Were the Wizards Actually Different?
"The swagfest is officially on pause right now." -- Caron Butler
"So many things to remember, so many things to remember." -- Andray Blatche
"It's the end of the season, not the end of the world." -- Antonio Daniels
"You can't wonder, now. I don't really want to dwell on that, what would have happened. That's just depressing. I'd rather think about the happy things." -- Darius Songaila
These Wizards said they wanted to make it to the Eastern Conference finals. Instead, they won fewer regular season games and fewer playoff games than the 2005 and 2006 teams. By any quantitative measure, this season was not a success. For example, here's what Antawn Jamison had to say today:
"Talent-wise, we have the capability of being a 50-win team, but we've never accomplished it," he said. "I'm tired of preaching it. I'm tired of saying if we play defense, or do this, we could win 50 games....Until you actually do it, you're only talking about it. Until we actually get 50 wins and make it to the Eastern Conference finals, this is still a team that is right above .500, and, at the most, past the first round."
It's true. NBA teams are like trees. If you're not growing, you're dying. So in one sense, the last seven months were an utter disappointment. But still, I found them sorta, you know, entertaining. And my question, which I've been asking largely for the benefit of FreeDarko, is whether the Wizards' brand of locker room entertainment was truly noteworthy, or whether the idea of "Wiz as Entertainers" was concocted by fans and bloggers who wanted Gilbert and friends to be as wacky as we dreamed. Actually, "wacky" isn't the right word. "Fun," is all that I mean. Was it actually fun, or did we just want it to be fun? Was this actually something different, or was this just your typical NBA team whiling away the winter?
"No, it was definitely different," Roger Mason said as he left the arena today. "This is the most unique team that I've been around, for sure. This is my third NBA team, and there's no doubt about it. There's nothing like this team."
"You know, in order to have success in the league you've got to have a family atmosphere," Caron Butler said. "And what you do when you go in your house? You sit at the dinner table and eat with your kids, and your family, and your loved ones. You crack jokes, you talk about everything that's going on in life, and that's what we do in that locker room. So to have that, that was special."
Butler said there was a similar feel during part of his tenure in Miami. Jamison said there was a similar looseness during part of his tenure in Dallas. Some of this sounded very much like any-old "we're-one-big-family" athletic pablum. But other players said they had never experienced anything similar.
"No. No. Not like that," DeShawn Stevenson said. "I mean, I've been in locker rooms where you have fun. But not like that."
A few of the TV folks today were asking players for their favorite memories, and most involved the all-star game or Gilbert's buzzer beaters, but for my benefit, Butler later rattled off the stuff I'll remember:
"Watching DeShawn losing a lot of money to Gilbert, all the Hibachi thing, 'Swag,' 'Look at my car'...."
I had to admit that I wasn't familiar with "Look at my car."
"What, you didn't blog that yet?" he said, and then wouldn't tell us what it meant. That's for next year, I guess.
Anyhow, if you're a serious Wiz fan, you probably don't care about any of this. You probably care more that Brendan Todd Haywood and Eddie Jordan couldn't get along, that Blatche rarely got off the bench in the playoffs, that Stevenson and Jarvis Hayes struggled with their shots, that there are eight free agents and plenty of questions, that if you aren't growing you're dying. But there are definitely those of you who agree with Gilbert about sports-as-entertainment, and in that sense, I still say this year was some strange sort of comfort.
"This is a locker room that, it was a relief, you know," Jamison said. "What was going on at your house, or out there on the court, once you came into the locker room, all that stuff was pretty much put to the back burner. And you don't say that too quickly about a lot of locker rooms in the NBA. It was a comedy show, it was drama, it was fun. It was just all in all a great locker room to be a part of. The most important thing, we had fun."
The question I still can't answer is whether the fun came from the winning, or whether the winning came from the fun. Stevenson has been telling people how uptight the team was during the playoffs; "We were all stiff, we need that loose thing," he said today. Stevenson, too, said the swagfest ends for now. I asked about his family members; "If they need it, I'll swag 'em," he said.
Jamison, incidentally, told me about a few of his own eccentricities, although that's my word, not his. For example, he has a massive wheel of athletic tape. He adds a roll of tape to it before every home game. Been doing it since he came to D.C. He denied that was quirky. I asked what he'd do with the wheel when his career is over.
"I'm going to take one of my tires off my Range Rover, clear it out and hope that it becomes a 26 or 24, so I've got three rims and a big roll of tape," he said.
Jamison also told us how much he wants to go out on the Verizon Center ice sometime after practice, how he wants to hit a puck into a hockey goal, how the only stumbling block is that he doesn't know how to skate, and that he'd need size 16 skates.
Also, I asked why his practice shoes said "Fiji," since he'd promised that he'd explain that one when the season ended. After claiming he was hoping to vacation in Fiji, he finally told me.
"It's just water; when you think of water, you think of my jump shot," he said. "When I shoot it, I'm yelling out 'Fiji!' Don't you see the games, man? Every time I shoot a J and it goes in, I say 'Fiji'!"
DeShawn confirmed this piece of information, which was news to me. "I think we made him a little weirder," DeShawn said. Jamison disagreed; "They made me more of a parent than anything else," he said of Stevenson and Arenas. But all in all, Jamison actually did reassure me that the Wiz locker room was what I hoped it was. That made me feel better. It'll be different next year, because everything is always different next year, but that's ok.
Anyhow, there are two last quotes I want to mention. I never wrote about Gilbert's press conference the other day. Bog friend Adrian Wojnarowski killed Gilbert for the performance. But you have to admit that this is a pretty solid quote:
"Everyone knows this is the takeover year," Gilbert said, "and, you know, I took over a lot of stuff."
Lastly, before Andray Blatche left today, someone asked him how much growth he had experienced this season. It's the sort of thing you ask a young player, the day after the season ends, before he leaves the arena, possibly for the last time.
"You talking about height-wise?" Blatche asked.
That's how I feel about this season.
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