May 16, 2017

Home Court Advantage


The morning after always sucks! Last night closed the books on this year's Washington Wizards season, the most successful by any account in 38 years. More wins than any year since the 1978-1979 season plus a deeper playoff run than any other season since that year and a division title, the first since, yep you guessed it, 1979. Despite all that, this sucks and it stings worse than any other year that I've been a Wizards season ticket holder, and not just because of the whiny crying way the Boston Celtics sent our team home. This could have been our year if things had broken right. And yes, I know that's a bit of a stretch.

I'm sure there will be lots of what if scenarios floated for this team in the coming days and weeks. Like I'm sure most Wizards fans, I'm thinking about that game two in Boston that we should have had with two good shots in the final five seconds of regulation that would have sealed the deal in that one and sent us back to Washington tied one game apiece. But I'm also thinking about another what if scenario, and that's what if the Wizards had just finished first in the conference. This year we didn't lose a single home game in the playoffs. It's not unreasonable to speculate that we would have been in the Eastern Conference Finals with four home wins against the Celtics.

So how feasible was that this year? Well, as it turns out, VERY feasible. This was one of those years when a low 50s win total got you the number one seed in the East. In this case, 53 was the number the Celtics needed to secure the top spot. There's been only one year other than this season in the past 10 seasons when 53 wins would have gotten you the one seed. In other words, it was extremely competitive at the top and the Wizards finished just four games back with 49 wins. Surely there were five wins that the Wizards could have pulled out over the course of the 82 game regular season to get to 54 and finish first, right? Well as it turns out, there were. Here's how I see the Wizards could have done it.


November 19 vs. Miami

Admittedly, the Wizards had a rough start to this season and to their credit, they fixed it. They are the only team in NBA history to start a season 2-8 or worse and end up 16 games or more about .500. When the Heat rolled into town on November 19 the Wizards were just 3-9. However, the Heat were not much better, sporting an oh so impressive 3-8 record through their first 11 games. This was a game the Wizards had to have and they came out blistering the nets, scoring 35 in the first period (also giving up 33). With two minutes to go in the half, they were up 4.

But then things fell apart. They gave up nine points in less than two minutes and ended the half down one. They then lost the third quarter by eight and got down by as many as 17 in the fourth before trying to come back. Ultimately they lost by just three. To a 3-8 team at home. This one should have been the turnaround game. Instead it sent the Wizards on the same course until later in December when they finally figured things out. This was not a quality loss or a moral victory type thing. This was also not the Miami Heat team that finished the regular season 30-11. The Wizards should have had this one.


December 6 vs. Orlando

If there's a Wizards game that I have been angrier with our team for their lack of effort and desire than this one, I can't remember it. Yes, the Wizards had a worse record than the Magic at this point in the season but this was a team that hadn't beaten the Wizards at all each of the previous three seasons and who had a roster that was and has been since just not talented enough to win a game on the road vs. a presumptive playoff team.

At halftime it was a 13 point game and not in the Wizards favor. By the end of three it was two points worse than it was at halftime. Verizon Center was about the quietest I've ever heard it, a combination likely of there being nobody there really and the Wizards' miserable on court play. At one point I was screaming so loudly at Bradley Beal because of his disengaged play that I sat down and shut up based on the looks the ushers in our section were giving me. Not that I would have minded really being thrown out of that game. On this night, the Wizards didn't even try.


November 16 at Philadelphia OR February 24 at Philadelphia

I get that it's tough to win on the road in the NBA. I also get this year that Philadelphia 76ers haven't been quite as historically awful as they have in years past. But I have to think that the Wizards could have come away with one road win in Philly in two chances.

I know what you are thinking...Joel Embiid is the future of the NBA and the Sixers were really pretty good with him in the lineup. Well, guess what? Embiid sat out both these games. 0-2 in Philly under those circumstances this year just won't cut it. I'm not asking for a sweep here. Just one game will do. After all, as I'll demonstrate if you keep reading, there are a couple of more games I could see the Wiz pulling out. These were also not buzzer beater losses. We're talking 7 and 8 points here.


March 15 vs. Dallas

From March 7 to March 13, the Wizards had an historical road trip, winning four of five on a west coast swing against Phoenix, Denver, Sacramento, Portland and Minnesota (the only loss). Never before had the Wizards or Bullets had such a west coast swing. Surely the first game back at home at Verizon Center vs. the lowly 28-38 non-playoff making Dallas Mavericks would have been a great return back to D.C. and winning ways at home.

Apparently not. A 10-2 start by the Wizards translated into a four point lead at halftime despite a notable lack of defensive focus. That four point lead swelled to seven by the end of three but things fell apart quickly in the fourth. Three minutes in it was tied and four or so minutes later it was a ten point lead, and not in the right direction. Ultimately the Wizards closed late before succumbing by five. In a game like that, playing an inferior opponent at home with potential future playoff seeding on the line and a halftime lead, you have to pull it out.


October 30 at Memphis OR
November 5 at Orlando OR
December 12 at Miami

So I'm not really saying the Wizards could have won all of these games that they lost. I obviously believe in home court advantage. On the other hand, I just need ONE of the three to get to the five extra wins I'm making the case the Wizards could have won. I've already made the case that the Magic and Heat were both either bad all season or in the first half of the season so I'll spare you more details except to say that the Heat boasted a robust 7-17 record before their December 12 win vs. the good guys.

If the Wizards had pulled one of those two Southeast Division games out, they wouldn't have needed to reverse their season opening second loss to the Grizzlies in Memphis to reach 54 wins. And I'm not saying Memphis is an easy place to win because it's not. But when you are up three with less than 20 seconds remaining you can't let Marc Gasol hit a three from wide open straight away center and then collapse in overtime. This has to be a win. If home court in the playoffs is so valuable (and I believe it clearly is), then pulling out game two at the end of regulation matters. I'm glad the Wizards made such light of Gasol's game tying shot and his two additional ones in overtime via Twitter the next day.

I'm for sure not trying to rub salt into the Wizards' wounds here. And God knows I hurt enough this morning. I think our squad played really well during their playoff run and I'm proud of everyone who committed to winning as many games as possible in the postseason. It was the greatest postseason run in almost four decades and the future has got to be way brighter than this time last year. I'm just saying what if...

