June 10, 2015


This post probably gets filed in the "less sense than money" category.

Randy Wittman has been head coach of the Washington Wizards for just a little bit less than four seasons. He was elevated to that position after the Wizards got tired of the lack of results under Flip Saunders and decided to kick Flip to the curb just 17 games into the 2011-2012 NBA season. Since his appointment as head coach, Randy's record is not stellar, posting a 46.4 winning percentage, although he did manage to get the Wizards into the second round of the NBA playoffs each of the last two years, something that hadn't happened in 36 years.

Sad though it may seem (because it's easy to achieve given my favorite team's historical performance), Randy is already becoming one of the most accomplished coaches in Wizards / Bullets team history. Despite his below even winning percentage, he's eighth all time in that category among the 23 head men in franchise history. I expect as his teams continue to win, he'll bring his winning percentage higher and higher. A 21-0 start at the beginning of next season would bring him to .500 instantly.

Randy fares better in some other franchise coaching categories. In total games coached, he's fifth. If he lasts to the end of next season he'll pass Dick Motta, who won the 1977-1978 NBA Championship with the Bullets. In playoff wins, Randy ranks fourth with 12 in just two playoff appearances. Maybe if John Wall hadn't hurt his wrist, the Wizards would still be playing and he'd be adding to that total.

In playoff winning percentage, Randy is first in team history with a 57.1 winning percentage. First!!! Granted there have been only two Wizards / Bullets head coaches who have an above .500 winning rate (the other being Dick Motta) but still…Randy deserves some credit here I think. If he wins three more playoff games next year, he'll be in second place on the all time team playoff wins list; If he gets the Wizards an NBA title, he'll be first. By one game.

If you read this blog regularly or know me personally, you'll know I'm a big Randy Wittman fan. He stresses the less glamorous parts of the game (fundamentals and defense) that are generally more difficult to be good at and he holds people accountable for performance. Those two things have been instrumental in turning the culture of the Wizards team over the last three plus seasons. So in honor of Randy being the winningest coach in Wizards / Bullets playoff history, I thought I'd see if I could buy all of Randy's basketball cards from his days as a player. I think I did that (and more) all for the low low price of $34.07. Here's what my money got me.

1983-1988: The Atlanta Hawks Years

Randy was drafted in the first round of the 1983 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets as the 22nd overall pick. He never played in Washington as the Bullets traded his rights to the Atlanta Hawks for Tom McMillen, who apparently asked then Hawks owner Ted Turner for a trade to Washington so he could start working on his post-NBA career as a politician. Turner obliged and Randy ended up in Atlanta.

Randy ended up spending five seasons down south and got a basketball card of himself each of those five years. Basketball cards back in the 1980s weren't like basketball cards today. There was generally only one series of cards manufactured and not everyone got a card. There were no alternate series of cards, autographed cards or pieces of jersey or sneaker embedded in the cards. There were just plain old thin cardboard cards with an image on the front and some statistics on the back. These days there are what I refer to as liner notes about each player on the backs of the many many cards that players get today. A couple of years ago, I found some fairly amusing words on the backs of some of my Wizards cards which I wrote about in this blog.

I invested anywhere from $1.25 to $3.00 for each of my Randy Wittman cards but I sprung for a whole $5.00 plus $2.99 shipping for his rookie card, which came in a special plastic case with a grading number of 10 which I assume is the best grade a card can receive since it's noted as "Mint or Better." I'm not sure how anything can be better than mint but whatever. The image on the card is awesome, showing a wide eyed rookie in the horrendous mid-1980s Atlanta warmups. Is this the best picture they could find? The card is shown above, still in it's special plastic case because I haven't figured out how to remove it yet.

Randy's 1984-1985 through 1986-1987 cards are shown above in order from left to right. His second year card again shows him in his warmups, this time with the short sleeved shooting shirt removed and displaying his Hawks uni with the diagonal team name and numbers. I don't know what someone was thinking when they designed those things. I like the Hawks logo on the cards produced by Star; when Fleer got the contract they decided to remove the logo and not even mention the city where the Hawks are located. I'm not such a big fan of the Fleer cards.

Randy's third and fourth year cards use the exact same picture of him dribbling the ball up the court in front of a typically empty Hawks arena. Maybe there were a lot fewer pictures taken at basketball games in the 1980s so the same image got used two years in a row, with a little color contrast adjustment to confuse people a bit. I'm guessing the card companies figured nobody would ever assemble a collection of Randy Wittman cards so they could probably get away with the exact same pic. Little did they know…

Randy's final Hawks card is awesome. I love the maniacal look on Randy's face as he's (and I'm presuming here) launching one of the midrange jumpers he was famous for during his career in front of a watching Magic Johnson. I'm guessing the shot went down. Randy shot over 50% from the field during his career, which is pretty impressive at the guard position.

