Andray Blatche was anxious. After missing more than a month with a strained calf, the Washington Wizards’ power forward finally was making his return to the court. He was ready, as he put it, “to start ballin’ again.”
But his reception from the Verizon Center crowd was less than what he hoped for.
On Saturday, the Wizards hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Blatche was booed the moment he entered the game and nearly every time he touched the ball.
“You hate it,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said as he struggled to find words for the way Blatche is being treated.
“Like I said, the fans … I’d never do something like that to a team I’m rooting for, but that’s their … it is what it is. If you walked into the arena every day and that happened to you, you wouldn’t feel too good about yourself.”
The Wizards won, and for Blatche, it took some of the sting out of the chilly reception. But Monday against the Golden State Warriors, the boos were worse, and so was Blatche’s performance. His game not only was rusty, but tentative, and showed signs that the boos were getting to him.
Rashard Lewis, a 14-year NBA veteran, said he’s never seen anything like it.
“That’s tough, especially being booed in front of your home crowd fans, but he’s got to play through it,” Lewis said. “I think as a team we have to rally around him.”
Maurice Evans, a 13-year NBA veteran, also has seen some disgruntled fans in his time, but like Lewis, said that this a whole new level.
“I haven’t seen a player booed like that, much less at home,” Evans said. “I’ve seen a few guys, seen teams that I’ve been on, [where] we’ve been booed when we’ve given a poor effort. But this is just something [else]. We have got to help him out a little bit.”
Evans suggested that the team use Blatche more in the low post and not have him on the wing shooting jumpers. He said that playing more to his teammate’s strength could improve Blatche’s game and silence the boos.
Ironically, Blatche also stated his preference to play in the post more on opening night and was soundly criticized for the appearance that he was calling out then-coach Flip Saunders.
But with the NBA trading deadline March 15 and Blatche the subject of rumors, the best way for his game to improve might be for him to be playing in a different uniform. Blatche is in the second year of a contract extension, and he’s scheduled to make $35 million for the next five seasons.
After Monday’s game, Blatche let his guard down and admitted that the boos are getting hard to ignore.
“You’re home and people that’s supposed to have your back don’t have your back,” Blatche said. “Instead of encouraging you to get better, they push you down and hope you do worse. It’s not only hurting me, it’s hurting my teammates. I’m just hopefully trying to fight it and overcome.”