May 23, 2018

10 11 25 41 45

This is blog post number three of four before I officially shut this blog down for the summer on account of the Wizards miserable play this past season. More than a month later and I'm still super bitter. This is going to take a while to wear off.

Among the bad losses, the apathetic on court attitude, the poorly constructed roster (both short term and long term) and the seemingly limited coaching skill to close out games, there were actually some good moments during this year's Wizards season. One of those occurred in late March, when the Wizards elected to retire the number 45, which of course for anyone who knows anything about the history of the Wizards and Bullets was worn mostly almost exclusively by Phil Chenier. DeJuan Blair had it for a season, if you must know.

So let's pretend that you don't know who Phil Chenier is for a minute or two and let me go through his resume just a little. Phil was drafted in the Hardship Draft in 1971 fourth overall by the Baltimore Bullets. The Hardship Draft was a supplemental draft for underclassmen who wished to enter the NBA through some hardship exception. This draft has since been eliminated but at that time,  you were not allowed to enter the draft until after your college class had graduated. Phil was selected after his junior year at the University of California Berkeley.

From there, Phil would go on to be selected to the 1972 NBA All-Rookie First Team before being selected to three NBA All-Star games in 1974, 1975 and 1977. In the 1975 campaign Phil was selected to the All-NBA Second Team making him the only player from the 1971 Supplemental Draft to make an All-Star Game and All-NBA honors. What else? Oh, how about an NBA Championship in 1978 (without playing a single minute that year unfortunately) and still holding the Bullets / Wizards single game regulation scoring record at 53 against Portland in December of 1972 (Earl Monroe and Gilbert Arenas later bested that mark in a single game but they did it in overtime). He still ranks 9th all time in franchise history in games played, 7th in minutes played and point scored and 10th in assists.

To top all of that off, in 1985 he started working the color analyst duties at Bullets games for Home Team Sports on cable television. That gig went full time a couple of years later and he stuck with it all the way until the end of the 2016-2017 NBA season when he (ahem) retired. More on that situation later in this post. 33 years calling Bullets and then Wizards games. Wow that must be have been tough. I think I've got it bad sticking with this team for just 18 years. And relatively speaking, these have been a pretty good 18 years for this franchise.

The ceremony replay in quarter three. Wizards down by 12.
Phil's 45 jersey is the fifth retired by the team, following those of (in numerical order) Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Gus Johnson and Wes Unseld. The last player to have his number retired before Phil was Earl The Pearl back in December of 2007. I gotta believe that of all the retired Bullets and Wizards players out there, this has to be it. I can't beleive there are any other players from the 1978 championship team worthy of jersey retirements and I don't think any member of the mid-aughts "big three" is going to make it.

I never saw Phil Chenier play. In fact, I barely saw the Bullets play (maybe three or four times a year on television while I was a Knicks fan up in New York State). But for 18 of the last 19 seasons, I've been watching Wizards basketball on TV and listening to Phil Chenier provide analysis alongside Steve Buckhantz. Phil's been a regular fixture in my life for almost two decades. I was sad to see that run end. Phil's banner is different than the other four at Capital One Arena; his banner has a microphone with the number 33 on it to signify the number of years he called Bullets and Wizards games as a regular occurrence.

Walt Frazier passing his congrats on to Phil. Wiz within 5.
The official retirement ceremony got squashed into the regular length halftime of the March 23 home game vs. the Denver Nuggets. I guess that's how these things have to go these days. It seemed almost too short but Phil along with team owner Ted Leonsis and Steve Buckhantz made it work. The actual banner didn't get raised during the ceremony; it was already in place before we got to the game so the festivities were limited to a couple of speeches. Cardboard Phil Chenier emoji-on-sticks were placed on each seat prior to the game so fans I guess could have a memento of the occasion. I left mine at the arena. For what it's worth, I still have my Earl Monroe replica banner from December 2007. That giveaway was way better in my eyes.

There's a little irony in the whole ceremony in that Phil didn't choose to do this. He was essentially fired from the position by the network with no certain plan (at least to this fan's mind) to replace him at the end of the 2016-2017 season. Fired might seem like a harsh word since he still works for NBC Sports Washington doing occasional in-studio guest gigs but he was involuntarily removed from his position. Where I come from, that's being fired. At the risk of being like Bob Dylan at Live Aid, I have to say Kara Lawson who replaced Phil is fantastic at her job. Dare I say even better than Phil.

The retirement ceremony was part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the Washington Bullets 1978 championship team, a two game event in one weekend Friday night (the Nuggets game) and Sunday afternoon (against the New York Knicks). In a fashion that seemed appropriate for the chronic underperformance put forth by the team this year, the Wizards lost both games that they had no business losing. It was terrible.
There's no question this event was deserved. Phil is one of the greats in the history of the franchise. There are only two other players (Walt Bellamy and John Wall) with more All-Star selections in franchise history than Phil and then he provided a third of a century's service (!!!!) to the team in the broadcast booth. I had the opportunity to say thanks to Phil after the end of the 2016-2017 season. I told him that I wished he could stay on for some more services. His response was "so do I". Now he gets to stick around in some form for as long as this franchise keeps playing in D.C.

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