March 23, 2016

Look Who's At Verizon Center!

I know some of these photos suck. Get over it.

When I first became a Washington Wizards season ticket holder, the scorer's table stretched from the home bench on the east side of the court to the visitors' bench on the west side of the court. At that time, the scorer's table was where the official timekeeper, the official scorer (hence the name), the public address announcer plus the television guys both for the Wizards and the away team sat. I'm sure it had been that way for about like ever.

Then a few years ago, Wizards ownership figured they could make a little more cash if they shortened the scorer's table a bit and added some seats next to each team's bench. Now before you scoff and think about how little money that is really worth to ownership, consider these seats for the 2016-2017 season cost $2,200 per game per seat. That's $90,200 for a full regular season per seat. Heck, that's $3,300 for three meaningless preseason games. WOW!!! And there's like 12 of these things. That's pretty much a cool million per year.

Now, since the table was shorter, someone had to go, right? They couldn't move any of the game officials (how would they deal with those "operations to the scorer's table" pages when the clock malfunctioned?) so they decided to move some folks who didn't need seats as close as they used to have: the television guys. Why am I writing all this? Well, when they moved the TV guys, they moved them to the top of Section 110 and all of them now walk up the aisle between Sections 109 and 110 before every game, which means they walk right by my seats.

That means I get to say hi to Phil Chenier and Steve Buckhantz every game if I want. It also means I get to have every opposing team's announcers walk within about three feet of me. Most of the play by play guys are broadcasting guys, vets of the business who have worked their way up from entry level jobs in television to calling 82 (or more for the right team) games per year on local cable. But they are usually partnered with an analyst who's a former player. And that can be pretty cool. Here are some of the guys who walked within arm's length of me this season.

October 31: Walt "Clyde" Frazier
Two time NBA Champion; seven time All-Star; Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 1987.

Walt Frazier anchored the New York Knicks backcourt on their two NBA Championship teams in 1970 and then again in 1973. In the excess crazy 1970s, Frazier was famous for wearing full length fur coats with matching hats and driving a custom Rolls Royce. He picked up the nickname "Clyde" because the hats he wore looked like the fedora worn by Warren Beatty in the movie Bonnie and Clyde.

While Frazier played all the way until 1980 (with the Cleveland Cavaliers of all teams), I never got the chance to see him play (too young and not interested in basketball in the first year we moved to the U.S.)  but used to listen to his broadcasts while a Knicks fan in my purgatory years in upstate New York. His game calls are about as flashy as his wardrobe. Love the pink suit. And he wasn't wearing it because it was Halloween.

December 4: Derek Harper

Unlike Clyde, Derek Harper never won an NBA title and never made an All-Star game (I'm shocked about that second one). He's also never making the Basketball Hall of Fame. That's what happens I guess when you spend the majority of your career with the pre-Mark Cuban era Dallas Mavericks. But like Walk Frazier, Harper did play for the New York Knicks which is why I love Derek Harper so much.

When I first got out of college, one of my favorite distractions to my otherwise non-exciting life in Cooperstown, New York, was watching the New York Knicks on the Madison Square Garden network. When I got to Cooperstown, the Knicks had just traded for Harp and moved him into the starting backcourt along with John Starks (also LOVE Starks!) to replace the injured and out for the season Doc Rivers. Harper was the missing piece the Knicks needed to get beyond the competition and make it to the NBA Finals, their first appearance since Frazier took them to the title way back in 1973. Yes, Michael Jordan playing baseball might have had something to do with the Knicks' success but I'm giving credit to Harper anyway. The Knicks lost on my birthday that year to the Houston Rockets. That was as close as Harper got to a title.

I loved watching Derek Harper play for the Knicks. He was without question my favorite player on the team. He was so in control of the game for the Knicks and seemed to be a stabilizing force for the team when he was on the court. If I'd been buying NBA jerseys back then, I would definitely have invested in a number 11 jersey.

December 19: Dell Curry
NBA Sixth Man of the Year 1994.

