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.

Fan Challenge: Who’s Got the Dopest DC Basketball Jersey Collection?

Yesterday I got a new John Wall 2016 All-Star jersey in the mail in time for the last home game of the season.  That brings my collection to nine jerseys, most of which I think are pretty dope.  This got me thinking, what Wizards fan out there has the best DC-exclusive jersey collection?  Check out my growing collection below, and let’s see who can top it.

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Jersey Descriptions: (Clockwise from top right corner)

John Wall Home White– This is the obviously the cornerstone of any fan collection: the home jersey of the franchise player.  I got this badboy as a Christmas present from my parents back when the team first changed its colors.

Kevin Durant USA– The #KD2DC dream isn’t dead yet! I’ve worn this jersey to two OKC games at the Verizon Center and pretty much every Fourth of July since 2012.

John Wall Rookie Road Throwback– I wasn’t a big fan of these colors, but you can’t go wrong with a jersey from John’s rookie season.  This one is a good choice for a Throwback Thursday.

Wes Unseld Bullets Road Mitchell & Ness– These are my favorite jerseys in the franchise history.  The blue on these is super clean, the Bullets logo is fresh, and it’s a throwback to the team’s one championship trophy.  I was really lucky to find this jersey for cheap o Ebay.

John Wall 2016 East All-Star– This team has one All Star, so it’s cool to give him props by rocking his All-Star jersey.  The jersey itself is not terribly good-looking, but this one is clearly better than John’s 2014 and 2015 All-Star jerseys, which were hideous and bland, respectively.

JR Wizards Rec League(reversible)- I’m not exactly sure where I got this.  I actually think my mom bought this from a thrift store or else it was handed down to me from a cousin.  In either case, I’ve been balling in this for years and like to pretend that I played for the JR Wizards Rec League.

Michael Jordan Wizards Road– Like every other male my age, I was obsessed with MJ as a kid.  And when he came to the Wizards is when I really became a fan of the team.  I got the jersey along with tickets to my first NBA game for my birthday when I was in sixth grade, and I probably wore this once a week for the full year following that.  Today, I have mixed feelings about Jordan’s legacy as a Wizard, but it’s almost required to have for any Wizards jersey collection.

Nene Brazil National Team– To be honest, this is just a generic Brazil jersey and it’s not even Nene’s number when he plays for the National team.  But nobody knows that, and I’m going to get his name screen-pressed onto the back anyway.  This is going to be a great wear if we ever get a game on St. Patty’s Day and when I visit my classmate in Brazil.

Chris Webber Bullets Road– Chris Webber doesn’t have much of a legacy as a Wizards player, but he actually was one of my favorite players when he played for the Kings.  This jersey is pretty good looking too with the bright red.  I had a choice of picking up Webber’s jersey with #2 or #4.  I went with #2 as a homage to the WallStar.

Next Up:

My next jersey purchases (if my fiancé doesn’t read this and stop me), is a Marcin Gortat Road jersey, a Bradley Beal alternate blue jersey, and a Gilbert Arenas Zephyrs Throwback.  After that, I’ll feel like I have a pretty complete collection.

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