- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Excuse me please if I’m not jumping up and down about the Washington Wizards belatedly opening their season the day after Christmas. Or even twitching.

Remember how Lucy used to sulk in the “Peanuts” comic strip about suffering a post-Christmas letdown? Frankly, I’d rather spend Monday in the “returns and exchanges” line at Walmart or Costco than watching Flip Saunders’ poor little team that couldn’t stagger out to meet the New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn) Nets at Verizon Center.

Not that I hate the Wizards or the NBA, you understand. When the old Bullets won their only championship in 1978, I was as excited as the next native Washingtonian. It’s just that Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Bobby D. and the rest of that gritty gang seem like figures from practically a prehistoric past.

Putting it bluntly, I’ve wasted far too many years personally and professionally watching terrible teams stumble, bumble and grumble. In recent decades, the Bullets/Wizards have been among the worst — and considering that the Redskins haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 1991 season and no Washington baseball team has won a World Series since 1924, that’s quite a non-accomplishment.

Let’s look at the record(s), as Al Smith, the former presidential candidate, not the outfielder, used to say …

Over their past three seasons, the Nationals are 208-267 (.437) and the Redskins 15-31 (.326).

Over the same dismal span, the Wizards are 68-178 (.276).

I rest my case.

Older basketball buffs might tell their kids or grandkids that the Bullets made the NBA Finals three times in five years from 1975-79.

The kids and grandkids might laugh their fool heads off — and then, upon Googling the subject, reply that two of those teams were embarrassed in the Finals. Against Golden State in ‘75 and Seattle in ‘79, the Bullets won exactly one of nine games. Talk about ominous portents.

Postseason collapses were nothing new even then for Washington basketball teams. Back in 1947, when the NBA still was called the Basketball Association of America, the original Washington Capitols went 49-11 during the regular season and then lost four of five against an outfit called the Chicago Stags in the playoffs.

Those Caps had such postwar stars as Bones McKinney, Tom Feerick and Fat Freddy Scolari. You also might have heard of their leader, a former D.C. high school coach named Arnold “Red” Auerbach.

Unfortunately for their few loyalists, the Caps folded midway through the 1950-51 season, leaving Uline Arena at Third and M streets NE to circuses and ice shows and leaving the nation’s capital without pro basketball for more than two decades. The dusty old facility, renamed Washington Coliseum, did have one more significant moment when a group of British rockers made their U.S. debut there in 1964. You might have heard of them, too — the Beatles.

Conversely, you might not have heard of many current Wizards now that Gilbert Arenas and his handgun collection are elsewhere. The club made a literal big deal this week of re-signing guard Nick Young, which figures since he was its leading scorer last season at 17.4 points per game. However, Young doesn’t figure to make people forget Michael Jordan — or even Eddie Jordan, who somehow coached the club to four consecutive playoff appearances before GM Ernie Grunfeld canned him three years ago.

Eddie Jordan is coaching at the District’s Carroll High School, a move horse racing people might describe as moving up in class.

Aside from Young and the immensely talented John Wall, the Wizards‘ current roster is replete with folks who might not be household names even in their own households. It looks like another long, cold winter on NBA fronts hereabouts, so what else is new?

But after last season’s 23-59 horror show, diehard fans can harbor reasonable hope of improvement thanks to the recent lockout. Because each team will play only 66 games rather than 82, the Wizards could show an eight-game improvement if they just win the same number of games and finish 23-43.

In that case, it would be easy to pick this forlorn team’s Most Valuable People: NBA commissioner David Stern and players association executive director Billy Hunter, whose bickering and snickering through the 149-day lockout led to the shortened season.

Thanks, guys.

For more of the author’s columns, go to dickheller.wordpress.com

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