October 29, 2012


September 11, 2011: My first home Jets game.
According to Google maps, Verizon Center, home of my beloved Washington Wizards, is 6.8 miles from my current residence. By Metro, I can get there in about a half an hour, meaning if a Wizards game goes a little long, I can make the round trip in about 3 hours and 30 minutes.

In 1979, my family moved to the United States and I picked the New York Jets as my professional football team, probably because I liked the helmet. Last year, I bought Jets season tickets for the first time and I decided to renew this year. MetLife Stadium is 231 miles from my current residence and it takes a lot longer than 3 hours and 30 minutes to do the round trip. A typical day trip consumes anywhere from 12-15 hours to take in a three hour or so game. It can be absolutely brutal. This past Sunday, a pathetic 30-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins, was probably the last time I will make a single day trip as a season ticket holder. While I may still take in a game or two per season in the future, the value of buying season tickets for a team located three to five states away (depending on how you get there and how you view the District), just isn't there for me.

In my time as a season ticket holder, I’ve traveled to East Rutherford, NJ using about every combination of ground transportation I can think of: I’ve driven up and back in the same day; I’ve driven up and back over multiple days while staying with my sister; I’ve taken the train up and back in the same day; I’ve taken the bus up and back in the same day; and I’ve taken the train up and the bus back in the same day. Most of the trips I’ve taken have been smooth and uneventful; just the kind of travel I like. All of the games have been wins or close losses except this past Sunday when we got beaten badly. Did I mention the word pathetic already?

Along the way, there have been some unexpected events or crises to deal with. A
 couple of weeks ago after the Jets whipped the Indianapolis Colts 35-9 our train stopped dead with no power about two miles from Baltimore on the trip home. My friend Chris and I were subjected to a non-stop verbal assault from a guy on the other end of our car thinking he has stand-up talent while Amtrak non-scrambled non-furiously to find a solution. It took about 70 minutes and an all crew meeting in the dining car (announced over the PA system) to finally send another engine to pick us up after about four trains passed us. We ended up getting to Union Station after midnight. I like the train but the concept of customer service seems lost on Amtrak. Still waiting to hear on the resolution to my complaint.

I'd take train stoppages and after midnight arrivals in DC though over the late night hospital visit my friend Mike had to make after the 2011 home loss to the hated New England Patriots. That night could have literally been fatal. When I got a text message from Mike accusing me of leaving him in New Jersey (I was waiting outside the bathroom for him and he had wandered out of the stadium, for the record), my cell battery was literally 15 minutes away from empty. Getting a confused, angry, drunk guy who has lost blood (we didn't know that at the time) to find his way to the train knowing my phone was about to die is something I don't want to go through again. I don't think I've ever been happier to see Mike when I finally found him.

Anyway, I'm probably done with single day trips as a season ticket holder but just for the record, I put yesterday's trip into pictures for posterity.

