Tonight the Washington Wizards clinched the NBA's Southeast Division Championship. I'm so happy and proud to say I was there when it happened even though it was on the west coast. It was a game the Wizards had no business losing and then ironically had no business winning.
It is the first division title for the franchise since they adopted the Wizards nickname and the first since I first bought season tickets in the fall of 2000. Finally, my team has won something and I couldn't be more happy. I can't wait to get my hands on a Southeast Division Champions t-shirt, which will be ordered as soon as they are available online or picked up at Verizon Center next week, whichever comes first.
Why am I so happy about this? Know how long it's been since the Wizards franchise last won a division championship? 1979. 38 years ago. That year the NBA had 22 teams in four divisions. The Jazz were still in New Orleans, the Nets were still in New Jersey, the Kings were still in Kansas City, the SuperSonics were still in Seattle and the Clippers were still in San Diego. The Rockets and Spurs were in the Eastern Conference and the Kings, Bucks, Pacers and Bulls were all in the Western Conference despite all those four cities being east of both Houston and San Antonio. The SuperSonics that year beat the Bullets for the NBA title, Moses Malone was the league's Most Valuable Player and George Gervin led the league in scoring.
As you might expect (and if it wasn't obvious from the paragraph above), in the 37 seasons between championships a lot has happened in the NBA. The league has expanded to 30 teams by putting franchises in Dallas, Miami, Charlotte (twice), Minnesota, Orlando, Toronto and Vancouver (who have since moved to Memphis). One of the Charlotte expansion teams moved to New Orleans to replace the departed Jazz who moved to Utah. Three teams have changed their names not related to a city move: the New Orleans Pelicans who ditched the Hornets nickname, the Charlotte Bobcats, who picked up the Pels' unwanted Hornets name and my beloved Washington Wizards, who decided the world was just too darned violent and would rather not be called the Bullets anymore. Some folks are still clinging to the old name.
Of course there have been 37 champions crowned since the end of the 1978-1979 season but only 11 franchises have managed to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy over those years. The Lakers have won it all 10 times, the Bulls are second with six, the Spurs follow them with five and the Celtics, Pistons, Heat, Rockets, 76ers, Warriors and Cavaliers fill in the rest of the years. Congratulations to all those franchises I guess as well as the Trail Blazers, Suns, Knicks, Magic, SuperSonics, Jazz, Pacers, Nets and Thunder who made it to the Finals but couldn't pull it out. At least you made it.
There have been lots and lots of Division winners since '79 too, just not the Wizards. 28 different teams to be exact, including one franchise (the Seattle SuperSonics / Oklahoma City Thunder) who won at least one under two different names. The Spurs have raised the most banners since the 70s with 19, the Lakers are just one behind and the Celtics and Heat round out the list of 10 plus division winners since the 80s began. Before this year, just four teams were without titles in their current incarnations: the Brooklyn Nets (who did win four while in Jersey); the Charlotte Hornets (who didn't win one the first time they were in Charlotte or when they were called the Bobcats or under their current identity); the Memphis Grizzlies (who stand with the Hornets as the two only completely win-less franchises); and the Washington Wizards.