May 6, 2017

Playoff Villains


I first bought Washington Wizards season tickets in the year 2000. I've been there for this team every year since. In 2005, the franchise rewarded me as a season ticket holder by making the playoffs for the first time this century. That would be the start of a four year run in the postseason that featured just one series win, the very first one played vs. Chicago in 2005.

Once Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and Antawn Jamison got by the Bulls that first year, we ended up in a series with the number one seeded Miami Heat. Despite the sometimes close scores, it was not much of a series and it lasted just four games. The Wizards despite all their good play that year were no match for Shaquille O'Neal, Dwayne Wade (42 points in the series clincher) and company. It was a domination. After a 4-0 nothing sweep during the regular season, the Heat made it 8 losses in a row in a single season for the Wiz. It was humiliating. And just like that Shaq became my first Wizards playoff villain.

For the next three years, I forgot all about Shaq even while he and the Miami Heat won a Championship the very next year. For the next three years, the playoffs and hating people on the other team were all about LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 4-5 matchup in 2006? Cleveland-Washington. 2-7 the next year? Cleveland-Washington. 4-5 the year after that? Cleveland-Washington again. 4-2. 4-0. 4-2. Three first round playoff losses to the Cavs back to back to back.

So let's be honest. LeBron was generally speaking really good at basketball those three years and that can totally make a playoff villain. But that wasn't it with LeBron. It was the whining, crying, babyish, smug way he won. It was whispering in Gilbert Arenas' ear before a free throw. It was protesting every call. It was telling referee Danny Crawford that Brendan Haywood was trying to hurt him (Haywood was ejected). It was taking Darius Songaila's hand and hitting his own face and then flopping mercilessly (Songaila was suspended). It was all the nonsense that James used to get his way over and over and over again. As if playing the games on an even playing field wasn't enough. 

It was those three years that will make me never root for this guy. I'd rather have JaVale McGee win a title before I see LeBron win another. It was those three years that put LeBron in a category by himself as the ultimate playoff villain. And then it was over. No more Wizards playoffs for six years.

Nice flop, LeBron! Got Songaila suspended for game six though.
2014. New team. No more Arenas-Butler-Jamison big three. Enter John Wall, Nenê, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat and Bradley Beal. Two rounds and out. Beat Chicago; lost to Indiana. The next year? Ariza out, Paul Pierce in. Two rounds and out again. Swept Toronto and bowed out to Atlanta. Those two playoff runs were great and when they were over Wizards fans were buoyed by the fact that if it wasn't for John Wall's broken wrist, there may have been an Eastern Conference Finals berth in there.

But one thing they didn't produce for me were any playoff villains. Jimmy Butler maybe due to his tete-a-tete with Nenê that got our big man suspended or Al Horford for his game winner in game five of the Atlanta series. But it's difficult to despise teams you beat handily like Toronto in 2015 and the Bulls the year before and honestly the players on both the Pacers in '14 and the Hawks the year after were just difficult to dislike those years. No villains there for me.

So now it's 2017 and the Wizards are back again in the second round of the playoffs and locked in a battle with the Boston Celtics after taking care of the Atlanta Hawks in six. And holy crap there are so many guys on these opponents to thoroughly loathe it's amazing. There are villains all over these teams. I knew I'd feel this way about the Celtics but honestly I had no idea that I cared enough about anyone on the Atlanta Hawks to dislike them even slightly. I guess it's the competition that bring this stuff out.

On the Hawks side of things, let's start with Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore. Both are decent players but they both clearly both think they are way better than they actually are. The whooping and celebrating by Bazemore when things are going well drives me crazy and Schröder even suggesting he's in the same league (metaphorically speaking that is) as John Wall makes me laugh. Bazemore also gets no love from me for the push in the back on Bradley Beal in game six after Beal made a layup. I'm really not sure Beal fell due to the push but the very act of pushing a defenseless player to gain no competitive advantage when he's in a dangerous and vulnerable position is dirty. That could have turned out really badly.


But the guy on the Hawks who I loved to see sent home for the summer was their so-called All-Star power forward Paul Millsap. Since he got his game handed to him in game one (19 points but just 2 rebounds) by Markieff Morris on Easter Sunday, Millsap had a good series, averaging 24 points and 11 boards over games two through five and dropping 31 and 10 in the Wizards game six clincher. He for sure some damage to the Wizards but that's not why I was glad to see his season over. It's the whining, crying and flopping he did on and off the court that's got me upset. This dude's supposed to be an All-Star and one sub-par game against Kieff and he's complaining like the second coming of 2009 LeBron James. Good riddance.

If the Hawks got my blood boiling a little, there's no comparison to how I'm feeling about the Boston Celtics right now. I expected this. I mean there have been regular season in-game and post-game run-ins with Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart the last two years, two role players who use their physicality to gain an upper hand every now and again against opponents. This year featured Crowder poking John Wall in the nose after a game in Boston and Boston police standing between the locker rooms minutes later. The Wizards followed that up with the funeral game, one of the simultaneously silliest, immature and awesome stunts any Wizards team has pulled ever. It helped that the game was a Wizards blowout.

In this series Crowder and Smart have been doing their usual things but honestly other than Smart undercutting Bojan Bogdanovich on a three point attempt in game one and two consecutive flops for fouls from the same guy against John Wall in game two, those two have been pretty quiet. By the way, why don't superstar calls apply to John Wall? How is he getting whistled for two questionable calls back to back? And does the NBA still fine for flopping? It seems like that was either an official short term initiative or they've just gotten tired of fining. 

But there is no shortage of playoff villains on the Celtics side of things. Al Horford made sure his foot was well-placed under Markieff Morris to knock Kieff out of game one before Smart tried it with Bogey later in the same game. But the two guys who are going to have me yelling the loudest tomorrow afternoon are Isaiah Thomas and Kelly Olynyk.

So let's face it, Thomas is good. On offense. I don't understand how this dude hits half the stuff he hits around the basket. The only thing I can think is that his release comes from a spot vertically that is so much different than any other player in the NBA that no defender can get the right angle to defend him properly. But he's also taking his shots when he can under the protection of the refs and the rules I guess. The jumping backwards into Kelly Oubre bloodying Kelly's mouth in game two minutes after hitting Otto Porter in the nose with his head got zero fouls. And the constant yapping from a guy who can't D up makes me nuts too.


