On local sports talk radio, I frequently hear that DC isn’t a basketball town. This assessment could not be further from the truth. The truth is it isn’t a Washington Wizards town. Despite the efforts by guys like Wizards radio play-by-play man, Dave Johnson, the city hasn’t embraced Washington’s pro basketball team. Johnson and his partner, Glenn Consor have created what they call the Radio Party. During Wizards’ games, you tweet about the game using the hashtag: RadioParty and you get a shout out from Johnson/Consor. A clever idea that has taken off among some in the region but hard, negative perceptions by fans are a hard nut to crack.
The fans in the city use the same excuses each year. They will say that there’s no way this team can win a championship but if that’s truly a criteria, why is the hockey team in this town supported the way that it is? Some have demanded that Ernie Grunfeld get fired before they’ll start believing in the team. I’m not here to say whether someone should or shouldn’t keep their job but Grunfeld’s presence isn’t any different than former Caps GM, George McPhee. And some just think the Wizards are losers. All of the excuses are poor ones.
What makes this even more confusing is how the fan base in Washington DC get their panties in a bunch when players on the local teams root for a team outside of the city. There was the anger towards both Bryce Harper and John Wall because they root for the Cowboys yet these same fans don’t come out and support the Wizards. The biggest cheer in the arena is usually for the chance to win a Chik-Fil-A sandwich if an opponent misses two consecutive free throws in the fourth quarter or overtime.
Oh, and it isn’t just the fans. The Washington Post doesn’t even mention the Wizards 120-101 win over Portland on its online sports section front page. You have to go specifically to the Wizards page to see the score and article. “Above the fold” you have stories about the Redskins, Capitals, Warriors/Cavs and Cowboys/Packers. To be fair, the Washington Times online sports page have the Wizards at the top of the page.
The Wizards started the season of very slow. Well, to be honest, you could say very, very slow. It’s difficult to get behind a team that starts out 2-8, even with an 82 game schedule but that has long past. The Wizards have worked their way to a 21-19 record and more importantly, they have won 12 straight at home. That’s not a typo folks, 12 STRAIGHT with subpar fan support. The Wizards have fought their way to second place in the Southeast Division just 2.5 behind the Atlanta Hawks and they now sit tied for 5th in the Eastern Conference.
The organization has a true NBA star in John Wall. Wall is on pace to have career highs in both points per game and shooting percentage. In the month of January, he’s averaging 20.4 and 10.5 assists per game. Wall plays with the passion that any fan base would love. It would be easy for him to look at his numbers and say “I’m doing my part” but he plays with a chip on his shoulder because he wants to change how the city views the Wizards organization.
The oft injured Bradley Beal has stayed relatively healthy and is on pace to average over 20 points a game for the first time in his career. His 41.2% from the 3-point arc is a respectable 21st in the NBA especially when you consider how prevalent the 3-point shot has become. It also doesn’t hurt to have him fouled at the end of games as he sports an 81.5% free throw percentage.
New coach, Scott Brooks, has not only found a way to have a system that has produced potential career seasons for Wall and Beal but he’s also developed Otto Porter. The whispers of Porter being a bust have always been rather unfair and shortsighted. This is Porter’s fourth season in the league and he’s starting to blossom. He’s shooting over 50% for the first time in his career. He’s averaging 14.1 points a game which is impressive when you consider how ball dominant the backcourt is. He’s a glue guy who can defend, rebound and make that hustle play that all good teams need in a tight game.
It’s time to turn the page on Wizards history the same way the city did for the Washington Capitals. There is no reason not to support a team that not only is going in the right direction but also has a roster full of likable players. The biggest letdown of the season hasn’t been the product on the court, it’s been the lack of support off it.