How The Wizards Discovered Their Identity as the Most Unlikable Team in the NBA

How The Wizards Discovered Their Identity as the Most Unlikable Team in the NBA

Tracking the NBA off-season as a Wizards fan is a horrible way to waste the summer. While fans of rival teams get to debate whether they won the big trade and brag about their marquee signings, the high points of our summer are borderline satirical press conferences introducing players that haven’t moved the needle for three-plus years.

Considering the low benchmark set over summers past, most Wizards fans weren’t too surprised by this off-season’s underwhelming moves – we’ve come to grips with the fact that Ernie will only ever acquire a key piece if a no-brainer draft pick falls in his lap. What was curious, however, was that our personnel moves seemingly failed to add one thing that’s been glaringly missing from this squad: an identity.

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Every team with title aspirations plays with an understanding of what they do well and what their approach to winning will be. The Rockets fire up either a layup or a three in 7 seconds or less, the Celtics are stocked with lengthy wing defenders, and the Warriors start five All-NBA players. The Wizards, on the other hand, slogged through last season unsure of who they were and how they wanted to attack. Are they a bad good team or a good bad team? Great question. Are they three-point shooters? No. A fast-break team? Not really. Hard-nosed defenders? F*** no!

The Road to Self-Discovery

So, while on paper the team should improve by replacing Gortat with the center he used to come off the bench for, and substituting Jodie Meeks with literally anybody, it was disappointing that those additions didn’t readily clarify the team’s strategy going forward. What transformational skill-sets do Austin Rivers and Dwight Howard provide other than making fans feel icky about rooting for the players on their team? What new dimension was added aside from the looming possibility that these fiery personalities will combust an already-volatile locker room? The short and obvious answer is … nothing.

Aside from some new window dressing, the Wizards executives are running it back with more or less the same team that underperformed all last year – at least at first glance. When you take a step back, however, you’ll see that these personnel decisions add up to more than a simple cosmetic cover-up. Instead, they fit a well-established pattern, one that has become so entrenched in how this organization does business that it’s time to admit it’s become a core element of how this franchise operates. The Wizards didn’t find their next great superstar this summer, but they did discover their one true identity: the most unlikable team in the NBA.

Soul Searching – How Did We Get This Way?

Culture is established at the upper echelons of an organization, from where it filters down through the ranks. Where the head goes, the body follows. Near the top of the Wizards organization is Ernie Grunfeld, the most irredeemable and unapologetically incompetent figure in Washington sports. The only man above him on the executive ladder is Ted Leonsis, whose NBA resume includes entire sections dedicated to trolling bloggers, endlessly raising ticket prices, and refusing to fire Ernie Grunfeld. Together, this tandem has frustrated their fans for years. If you were required to describe the pair in a single word, you’d be hard pressed to find a better adjective than “unlikeable.” Is it any surprise, then, that after a decade-plus under Ted and Ernie’s stewardship, that this franchise has been exactly that?

The evidence suggests that if the players have established a collective reputation as being loathsome, it’s because they’re taking cues from their leaders. The owner and GM trumpet their own mediocrity, the team does the same. The owner and GM rebuff accountability, the players do the same. The owner and GM lose focus over the course of the season, – you get it by now. And now, with the addition of a couple fan least-favorites, the team is doubling down on being the NBA grouches.

If the Roster Fits.. 

Perhaps it’s a bit harsh to our players to label them as the most undesirable collection of talent in the league. It’s pretty incredible though, once you start to think about the team in this context, how well this roster lends itself to such a scheme. Suddenly, everybody’s role makes sense in a way that it never quite has before. Don’t believe it? Take a look for yourself:

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John Wall – John is the preeminent disgruntled All-Star. Who else grumbles as much about what other guys are getting paid, or the fact that he doesn’t get billboards, or that his 2K rating doesn’t meet his expectations? This mean-mugging, gang-sign throwing, spoon-feeding Point God is the anti-Kyrie; the star that hasn’t received his due and isn’t afraid to let everyone know it.

Bradley Beal – With the divisive Wall taking so much flack by himself, you’d think Beal would be universally revered. Instead, he’s taken his fair share of heat for bold comments, poor leadership, and selfish late game play. Then, with John out, he showed he could take the lead on starting drama by starting the “Everybody eats” controversy.

Markieff Morris – Kief, already one of the most T-ed up players in the league, says he needs to add even more “bully ball” to his game. What more needs to be said here?

Otto Porter – Otto is somehow simultaneously the quietest person on team and the most unliked by the team’s stars. With his huge contract, he also creates more disagreement among fans than anyone else on the squad.

Dwight Howard – Dwight is, without doubt, the most hated player in the NBA. Playing on his sixth team in eight years, is there anyone in the league – players, coaches, media, refs – with something good to say about this locker room cancer? Not to mention, Dwight led the league in technical fouls by a wide margin. This addition is the one that pushes the Wizards to the extreme on the unlikability scale.