6:46 a.m. Ballston Metro, open early for the Marine Corps Marathon. It's usually gated at this time so I'm typically waiting with a pretty sketchy crowd. The homeless guy doing laps of the Metro entrance made it feel like a usual Sunday morning.
7:55 a.m. All aboard! Please please please Amtrak, don't run out of power again. The trip up has always been uneventful. With a storm bearing down on us later in the day, I'm wondering if I've made the right choice with the bus return trip.
10:06 a.m. Philadelphia. This is the only skyline worthy shot until New York. I love checking out the Frank Furness designed Philadelphia Zoo on the way out of town. Sit on the right side of the train. Furness also designed the Wilmington train station that we passed through about a half hour earlier.
11:28 a.m. Switching from Amtrak to New Jersey Transit at Newark International Airport. Switching at the airport is definitely the way to go. This becomes train number four of the day.
12:05 p.m. MetLife Stadium through the filthy window of train number five. As opposed as I am to stadiums built outside of cities, I actually think this one is pretty well designed. They spent some money that they didn't have to here.
12:22 p.m. Lunch. There's something about eating hot italian sausage with peppers and onions with globs of spicy mustard in New Jersey, even if it is just stadium food.
1:05 p.m. Almost kickoff time. Fireman Ed on the screen leading the J! E! T! S! JETS! JETS! JETS! chant. It didn't work on this day. Our team came out flat from the opening kickoff.
2:40 p.m. The Jets retire Dennis Byrd's number 90 jersey. Byrd suffered a spinal injury when he collided with teammate Scott Mersereau during the 1992 season and subsequently recovered sufficiently to walk, although not normally. Nobody on the Jets had worn number 90 since Byrd. He definitely sacrificed for this team. The Jets are losing 27-3 in what has to be one of the most pathetic displays in recent memory. The first half featured almost no offense, a drive sustaining 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty on defense, a recovered onside kick by Miami and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Oh, we also knocked their starting quarterback out of the game and proceeded to make Matt Moore look like an all-pro.
3:31 p.m. End of the third quarter. The game at this point is well out of hand and with Frankenstorm bearing down on the east coast, it's time to get going. If we had come back and won, I would have been pissed at myself for leaving. No realistic chance of that today. I'm thinking "same old Jets" as I'm walking out.
The cattle line for the train back to New York. Since the Jets were getting stomped, there was no line this past Sunday. This picture is actually from the Colts game. I'm amazed nobody panics in these things. That would not be good. On our way out of the stadium on Sunday, I was handed a scratch and win card for an opportunity to secure my very own Mark Sanchez bobblehead. I passed. As much as I love bobbleheads, I just couldn't do it. Not that day.
4:48 p.m. Waiting for the Vamoose bus on the corner of 7th and 30th. I love the Vamoose bus. They are flexible about reservation times (I actually had a 6 p.m. reservation) and they stop in Virginia, not DC!
5:15 p.m. Bye bye, New York after a quick half hour stay. The Lincoln Tunnel has to be my favorite tunnel of all time, although all the cool art deco stuff is best seen from the Jersey side coming into the city.
8:37 p.m. Somewhere in Maryland on the bus. 4-1/2 hours or so of this view. On the iPod on the way home: some shuffling, a movie (Welcome to Death Row) and two episodes of Family Ties. :)
9:58 p.m. Rosslyn. Orange line train to Vienna. The bus on Sunday evening costs about $120 less than the train, which means I can really afford a cab home from Rosslyn. However, finding none, the Metro is always ready.
10:20 p.m. Nothing says home like a New Belgium Snow Day Ale and a bowl of jalapeno cheddar Chex mix. Actually there are a lot of things that say home way more than those two things, but that's what I had when I got home.

October 25, 2012

Free Stuff!

I attended the Wizards Season Ticket Holder party this past Wednesday (no post on that this year but just let me say every time I interact with Kevin Seraphin, he reinforces for me why he is my favorite player) and finally got my hands on one of the little fold out schedules that the team usually has for pickup in various places throughout Verizon Center. Why is that significant? Because the little fold out schedules contain the promotional schedule for the year and I'm just too damn impatient to wait for the schedule to be posted on the team website.

Over my time as a Wizards season ticket holder, I have been handed a ton of free stuff as I crossed the threshold into MCI/Verizon Center as part of Wizards promotional nights. Some of that stuff I have squirreled away in my condo somewhere, some is proudly displayed on shelves and some is long since forgotten. But whether it ends up being a permanent addition to some weird collection or just tossed in the trash, I love getting free Wizards stuff.

So now that I have the schedule, I am able to offer my loyal blog readers a semi-exclusive look at the 2012-2013 promotional schedule. Please note I've not only included the when and what for each promotion but also added my expert insight as to the long term significance (in parentheses) of each item and some words to get you pumped up about buying tickets to the six games that include giveaways. So without further ado, here's the skinny.

Schedule Magnet
November 3 vs. Boston (Essential)
The annual schedule magnet giveaway is a must have, something that gets slapped on the refrigerator door the morning or so after the home opener and serves as a guide for planning my life for the next five and a half months. If the television schedule is part of the magnet, that's even better. Can't miss this game and giveaway. It will be added to my box o' schedule magnets after the season. Yes, I have one.

