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Lakers crowd comes to Wizards game

A bit o' gold.

There are a lot of empty seats at Wizards games lately. When a team like the Celtics or Lakers comes to town, those empty seats get filled by people wearing the wrong colors. That's a fact of life for a losing team in Washington -- go watch the Nats play the Red Sox or the Cubs or any number of teams. It's also likely a fact of life when you're the Lakers; none of the L.A. media even mentioned the pro-Lakers crowd in D.C. Tuesday night, far as I can tell, and Kobe Bryant himself said it was nothing remarkable.

But the D.C. media noticed. There are too many bad memories tied up in all this for the D.C. folks -- the Bullets' marketing of out-of-town stars, the situation at FedEx Field, the Caps' not-so-distant history, Stan Kasten's open invitation to Phillies fans. So when the visiting crowd is chanting "M-V-P," it will be a story in D.C. There's a shame thing, which the out-of-towners might not immediately recognize.

Flash back to a 1997 WaPo magazine profile of Susan O'Malley, then the team's president.

As the Bullets struggled year after year, excitement associated with the team was close to nil. So O'Malley set about "forcing sellouts," as she puts it. She scrapped a plan that allowed partial season ticket holders to pick any 10 games they wanted. Instead, she picked the games for them, a move that immediately ensured a sizable base of fans for at least a quarter of the home games. She made sure there was a halftime show every night and loud pop music at breaks in the action. She developed a half-hour TV show about the team. And while she found it hard to sell the Bullets themselves, O'Malley sold the NBA. Come see Magic Johnson! Come see Michael Jordan! Come see Larry Bird! The strategy worked so well that at some games, it seemed, there were more Lakers or Bulls or Celtics fans in the arena than Bullets fans -- a fact that annoyed an otherwise-pleased Pollin and later amazed Chris Webber after he was traded to the team.

So with that backdrop, this is what we heard from the local media about Tuesday night's game.

Wilbon: "Half of the 20,173 in attendance at Verizon Center seemed to be cheering for the Lakers. Nearly one-quarter seemed to be wearing Kobe jerseys. "I'm sure they thought that they were playing at home, as loud as it was sometimes," Wizards Coach Flip Saunders said. This, sadly, is again the state of pro basketball in Washington."

CSN Washington: It may have been Wizards scarf night but the Verizon Center was a sea of purple and gold. On a regular night there are plenty of seats available, but this was no ordinary night....Every time Bryant made it to the free throw line the arena erupted into the chant "MVP, MVP, MVP." Keep in mind the Staples Center is 2679.34 miles and three time zones to the west. When asked if he had ever received that much love in an opposing arena Bryant responded, 'Not to toot my own horn or anything, but yeah. Beep Beep.'

Michael Lee: Bryant, who has been slumping of late while playing with a broken right index finger, excited an incredibly pro-Lakers crowd with every made basket. He also heard chants of "MVP! MVP!" nearly every time he stepped to the foul line.

John Mitchell: With all the purple and gold in the Verizon Center, the Wizards probably at times felt as if they were the road team. Whenever a Laker sailed unmolested to the basket, thousands in the crowd cheered robustly. When Kobe Bryant made trips to the free-throw line, he was greeted with chants of MVP. And on one occasion, when Butler fouled Bryant, the fans actually booed Butler.

"I'm not going to let him dunk," Butler said. "I heard the crowd already in anticipation for the dunk. He's a superstar, a super duper star. When a guy like that comes to an arena, people are going to get excited. You only get a chance to see him once a year and you want to see him do something special, even if it's against your home team. I wasn't going to let him get that dunk. That's my boy, but I wasn't going to let him get that dunk."

@TruthAboutIt: This pro-Lakers crowd in DC brings me back to the 90s when Jordan, Bird or Magic came to town & other fans took over the Cap Centre.

@CraigStouffer: With all the Verizon support for Lakers and Kobe, Wizards know what its like to be U.S. soccer vs. Mexico most anywhere in this country.

@BulletsForever: There are so many Lakers fans here, it might as well be a road game.

L.A. Times: Bryant flung his shoes into the crowd after the game, a rare show of emotion that caused a shower of beer as fans scrambled to get them.

By Dan Steinberg  |  January 27, 2010; 10:01 AM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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Die in a fire, gloryhunters

Posted by: Kev29 | January 27, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Was Jerry Buss there with his female teeny bopper entourage?

Posted by: rdpinva | January 27, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

You know it! But yeah, this was awful. Nothing like sitting between an entire Kobe jersey section and then this Pau section that must've had every Spaniard within 100 miles attending. This was the first game without Gil I've decided to go to, and the way everything's played out lately, it's gonna take a hell of a lot to convince me a Wizards game is worth going to again.

Posted by: JohnnyBlades | January 27, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Silly crowd - everyone knows the true MVP is going to be Lebron James.

Go Cavs!

Posted by: popopo | January 27, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

To be fair, I saw the same scene Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The mostly apathetic crowd didn't really get fired up until the Lakers started pulling away in the 4th. And then the cheers were for Kobe, barely mitigated by some weak "Beat LA" chants.

Sad. But Kobe has that effect on crowds. At least D.C. isn't flipping for LeBron. For now.

Posted by: larrystewart33 | January 27, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

As a long-time Bullets/Wizards fan, this is a VERY sad time as I'm having flashbacks to those "See the NBA!" days and getting jeered by fans of the opposing team in my team's OWN BUILDING! I never thought we'd see this happen again, but here we are. Mr. Pollin must be spinning in his grave right now at the way this season has just imploded.

Posted by: stwasm | January 27, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Yes, it was definately a Laker's crowd. It was so bad, my husband and I got nasty looks when we cheered on our Wizards. It's a shame but it feels like we take a trip to LA and Cleveland everytime the Lakers or Cavs are in town. I know they both have superstars on their teams, but this was well beyond showing love for Kobe.

Posted by: takisha219 | January 27, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Product of a losing team and one of the NBA's global brands coming to town.

Us Caps fans can remember when Philly, NY, Pitt, or Detroit would come to town.

Now, it's a sea of red even against the league's most road-ready fanbases.

Don't overanalyze. Just build the Wiz back up.

Posted by: CF11555 | January 27, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Why does this always seem to happen to the Washington sport teams.

Posted by: Dlewis10 | January 27, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

Because nobody here cares about Washington sports. For all the hype around the Redskins, it seems that there are always three "neutral" games a season (I don't need to tell you which three).

Washington Metro population has spiked in the last 30 years...where does this spike come from?...Well it isn't because people are having a lot more sex, it is out of towners. Former Pittsburgh, Philly, New York, New Jeresy residents move on to better things and better jobs in the D.C. area because their areas are too crappy and poor to keep people, yet they retain their teams and pass along that to their kids.

Federal Government...attracts people from all over the world, like stated before, a lot of out of towners.

D.C. sports have been by and large a failure in the last fifteen years. People shift allegiences when the going gets tough, not enough DC pride to support a losing team.

The Wizards though are another story. They have by far the worst management ever and are going to get screwed because they'll not be able to void Arenas' contract, so expect at least five more years of this.

Posted by: mtorioles | January 28, 2010 12:41 AM | Report abuse

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