I Attempt to Cheer You Up, Big-Time
There were a lot of smiles at Wiz practice, but also a lot of hushed voices. Weird vibe. I talked to DeShawn for a minute, asking about his t-shirts (more on that later) and about his injured buddy. It almost made me cry.
"Sad, man, sad," he said softly. I asked if things could get worse. "I mean, losing our star player who averages 30? It can't get worse than that," he said.
Like I said, it almost made me cry.
"It's hard to swallow," a grim Antawn Jamison said. "Very difficult, to know that we had something special going on until injuries came in and kind of messed some things up."
I quoted Caron Butler below, but it's a great quote, so I'll repeat it: "You start feeling good about yourself, and then everything goes wrong," he said. "I'm telling you, we don't need a weight room, we need a preacher."
But then I chatted with Roger Mason Jr., who quickly, and wisely, discounted my funeral analogy. This, he reminded me, was no funeral. Was this the worst week ever for this franchise, I asked?
"What do you mean?" he said. "Things can always get worse....I mean, we're disappointed, our two best players are out, and that sucks," he said, "but at the end of the day you can't mope about it."
"Are you guys depressed?" I asked.
"Nah," he said. "Are you guys depressed?"
"I'm a little bit depressed, yeah," I said.
"I mean, it's disappointing for sure," he agreed, "but what's it going to do to be depressed about it?"
Really. He's right, of course. How will depression help? It's spring time. Andray Blatche will be back on Monday, and he's promising to do whatever he can to lift his teammates. DeShawn has thousands more "Can't Feel My Face" t-shirts that he plans to give to fans. Susan O'Malley admitted she reads my blog. Things aren't that bad. And so I decided it would be my job today to undepress myself, and to undepress you. I talked to Cal Booth, asking him if he would go home and be sad.
"Go home and be sad?" he repeated. "No, no, no.... [I'll] get something to eat, spend some time with the kids, watch TV, laugh a little."
He already watched "Lost" on DVR from last night, but he said maybe today he'll set in on season three of Entourage. You see? Not depressed. I asked Michael Ruffin the same thing.
"I typically don't get depressed," he said. "I try to focus on something positive. I keep it simple: what choice do we have? All we can do is come out and play tomorrow."
But what really got me feeling better was going to the re-launch of Abe's Table. Abe's Table is a 10-year-old Pollin-sponsored program to feed the needy at Calvary Baptist Church downtown; it was suspended due to renovations at Calvary, but relaunched today. When I walked in and saw BTH in a chef's hat, I knew this would be good for the soul.
"Smells great, I'll make sure I'm here every other Thursday to eat," Susan O'Malley said during the pre-lunch speeches. "We need your good playoff wishes, you hear me?" she told the kids. "How 'bout a little cheer: Go Wizards, Go Wizards, go Wizards."
She danced. Or lunged, maybe. Jolted, perhaps.
"I would have paid to see that," said radio guy Dave Johnson, the emcee. "I got to see it for free this afternoon."
"I'm going to get rhythm next year for Christmas," O'Malley promised.
Then some kids who called themselves SB, Serious Business, came out and performed three raps, all of which involved the Pollins. Like the first lyric of the first rap started thus: "Yeah, yeah, They say Abe Pollin is such a sensation...." G-Wiz danced throughout. Or lunged, maybe. The Wizards sat there, looking stunned. Jamison couldn't stop smiling.
"My favorite line was 'Young knucklehead searching for more," Dave Johnson said when it was over. "I can relate to that."
The players unveiled the Abe's Table logo and everyone cheered. "I think it's time for me to say, 'Let them eat cake'," Dave Johnson said, rather unfortunately.
And then we were off. G-Wiz was at the front of the buffet line, with the plates. Then came Andray Blatche, doling out fried chicken. "I got some legs, some thighs, some wings," he told the kids. "You got breast?" the first kid asked. "I got breast," 'Dre said.
Next was Brendan Haywood, with the mashed potatoes and gravy.
"You want some gravy, yo?" he kept asking. "Yo, can the man get his piece of chicken," he scolded 'Dre, when he got distracted. "Can he get some chicken? You want some gravy, yo? What's up main man, you want some mashed potatoes? You want some gravy sweetheart?"
Then came Antawn Jamison, with the broccoli slathered in cheese sauce.