Austin Rivers – First Rivers incited the entire Houston Rockets to hunt him down in the underbelly of the Staples Center. Then, his own father gave up on him and shipped him out of town. Ouch, this guy must suck to be around.

Kelly Oubre Jr. – Kelly went up against the notoriously dirty Kelly Olynyk in the 2017 playoffs and somehow managed to come out as the less-likable Kelly O.

Tomas Santoransky – It was hard to find much to fault Tomas for last season. He made key contributions and always had a great attitude. In fact, he might’ve been the most likable guy on the team. Maybe that explains why he dropped out of the rotation come playoff time.

Ian Mahinmi – Mahinmi actually seems like a really nice guy – he’s always flashing his big smile, he gives back to the community, he dresses well. Regardless of all this, he’ll always be hated by Wizards fans for suckering Ernie into giving him the worst contract in Wizards history.

Jason Smith – Jason is constantly heralded as one of the best teammates in the NBA. Obviously, he therefore never plays.

Be Who You Are and Be It Well

Having established that Wizards are ready to be the most unlikable team in the NBA, is this transformation something we as fans should actually be rooting for? If the alternative is to continue slogging on as a faceless and toothless underachiever, then yes, absolutely.

The Wizards had a maddeningly uneven year last season – overperforming when they should’ve been overmatched, but then dropping countless games to inferior opponents. A big portion of that inconsistency can be attributed to the team’s identity crisis. The squad’s approach and source of motivation changed from game to game and consequently their intensity level and production fluctuated as well. A commitment to being unlikable may not be the tactic that yields the most feel-good storylines or aesthetically-pleasing basketball, but at least it is a defined tactic.

The Wizards’ record should be markedly better this year simply by virtue of eliminating the emotional instability and role confusion that sprouted from a lack of self-awareness and led to many of last season’s worst losses. From there, it’s not too hard to envision how this newfound identity will translate to a team mentality and style of play that generates more wins:

  1. The Wizards won’t be the most prolific offensive team nor the stingiest defensive one, but they will surely be one of the most physical teams. We’ll see a lot of hard fouls, a good deal of technical fouls, and a fair number of scuffles as this team looks to get in peoples’ faces and under their skin. While that strategy may make for some ugly basketball, it will also keep our team engaged and focused – a consistent problem in years past – for four quarters a game and 82 games a season.
  2. The Wizards are going to talk a lot of trash (per usual) and will hopefully finally back it up for the first time (this would be new).
  3. Like last year, they’re going to be gunning for all the teams anointed as better (i.e. Celtics, Sixers, Warriors) than them and will show up to those high-profile games ready to play.
  4. Unlike last year, they’ll have extra motivation to fuel them to play angry against typical trap opponents (Hawks, Hornets, Suns). Almost a quarter of the schedule will be revenge games for Dwight against his former teams.

In all likelihood, there was nothing strategic or deliberate about the front office assembling the repugnant cast of characters into a team. Still, they appear to recognize what they’ve stumbled upon and are excited about how it will play out for the upcoming season.

On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether the fan base will get behind this new-attitude team. There’s a very real chance that this experiment goes south quickly. That being said, if the Wizards fully embody this identity of being the most unlikable team in the league, they’ll surely give the fans something to like.

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.

Polish Hammered: Gortat Among Most-Blocked Players in the NBA

Polish Hammered: Gortat Among Most-Blocked Players in the NBA

There have been a lot of frustrations so far this year with the lackluster play from the Center position for the Washington Wizards. It’s the weakest position on the team by far and, amazingly (or depressingly), that hole in the roster is costing us $34 million this season.

Particularly disheartening is watching Marcin Gortat, the so-called “Polish Hammer,” constantly throwing up Charmin-soft bunnies that routinely get hammered back into his face. You’d think that getting someone so big the ball within a few feet of the hoop would be an automatic deuce, and yet, this season, it’s been just as likely to result in a fast-break the other way. This trend has earned the starting 7-footer a collection of dirty looks from the Point Guard, incredulous to see a beautiful set-up vanish into thin-air. No doubt, this has fueled the tension and discord between John Wall and Gortat that has disrupt the team’s cohesion this year.

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The low-point was during last week’s Wizards-Raptors game when Gortat caught a pass in the lane, turned towards the basket, and had his shot capped by six-foot-nothing doughboy Kyle Lowry. After that embarrassment, I decided to take a closer look at the numbers to confirm that the stats validated what I was seeing. They did.

Here are the league leaders at getting rejected, in terms of percentage of shots they put up that get blocked (min. 250 FG attempts):

Blocked Attempts

There’s Marcin Gortat at number 4. It make sense for there to be a lot of centers at the top of the list, since they take a look of shots in the paint, where the rim protectors roam. But interestingly, among the other Centers near the top of this list (e.g. Capela, Howard, Whiteside), Gortat is the only one who averages less than 10 PPG. A big reason for that? He’s going to the free throw-line far less often, probably because he goes up so soft with the ball.

