- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2014


The Washington Wizards Most Valuable Player is 83 years old, stands 98 feet tall, weighs, 700 tons, is made of reinforced concrete and soapstone and sits on top of a 2,300-foot mountain.

The Wizards 2013-2014 season MVP is the Christ the Redeemer statue in the Tijuca Forest National Park, overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Remember Brazil? The photos of John Wall and his Wizards teammates around the famous religious icon as part of their October pilgrimage to the South American nation?

It was where the miracle of the playoff-bound Washington Wizards began.

“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one, each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.”

The words of Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho ring true for this basketball team. Each day had become a similar one – dreadful. But finally – thanks to a trip to Brazil and a spiritual moment on a mystical mountain – these are different days, and we are paying attention to the miracle of a Wizards basketball team that is fun to watch and not only in the playoffs, but seeded fifth.

You can chose to believe this was the handiwork of general manager Ernie Grunfeld, or the coaching of Randy Wittman – a GM with a record of 356-498 with this franchise, and a coach with a 191-329 career mark who has coached more games than any other in NBA history without making the playoffs.

Or, as Paulo Coelho says, you can pay attention to this miracle.

At first, it seems unlikely to link the Wizards success to an October trip to Brazil – especially since, at first glance, it seemed to be so Wizards-like. They travel to the homeland of one of the best players – arguably, their most important player – Nene, and wind up getting booed by Brazilian fans at the Rio De Janeiro arena for an exhibition game, because Nene had not played for the Brazilian national team.

But by the end of the four-day trip, it was all smiles and good times, and Wittman suggested to the Washington Post that if this team had a successful season, it would be because of this trip to Brazil and the bonding that took place.

“This team, we’re pointing toward the playoffs,” Wittman said “There is no reason, if we can stay healthy, that that should not be done, That being first, this was fabulous. These four days was the most spectacular four days I’ve had in a long time, and I’ve been all over the world. And the way the people treated us . . . is the best I’ve seen. And we had a ball. We were here to work, but we were able to go out and do a lot of things. We bonded as a team, and that’s not something we get to do very often.”

Bradley Beal echoed the notion that this team bonded in Brazil. “I’m pretty glad we’re doing that this year — getting everybody together, getting a feel, getting to know everybody better,” Beal told The Post. “As a team, it brings us closer.”

You could make the case that it was this team-bonding exercise helped develop a personality that this franchise hadn’t seen in decades – an ability to not self destruct when times got tough, such as when Nene went down with a knee injury in February.

This team was 29-28 at the time, a record that was good enough for fifth in the Eastern Conference. But this was a group of players that had gone 8-33 without Nene since the big man arrived in a trade in March 2012. Collapse was predicted, expected and anticipated.

But the team didn’t fall apart. They came together and played well, going 12-9 without the big man in the lineup, and finished with a 44-38 record – maintaining that fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

It wasn’t .easy, for all involved. The statue lost a finger on its right hand in January when lightning struck it. It wasn’t easy getting the Wizards this far.

Now, with a healthy Nene back, the Wizards are ready to face their opponent in the first round of the NBA playoffs – the Chicago Bulls, the team the Wizards just happened to play in that exhibition game in Brazil in October. Coincidence? I’ve got a 98-foot tall statue that says otherwise.

The Wizards did lose that game to the Bulls 83-81.

I wouldn’t expect too many more miracles. I suspect the Bulls won’t be intimidated by mystical mountains, and will take the Wizards hearts out of their chests in, at the most, a five-game series.

After all, they just visited a religious icon in Brazil. They didn’t bathe in the waters at Lourdes.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com


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