The Wizards schedule magnet: essential for scheduling your late fall and winter.
Knit Scarf
December 22 vs. Detroit (Pick it up but likely discard)
I hate wearing Wizards apparel with corporate logos. It says to other people that I was either too lazy, too cheap or not passionate enough to plunk down a few bucks on a shirt, hat, scarf, or whatever. I think the last Wizards scarf giveaway was sponsored by VW. The last thing I want to do is walk around with a Wizards/VW scarf (even though I probably had a VW at that point in my life). I'll likely pick this up at the door and discard it later that night. Hopefully I can give it to a kid who came late or something.

Bradley Beal Bobblehead
January 1 vs. Dallas (Essential)
Bobbleheads are a do-not-miss collectible for me. They are far and away the best type of giveaway each year. I can't wait to put Bradley on my shelf with John Wall and past Wizards players in various size bobblehead form. I'll post pictures of this one for sure in a later post!

Wizards Tin Lunch Box
March 16 vs. Phoenix (Pick it up but likely discard)
I've picked up two Wizards lunch boxes in my 12 years as a season ticket holder and I no longer have either of them. Unlike the scarf, this will probably make it home with me, only to be either stood on my counter for a few days or my shelf for a few months before I wonder why the hell I have a lunchbox on my shelf and just throw it away. Just like the pre-Christmas scarf giveaway, this one also has a good (although slightly lower) chance of ending up with a kid who came late to the game.

1978 NBA Championship Replica Ring
April 6 vs. Indiana (Huh???)
In all my years as a season ticket holder, they have never given away anything like this. That's saying something, since once we got a Brendan Haywood water bottle and a stuffed G-Wiz (I still have that). Not sure what to make of this although I guess it is the 35th anniversary of the championship season. Who celebrates the 35th anniversary of something? I'll definitely go to the game early for this one. I wonder how real it will look and I wonder how many people will be hawking Bullets championship rings on eBay the next day. Maybe next year they will give us a replica Larry O'Brien trophy.

Team Poster
April 12 vs. Philadelphia (PASS!)
This item only makes this post so I can say I included all the scheduled giveaways for the year. I won't even bother picking this up at the door.

If you don't have tickets to the games on opening night, New Year's Day and April 6, I'd go buy them now and get there early. I'll see you when the doors open those nights. Don't say you haven't been warned.

October 22, 2012

47 Wins?

Warning! What follows is not pretty. But don't ever accuse me of being a front runner.

The 2012-2013 NBA season tips off next Tuesday, October 30 when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Washington Wizards. At the beginning of the last few NBA seasons, I have wondered if this is the year the Wizards will finally win 47 games. Why 47 games? Because since I became a Wizards season ticket holder in 2000, every franchise except two has won 47 games in a single regular season. One of those two lowly franchises is the Charlotte Bobcats, who maxed out at 44 wins in the 2009-2010 season; but the Bobcats have only existed for eight seasons so they are a little handicapped in this statistic. The other franchise, of course, is the Wizards, who managed 45 wins in the 2004-2005 season, the same year we reached the second round of the NBA playoffs.

That anecodotal futility mark started me wondering: are the Wizards really one of the two worst franchises in the NBA over the last 12 years? Turns out the answer might be yes. Let's take a look.

Wins Per Season
Over the past 12 seasons, the Wizards have won an average of 31.4 games, including the actual win total from the abbreviated 2011-2012 66-game season. That mark is good for second worst in the NBA over that period, 0.7 wins behind the Golden State Warriors but ahead of the Bobcats by a whopping 2.8 wins. Five teams (the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Boston Celtics) have AVERAGED more wins over that period than the 45 games the Wizards won in our best of those 12 seasons. The Detroit Pistons and Utah Jazz would be added to that list if you throw out last year's shortened season. We may be thankful the Bobcats have only been around eight years.

