch and riveting storylines to digest.

This is a short list and I’ll admit that it was hard to even come up with these four things to be positive about.  Still, the point is that we should stay positive and enjoy our team.  We’re not moving on to the playoffs like we expected, but can still have fun pulling for our squad in these last few games.  I have seats in the section behind the Wizards bench for the final game against Atlanta, and I was seriously tempted to come with a sign calling out Randy and prepared to boo.  But that’s not the type of fan I want to be.  Instead, I’m bringing a positive attitude and a sign to congratulate John on a good individual season.  That’s what we’re supposed to do as fans: be supportive of our team through the good AND the bad.

 

How to Cope With the End of Another #soWizards Season

After another heartbreaking and incomprehensible loss last Friday, it is time for us Wizards fans to accept our inevitable fate.  In a few weeks’ time, we’ll be watching our team’s performance in the draft lottery rather than in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  The first step to recovery is acceptance, and while we may have been trying to delude ourselves into believing we could turn things around, it’s better to now move on and begin the healing process.  But after a season of anguishing over every win and loss, how does a fan flip the switch from passionate engagement to indifferent detachment? In my experience this can be extremely difficult, especially when there are still games left to be played.  Here are some tips for dealing with the pain:

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Don’t dwell: Again, the first step to recovery is accepting the facts and admitting that you’re powerless to control the situation.  So, even though the Wizards aren’t yet mathematically eliminated, and even though Detroit still has a tough schedule to close out the season, we have to come to terms with the fact that we’re not making the playoffs regardless.  Even if we do miraculously go on an 8 game win streak, we all know that’s just a setup for us to lose by 30 in the season finale and miss the playoffs by a game.  It’s better to move on now then to keep tormenting ourselves with revitalized hopes that only turn into dashed dreams.

Along with this, it’s important not to dwell on how close we came or how things could have been different.  Sure, a handful of made free throws here or there could have us in the driver seat for a playoff spot.  But reminiscing on those close calls isn’t going to change the box score, and will only serve to torment you further.  Instead, let it go; clear your mind of what could have, would have, or should have been.

Look For Silver Linings: Another key to staying positive despite the abysmal results of this season is to look for a silver lining.  In the case of the Wizards, the biggest positive of this season will be us firing Randy Wittman.  Wittman has done a good job in resurrecting the team from being the laughingstock of the league, but the time has come for him to go.  The players clearly are no longer responding to him, and the team is underachieving under his guidance.  While Wittman has been a good stopgap, the team will never reach its ultimate goal with him at the head.  Had the Wizards made the playoffs, Ted Leonsis might have convinced himself that three consecutive postseason berths warranted keeping, or worse yet, extending Randy’s contract.  From that perspective, if the cost of getting rid of Randy Wittman was missing the playoffs, then maybe this poor season was worth it.

Retroactively Revise Your Preseason Projections: Comparing where the Wizards are now to where we thought they’d end up back at the beginning of the season puts into perspective how much of a colossal let-down this year has truly been.  To minimize your misery, it’s probably best to wipe these expectations from your memory, or even go a step further and misremember them as being lower.  Looking back through my Twitter feed, I honestly thought this team would win 51 games this year, a heart-breaking fact.  For purposes of consoling myself, I’m changing that number to 41.  Now, looking from the through the eyes of a fan expecting 41 wins, this season wasn’t such an epic failure and only moderately disappointing.  I’m feeling better already.

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Conveniently Forget  How Much Trash You’ve Talked:  If you’re like me, you talk a lot of trash to other NBA fans during the regular season.  All year long I was bragging about every win, telling everyone how much better the WizKids were than their team, and insisting we’d turn the season around despite our poor record.  Now that our season is effectively over, it’s time to do a complete 180: keep quiet, avoid any basketball conversations with those same fans you shit-talked, and pretend like you never cared in the first place.  There’s no good comeback when your team is losing, so it’s best to keep your mouth shut.

This season, my good friend and Hornets fan has been a primary target of shit-talk. Every day I had a smart comment for her about Jeremy Lin’s stupid hair or an insulting hashtag.  But now that they’re surging and we’re sucking, she’d be lucky to get two words out of me about NBA basketball.  I’m just going to lie low and wait until next season tips off, when I’ll be right back running my mouth off in her ear with several months’ worth of new jokes and insults.

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Look to play spoiler: Now that we’ve fallen dramatically short of our aspirations, the only way to still watch Wizards games without being completely depressed is to root for our team to ruin other teams’ aspirations.  If we can’t have things, then no one can.  Root for upsets, spoilers, and streak busters.  This gives us a reason to stay engaged in rooting for the Wizards to win these last few games.  And the more bitter we can make other fan bases, the better.  Let’s embarrass Kobe in one of the final home games of his career. Let’s end the Warrior’s home win streak and hurt their bid at the regular season record.  Let’s spoil Blake Griffin’s return to the Clippers.  Let’s keep the Hornets from winning home court advantage for the playoffs, and then let’s do the same thing to the Hawks.

Enjoy Clearance Sales on Merchandise: The end of the season is always a good time to buy team apparel and merchandise for cheap, and with the Wizards missing the playoffs we can expect especially good sales.  Retail stores in DC don’t routinely stock up on Wizards gear, and they’ve only recently increased inventory now that football is over and the NBA playoffs are almost set to begin.  But with our season coming to an abrupt halt, retailers are going to have to offer massive discounts to sell off their Wizards stuff to clear their shelves in time for Nationals season.  As fans that support the team even when they’re not trending, this is an opportunity to pick up Wizards swag for pennies on the dollar.  Just try not to buy gear branded for players who might not be here next year.

Attend the Last Home Game and Bring a Good Sign: The regular season home finale is always a fun game to go to.  But when your team is certain to miss the playoffs, attendance at this game is essentially mandatory.  There won’t be Wizards basketball for six plus months, so take advantage of this final opportunity to watch the team.  Being at the final game also lets you get some closure on the season.  This is where you demonstrate your love (or hate) for different stakeholders in the organization.  I’ll be there to boo Randy Wittman one last time during his introduction, and to give John a standing ovation when he comes out of the game for the final time this season.  What will make this experience even better is bringing a well-constructed and carefully thought-out sign that sums up your feelings to the whole stadium.  Personally I’m working on several ideas (stay tuned for more.)

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This Wizards season sucked.  That’s plain and simple and there’s no other way to look at it.  The only thing we can do is make the best of what we’ve been given and squeeze whatever fun we can out of these last few games.  These steps won’t make the season any less depressing, but they’ll help us Wizards fans come to grips with our sad reality and move forward.  Until next year, when we’ll probably do the same thing all over again.