I wanted to take a moment to sincerely thank the Washington Wizards for the joy they have brought into my life, specifically over the last two weeks. Just when we all thought we’d be in for a lull after seeing the Redskins and Capitals eliminated in hard-fought first-round matchups, they found a way to come out and one-up everyone else in town.
The Redskins started their season slowly and then hit a crushing low point in the middle of the season when their best player, Sean Taylor, was murdered. Follow that up with Hall of Fame head coach Joe Gibbs bungling away the end of the Buffalo game by trying to call back-to-back time outs and everyone wrote them off for dead. With their backs up against the proverbial wall, the Redskins rallied to end the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league and snuck into the playoffs on the final day of their season. Unfortunately, once the playoffs started, it looked like the guys in burgundy and gold had “shot their load” getting to the postseason, and they weren’t able to make it past round one.
The Capitals, sensing how much the nation’s capital ultimately enjoyed and appreciated the ‘Skins rollercoaster of a season, decided to follow a similar script. They started out slow and found their low point in late November, when they fell to dead last in the NHL standings. Coach Glen Hanlon ultimately lost his job and career minor-league coach Bruce Boudreau was called in to run this doormat of a squad. Well, just about the time everyone wrote them off for dead and their backs were to the wall, the Caps got hot and, just like the Redskins, closed out the season as one of the hottest teams in the league.
On the final day of the regular season, they were able to not only sneak into the playoffs, but somehow steal the division title away from rival Carolina. And just like the Redskins, the Capitals instantly became the talk of the town. Suddenly, people who thought icing was what goes on a birthday cake were sporting Alex Ovechkin jerseys and Mike Green-inspired mohawks as the Caps headed into the playoffs. Unfortunately, once again, the good guys weren’t able to make it past round one.
Now let’s look at the Wiz. They definitely had an up and down regular season. They got off to a predictable slow start, and hit their low point when All-Stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas missed chunks of the regular season due to injury. Right around then, people would have written them off, but the Eastern Conference is so pitiful teams with losing records make the postseason. For that same reason, no one took them (or any other Eastern Conference team outside of Boston) seriously until they started to rack up quality wins over teams like the Celtics, Mavericks and Hornets. They headed into the postseason with a first-round matchup against the Cleveland LeBrons for the third straight year and the “experts” were actually picking them to win this time around.
After a rocky start to the playoffs, in which James was allowed to take four steps any time he went to the rim and a quick whistle followed any time King James felt a stiff breeze, the Wizards looked done. But instead of going away quietly, we’ve been treated to the most entertaining first-round bout in the history of the NBA playoffs.
DeShawn Stevenson, who has been in the league since 2000, has made a name for himself nationally as the guy least impressed with LeBron James, calling the superstar “overrated.” When Charles Barkley questioned the tactic, DeShawn basically said, “shut up, old man. We’ve got it.” Following suit, Brendan Haywood has grown tired of LeBron, mimicking him for crying to the officials any time he comes in contact with a Wizards player. Backing up their stance off the court, both players have been assessed technical fouls for roughing up the NBA’s golden child.
And we haven’t even mentioned that Soulja Boy and Jay-Z have become focal points during the madness. Soulja Boy sat courtside in a Stevenson jersey in D.C., so Jay-Z helped the LeBrons respond by cutting a track specifically designed to put Stevenson and friends in place. Seeing how out of hand things were getting away from the court, veteran leaders Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler have basically locked down the locker room, telling their teammates to pipe it down and let their play do the talking (which worked in a Game 5 win in Cleveland). Obviously, I disagree with this strategy.
If I were calling the shots, Gilbert Arenas would have said “Well, if you’re Jay-Z and DeShawn is Soulja Boy, then I’m Nas,” and put in a phone call to Jay-Z’s chief rival in the hip-hop world. If nothing else, the Wiz could comes out to Nas’ hits like “If I Ruled The World” or “Street Dreams” which would be good for me. Come on fellas, this feud could be epic. Sure, it would drive both NBA commish David Stern and Wizards owner Abe Pollin to an early grave, but I guarantee it would be the biggest story on the sports page for the foreseeable future.
And the best part is, all of this came seemingly out of nowhere. This is the fourth consecutive year the Wiz have made the playoffs, but the first of those four seasons in which the players have lost their damned minds. Stevenson, who up until this series was best known for a beard-growing competition, has openly embraced the Paris Hilton mentality of “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Haywood up until this series was only referred to in these parts as “Brenda” or “The Guy Who Fights Teammates in Practice,” has earned a place in the Wizards’ rotation, and in the hearts of Wiz fans for having the stones to stand up to basketball royalty. And Gilbert will always be Gilbert.
Admittedly, this is a severely flawed team. They still settle for jump shots, get out rebounded and are careless with the basketball far too often to be considered a legit championship contender. But honestly, none of that matters these days. They’re finally worth the price of admission, if for no other reason than to see what they do next. For that, we are grateful.
Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter, and still doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.