"You want to be tall like me, you've got to eat your broccoli," he was telling the kids.
"He ain't even that tall, he's only 6-7," BTH interrupted.
"6-7 man?" an incredulous Jamison said. "6-9!"
"Please," BTH said. "You're just trying to get in the paper."
"Hey, write this in the paper," Jamison said a while later, after he had polished off his third tray of broccoli. "I'm the only one with no food left."
It was true. He got green beans to replace the broccoli. That's the kind of leader he is; he can get kids to clean out trays and trays of broccoli. Then came Mike Hall, with the dinner rolls. He had tongs, and was supposed to hand the kids their rolls, but the kids kept grabbing the rolls themselves. "Y'all don't even see the tongs?" he asked them helplessly. Then he made some kids put back their rolls, so he could tong 'em and give 'em back."
Finally came Michael Ruffin and his wife and daughter and Susan O'Malley, with the dessert and the punch. So I went up and down the buffet, asking how Wiz fans could ease their sorrow.
"Look forward to the playoffs," Mistye Ruffin recommended. "We're definitely going to the playoffs, we're definitely going to go further than we've been. We've got a great bench, and it's just time for everybody to step up and show what they're made of. It's gonna still be exciting basketball."
I told Jamison he looked a lot happier than he had when he addressed the media about Gilbert.
"This is what it's all about," he said.
I asked BTH about depression.
"About what?" he said. "Hey man, we're on the ship. If we start panicking, who's gonna navigate it?"
I asked Mike Hall whether he'd go home this afternoon and mope.
"Stop it," he said. "I'm gonna get me a plate and hang out with the youth."
I asked Susan O'Malley the same question.
"I guess this is just an opportunity," she said. "Look at Miami. Dwyane Wade went out and they ripped off eight straight wins. You don't know. That's why we play the games, right?"
But wasn't she depressed at all?
"Oh yeah, I went home last night seriously bummed, but I can't just close up shop," she said. "We put playoff tickets on sale today. I don't know, I still believe....I mean, it's not like you're going to shut down your blog. You're going to keep going, right? Every day is a gift."
By this time, I'm pretty sure I was actually smiling, and looking on the bright side. Maybe James Lang would start up his own blog on the NBDL Web site. Maybe 'Dre Blatche would start throwing his jerseys into the crowd after games; as a matter of fact, he promised me he'd do so at least once. Maybe Susan O'Malley would start visiting The Wizznutzz.
"My sister bought six Tough Juice sweatshirts, with the bottle cap," she said, as joy leaked out of my soul. "Kathy Rogers. Look it up."
You see? Susan O'Malley's sister is buying gear from the Mothering Hut. She found it via my blog. All is well. Every day is a gift.
To prove my point, not a minute later, three girls went up to the buffet line bearing three pieces of paper: "We Need Prom Dates," the papers said. They posed for photos in front of the Wizards.
"Hey ladies, I'm 27," BTH pointed out.
"The young guy's right there," Jamison said, pointing toward Blatche.
"I'll go to all three of their proms," 'Dre said. "I'm only 20 years old."
"Lock your daughters up," BTH said.
"He'll go," Jamison said.
"He'll go for real," BTH said.
The ladies retreated, giggling. Later I found them eating. They were all seniors at Banneker High: April Barnes, Olivia Ngadjui and Tiera King.
"We need prom dates and we thought we might get lucky," April Barnes said. "We'd prefer Gilbert Arenas, but he isn't here."
You see? Is this the perfect metaphor for this day? Three high school seniors, in love with Gilbert. In an ideal world, they'd ask him to go to their prom. But a situation arose. He wasn't here. Other players stepped up to serve the broccoli and cheese and mashed potatoes and gravy. Other players were given the prom invites. They might not have Gilbert's style, but they'll do. I asked the ladies whether they liked the Wizards.
"We'd like them to be our prom dates even better," Tiera said.
I asked if they were worried about Gil's injury.
"Gilbert Arenas is a great player, but our team is good enough, we can keep winning," April said.
I asked the ladies whether they had any advice for depressed Wiz fans. Alicia Montague-Keels, who had earlier managed to hug Jamison, immediately chirped up.
"If you hug 'em, you'll feel a whole lot better," she said. "He smells kind of good. Really good."
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