Conclusion: If Marcin Gortat, perpetually salty about the love he gets from the team and fans, wants more respect, than maybe he should get tough again and start banging on people’s heads rather than trying to get by on his not-skilled-enough finesse game.

Should John Wall and Bradley Beal Stick to Sports?

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

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

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

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Social Responsibility

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

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

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

Stay Authentic

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

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

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

What’s Your Message?

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

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

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

Do Your Homework

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

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

A Unified Front

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

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

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

Do Your Job First

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

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

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

John Wall Press Conference/Get John Wall His Goddamn Billboard

Earlier today, the Washington Wizards held a press conference to formally announce the signing of All-NBA guard and franchise cornerstone John Wall to a supermax extension that locks him in as the foundational piece of DC professional basketball through at least the 2021-2022 season. With no disrespect to running mate Otto Porter, the Wall news was the marquee free-agency headline and the one that re-energized Wizards fans’ title aspirations in an otherwise uneventful and borderline disappointing summer.

 

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It can’t be understated how monumental (no pun intended) signing the WallStar to that extension was for this team.  We’ve seen a franchise cupcake use free agency to join the biggest bandwagon in sports (KD), another perennial star traded for nickels on the dollar before the get the chance to leave (PG13), and on the very same day that the Wall news broke, a more-hyped but less-talented point demand an exit from the situation that gift-wrapped him a ring and three straight trips to the Finals (the flat-earther from Duke).

 

A similar exit by John Wall would’ve had far more devastating effects on the franchise that drafted him. When you have a shallow roster and a GM who’s best move was lucking into the #1 pick after a season of unintentional tanking, it’s a safe bet your team is going to be pretty miserable for years to come if you lose that #1 guy. That’s why Wizards twitter was getting anxious when John didn’t sign the extension right away and we were forced to endure a litany of hypothetical trade proposals and Wall2LA conspiracy theories from obnoxious Celtics fans. Personally, the thought of this team without it’s WallStar was enough to send me into a miniature existential identity-crisis that forced me to fathom a future where I no longer pledged allegiance to the #DCFamily.  Fortunately for me and all the Wizards faithful, John quelled all the doubts and proved his commitment to the city by signing on to lead this team for the foreseeable future.

 

In his press conference today, John said a bunch of things that he’s said before, but that we were still more than happy to hear him affirm: “This is the team I want to be with for the rest of my career and I won’t stop until we get to hang a banner in the rafters.” With John in the fold for the long-term, and Eastern Conference rivals on the decline, us Wizards fans are for the first time feeling confident enough to consider that a championship in the nation’s capital could be a realistic possibility. Considering where this team was before the franchise savior arrived, the $170M Ted Leonsis will be paying over the life of the extension to retain his point god might be a steal.

 

This week, another Wizards blog wrote a piece chronicling the Wizards journey over the last ten years. It was a good piece, but it could have been summed up quicker. The Wizards sucked, they lucked into John Wall, John got better every year while making his teammates better each year, Wall helped establish the Wizards as a contender, John Wall kept Wizards championship hopes alive into the future by signing his supermax extension.

 

I know I’m coming off as a John Wall fanboy, but at this point it’s impossible to be a Wizards fan and not be. That isn’t a bad thing; there are much worse people to rep than a guy that shows loyalty, gives back to his community, and puts the city on his back. Today’s press conference was a celebration of that: a four year extension of the privilege to don jerseys with the number 2 stitched on the back, to hashtag tweets with #WallStar and #WallWay, to chant “MVP” at the Verizon/Capitol One Center, to enjoy and be proud of D.C. basketball.

 

Today, John Wall solidified his commitment to bring another Larry O’brien trophy to D.C. The only question that still remains as pertains to John Wall’s legacy in the district is where is his goddamn billboard? 

 

Back in early 2016, John was feeling under appreciated and marveled at the lack of exposure he was getting. “I was everywhere (in Kentucky),” Wall said. “I ain’t got no billboards in D.C.” Well, Ted Leonsis, can you please give this man the billboard he wants? 

 

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The temporary mural he shared with during the playoffs with backcourt mate Bradley Beal was nice, but I think we can all agree he needs something a bit more permanent. How much can a billboard possibly cost? Doesn’t the Verizon Center have space on an external wall that can be spared to honor the player that dominates inside the building? Shouldn’t the Verizon center just be named the John Wall center and turned into one giant billboard? Shit, John Wall needs five billboards, one for each All-Star appearance. Plaster his face on the Washington Monument, and then update the alternative logo to match. Come on Ted, get the man his billboard.

 

John Wall gives the team the cache to get media attention and nationally televised games.  He produced the most memorably triumphant playoff moment in the last 40 years of the franchise. He already has the franchise record for assists and steals, and by the time his extension expires he’ll probably also be the leader in points, and regular season games played. The man could retire today and go down as the best player in team history. 

 

Now, somebody get this man his goddamn billboard already.