- The Washington Times - Monday, April 26, 2021

Bradley Beal only has one memory from when Michael Jordan played for the Washington Wizards. Beal recalled watching the all-time great’s vicious two-handed block on forward Ron Mercer to help seal a win over Jordan’s former team, the Chicago Bulls.

Even then, however, the details are hazy. Beal can’t quite remember if he saw the play at home or at a friend’s place. Nor does he know if he watched it live or on a replay. 

But you’ll have to forgive him: Beal was only 8 years old at the time. 

“I hated he came back and played,” Beal said, “because I always wanted him to be — no offense, D.C. — a Bull for life.”

Beal and the rest of his Wizards teammates may have been too young to remember Jordan’s years in the District, but by winning eight games in a row, they’ve now recorded the franchise’s longest win streak in 20 years — last accomplished when Jordan and Co. rattled off nine in a row in 2001-02. 

To put that in perspective, Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” was the top song in the country at the time. “CSI” was the most-watched show on television. There was only one “Lord of the Rings” movie, “The Fellowship of the Ring,”  and it was the No. 1 film in theaters — remember those? 

Back in 2001, Daniel Gafford, Washington’s trade deadline acquisition who has helped the Wizards make huge strides defensively, was barely 3 years old. 

Gafford, even more so than Beal, could hardly remember Jordan’s Wizards stint. After Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Gafford scrunched his eyebrows together and looked side-to-side as if to ask, “Michael Jordan played for the Wizards?” when asked about his memories of “His Airness” in the District.

“Wait, no, I do have a faint memory of him, seeing certain plays of him being with the Wizards” Gafford said. “I just really don’t fully remember of how long he was with them. … I had to kind of think back.” 

For the record, Jordan was with the Wizards for two seasons. Of course, Jordan will always be known as a Bull — and when ESPN aired “The Last Dance,” a miniseries about Jordan’s career, last year, Jordan’s days with the Wizards went completely unmentioned.  Granted, Jordan’s tenure with Washington came on his last legs, having already retired twice before. 

Winning eight straight, on the surface, is hardly extraordinary. The streak pales in comparison to all-time runs like the Lakers’ 33 straight, the Heat’s 27, the Warriors’ 24. This season alone, five other teams have won at least eight in a row, according to Basketball-Reference. The Utah Jazz have the best record in the NBA this year in part because of an 11-game win streak in January.

But this is mostly new ground for the Wizards, especially this crop of players. Beal said he sees the streak as a “blessing,” though admitted he was disappointed that Washington had been unable to make a similar run over his first eight seasons with the franchise. The closest Beal got was when the Wizards ripped off seven straight in 2017.

“I’m a little frustrated in that realm because we’ve had some really good teams here,” Beal said. “But at the same time, just staying with it and seeing where we are now versus the beginning of the year — a lot of teams basically counted us out and said we wouldn’t be too much of nothing. 

“It means even much more to know we’re duking it out and getting it done this way.”

Beal, of course, was referring to the Wizards’ awful start to the season. Coaches and players tried to remain positive, but the Wizards were derailed by a COVID-19 outbreak, injuries and poor play that put Washington into a hole for much of the year. 

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said the lowest point was when Washington fell 15 games below .500. Incredibly, that was just three weeks ago in early April — when the Wizards fell to the Toronto Raptors on April 5. 

But now, the Wizards (27-33) have gained so much ground in the standings that they are actually two games ahead of the Raptors and the Chicago Bulls for the last play-in spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington is also just three games back of the injury-plagued Charlotte Hornets for the eighth seed with 12 games still to go. 

Washington can match the Jordan-led Wizards streak if they beat the San Antonio Spurs on Monday. And if the Wizards do that, they can set a franchise record with 10 straight if they can also beat the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

“It means a lot to be part of history and to be in this position,” Beal said, “but looking in hindsight and what we’re trying to accomplish, we’ve still got a lot of things to improve on in a short amount of time.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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