Washington Wizards: Lifelong Fan Reflects On Historic 2017 NBA Season

Mar 17, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) celebrates with Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) in the second quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 17, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) celebrates with Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) in the second quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

Washington Wizards are experiencing one of their most successful seasons in the team’s history and a lifelong fan reflected on it.

I was at school and they took us to the library for a book report. I picked up a biography on Moses Malone, back when he played for the Houston Rockets.

Back at home, I would channel flip between the 7 or so channels that were available and I saw Malone playing for the 76ers on DC20 against the Washington Bullets.  Being as young as I was and knowing as little as I did about the NBA, I assumed Moses was playing for a team named the Houston 76ers.

The funny part of it all was it didn’t even occur to me to root for the Bullets because, well, they didn’t have Malone. Then when I was 8 years old, NBC4 had breaking news midday: Moses Malone was traded to the Washington Bullets.  From that day forward, I was invested and was a Washington Bullets/Wizards fan for life.

When you’re a young kid, the thought of division titles and the chance at a championship in the pre-SportsCenter world was different.

Washington Wizards
Washington Wizards /

Washington Wizards

I’d be thrilled if a Bullets game was just televised.

The result didn’t mean nearly as much as just being able to watch the team play.

Over the years, as I started figuring pro sports, seeing the team win became increasingly important.

I recall the Wes Unseld coached teams were admirable.

They competed nightly and always made a run but they lacked to the talent to win games.

Each season would end in disappointment but that despair was quickly replaced with annual optimism as the Bullets/Wizards would approach the lottery.

Unfortunately, the lottery became an annual tease.

In 1992, the Washington Wizards had the 5th best chance at winning the lottery in a draft where Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Christian Leattner, and Jimmy Jackson were eligible to be drafted. The Bullets landed the 6th pick.

In 1993, the Bullets had the 3rd best odds at winning the draft lottery with Chris Webber, Anfernee Hardaway, Jamal Mashburn, and JR Rider (I know he shouldn’t be listed with the other three but I loved his game) were available. Washington dropped the maximum three spots to the 6th overall selection.

My mind would wander during the day and I’d wonder how they could fix their team.

When I’d go outside to shoot the ball, I’d imitate whoever the latest addition to the Bullets/Wizards roster was.  When Michael Adams was in Washington, I’d shoot with his exaggerated one handed stroke. When Calbert Chaney was in D.C., I practiced a left handled pull up floater, even though I was right handed (I never was too good at this shot).

There were some real exciting moments.

The trade for Chris Webber and drafting of Juwan Howard, Michael Jordan coming out of retirement, and the emergence of Gilbert Arenas being the most recent moment, but each ended either prematurely and well shy of expectations.  Each also ended feeling more like a gut punch, but as a fan I tried to turn the page as quickly as possible and wrap my head around what was next.

The Bullets/Wizards had been a non-factor for so long that when asked what team I was a fan of, the look I received when I said the Bullets was one of bewilderment.

Washington Wizards
Washington Wizards /

Washington Wizards

You could see it in their eyes – “why is this dude a Washington Wizards fan?”

If I asked anyone “Hey, have you seen this guy Courtney Alexander play?” they had NO IDEA what I was talking about.

My brothers bore the brunt of it.  If nobody wanted to listen, I could force them to (and I brainwashed them to be Wizards fans).

Fast forward 31 years from when Moses was traded to the Bullets and here we are.

The Washington Wizards have won their first division title since 1979 – the first I’ve ever actually seen in my 31 years of fandom….and it’s special.

A division title is not the ultimate goal for teams in the current landscape of the NBA.

I routinely see people question the need for divisions with the current playoff structure.

The Washington Wizards have won playoff series in each of their two playoff appearances in the past three seasons and you could argue those wins are greater than a division title.  The ultimate goal for this team should be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals and a division title is far removed from that.

That shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment as far as this team is concerned, especially in the context of their past – how last season ended and this season began.

After a disappointing 2015-16 season, an underwhelming dive into free agency, and a slow start to this season, it was fair to wonder if this was the next iteration of the Wizards/Bullets to prematurely hit reset and fall short of expectations.

Then something happened.

The Wizards started winning and winning big.  The Washington Wizards are 40-17 since the start of December, a .702 win percentage.

Over the course of a full season, they’d be on pace for 58 wins.  As the wins piled up, people began to take notice.  Games that you’d expect this team to lose in #soWizards fashion didn’t play out like they normally did.

They handed it to Boston in the Funeral Game.  They have signature wins versus the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers.  They are 17-10 against the Western Conference – best in the NBA.  John Wall and Bradley Beal have each taken a leap – John Wall from all-star to legitimate NBA stardom and Bradley Beal from potential to production.

As a fan who has seen the few highs and the many lows, it’s been surreal watching this with a feeling of satisfaction – a sense that sitting through all of the apathetic seasons are finally paying off.

That sense of pride in what I’ve had the pleasure of watching came full circle with the Wizards’ Southeast Division championship clinching victory versus the Los Angeles Lakers two nights ago.

We all share something in common.

Our Washington Wizards are a factor – a team that through play (and not hype) has forced the basketball world to take notice.  The season is far from over but winning the division title was the first step in what will assuredly be a season we look back at with fond memories.

There are teams whose seasons are defined by post season success.  That’s not the Washington Wizards. This team has accomplished what the franchise and its fans desperately needed – a “look at me now” season.

Next: Breaking Down Possible Wizards First Round Matchups

For me, a 31 year fan of the franchise, I have a team that faced a fork in the road, but unlike their predecessors, found a way to not only stay the course but make a leap and be part of the national discussion among contenders – a team that I can be loud about.