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Midnight Tip-Off more marketing savvy, than madness


Here I come! (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)


Kirk Hinrich slapped the ball as he prepared to make an inbounds pass and shouted, "We got it! We got it!" He waited until Gilbert Arenas curled around a screen, then flipped an underhand pass. Arenas caught the ball, quickly turned and buried a three-pointer off the glass as time expired for the period and nearly 3,500 fans at George Mason's Patriot Center applauded and cheered. But not everybody was thrilled to see the shot go down.

"I didn't like that. That was on me," Nick Young said with a laugh. "I didn't like that. But it was Gil being Gil. I wanted him to miss, but it was a Gil shot."

It was a throwback moment on a night when the Wizards ushered in a new era, at a time when many of its fans were, or perhaps should've been asleep. They had a midnight practice that was open to the public, televised on NBATV and generated enough publicity in hype that the quality of play -- understandably shaky considering the time of night and jitters of scrimmaging for the first time in front of a crowd -- was negligible.

The Miami Heat and Carmelo Anthony's trade drama may have dominated the headlines as most team's held Media Day on Monday, but between 12:01 a.m. and 1 a.m., only one NBA team was practicing; only one team was gaining recognition -- and that was the Wizards.

Since there was no structure to the scrimmage, the purpose of the practice was blatantly obvious.

"We're very aggressive marketers, unabashed about it," said new owner Ted Leonsis, who arrived for the event after attending some owners meetings in New York earlier in the evening. "Monday night in the rain and people are here, so it takes a serious commitment."

A team that won just 26 games last season, and 19 the year before, was able to draw a loud and boisterous audience, hoping to get the first look at No. 1 overall pick John Wall and the return of the fallen hero, Arenas -- for free.

After a performance by the go-go band, Mambo Sauce, and some basic drills by the players, the fans got to witness a rather heated, and sometimes sloppy, scrimmage. Newcomer Kirk Hinrich played some serious defense on Wall, Wall connected with JaVale McGee for several alley-oop dunks, Young buried several contested jumpers, and Arenas provided some flashes of his old (No. 0) self.

Coach Flip Saunders said the idea of a Midnight practice fit right into his "wheel well" and that his players were enthusiastic when he presented the concept to them. "I don't think anyone questioned it. When I explained to them why, I think they felt good about it," Saunders said. "I thought overall, it was a good one hour. we had some guys trying to do too much, but overall it was pretty good. They went at it pretty hard. It was good."

And nobody got hurt. As the practice wore on, the players looked spent, but Wall still had energy to burn, as he intentionally missed a free throw in the closing seconds of a scrimmage, darted down the lane and dunked with two hands. I may have been ready for bed, but the 20-year-old Wall certainly wasn't.

"It was fun," Wall said. "It was our first time getting our jitters out. We was all anxious to be out here for training camp. We had a great time."

Wall was the last player introduced during player introductions and he had to contain himself from breaking out into a dance as the music blared from the speakers. It was a stark contrast to Arenas, who went second-to-last and ran onto the court, sprinting past a tunnel of cheerleaders, before he was even announced to the crowd. He just lowered his head, lifted his hand, and ran while fans in the arena cheered. Then, he hid behind Andray Blatche.

As Wall spoke to reporters after the game, Arenas was quietly taking -- and making -- several three-pointers from about five feet beyond the arc. They were dropping like layups. Arenas was noticeably slight and lean, as he garnered the loudest cheers of the night when he beat the rest of his teammates down the court during the warm-up sprints. He and Wall were spotted several times, happily slapping five, and they playfully wrestled back stage before introductions.

It was hard not to consider the night a success, especially since it provided Young with something he never did at USC. Young made the night special for one George Mason student when he nailed a halfcourt shot and won the kid $500. "That was my first time experiencing it," Young said of the midnight practice. "They had it after I left, with O.J. Mayo. I couldn't bring the hype. They was hating on me."

When asked to compare the crowd to the one at Kentucky, Wall said, "In college, all of this would've been filled, probably moreso. but it was a good crowd that came out to support us."

He also mentioned that his Midnight Madness at Kentucky was around 7 p.m. He had no problem with Saunders's plans to have a late first practice for training camp. "I was happy. It reminded me of college, so it was great," Wall said. "For students to come out this late and they have school tomorrow, it means a lot."

Said Leonsis, "It think it's exactly what the team needed. Just kind of a jolt of adrenaline."

By Michael Lee  | September 28, 2010; 6:52 AM ET
 
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Next: The story behind Gilbert Arenas's beard, and the full Media Day rundown

Comments

Leonsis: "This is where our fan base is, Northern Virginia, just like where the Caps were, so we want to market here. We want to make this home."

I suspect Ted's point is that the Wiz have been undermarketed in NoVa, an area rich in fans who are in the age cohort that can afford to buy season tickets, and in businesses that will invest in boxes at Verizon. That's what happened with hockey. It's a revenue base that's hard to duplicate in the Washington area. As far as Baltimore City and County, it's hard to believe the Wiz will ever pull attendance from there the way the O's once did from the Washington metro area (it was around 30% of their fan base). Viewers, yes, but there are still a lot of older fans in Balto who resent the team's move. It's an odd city that way -- more clannish than the DC suburbs.