From the 2000-2001 through 2011-2012 NBA seasons, there were 17 teams that won fewer than 20 games in a season. The Wizards did it twice: in 2000-2001 and 2008-2009. Three other franchises, the Bobcats, Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves, also failed to win 20 games twice during that span. No franchise won fewer than 20 games three times in that span. Note I included last year's abbreviated season in Charlotte's numbers because they only won seven games. Even if the season were 188 games long, they still wouldn't have won 20 games at their pace last season. The silver lining here (it's a stretch, I know) is that in the Wizards' two sub-20 win seasons, they did manage to win 19 games each time.

While the Wizards average win total is second worst in the NBA, their median win total is tied for dead last with the Los Angeles Clippers at 31.5 wins. The Bobcats, who saved us from being dead last in average wins per season, are a full game ahead of us along with the Timberwolves. None of these franchises are models of success, although the Clippers did make the second round of the playoffs last year behind Blake Griffin and Chris Paul and appear to be loaded with talent this year.

The graph below was published in an April 3, 2012 Washington Post article at a time when it appeared last year that the Wizards might set a franchise record low for winning percentage in a season. The Hopwood years start in 2000-2001. Lots of red; I told you it wasn't pretty. Despite that performance, I have never thought of not renewing my season tickets. Take that however you will.

Playoff Wins Per Season
In my time as a season ticket holder, the Wizards have made it to the playoffs four times. That may not seem like a lot to you and it's not. Only three teams, the Bobcats, Warriors and Clippers, have fewer appearances. The encouraging thing here is that if you added the playoff appearances of each of those teams since the 2000-2001 season, they would add up to the total for the Wizards, so I'm counting my blessings (I think) that I am not a Bobcats, Warriors or Clippers fan. And while we only appear in the playoffs more frequently than three teams, there are three other teams (the Timberwolves, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors) tied with us at four appearances so we are not alone in our lack of achievement in this category.

When we do make the playoffs, we don't win much. We have averaged 2.0 wins per playoff appearance with just one trip to the second round where we were unceremoniously swept by the eventual champion Miami Heat. That's better than only the Portland Trailblazers, Knicks and Bobcats, who in their lone playoff appearance during this stretch did not tally a single W. 

Division Titles, Conference Titles and NBA Championships
Nothing. That pretty much sums this up. No division titles, no conference titles and no NBA championships. Granted, over the past 12 years, the NBA Finals have been dominated by a small group of teams. Only six franchises have won a championship and another five have come up short by losing in the Finals. But of the 30 franchises in the NBA, 21 have won division titles over that period, led by the Spurs with eight and Lakers with seven. The ones that haven't: the Atlanta Hawks, Bobcats, Warriors, Houston Rockets, Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Knicks, Trailblazers and, of course, the Wizards. That record puts us either last or tied for 22nd, depending on how you look at it. I'll go with tied for 22nd.

So after all that, are the Wizards one of the two worst franchises in the NBA over the last 12 years? Maybe so. If not, they are pretty close to that. There is definitely some company; the same teams appear over and over in my description above. That doesn't make me feel any better.

So as this season starts, I'm again hoping for 47 wins. That seems more realistic than hoping for division titles or championships at this point. Hopefully this is the year. It all starts Tuesday.

October 5, 2012

Three Signs The NBA Season Is Almost Here

The 2011-2012 NBA season ended a long time ago for me. I've had to endure the NBA playoffs (remember, the playoffs don't usually count as part of the Wizards' season), free agency, Summer League, the Olympics and two months of waiting, waiting, waiting. But finally the NBA is almost back and I can once again experience a time when all teams are theoretically equal, before an 0-8 start, or a 2-6 start, or a 2-7 start or...well, you get the picture.

In a normal year, there are three signs which serve as my security blanket during the couple of months of waiting, waiting, waiting prior to the tip off of regular season game number one. The first reminder that basketball is almost upon us is the first preseason or regular season NHL game, when I am perched high in section 405 of Verizon Center watching the Capitals take the ice and longing for that white surface to be replaced with the hardwood. It usually takes me about a period to get over it and get into the game I'm watching. With apologies to all my NHL fan friends, hockey just doesn't come close to basketball. Maybe I'm getting crotchety in my middle age but I seem to have little tolerance for long scoring droughts (I know, I should appreciate the defensive struggle) or games decided by shootout (read: not much better than a tie or kissing your sister).