But let's also face it, Kelly Olynyk is just plain dirty. And I guess he's smart enough to get away with it most times. Olynyk is going to draw a lot of booing and I'm sure some things way less civil than booing tomorrow evening after his shoulder to the neck screen on Kelly Oubre made our Kelly lose it and get suspended for bumrushing and knocking down Olynyk in game three. But that's not the first time Olynyk has done something like that. He had a raised forearm to the neck screen on Oubre about two minutes earlier in Thursday's game and you can ask Kevin Love about his broken arm courtesy of Olynyk a couple of years ago. I have to believe Verizon Center's crowd will be doing everything they can to make this guy feel insecure tomorrow.

In the NBA, rivalries are made in the playoffs. Forget divisions and the regular season; there is nothing like a playoff series to solidify some hate between two teams. The only thing that makes these rivalries more heated is throwing a couple of guys out on the other team that you just plain love to hate, some villains that you want to see get what's coming to them on every play if possible. We got that in spades this year in Schröder, Bazemore, Millsap, Crowder, Smart, Horford, Thomas and Olynyk, although the kind of nastiness Olynyk is known for has no place in this game.

Game four is tomorrow. Let's tie this thing up, Wizards, then go to Boston and take game five.

April 26, 2017

ESPN NBA Management Rankings


Last month, ESPN released its 2017 NBA Management Rankings, a list of coaches, general manager/team presidents and owners of every NBA franchise ranked from 1 to 30. This is the third year out of the last four that the TV network has released such rankings, starting in 2014 and again a year later in 2015 before the revised list was published in March. I couldn't find anything for 2016 so I'm assuming they just skipped last year. 

This year, the Wizards did pretty well by the folks in Bristol, Connecticut, ranking 12th overall, 9th in coaching (Scott Brooks) and 14th in GM/President (Ernie Grunfeld) with their only bottom half of the league (barely) coming in ownership at 16th (Ted Leonsis). It's certainly better than they fared two years ago when they finished overall at 21st with the highest ranking in any category being ownership, which just like this year, finished in the 16 spot.

Now I'm not exactly sure who has input into these rankings over at ESPN. Two years ago they referred to their ESPN Forecast Panel as the authors of the results. They also provided a link justifying why their panel produces "the most accurate predictions in the game" before referring to the process as "the future of forecasting." There was a list of six names at the bottom of that page, two of whom were titled economist or microeconomist although I'm not sure those folks are the entire panel. This year, the Panel seems to be a little more mysterious but here's the thing: I'm not sure these people have any idea what they are talking about.

So I get that the statement I just made is a little bit laughable. After all, I'm an architect who blogs about being a Wizards fan on nights and weekends and these folks are paid professionals who are presumably respected in their field. I also can't take issue with them ranking the San Antonio Spurs first overall in 2015 and 2017 and the New York Knicks as last overall both of those same years. I mean, who would really argue with those results?

But that's sort of the point. What panel wouldn't put the Spurs first and the Knicks last? It's the results in between that are leaving me questioning the value of this ranking in total because it seems to be a what have you done for me lately contest, with on court results determining the opinion of the evaluators based on what's already happened. Look, I can tell you who wins each NBA division at the end of the season; it's predicting it at the beginning the year and stating why that's the hard part. I think all these folks are looking at is results after the fact. And that just ain't that hard.

Scott Brooks: From 20th to 9th in two years while taking one of the two off. Such progress!
So you need some evidence, right? Let's start with the Wizards. Two years ago, my beloved team finished 26th in coaching in this ranking under then head coach Randy Wittman, a guy who was pretty much universally reviled by any sort of NBA analystics guy. This year, Scott Brooks has the coaching on our team ranked 17 spots higher than two years ago. That makes sense based on him leading the team to more wins and the franchise's first division title since 1979, right? I'm not really proving my own point am I?

Know where Brooks, who was then coaching the Oklahoma City Thunder, finished two years ago? 20th. So I guess that involuntary year off really made Scottie a way better coach, huh? Probably not. Or maybe a bunch of guys ahead of him quit the profession?  Well, yes, if you consider three a lot; but they (Kevin McHale, George Karl and David Blatt) were relieved of their responsibilities. So what's the deal?

Well it turns out, according to the Forecast Panel, some coaches just aren't as good this year as they were two years ago. Atlanta's Mike Budenholzer dropped from 2nd to 11th; Portland's Terry Stotts went from 7th to 14th; Tom Thibodeau switched teams and turned his number 5 spot with the Bulls into a 13 ranking with the Timberwolves; Dave Joerger did something similar (11 to 23) by bolting Memphis for Sacramento; and Frank Vogel was also on the wrong side of history by taking the Magic job this year, dropping his ESPN coaching rank from 9 to 24. All five of these coaches posted worse records this year than they did two years ago and turned a combined 254 wins (.620 winning percentage) in 2015 into 176 wins (.429 winning percentage) this year.

I'm maybe being a little unfair. Some coaches (Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle) are still highly thought of despite not making the playoffs this season. And no doubt they are good coaches. Then again, maybe they are just saved by having led at least one team to a championship this century. But what's the excuse for the change of heart on Brooks and the five other coaches? I say it's team performance. And that sucks. Either you can coach or you can't. And the panel of experts ought to know that.


So let's move on, shall we? Let's get back to the Wizards. This year Team President Ernie Grunfeld looks like a pretty good guy to make personnel decisions according to ESPN, finishing in the top half in this category. Yet two years ago he was 20th. So why the sudden change of heart? He's executing the same plan he was two years ago but this year the team he's been assembling has been more successful than any other collection of players for this franchise since the 1970s.  Why move him up? Is it because the folks ranking him two years ago didn't understand what the plan was and how it would work out? I say yes.

The ranking mistakes aren't as pronounced in the GM/President category but let me offer a few thoughts. The Phoenix Suns seem to have one of the most questionable personnel decision records over the last few years, choosing to lock up Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight long term while letting Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas leave Arizona. But two years ago, ESPN had that franchise's front office ranked ahead of the Wizards (this year they are 11 spots behind) probably because the Suns two years ago were seen as way overperforming when finishing with 39 wins. Clearly ESPN's experts knew about as much as the Suns' General Manager Ryan McDonough (still employed by the way) when he decided to let Dragic and Thomas play for someone else.

