Washington Wizards: Why You Can’t Blame The Fans For Lack Of Support


Washington Wizards: Can You Blame The Fans?

The Washington Wizards lost to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night in what should be viewed as an on-court failure of the Wizards to capitalize on momentum that should have carried over from the win versus the Cleveland Cavaliers the night before.

Instead, it will be remembered as the night that Kobe Bryant fans took over the Verizon Center, outnumbering supporters of the home team and even booing Washington’s own all-star point guard along the way. It was an embarrassing look for a franchise that was considered on the rise heading into the season as a goodbye to an NBA legend created the perfect storm to bring into focus a problem that has plagued the Washington Wizards’ franchise; the fan base stinks.

This is not a question but a statement of fact.

Would Washington Wizards fans support the team like the Golden State Warriors’ fans did during the down years and create the best home court advantage in the NBA? Would Wizards’ fans fill up a Jurassic Park 10,000 deep to watch Round 1 action of the playoffs like Toronto Raptors fans do? The simple answer is: no.

Washington fans couldn’t even fill up the Verizon Center for a series clinching home game last postseason in Game 4 versus Toronto, a non-sellout.  The common excuse is that this is a melting pot with too many transplants from other cities. If that’s the case, how were the Atlanta Hawks able to turn things around and create a home court advantage in a similar market (aided by the Kia 6th man section)?

So it’s simple; the fans stink and they are to blame, right? Wrong.

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The Washington Wizards/Bullets have been a second tier franchise in the NBA landscape for over three decades.

The Wizards have not won 50 games in a regular season since the 1978-1979 season.

As the NBA took off with Magic versus Larry followed by His Airness, the Wizards were mired in mediocrity, lacking in relevancy during a period of time where the NBA was thriving.

During the entirety of the 1980s the Bullets peaked at 43 wins and a loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 1981-1982.

The 1990s somehow were even worse with SIX sub-30 win seasons and the lone playoff appearance consisting of a three game sweep at the hands of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The 2000s were better, with Michael Jordan spending two years in a Wizards uniform, quickly followed by the arrival of Agent Zero.

All in all, the results were improved but modest with 3 .500+ seasons and one appearance in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Injuries, age, bad draft selections (see Kwame Brown) and controversy were a dark cloud over what could have been a signature turnaround period for this franchise.

For large portions of this 30 year stretch, the Bullets/Wizards sold out games by marketing the opposing teams.  Susan O’Malley made it an art form; marketing the stars of the opposing teams to bring fans into the arena, and it worked.

The Capital Centre/US Airways Arena routinely sold out when high profile opponents came to town.  The arena was full of basketball fans who came to watch the opponent and in doing so also witnessed mediocre basketball from the home team first hand. These fans became NBA and basketball fans versus fans of the “LA Clippers East”.

There was a constant during this period though. When the stakes were high and the Bullets/Wizards showed any signs of life, the fans were quick to throw their full support behind the home team. I witnessed this when Chris Webber was traded to Washington. Before #KD2DC there was the Fab 2. The acquisition of Chris Webber was a signature move that had this area buzzing.

The Washington Bullets at that time, pulled off a trade to acquire the reigning NBA rookie of the year and star of the famed Fab Five, and oh by the way reunited him with Juwan Howard. This was breaking news on all the channels and I recall the late George Michael stating to the effect that this could be the first step towards a championship for this franchise.

The Webber-led Bullets made the franchise’s first playoff series in eight years in 1997 versus the Chicago Bulls.

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The first round was a best of five series back then and by the time the Wizards’ arrived, they were one loss from an exit.

That didn’t stop the fans from filling the US Airways Arena and creating the loudest home-court I’ve witnessed as a Bullets/Wizards fan.

Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman were loudly and organically booed throughout the night.  The fans were behind the upstart Bullets and the energy in the arena was off the charts.

Fast forward to the 2004-2005 season and after another seven years of missing the playoffs, Gilbert Arenas was leading the now Washington Wizards in a playoff series versus the Chicago Bulls (yet again).

This version of the Bulls lacked the star power of the Michael Jordan Bulls, but nonetheless it’s a premiere franchise with a strong following.  That didn’t deter the Wizards fans though, as they created a helluva home court advantage that helped erase an 0-2 deficit and resulted in four straight wins for the good guys, including three at home.

The problem with both of these eras in Bullets/Wizards history is that in the end they failed to live up to their potential and what could have/should have been sustained period of significant success turned into “What Ifs”.

When Ted Leonsis took majority control of the Wizards and was lucky enough to win the 1st selection in the 2010 draft lottery, there once again was hope that things can finally turn. Those hopes turned into three years of embarrassment as many of the Wizards’ young core of draft selections for the most part failed to develop and became known for a comedy of errors along the way.

The last two years have shown improvement as the roster has been cleansed of the knucklehead factor and the team was back in the playoffs. The Wizards improved and came into this season coming off two straight seasons where they advanced to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  The hope was after 44 and 46 win season they were ready for the next step.

Instead the Washington Wizards are once again hovering close to .500 and much like the last two seasons, teams that the Wizards should be competitive with have bypassed them and are doing things in the regular season which the Wizards aimed to do.

In 2013-2014 it was Toronto taking the East by storm and securing the 3rd seed and last season it was the Atlanta Hawks winning SIXTY games and taking a division title which the Wizards were aiming for after the departure of LeBron James from the Southeast Division.

With the Wizards stuck in the 40ish win territory that has defined the peaks of this franchise over the past 30 plus years there the fans frankly don’t seem all-in. Routinely over the past several seasons and highlighted in yesterday’s loss to Kobe and the Los Angeles Lakers is the complaint from players, media, and those in the arena that the support for the players currently playing for the Wizards isn’t there. The noise started this year prior to Kevin Durant’s visit to the District and was on continued with newfound momentum last night.

The question I have, however; is how can you blame the fans for wanting more and not having the patience to sit through what they’ve seen for 30 years? The diehards will be there but why should the casual basketball fan care about a team that hasn’t shown the ability time and time again to take the next step.

The colors have changed back to what the fans love and the slogans are nice but until the Washington Wizards do something on the court to make people believe that they’re on the cusp of greatness, how can you blame the fans for being more interested in saying goodbye to Kobe Bryant on a Wednesday in the middle of December?

It absolutely STINKS for John Wall and Bradley Beal who aren’t responsible for what happened in the 1980s and 90s but that’s the burden they assumed when they were drafted by this organization.  If they want it to end there is one simple solution: WIN!

Create a culture of winning (BIG) and in doing so create that following they saw come out and support Kobe Bryant last night. A living legend came to town last night to play the Wizards, but that living legend was on a 2-win team.  The Wizards had an opportunity to make a statement and thoroughly outclass Kobe and the Lakers while perhaps creating some new fans of their own, but once again their on-court mediocrity reared its ugly head.

If the players and ownership want to change the fan base it has to start with changing the culture of mediocrity and lack of relevancy that has defined this franchise for more than three decades.

Ownership also while not responsible for what occurred for the better part of the past few decades holds responsibility. Outside of the draft lottery working in the Wizards’ favor in 2010, what signature move have they made in nearly six years in charge?

Next: The Lack Of Hometown Support In Washington Is Troublesome

The colors have changed back to what they should be, the slogan is nice, and a practice facility is on the way but what’s the signature basketball move? What makes visiting the Verizon Center unique? People have come and gone but at a front office, coaching, and roster level, there hasn’t been that one move that made people stop, take notice and say WOW.

Until that “WOW” moment happens, how can you blame the fans?

John Cannady recently argued that the lack of fan support is concerning — supporting a differing view from Oz.