- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2000

Listen up, you long-suffering fans of the Bullets/Wizards.

You think it is simple. You think your team has done something terribly wrong to be where it is now, intractably linked as it is to the NBA's draft lottery each spring. You cite the evidence one playoff appearance in the '90s and the principal culprits: Abe Pollin, Bob Ferry, John Nash and Wes Unseld.

But now you sense hope, if only because Michael Jordan makes good commercials.

Nothing against Jordan, but this franchise has been stuck in the NBA's spin cycle in the last generation not because of incompetence in the front office but awful luck.

Starting with Jeff Ruland, the franchise has been hit with megadoses of bad karma.

Ruland, for instance, started to break down physically just as he was emerging as one of the premier centers in the NBA. His injury-plagued career hit the downward spiral at age 26.

John "Hot Plate" Williams is the franchise's other haunting figure of the '80s. He, too, had superstar qualities. He, too, succumbed to injury, then to immaturity and a weight condition. As hard as it is to believe, Williams would be only 34 years old today. Jordan won his last NBA title when he was 35 years old.

Kenny Green and Tyrone Bogues, the two heavily criticized first-round draft choices in the '80s, were hardly the franchise-killing picks they were made out to be. The franchise hit the tank in the '90s largely because of the circumstances involving Ruland and Williams, two potentially long-term solutions.

The franchise appeared to be on the verge of extricating itself from the gloom of the '80s with the Chris Webber-Tom Gugliotta trade in 1994, but Webber, unfortunately, believed he was misunderstood and the victim of an area-wide police conspiracy.

Webber, not Ruland or Williams or even the $105 million Juwan Howard, is now the figure who torments the franchise.

Yet it is not just tough in Tony Cheng's neighborhood. It is tough all around the NBA.

In the last 20 seasons, only seven of the NBA's 29 franchises have won a championship. That comes out to 24 percent.

The breakdown goes like this: the Bulls six titles, the Lakers five, the Celtics three, the Pistons and Rockets two each and the Spurs and 76ers one each.

Each of these championship teams featured at least one special performer: Jordan and the Bulls, Magic Johnson and the Lakers, Larry Bird and the Celtics, Isiah Thomas and the Pistons, Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets, Tim Duncan and the Spurs and Moses Malone and the 76ers.

The championship teams in the '80s were more complete than the championship teams the following decade. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was Johnson's equal. Julius Erving was Malone's equal. Kevin McHale complemented Bird. Joe Dumars complemented Thomas.

Expansion diluted the talent in the '90s and lowered the NBA's championship bar.

The 1994 Rockets are arguably the weakest team to win a championship in the last 20 seasons. Other than Olajuwon Clyde Drexler did not join the fold until the next season the Rockets were mostly a collection of glorified role players.

Otis Thorpe was the No. 2 scorer on that team. The team's other key players were Vernon Maxwell, Kenny Smith, Robert Horry, Mario Elie and a young Sam Cassell.

Patrick Ewing and the Knicks, not Olajuwon and the Rockets, probably would have won the championship in 1994 if John Starks had not shot 2-for-18 in Game 7. It was the second time in the series Starks had shot the Knicks out of a game after he went 3-for-18 in a Game 1 loss.

The Spurs might be the luckiest of all the champions. They landed Tim Duncan with the No. 1 pick in 1997 only after David Robinson missed all but six games of the season and the Spurs limped to a lottery-ready 20-62 record.

The NBA is a cyclic enterprise, with the good cycles dependent on good health and good luck. The Bullets/Wizards have had neither in the last 20 seasons.

By the way, how about those Bulls? They have a history, too, and Jordan is only part of it. The franchise did not claim its first championship, in 1991, until its 25th season of existence.

In the two seasons since Jordan's retirement, the Bulls are 13-37 and 17-65.

The Two Jerrys, Reinsdorf and Krause, didn't suddenly become dumb, did they?

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