The panel was also seemingly in love with Sam Hinkie's process in Philadelphia in 2014, choosing him over Grunfeld by three spots, but not so wed to the aftermath, dropping Philly seven spots behind the Wiz this year. But most striking seems to be their swing on Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, who two years ago cobbled together a lineup that won 60 games, but who is 17 games worse this year. Sorry, Bud, ESPN drops you from 6th to 15th for that. Looks like ESPN is following the records. Again.

Finally let's look at the owners. And here the Panel may have gotten things mostly right precisely because they kept past NBA Championship winners towards the top of the ranking and let the rest of the teams stack up from there. And let's face it, of the teams that haven't won titles recently, there is plenty of mediocrity. The last five franchises to win NBA titles have been the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks. With the exception of Cleveland, these teams all rank in the top six in both 2015 and 2017. Kind of stupid to pick against a winner that's already won, right? Like shooting fish in a barrel.

But ESPN does follow the same recent history rule for ownership too. Cleveland is ranked 7th in this year's survey, the year after they won their first ever title; that's a jump of nine spots from two years ago which was 11 spots higher than 2014. Know what the Cavs' record was in 2014? 33-49. Three years, 27 to 7, same owner. The only difference? A title.  Stick to your guns people or stop predicting when you get things wrong. If Dan Gilbert is fourth worst among owners two years ago, why is he seventh best this year? Winning. Plain and simple.

The same situation plays out elsewhere in the midwest in Chicago. Jerry Riensdorf's basketball acumen got him a top 10 ranking in 2014 when the Bulls were 48-34. But with a 41-41 record, Reinsdorf can't crack the top 20 this year. Good owner two years ago; bad owner now. Makes no sense.

I suppose if ESPN ever does this sort of thing again, I may take a look, but only to get annoyed about how much they are dissing the Wizards for not having a great regular season record or winning a title recently. But this thing is of little value to me. It's all results based. They are just putting the teams who are the most successful at the top of the heap and if the same personnel with the same (or different) team are not quite so successful, they knock them down to the bottom. I'll pass on the "future of forecasting" thanks.  I'll just decide for myself how successful each team is at the end of the season. After all, that's what ESPN's doing.

Championships don't necessarily make you a better owner. Except in ESPN's eyes.

April 13, 2017

Hoops At The Garden


The first NBA game I ever attended in person was in December of 1995 in Madison Square Garden in New York City: the New York Knicks hosting the then very young (as a franchise) Toronto Raptors. Over the next 28 months, my dad and I would attend four additional games in the Garden watching the hometown Knicks take on the Clippers, Kings, 76ers and Jazz and see the Knickerbockers go 4-1 over that stretch, with the only loss being an overtime affair with the Jazz.

The season after that Jazz game was the 1998-1999 lockout shortened season and in a show of disgust with millionaires and multi-multi-millionaires arguing over how to split billions, my dad and I decided we would not even attempt to attend a game that season. The next year, I moved to Washington, switched basketball teams and started one of my obsessions of a lifetime by scheduling my life around the Wizards and ultimately deciding to go all in and do something really crazy by starting this blog.

Until last week, it had been 19 years since I'd been to a home Knicks game. My cousin visiting from England and the Wizards happening to be in New York for a Thursday afternoon game provided the perfect opportunity to break that streak.


Now, last week's game in New York wasn't the first time I'd seen a hoops game in the Garden in all that time. I managed to get some tickets to the NBA All-Star Game two years ago when it was in the City and saw the West defeat the East in front of a star-studded crowd on a Sunday night. But other than John Wall and Carmelo Anthony being in attendance, that game bore little resemblance to a home Knicks game in the greatest arena in basketball. Seeing a Knick game in person is an experience all hoops fans need to go through. Even if they are the most dysfunctional franchise in the league right now.

I know what you are thinking. Did you read what I wrote right? The "greatest arena in basketball"? Yes. Look I love Verizon Center as much as the next person and I'm dying for that place to be a raucous home court advantage for the Wizards the way some buildings are for other teams, but there's no way VC is the Garden.

I spent about half a blog post a couple of years ago talking about how special it is to make your way from the New York City streets to the inside of the Mecca of Basketball so I won't repeat all that save to say there is nothing like the interior of the Garden. It's all about that wooden ceiling. There is no other place in the league where looking up means so much. So of course I had to include one shot of the court during the game. First one to 100 wins. Again.


When my dad and I took in those five games at the Garden 20 years or so ago, we never got good seats. We always sat in the upper deck in the end zone so the experience we got was pretty one dimensional. Our court view was pretty much always the same game after game after game after game after game. We even had to sit behind each other one game because we couldn't get two seats together. But with the advent of secure, convenient and reliable secondary market ticket sales outlets; the decline of the Knicks as any sort of serious playoff threat; and maybe me having a little more disposable income, it was time for me to experience a Knick game on a different level. And by that I mean the lowest level of the building.

In addition to my seat location, there are some other changes that have taken place over the last 20 or so years. One of the things I appreciated all those years ago about games in New York was the lack of theater surrounding the team introductions. Maybe I'm remembering this wrong but I believe in the early '90s Patrick Ewing's Knick teams were introduced with the lights on after the classic "Go New York! Go New York! Go!" introductory video. I didn't really expect that level of simplicity this time around but I did expect something less over the top than what I saw at a Lakers game a couple of weeks prior.
 
I was wrong. If I thought the curtain with the jumbo sized graphic projection in Los Angeles was out of place for a below .350 Lakers team, I really question the wisdom of the Knicks City Dancers' lengthy light and costume show (complete with lighted uniforms) for the below .400 Knicks. It was more deluxe than almost any halftime show the Wizards have put on this year. It was so long that I almost couldn't remember who was introduced in the Wizards' starting lineup. I know I sound like an old fogey here complaining about the show that the kids love these days but it just seemed grandiose for a team that has had no shot at the playoffs in years.

The Knicks City Dancers in the midst of their most elaborate team introduction ceremony.
Once we got through the opening act, it was on to the game. With the Wizards on a 50 win quest and (at that time) still hoping for a shot at the East's three seed, I hoped for a quick killing of the Knicks and some rest for our starters so we'd be extra prepared to face the Miami Heat at home just two days later. Of course, I've been watching the Wizards play week after week since the All-Star break so I don't know what I was thinking with that expectation. There was no quick killing, no extra rest and no win at home vs. the Heat.
 