1988-1989: The Sacramento Kings (Half) Year

After the 1987-1988 NBA season, one in which the Atlanta Hawks would lose in game seven of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against a Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics team, Randy was traded to the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Theus. Just like his five years in Atlanta, Randy managed to get a basketball card for his time in Sacramento.

Randy's not wearing a Kings uniform on his 1988-1989 card, presumably because the cards were printed in the summer before the season started and he hadn't yet donned a Kings uni. So of course the folks at Fleer used the exact same image that they used in 1986 and Star used in 1985. Is the only stock image of Randy Wittman playing basketball that anyone felt comfortable using in the mid-1980s?

For its image alone, the card is a classic. But I love the "Traded to Sacramento" pennant placed over the Hawks name, as if someone had placed an actual sticker or something on an old Atlanta card. The back of the card displays Randy's stats as a pro, just like the Atlanta cards did. Card manufacturers still hadn't started adding liner notes to the backs of cards yet. That would change soon.

1989-1992: The Indiana Pacers Years

Randy's stay in Sacramento was brief. He wouldn't last the 1988-1989 NBA season, being traded to his hometown Indiana Pacers on February 20, 1989 in exchange for Wayman Tisdale and a draft pick. Indiana is where Randy would spend the rest of his playing career.

By the time Randy got home to Indy, he was effectively done as a starting player in the NBA. With the exception of his rookie year in Atlanta, he never averaged fewer than 9.9 points per contest while playing there. In Indiana, he only averaged as many as 5.2 points per game in 1988-1989, his first year back in town. In the 1985-1986 NBA season with Atlanta, Randy managed 12.9 points per game in 81 games. The next two years (also in Atlanta), he'd average 12.7 and 10.0 in 71 and 82 games respectively. His last three years in Indy saw scoring averages of 2.1, 1.8 and 0.7 points per game. Done...

Despite his lack of production, the folks who made basketball cards back then saw to it that Randy got one each year he was playing for the Pacers, and doubled the fun by making two in 1990-1991. By this time, basketball cards were starting to become collectible as the trading card market exploded. I'm not sure it was worth it making two Wittman cards in a single year, but it wouldn't be the last time that happened either. Randy's cards from the 1989-1990 and 1990-1991 seasons are shown above. 1989-1990 was the first time we saw the issuance of cards under the NBA Hoops brand, a line carried on to this day by Panini America. I don't know how successful the arched design of the two cards on the left are but I'm positive it's better than the Skybox swoosh and diagonal lines design on the right. In this card, Randy looks like he's an unwitting contest in some sort of basketball Tron, although 8 years after that movie was originally released.

During the 1991-1992 season, the Hoops design loses the arched feature (shown above on the left), which definitely enhances the brand, although the appearance is still sort of bargain basement, a look which sort of continues to this day. That year would be Randy's last in the NBA, although that didn't stop Topps from producing two Wittman cards during the following season after the Pacers waived him: the gold embossed Stadium Club series on the right above featuring Randy shooting in warmups or practice and the shot of him on the bench shown below. Two cards and he didn't play a single game?? That's not bad.

During Randy's first year in Indy, we finally see notes about the players' histories on the backs of cards. They wouldn't be there every year but they'd eventually stick. The notes on the backs of these cards often stretch the truth; I'm convinced writers employed by the card companies are paid to embellish the facts as much as possible. I'm not sure why. It's not like people are buying the cards for the information on the backs.

The words on the back of the Stadium Club card are both prescient and sort of pathetic. First... "Coach on the floor type who hasn't been a regular starter sine 1987-88." Well that's projecting Randy's future vocation pretty well, although as I've noted many times before there are many who feel Randy is not damn good at coaching (I'm not one of them, just to reiterate). And then..."Once played 54 minutes in a playoff game without fouling." Is that all they can say that's positive? Really? OK, whatever. How many people play that many minutes in a playoff game, let alone without fouling.

So how cool is all that? I mean who has a better Randy Wittman basketball card collection than me? I'm guessing the answer is nobody.

But wait! I didn't even talk about the best part. By sheer luck while I was looking on ebay for everything that makes up my Randy Wittman card collection, I stumbled upon some dude selling a few Pizza Hut promotional cards from the 1986-1987 season, including one of Randy. There have to be far fewer of these cards than any of the others in my small collection so this really becomes the crown jewel of my Wittman card stash. It's shown in all its glory at the top of this post. The photo looks like a headshot straight out of the Hawks' media guide and I love the fact that the phone number has no area code. Like why would you even need more than one area code in a city in the 1980s.

With the Pizza Hut card, I know my collection is the best Wittman stash on the planet. Bring on the comments!! I swear I'll lay off the Randy Wittman appreciation posts for at least a few months now. Summer league starts in less than five weeks!

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