Posted by: Samson151 | September 28, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Anybody notice the question Ted asked rmcazz --- 'are you a season ticket holder'? That's where the marketing effort will go now that he owns the Center as well as the team. You have season tickets, Ted will be answering your e-mails pronto.

Posted by: Samson151 | September 28, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Ted has answered every email I've sent him, and that's the best marketing he could possibly do (for me anyway).

Posted by: divi3 | September 28, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Yeah...those good season ticket prices that went up silently...but Abe got criticized for being all for the money.

You would think you would LOWER them after the last couple seasons...maybe even leave it the same to try to get people to come out.

Hell I'm not a marketing major...what do I know?

Posted by: SDMDTSU | September 28, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

As for the scrimmage...did Javale grab a single board? Gil looks good. Seraphin's conditioning is not where it needs to be yet. And, per usual, NY looks like the best player on the floor during a practice. He must seriously drive coaches out of their minds.

Posted by: divi3 | September 28, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I suspect Ted's point is that the Wiz have been undermarketed in NoVa, an area rich in fans who are in the age cohort that can afford to buy season tickets, and in businesses that will invest in boxes at Verizon. That's what happened with hockey. It's a revenue base that's hard to duplicate in the Washington area. As far as Baltimore City and County, it's hard to believe the Wiz will ever pull attendance from there the way the O's once did from the Washington metro area (it was around 30% of their fan base). Viewers, yes, but there are still a lot of older fans in Balto who resent the team's move. It's an odd city that way -- more clannish than the DC suburbs.
------------------------------------------------
Fair points, but you'd have to concede that there's a large fan base w/ discretionary income in Montgomery, PG and Howard Counties + DC that Ted didn't need to alienate w/ his comment about Northern Virginia being where his bread gets buttered. Even if he thinks it, I was surprised that someone w/ the marketing savvy that he has spoke it aloud.

Posted by: randysbailin | September 28, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

This seems like a silly way to start the season for a team that struggled so much recently with distractions and acting professionally.

Posted by: Dancy1 | September 28, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Ted can thank the ol' Lefthander at Maryland for Midnight Madness.

Posted by: fearturtle44 | September 28, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

If you read Ted's Blog, he explains that what he meant was to move it closer to the DMV rather than down in Richmond. He acknowledged that the fans are from the DMV and he hopes to bring Baltimore on Board. By putting the practices and Midnight madness at George Mason, the organization's intent was to just bring the team closer to its "real" fan base and closer to their homes. Read his blog and you will get the picture.

Posted by: ivyleague | September 28, 2010 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Same old passive/aggressive Gil. Nothing has changed.

When the players on the team were throwing jerseys into the stands, signing autographs and interacting with the crowd this morning, Gil was off shooting baskets and pretending that he's in the gym all by his lonesome, knowing full well it would put the spotlight on him.

There is no middle ground with our would-be nutjob. He either plays the role of an attention-seeking clown or a withdrawn, sullen loner. Again, knowing full well that either will get him attention he obviously needs.

It's all an act, folks.

Posted by: ahwyatt | September 28, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Y'all want it one way. But it's the other way.

Why should he kiss everybody's azz? That doesn't make him a nutjob or attention seeker. Whatever he did would do that. If he smiled and joked around, y'all would of complained "same old Gil". If he was stoic, y'all complaining. If he did a middle-ground, y'all would have said it was fake because IT WOULD HAVE BEEN.

Gil ain't being a nutjob. His feelings seem hurt though. Why would he kiss everybody's azz when a lot of y'all trashed him and still trashing him over a joke?

I don't blame him for having a f-ck ya'll attitude. The problem is that the fans who had Gil's back get the stoic Gil too.

Posted by: G-Man11 | September 28, 2010 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, Ted needs to realize that with todays telecommunication world you can't pull those old politiking tricks anymore.

Used to be years ago you could deliver one message in one part of town and a different or opposite message in another part of time.

I am sure that it was a slip for Ted, that he want be making again.

LarryInClintonMD. Us Marylanders' can be a pretty good fan base too!

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | September 28, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Do fans from NOVA know what go-go is? Have they ever head go-go played at their school dance?

-Season ticket holder from PG, living in DC

Posted by: funkydancinmonk | September 28, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Funky monk;

We know what gogo is...the music that gets played right before someone gets shot...you know, like show on channel 4 every night at 11.

Those of us in Arlington and Fairfax were too busy studying to go to school dances.

Just kidding...sort of.

Posted by: Blurred | September 28, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Funky monk;

We know what gogo is...the music that gets played right before someone gets shot...you know, like show on channel 4 every night at 11.

Those of us in Arlington and Fairfax were too busy studying to go to school dances.

Just kidding...sort of.

Posted by: Blurred | September 28, 2010 2:12 PM
^^^^^^
Hey Blurred! Eat a dick up and hiccup!

Posted by: jayjordan1 | September 28, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

It's well documented that the typical Northern Virginian is either someone who isn't tough enough to live in PG County or smart enough to live in Montgomery County.

Posted by: randysbailin | September 28, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

@G-Man11
I didn't have Gil's back when the gun charges came down. I have been saying from the jump that this FOOL needs to be gone ASAP!

TOO LATE!

Now the Bullets are stuck with this IDIOT!

HE NEEDS PSYCHIATRIC HELP!

That is plain to see.

Posted by: whatyoutalkinboutman | September 28, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

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