The first half looked great. A 12 point lead in the first quarter and a 10 point lead in the second quarter had dwindled to eight by halftime but the Knicks were never really a threat to take the lead despite some play from Brandon Jennings that drove me crazy. That eight point bulge swelled to 15 in the third before the Wizards decided it was probably all they needed to do and eased off the gas pedal a little. Or a lot. The Knicks ended up winning the third by a point and with less than three minutes to go in the fourth behind some poor free throw shooting from the visitors, the game was knotted up.
 
I gotta say there's no other city like New York and no other people like New Yorkers. There I was sitting in the lower level of MSG watching the Wizards struggle to beat a team that has won just one playoff series in the last 15 years (behind a grand total of four appearances) and the place starts going nuts. I guess there are enough people in New York that the building is pretty much always full but everyone seemed to be behind this team all of a sudden. I can't say I've heard Verizon Center get much louder at any point this season during the best season the Wizards (not Bullets) have ever posted. I find it astonishing how continually embarrassed about our crowd noise I am on the road. And it wasn't even caused in New York by a t-shirt toss (of which there were very very many) or something like that. No free chicken required; just love of a team. Imagine that.


While I was watching the Wizards struggle to contain the Knicks (with no Kristaps Porzingis by the way) I have to say that I was impressed with how helpful the scoreboard at the arena was. There's all sorts of cool information on this thing and it displays each team's stats in team colors, which I think is awesome. Check out the scoreboard at Verizon Center and you'll be well informed about how many points each team has; the points and fouls for each player whether or not their name fits on the scoreboard in full; and how many time outs remain for each team in full and 20 second versions. Yep there's also a big screen on each of the four sides showing replays and live action but as far as stats, that's all you get.
 
Now check out the Garden's display. Game score? Check. Points and fouls by player with full names on the board? Check. Timeouts in full and 20 second versions? Check. How about assists and rebounds in addition to points and fouls? Kind of cool; Verizon Center has corner of the arena displays for these stats on a rotating basis by team but they are not visible when looking at the scoreboard. Even cooler than that? The shooting percentages from the field, the free throw line and three point range. It's pretty easy to start to correlate why the Wizards have a 10 point lead in the picture above when they are outshooting the Knicks from the field and beyond the arc by 19 and 17 percent respectively.
 
At the end of the night last Thursday, my teams were 5-1 in games I've attended at Madison Square Garden. 4-1 as a Knicks fan; 1-0 as a Wizards fan. I'm not jealous of the Knicks team but I have a serious crush on their building. When I was here 20 years ago it was before the team embarked on a multi-year renovation and modernization of the place. Today it's even better than I remember all those years ago. There really is no better place to watch pro hoops. I got other places to go to watch the Wizards play in this country, but I'd go back to the Garden every year if I could make the time. It's that good there.

Name me one other NBA arena where you can get a knish. I don't think you can do it.
 

April 2, 2017

The French Dip


One of the things I love to do when I take Wizards road trips is check out the in arena food offerings in the town I'm visiting. I'm forever curious about food and I'm really seeing if the locals can get some regionally inspired dishes while they are sitting in their seats watching live hoops. If you're a frequent reader of this blog you'll know I've first complained about what you couldn't get in terms of local chef-driven fare at Verizon Center and then praised the opening of a José Andrés owned stand earlier this year.

Last week I happened to be in Los Angeles to see the Wizards play not one but two road games. Before the first of these two games vs. the Lakers, I entered Staples Center about as early as I could to check out the food scene there thinking if there was something really good, I'd order it the very next night when the Wizards played the Clippers on the roadie back to back in the exact same building. A quick trip around the lower level and the Premier level concourses yielded some pretty promising local-type fare: a variety of tacos, some churros, a series of California inspired and themed hamburgers and a French dip sandwich.


I'm sure you may be thinking hold up on that last one: a French dip sandwich? The roast beef sandwich on a roll which typically comes with a side of au jus (or drippings from the roasting plan) to dip your sandwich in as you eat? How is that (a) arena friendly and (b) local to Los Angeles? Well, I can't speak to the arena friendly question because honestly it seems like it would be a little difficult to eat a sandwich while balancing a bowl of beef broth on your lap, tray or no tray. But the local thing? Well, that's easy. The French dip sandwich was invented in Los Angeles.


Philippe's The Original at 1001 North Alameda Street.
I don't know what it is about basketball road trips and beef sandwiches but here we are again. Three years ago I visited Philadelphia to see the Wizards play the 76ers and the next morning walked over to the corner of Passyunk and 9th to get myself a Philly cheesesteak at Pat's King of Steaks. Pat's is the place founded by the inventor of the sandwich, although there's a spot across the street, Geno's Steaks, that claims the same thing. Since I knew I'd only have one chance for a sandwich in Philly, I did some research and pretty much convinced myself that Pat's was the inventor and then picked that as my cheesesteak spot.

Funnily enough, there are two spots in Los Angeles that claim they invented the French dip sandwich. The first of these two places is Cole's French Dip, a restaurant on 6th Street in downtown L.A. According to their website, their chef, Jack Garlinghouse, invented the sandwich as it is today when he dipped a sandwich in au jus to soften it up a little for a customer with sore gums. According to Cole's, that happened in 1908, the same year the restaurant opened. They are silent on where the French came from but one could reasonably infer it's from the French roll the sandwich comes on.


The second contender for inventor of the French dip is Philippe's The Original, a spot north of the 101 on the east edge of Chinatown. Like Cole's, Philippe's has also been open since 1908. Their invention story on their website happens in 1918, which I find interesting and bold, considering most food invention rivalries usually claim a fairly similar timeline for who came first. According to Philippe's, their invention was an accident. Their chef accidentally dropped a French roll in some au jus when preparing a sandwich for a policeman customer, who said he'd take it as is anyway. Apparently he liked it so much that the next day he came back for another along with several friends. Philippe's has three stories to back up the French name on the dish: either it was the French roll or the fact that Philippe Mathieu who owned the place was French or the customer's name was French. We should pick I guess.


If you ask me, both stories are fishy. And since I was going to be in downtown Los Angeles for work for a whole week, I thought rather than researching which place is telling the truth, I just figured I'd go to each spot and find out which one I liked more. So I did.


The interior of Philippe's.
I arrived in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon, checked in to my hotel and hailed a cab to take me to Philippe's. I picked this place first for one simple reason: they are open on Sunday and Cole's ain't. After a quick ride, I arrived at 1001 North Alameda Street on the edge of Chinatown. What I found inside was a deli-like counter with six or seven servers furiously taking orders and a series of three to seven deep lines with hungry customers. This was at 4:40 on a Sunday afternoon. Not exactly lunch or dinner time and the place was packed. And churning through customers as it turned out. I wasn't waiting in line more than about 10 minutes.

