May 18, 2016

Courtside At Verizon Center (Almost)

So let's get it out of the way in the second sentence of this post. Yes, I went to a Washington Mystics game. For the first time. Ever. The Mystics have been around since 1998, so one year (and a bit) longer than I've been down in the D.C. area and a couple of years before I made the decision to spring for some Wizards season tickets. The WNBA started one year earlier than the Mystics started playing with eight teams and the league now consists of 12 franchises. Some decision that Wizards choice turned out to be.

So why a Mystics game? Well, I figured I deserved to see some pro hoops in the District in May and God knows, this past year's Wizards team ain't giving that to me. Plus the Mystics squeaked into the playoffs last season so maybe they are on the rise. Although we thought that about the Wizards too, right? But more than that, I think it was just time. I've spent the last few years expanding my professional basketball experience, including seven summer leagues in Vegas and criss-crossing the country in search of Wizards road contests and NBDL games so it's just time to give the women their due. At least for one game. To start.

Taking in a WNBA game is significantly different than watching NBA games at Verizon Center. There are obvious cosmetic differences: there are four 10 minute quarters instead of the game being 48 minutes long; the upper deck is closed entirely; the concessions stands are about as open as they were during the 2008-2009 19-63 Wizards campaign; and tickets are a lot lot cheaper. On this last point, we sat one row behind courtside on the non-bench side of the court and paid less (with fees) than I will pay for my lower level corner seat at a discounted price next year.

The action on the court is also different. This is definitely a below the rim league. Dunking is super super rare (although not unheard of but it's generally a really big deal when someone dunks) and the Mystics started two 6'-5" centers who were the tallest players on the squad. It's a game where passing is at a premium and you take maximum advantage of the other team's mistakes to capitalize on every opportunity to win the game. It's really a team game and not an isolation game that you so often find in the NBA. Imagine that...a team game. Huh!

Saturday's game was the 2016 season opener against the New York Liberty. The Mystics lost, just like the Wizards lost their home opener this past year to the New York Knicks. Washington losing to New York in season openers must be a trend this year. I know nothing about the personnel on the Mystics roster but it wouldn't have been a game without Tayler Hill in the first half and Bria Hartley in the second half. Those two kept it close for the Mystics but ultimately it was New York's ability to pick apart the Mystics' defense with their interior passing that turned a 45-45 halftime game into an 11 point loss. Oh well.

One of the reasons I love attending basketball games which are not Wizards games is to see how my non-Wizards experience might translate to what I sit through for 35-41 home games per year. Of course, I got some things out of my first ever WNBA game.

Jersey Advertisements Are Coming

We've known this for a while but it really hit home during Saturday night's game. The WNBA has been selling advertisement space on their jerseys for years. The Mystics last year were sponsored by the iNova Health System; this year, Verizon graces the Mystics' unis. The NBDL has been doing something similar the last couple of years and just this week, the Philadelphia 76ers became the first team to sell ad space on an NBA jersey in their deal with StubHub.

But the thing that struck me most about Saturday's game was the New York Liberty's jerseys. The words "New York" or "Liberty" appear nowhere on the jersey. There's just a DraftKings ad above the number and a Verizon ad below. For all we know, this could be the jersey of any team in any basketball league in the world. I think it's gone too far. I get that the NBA is only selling a 2" x 2" square of space on their jerseys, but I still don't like it and the owners don't need the revenue. I'm still hoping someone will see the error of their ways here but I don't think it's going to happen. I dread the 2017-2018 season.

Where's The Scoreboard?

OK, so I realize this is one of those first world problem type of things, but it's really difficult to figure out the score of the game from (almost) courtside. The score appears in no immediately available sight line. You are almost right below the center scoreboard which means you need to basically look straight up to see any sorts of statistical information. Yep, there's a score kept at the two ends of the building but those are admittedly hard to naturally glance at.

I liked the solution they employed at Staples Center in Los Angeles to allow the people with the fattest wallets to see the game replays and stats. At Staples, the underside of the center scoreboard is outfitted with monitors which display all the same game stats as the rest of the non-courtside patrons have access to. You know what? This issue is not likely to be a frequent enough issue for me to care about in all honesty. Let's move on.

Make Some Noise!!!

If you have ever attended a Washington Wizards home game at Verizon Center, it's likely you may have wondered if the team actually has any fans. The place is positively dead regularly. Now, I'm not talking about games against the Celtics, Knicks, Warriors (this year), Spurs (about the last four years) or any team with LeBron James on it (same fans, different jersey); in those games, the opposing fans (or "fans" if you prefer) definitely make their presence felt. But Wizards fans? The atmosphere makes me wonder. Now if the team could just encourage loyalty in fans by keeping season ticket pricing low. But that's a subject for few months ago...and likely next February.

From the seat map on TicketMaster when I bought our seats, I expected the lower bowl to be really full on Saturday night. It wasn't. It was about as full as a Wizards game on a Tuesday night at tip-off. That is, not packed at all. But when urged to make some noise, my God, do those Mystics fans make a lot of racket. It's actually quite awesome. I bet the 3,000 or so fans (my totally uncorroborated guess) at the Mystics' season opener made more noise than the Wizards experienced in most games this past year. I think the point here is Wizards fans suck at making noise and raising ticket prices doesn't help.

Bradley Beal Is Staying

One of the most noticeable changes to Verizon Center since the end of the Wizards season is the installation of a series of supergraphics in four location in the lower bowl of the building. In the two main entries to the 100 level on either side of the building, Monumental Sports and Entertainment has opened up its wallet and spent a few bucks on some murals featuring Wizards and Capitals players. John Wall and Alexander Ovechkin are featured on the F Street side of the building; Bradley Beal and Nicklas Backstrom are on the opposite side.

To me, this is just another sign that the Wizards intend to re-sign Beal at whatever cost is required, which likely means a maximum deal for player who's contribution may or may not fall close to maximum deal potential. Yes, I know these graphics were probably installed to get Caps fans fired up about a Stanley Cup run. I also know that the cost to replace the Beal side of the tunnel with [insert name of non-marquee free agent here] is super minimal but I still think this cements Bradley coming back next year. I hope that works out.

I initially wrote this post with a statement that I likely will not be watching a WNBA game in person again anytime soon. I'm not sure that's true. While I'm not as invested to near the degree I am in the Wizards, the second half comeback spearheaded by Bria Hartley on Saturday night was pretty exciting and I caught myself yelling "AND ONE!" after a made basket with a foul. Who knows...maybe there will be a second time. 

Now if only there were bobblehead giveaways...but we already know the answer to that question, right?

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