But this year is not a normal year for a number of reasons. As it turns out, the NHLPA and the NHL are no smarter than the NBAPA and the NBA were last year and there is no hockey season yet as millionaires and billionaires are still trying to figure out how to split insane sums of money. As a result, this year we just skipped the first sign that the season is near and we have proceeded directly to sign number two, which means the season is even closer!

The second harbinger of the NBA season is the opening of training camp and a season ticket holder open practice. Camp opened this past Tuesday and mercifully, it's at George Mason University again. I loved the camps at VCU but honestly, I'd way rather drive to Fairfax than to Richmond to take in an open practice or scrimmage. Getting to the Patriot Center in rush hour traffic is no picnic either (it took me 13 songs on the new Mark Knopfler album to get there this year) but at least the trip home is quick (less than five songs).

Open practice was held last night followed by a Dave Johnson hosted Q and A session with our new players, meaning the guys who are pretty much guaranteed a roster spot who weren't here last year. I'm not sure these events ever really provide unique insight into how the team will perform, especially with all the media coverage these days. Everyone said there were a great group of guys together and everyone was working hard. They have to say that, right? But if I learned nothing else, it is that Martell Webster is a pretty interesting guy. He's very eloquent and intelligent. During drills where players were required to count out the number of passes made during the drill, he counted out in English except when playing with Kevin Seraphin when he counted in French. He also said he would be an asbestos remover if he weren't playing in the NBA (he was kidding) and genuinely made fun of himself when asked if he had any embarrassing moments in the NBA. The only reason I know anything about Martell Webster is due to this play, where he steals an inbounds pass with a few seconds left and his team down by three, takes it the length of the court and dunks, meaning his team lost by one. It was a moment of almost McGee-like concentration but he was able to joke about it in a way that JaVale never would have. JaVale's response would probably be that he didn't understand why the coaches were upset or something like that. Martell did say he dunked it hard enough that he thought it could have counted for three. He also said he had no idea what he was thinking when he decided on that haircut.

By the way, I really really wanted Dave to ask "Over the last 12 years, the Wizards are about the worst franchise in the NBA. What did you think of this team before you got traded/signed and what makes you think it's going to be any different with you here than the guys we jettisoned last year?" He didn't ask that question and maybe it's best because I may not want to know the answer. I'm actually genuinely hopeful this year and think we could make some noise, despite the fact that our best two players are injured and can't practice right now. I'm deluding myself a little, I know.

Our new players: Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster, Jannero Pargo, Bradley Beal, A.J. Price and Emeka Okafor.
And finally, I really really know the NBA season is right around the corner when I get my season tickets in the mail. They arrived yesterday. I picked them up from the concierge desk before heading out to practice. Their arrival each year is a source of unimaginable joy for me for about 30 minutes despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing I can do with them right at the moment except look at them. Just opening the package and pulling out those virgin, glossy, unseparated sheets of tickets and checking them out thrills me. And 30 minutes is literally the time I devote to these things before realizing they are not actually that interesting as objects and I find something else to occupy my shortening attention span. But for that half hour, I love it.

Only this year, it's sort of a disaster: there are no tickets. Seriously. I have a credit card sized piece of plastic that I am supposed to electronically load up with my tickets from the ticket manager site which curiously has been out of commission for the last two days. Now considering I was about the last person I knew to get a cell phone, I just bought my first computer with more than 48K of memory in 2009 (I loved that Atari 800 in the '80s) and I still write checks by hand and put them in envelopes and mail them to pay my bills, this could be a challenge for me. I'm not embracing this all electronic culture.

So it turns out things are not normal this year but even though things are a little bit different, I still have basketball to look forward to in 25 days and that's without doubt one of the most wonderful times of the year.

No tickets this year???