You can get an array of dipped sandwiches at Philippe's and you can get it with options. There are pork, ham, lamb, pastrami and turkey dip sandwiches as well as the traditional roast beef and their sandwiches come on white, wheat, sourdough, rye or a French roll and they can be ordered with a variety of cheese. I ordered mine as I would typically think of a French dip sandwich: a beef dip on French roll, no cheese. I also picked up some pickles and a side of potato salad. And a beer. An Indie Blond made by Indie Brewing located right in Los Angeles. A few minutes later, I had my Sunday dinner.


Apparently the thing at Philippe's is to eat your sandwich with some of their hot mustard ("It's hot, but good." according to their website). I'd never heard of eating a French dip with mustard but I've also never claimed to be a connoisseur of this particular sandwich. I applied a healthy squeeze from the bottle located on every communal table and hoped for the best.


Philippe's The Original Beef Dip, with side of potato salad and some pickles.
The meat at Philippe's was pretty much right on as what I think about when I order a French dip sandwich: fall apart tender roasted beef, although I could claim that I like my roast beef a little pinker. I also liked the roll which I found soft and not in need of the accidental or purposeful drenching in the au jus like in Philippe's origin story (you can get your rolls dipped a variety of ways at Philippe's; I opted for it undipped). I also appreciated the finely chopped potato and the slightly sweet mayonnaise mixture (from sweet pickle juice maybe?) in my side order. I'd go lighter or not at all with the mustard next time though.

It was only when I sat down that I realized one thing was missing: the au jus. Apparently, the sandwiches don't come with it at Philippe's; you have to order it separately. Now as a general rule here, I expect when I order a French dip sandwich, that it will come with some pan juice for me to dunk my sandwich in. This to me was a major faux pas. I did not go back and stand in line. I ate my sandwich and it was a good one. I'm just not sure I'm putting Philippe's on my top 10 sandwich list. I don't have one, for the record.


Cole's on Sixth Street in downtown Los Angeles.
Four days and two basketball games later, I made my way over to Cole's for my second French dip of the week. Yes, I passed on the French dip at Staples.

I liked the atmosphere at Philippe's. It seems informal, family oriented and almost college-like and the service was quick. It's high quality fast food, if you will. Cole's is a 180 from Philippe's in terms of the venue. And I was hooked immediately.


I love dark old bars. The older and darker without being dank, the better. And Cole's, at its very heart, is an ultimate dark old bar. What can I say about this place? First of all, it's partially underground, which in the qualities of bars I love adds value. Sixth Street slopes down from the west to east; Cole's, which is located mid-block, seems to have its floor at sidewalk level at the east side of the block. It's also, depending on your perspective, poorly lit or just above ambiently lit (I prefer the latter). Where clear glazing could admit light, there's stained glass. Where bare bulbs or white shades could be used on the artificial light, there are amber frosted globes.

The bar itself is fantastic. High, wooden and dark stained and well constructed to absorb the kind of use a bar over 100 years gets after that much time. And by the scratches and chips in the top rail of the bar, this place has seen some good times and some late nights. This is just the kind of bar I want to sit at and drink good beer and other spirits slowly for hours.
 


Cole's French dip sandwich with bacon potato salad.
One more thing before we get to the food. When I first sat down at the bar, the sound system was playing Jimmy Ruffn's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted?", which has to be one of my all-time favorite non-Temptations Motown songs. That started a torrent of great mid to late 1960's songs: the Who's "I Can't Explain", the Hollies' "Look Through Any Window", the Association's "Along Comes Mary" and The Animals' "It's My Life". If there was not enough reason to sit at Cole's all night, I found one in the music.

So let's get to the food. Cole's offers a similar range of dip sandwiches as Philippe's. To maintain an even playing field, I ordered the exact same thing I ordered over there the first night I was in town. Sort of. I didn't order pickles because the sandwich came with one spear and I got a cup of au jus, because French dip sandwiches are supposed to come with au jus and Cole's serves them that way. I also couldn't replicate the beer because they didn't have a blond on tap. I went with Lost Coast's Alley Cat Amber instead.

Cole's sandwich was better. It just was. Maybe it was because they claim to have invented it first. Maybe it was the au jus, which i finished all of one dip at a time by soaking it up in that soft almost cake-y French roll. Maybe it was the slightly thinner and slightly pinker roast beef which in my opinion had a little more juiciness to it.

I would not get the potato salad again at Cole's which I found too dry and maybe a little undercooked. They use bacon in their potato salad and I can't believe I'm writing I'd choose a dish without bacon over one with bacon but it is what it is. I would definitely get the pickles again, which are marinated in some kind of chile flake vinegar; in fact, I did. Cole's sandwiches come with a single spear; I ordered extra which turned out to be five more spears. The acid and the heat cut the richness of the sandwich well.


I still don't know which place invented the French dip sandwich, but I know where I'd rather go next time I'm in Los Angeles. Cole's has got to be one of the two best bars I've visited for the first time in the last year (along with Canton, Ohio's Conestoga Grill which was similarly dark as Cole's) in terms of what I love in a bar. I'd take a second shot at Cole's food, probably another French dip beef sandwich with some spicy tater tots. And I'd linger at the bar a lot longer than I did this time and listen to more of that great music they play over there. I don't care who came up with it first, Cole's would be my choice for the Los Angeles French dip.

April 1, 2017

And Then There Was Shaq


When I visited Los Angeles last year for the Wizards' annual roadie with the hometown Clippers, I spent some time checking out the collection of statues in Star Plaza, the open pedestrian area just north of Staples Center, the place where the Clips play their home games in L.A. Because there are no Clippers legends worth erecting a statue of (or just that there are no Clippers legends period), I spent most of my time there photographing statues of legendary Lakers, the team that shares the building with the Clips.

When I got back from the west coast, I spent a few moments banging out a post on this blog describing what I'd found, namely statues of former Lakers players Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and their legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn in addition to glossing over the fact that Wayne Gretzky and Oscar De La Hoya also have bronze likenesses of themselves in that spot. Hey, it's a blog about being a Wizards fan, so basketball statues get preferential treatment over hockey players and boxers.