Is Dell Curry more famous today from his time as an NBA player or in his current role as Steph Curry's dad? It's hard to tell sometimes but Curry was definitely a force in his playing days, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 1994 and scoring enough points in Charlotte to be (still) the Hornets' all time leading scorer.

Curry was selected by the Hornets in the expansion draft for that franchise on its way into the league when he was left unprotected by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the second team he had played with in as many years to start his career. He spent the next ten years in Charlotte before closing out the last four years of his career in Milwaukee and Toronto. Unlike Clyde and Harp, I have no special memories of Dell as a player, although I must have seen him play early on in my season ticket tenure when he was a member of the Raptors. I'm just happy to say I don't remember him being a Wizards killer, like so many other players have been.

December 23: Brevin Knight

I look forward to the Memphis Grizzlies' visit every year because Brevin Knight is calling the game for the visitors. Why Brevin Knight? Because right now he's the only former Wizard (Phil Chenier was a Bullet, remember) who's calling games on TV and I saw him play in his one partial season in Washington.

I remember noticing Brevin a couple of years ago making his way up our aisle and said to my friend Mike "hey, it's Brevin Knight!" Brevin stopped and talked to us, seeming surprised that someone at Verizon Center actually knew who he was. I told him I remembered him playing for the Wizards and said something about his number 22 jersey which I think struck home that I did actually remember him. Brevin spent 12 years in the NBA playing for nine NBA teams. Memphis was the third team he played for way back in 2001 to 2003.

The partial year Brevin played for the Wizards (he played for Phoenix and Milwaukee that same year) was probably not the highlight of his career but he's still my favorite visiting broadcaster. This year I said hi and got a handshake and a "Merry Christmas!" out of him. See you next year, Brevin!

January 25: Brian Scalabrine

NBA Champion.

Of the guys in this post, Brian Scalabrine is probably the least accomplished as a professional basketball player. But he did win an NBA championship, which give him something Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson and a whole lot of other guys who have played in the NBA don't have, including Derek Harper, Dell Curry and Brevin Knight.

Scalabrine became somewhat of a cult hero for Boston Celtics fans during the Pierce-Garnett-Allen (and Rondo I guess) years which produced an NBA title in 2008. He was the human equivalent of Red Auerbach's victory cigar during some of those years and at the end of a blowout win, the Boston crowd would often chant "Scal-A-Bri-Ne". Good for Brian, I guess. He parlayed the five years he spent in Boston during the middle of his 11 year career into a steady gig filling Tom Heinsohn's role as analyst during road games for the Cs. 

Dominique Wilkins

Nine time All-Star; Baskeball Hall of Fame Class of 2006.

I don't really remember watching Dominque Wilkins play basketball but suffice it to say he's likely the best player the Atlanta Hawks have ever had play for their franchise and for sure one of the best dunkers in NBA history, winning the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend twice and earning the nickname "the human highlight reel."

Dominque never earned much team success in Atlanta. The Hawks never made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in his time there. But he did cement his playoff legacy in a game seven of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Celtics. In that contest, Dominique scored 47 on the Cs in what is regarded as one of the greatest playoff one-on-one contests in NBA playoff history. His adversary that day? Larry Bird, who for Larry was having a pretty ordinary day until the fourth quarter when he poured in 20 points to lead Boston to victory in the series. It was in many ways Wilkins' signature moment of his career, although it ultimately came in a loss, which is sort of fitting considering the Hawks' success while he was in town.

I truly believe the NBA is the best in person sports experience in the world. One of main reasons I believe that is how close you can get to the action on the playing field. No sport gives the kind of in person, so close you can touch fan experience. For me the past few years, that experience has occurred in the stands as well as some pretty awesome former players have strolled by me. I thought it was worth putting some of this in a blog post.

I've managed to capture six of the 29 Wizards opponents' television analysts here. Notable among those who are missing are Shaun Elliot of the San Antonio Spurs and David Wesley of the New Orleans Pelicans. In the case of both those guys, I just wasn't paying attention close enough at the beginning of the games. I also missed former Wizards All-Star Antawn Jamison, who has assisted on the call a few times this year. Here's hoping AJ will make that spot permanent and spend the rest of my Wizards fan tenure walking by me.

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