This year I had the good fortune of being out in Los Angeles for work in a week that the Wizards were in town to battle both of the basketball residents of Staples Center. When I got there I found one more statue. And of course it's a Laker, not a Clipper. Welcome Shaquille O'Neal to Star Plaza.


I guess there's a chance that some readers of this blog might not have known who Jerry West and Chick Hearn were. There's a slimmer chance (although I guess it still exists) that there are a handful of folks out there who are not completely familiar with the careers of Kareem and Magic. But if you don't know who Shaq is and you consider yourself an NBA fan, you have to be living under some kind of rock.

Shaq's time in Los Angeles was shorter than it probably could have been, relatively contentious and extremely successful. He played in Laker purple and gold for eight seasons from the 1996-1997 season through the 2003-2004 season. He was an All-Star every year he spent in Los Angeles except one (1999); won three consecutive NBA Championships from 2000 to 2002; was the NBA Finals MVP each of the three title years; and won his lone Most Valuable Player award (in 2000).

Ultimately, Shaq kind of wore out his welcome in Tinseltown and was shipped off to the Miami Heat before the 2004-2005 season, where he ended up winning another championship in 2006. The tipping point for the Lakers to trade the most dominant big man in the game for three players and a single first round draft pick was his relationship or lack thereof with the Lakers' other star, Kobe Bryant. Shaq was 32 when he was traded away from L.A.; Kobe was 25. Since the Lakers won two more titles after the trade, it's hard to argue that they did the wrong thing. But just think about what they could have done if they just could have gotten along.


The first six statues in Star Plaza are all planted firmly on the ground. Shaq's is not; it's hanging from the side of the building.

I honestly think Shaq's statue is in an awkward spot. Sure, it's right near the main entrance to the building but the fact that he's mounted right on an inside corner of the building makes it seem like he's sort of shoved into a spot that should be out of the way. Maybe it's the only place that could structurally support a statue that weighs that much but for me, it would be a way better spot visually if they would have slid him to the west a little and had him attached to the exterior corner of one of the terraces overlooking Star Plaza.  Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's difficult to miss. A statue the actual size of a man Shaq's size would have a presence; this one is bigger. 

It's pretty difficult to get a good photo of bronze Shaq without getting a lot of crotch (top photo) or butt (photo above) at the spot he's in but this thing has some impressive details. On each of the Star Plaza Lakers statues, there's a muted purple and gold uniform. Shaq's is a little less muted, which I think looks better and some of the details, like the Shaq logo on the sneakers, are pretty cool. I also like the basketball in motion as it's passing through the hoop Shaq is hanging off. 

I think this statue is well deserved. I just think they could have made it more pedestrian viewing friendly.

I don't expect that I'll be headed back to Los Angeles any time soon for my next Wizards game. Of course, I didn't expect to be here this year so you never know. But I'm willing to bet the next time I'm there, there will be a sixth Laker statue: Kobe Bryant. I'm predicting it will be remote from Shaq and that it will have a number 24 jersey (the one he won his last two titles in without Shaq) rather than a number 8 (first three titles). 

I'm also predicting that next time I'm in Star Plaza there still won't be any Clippers' statues.

Wizards have one more roadie tomorrow night before heading back to Verizon Center. Just two more weeks left in the season. Let's finish strong they keep it going for the playoffs.

Shaq hanging off the building while Wayne Gretzky waves to the fans.

March 31, 2017

L.A. Story


If you had told me last year after I watched the Washington Wizards take on the Los Angeles Clippers in California that I'd be back again after just one year, I'd have said you were crazy. But here I am writing this blog post after four days of work and the past two nights over at Staples Center watching my beloved Wizards take on not just the Clippers, but the Lakers as well. Two nights ago, I watched my team win their first division championship in my 17 year and counting run as a season ticket holder. Unfortunately, we couldn't pull out a second win in as many nights against the Clips on a night when defense was mysteriously absent in the first three quarters and Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter were mysteriously absent in the fourth quarter.

I can't remember the last time the Wizards played the Clippers and Lakers back to back in Los Angeles. It may actually have never happened. I loved it because I got to see the Wiz two nights in a row without having to move anywhere. I also loved it because the contrast between going to a game featuring the Lakers, who are very definitely one of the two most successful franchises in NBA history, rather than the Clippers, who are very much the upstart ugly stepsister of the pair, is interesting to see on back to back nights. There's a lot to compare and contrast there. I'm picking six things, because the best things in life come in six packs. Read on.


1. Ticket Prices
As of the end of last night's game, the Clippers are 45-31 and sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference. They've qualified for the postseason already and are very definitely in a fight with the Utah Jazz to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers, on the other hand as of last night, are just 21-52 and are in last place in the Conference. They are already eliminated from the postseason but in some happy news for Lakers fans, they will not set a franchise lowest wins in a season mark for the third straight year.

Know whose tickets cost more on the secondary market? The Lakers for sure. I bought my tickets for both games on StubHub (whom I LOVE) and looked in the upper deck, the Premier level (the equivalent of Verizon Center's 200 level with a little extra), the lower level and the center three sections of the lower level. The cheapest ticket I could find in each of those sections for the Clippers game was $11.96, $57.20, $48.35 and $141.30 respectively. Prices for the Lakers game in those four spots were lows of $27.90, $36.32, $85.47 and $175.95. More expensive across the board except in the Premier seats, where I ended up sitting. As good as the Clips are, the Lakers are still the show.


2. Outside
On the north side of Staples Center there is a plaza which serves as the primary entrance to the arena. Scattered about the plaza near that entrance are a series of seven statues: one of Wayne Gretzky, one of Oscar De La Hoya, one of legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn and four of Lakers legends who brought the team championship contenders and NBA titles. The Lakers own the outside of Staples. There is very little signage hung on the building to suggest this is the home of the Lakers. They don't have to. Their former players are everywhere in bronze form.

So what happens before a Clippers game? Well, there's a very large banner hung from the roof and there's some kind of outdoor broadcast booth erected in Star Plaza (that's the name of the place; it's just missing Clippers' stars) in an in vain attempt to draw attention from their big brother Lakers. There's an obvious inferiority complex on display that wouldn't be there if they didn't share the facility with a way more successful team. There are no Wizards statues in front of Verizon Center. But there are also no other teams' statues mocking the lack of success of our franchise.

Ahh the harmony...
3. Fans
When I walked in Staples Center I was handed a program with the words "Remembering 1987" on the front, a reference to the 30 year anniversary of one of the Lakers' championship teams led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was both appropriate and sad. That team is worth celebrating but there's also nothing current to make any noise about if you are the Lakers. But I have to tell you, Lakers fans show up. Wearing Magic Johnson jerseys, Shaquille O'Neal jerseys and Kobe Bryant jerseys. They are living in the past because there's nothing good about the present but they are there in all their delusion about their team.

Clips fans? Well there are some but I'm not sure how much they believe. Sure there were a few Chris Paul jerseys, plenty of Blake Griffin jerseys and maybe one or two DeAndre Jordan jerseys but all the jerseys are shiny new. There's a feeling that folks are jumping on the bandwagon and they are hoping like heck that the Clips redeem them. I saw a number of Wizards shirts and jerseys at the Lakers game but there were (in my informal survey of the building) more Wiz fans on the second night vs. the Clippers. This is a fan base that wants to believe but doesn't feel confident about it. I guess that's better than being a just wanting to believe but knowing there's no hope Lakers fan.


4. The Banners
Gaze toward the west end (at least I think it's the west end) of Staples Center during a Lakers game and you'll see a lot of gold banners with purple stitching on them hanging above the upper level of seating, one for each of the 11 titles the team has won since they moved to Los Angeles in 1959 and one for the remaining five the team won in Minneapolis (which admittedly is not purple and gold but blue and gold). There are no division championship banners or conference championship banners; the additional 54 (!!!) banners that would be required for that display would just clutter up the building rafters. It's pretty impressive I have to say. Especially if you are a Clippers fan.

The night after I took a couple of pics of the Lakers' banners, I returned to Staples and took a similar photo of that end of the building during the Clippers game. All I can say is it's a good thing they can print large banners with the likenesses of players who have never won a championship or even made it to the Conference Finals. The Clippers made it their first 41 seasons in the league without winning a thing before winning a division title in years 42 and 43 (2013 and 2014). I thought they'd at least have those two hanging in the building but I guess I either couldn't find them or they are not there. Maybe there's a rule in the building if you don't win it all, you don't get to hang any laundry. If that's a rule, the Clips have to hate that one.


5. The Intros
So far in this post, I've dissed the Clippers pretty heavily. I think as a Wizards fan I have the chops (if that's the right word and I'm pretty sure it isn't) to do that. But if there's one spot the Clippers have the Lakers beat, it's in this department, but maybe not for the reason you expect.

If you are an NBA franchise, no matter how good or bad you are, it seems like you have to have a lights out (I mean that literally) special effects type video for the introductions of the starting lineups (this year the Wiz have three, one of which features Jason Smith playing Skee-ball which is the best thing ever). If you are good, these things can be awesome; if you are not, they seem a little silly. The Clips are good and their pyrotechnics and laser show let's get ready to rumble starting lineup intro is appropriately scaled. The Lakers are not good. Theirs is a bit sad.


I don't think I've seen a starting lineup announcement quite like the Lakers use. After they turn out the lights, they drop two enormous curtains from the scoreboard to form a cylinder of fabric on which they project way larger than life images of their star players and blast music to get the crowd fired up. And by "star players" I mean Nick Young, D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. etc. etc. Sort of a lot of fuss for those guys, right? I know I've made fun of the Clippers for being historically bad in this post, but they win this one.


6. The Game
Celebrating the Clippers in this post is short lived. I've only made it to about half the arenas in the NBA but if there are two franchises which get game lighting right, it's the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers.

When I go to a basketball game, I want the focus squarely on the court, not on the crowd. I want the playing surface lit brilliantly like a Broadway musical or a movie stage set. I don't care how good the team hosting the game is (and let's face it the Knicks and Lakers are awful), you ought to light the building like you mean it. That means the court brilliantly lit up and the stands dark to make the lighting on the court that much more bright by contrast. They get this in New York and they get this in Lakerland. The bright lights make the court and the jerseys of the two teams stand out so theatrically, I don't understand why all arenas don't do this. Sure it makes it difficult to see your cup holder when you are done taking a swig of your beer but who cares? It's what's on the court that counts.

The Clippers don't get this. Nor do the Wizards and many many many other NBA franchises. At a Lakers game you can't see the crowd; at a Clippers game, you can. And there's nothing wrong with the way the Clips do it until you take in a Lakers game. It's almost like they are doing it differently to just be different without realizing that the value is so much less. Actually, that would be historical Clippers to a tee.

DeAndre, Jamal, Blake, J.J. and Chris. Those guys or banners. Take your pick.
I'm disappointed that I've seen the Wizards lose twice in a row to the Clippers in Los Angeles but I'm for sure not disappointed in any way that I leveraged a work assignment to get out here twice in one week to see the Wiz take on Los Angeles' finest (and not finest I guess). Traveling to new places or places you have been before enriches life's experiences. I wouldn't have missed the Wizards clinching their first division title since 1979 for the world, and I'm glad things came together so I could see them do it in person in L.A. I feel I deserved that experience, no matter where it happened and I feel lucky that I was in the right place at the right time.

There's one other story worth telling here. Before the Lakers game the first night, I had my cab driver drop me off at El Cholo on Flower Street just a couple of blocks from Staples. El Cholo was the joint that introduced nachos to Los Angeles (and perhaps the entire United States by extension) in 1959. Over a plate of Carmen's Nachos I met my new friend Clem and we spent 30 minutes or so talking hoops, from Lonzo Ball (Clem thinks his dad talks to much and he's right) to west coast vs. east coast in the NCAA final four (I'm pulling for South Carolina; Clem wants Gonzaga or Oregon) to this year's NBA MVP (Clem's looking at Russell Westbrook; I hope I convinced him James Harden is first followed by John Wall).

I love random encounters with basketball fans. Clem bought Lakers season tickets some years ago with some friends and had them for a few seasons but really loves all sports. I know I talked with this guy for just half an hour in my life but I wish him the best. And I'm glad his Lakers lost to my Wizards. And I'm sure I'd be happy for him if his team beat mine and won their first championship (yes, I know it's JUST a division) in 38 years. Can't we just all get along? Going home tomorrow late. Go Wizards.

Jordan (the wrong one), Wall, dude with a Wizards hat and Jordan (the right one but only just).