February 25, 2015

I Love Ebay

Last weekend's All-Star Game in New York was absolutely one of the best experiences I have ever had as an NBA fan. I can't imagine a better city more steeped in hoops history, whether it be amateur or professional ball, than New York. It was absolutely the dream matchup in terms of aligning a city with an All-Star experience. The funny thing was, though, it was never supposed to happen that way. Here's why.

A couple of years ago, I decided it was about time I attended an NBA All-Star Game. While I've never been a huge All-Star guy, I figured after becoming a slightly more than moderately NBA obsessed fan I owed it to myself and to the league to do it once. I decided I would bite the bullet, plunk down a couple of thousand bucks through the NBA Events website and go sit in the upper deck of some NBA arena somewhere in the United States or Canada and watch the All-Star Game and All-Star Saturday Night in person. Once. Definitely only once. Probably.

When I made the decision to make it to an All-Star Game, I decided I wanted to go to one that featured the participation of at least one Washington Wizards player. Last year, the Wizards' John Wall made it to the All-Star Game as a reserve and also won the Slam Dunk Contest and Bradley Beal finished second in the Three Point Shooting Contest. It seemed to me that I better get a little more serious about making All-Star plans before the window closed on these Wizards being good. Aren't I ever the optimist about my team's chances long term?

Since I was pretty high on the Wizards after last year's All-Star Game, I started checking into options for future contests. As of last February, the only venues selected for All-Star Weekend were New York this year and Toronto in 2016. My initial thought was there's no way that I was going to spend the kind of money required to go to the New York version but instead I should set my sights on Toronto the next year. I started squirreling away money right away, knowing that this would be the most expensive basketball game I would ever attend in my life. That was that.

Then ebay happened. I first began using ebay in the fall of 2012, when I started on the slippery slope of collecting basketball cards. Ebay, in my opinion, is the absolute best place to shop for basketball cards to assemble a team specific collection. It's also a great place to buy iPod covers, shoehorns and Blackberry batteries (yes, I still have one) but that's sort of beside the point. During the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 NBA seasons, I collected a lot of basketball cards. So I was on the site a lot.

Then in April of last year, I noticed an announcement on ebay for an auction sponsored by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to raise funds for the museum. Ever being a sucker for signed collectibles, I thought I should take a look to see what they were selling off. Maybe there would be some Wizards items. There weren't. But one of the items in the auction really caught my eye: two tickets to the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend, which included accommodations for four nights plus two tickets to the Rising Stars Challenge, All-Star Saturday Night and the All-Star Game itself. Estimated value $7,500; minimum bid $3,250. Pre-qualification required.

Seriously? I wasn't up for paying over seven grand for a long weekend in New York but I was budgeting a couple of thousand bucks to go to Toronto in 2016 for my ticket alone without hotel. I preregistered for the auction and waited and watched. Maybe if the bidding stayed low enough, I had a shot at picking this up. Probably a pipe dream but it was probably worth watching.

Then something funny happened. Or didn't happen. Nobody was bidding on the item. Like nobody. Not a single person. It got to two days before the bidding was scheduled to end and I thought I should start considering the possibility of me winning this thing. So I asked a question about where the seats were located. I was told the exact locations were not known but that "our seats are always located in the lower level sidelines between the baskets." OK, good to know.

April 12, 2014. Bid day. Still no bids. My experience on ebay buying basketball cards is that the way to win an auction on the site is to wait until the last minute and then outbid whomever is leading the bidding with about five seconds left in the auction period. That was going to be my approach to winning this auction except that I had to be at a Wizards game that night when the bidding was scheduled to end. And I'm not missing a home game for an auction I'm not likely to win. I placed my bid at an upper limit of $4,250 and hopped on the Metro bound for Verizon Center. Whatever happens, happens.

So it turned out that I was the only one who bid on this item and I ended up with it for the low, low price of $3,250. I still can't believe it even now. I'm thinking three things got me this win. First, there was a prequalification required (which honestly involved filling out a form with no substantive information) that prevented last minute impulse buyers from getting involved. Second, the item being auctioned was an experience that wouldn't happen for ten months and most people have difficulty planning that far out. And third, it was pretty expensive if you ignored the actual value. Whatever the reason, nobody but me took a shot here.

I'm not sure how the folks at the Basketball Hall of Fame got a value of $7,500 here by the way. Packages similar to the one I won on the NBA-Events.com site were about $4,500 per person for tickets only. In my books that makes what I won at auction worth $9,000 without hotel (which is probably another $1,000). Whatever. I wouldn't have had this experience without seeing this item on ebay, at least not in New York, because I wasn't prepared to pay for it in New York. And it truly was the best place to see the NBA All-Star Game.  It was a weekend I'll never forget.

February 24, 2015

I Totally Had Better Seats Than Steve Kerr

Get ready for what is likely the pettiest post I have ever written. I'm not generally in favor of pointing out stuff like this and I'm not trying to cause any controversy but I just found this amusing.

So it's All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn on February 14, 2015. The Shooting Stars portion of the night is complete and we are waiting for the Skills Competition to begin. I am sitting in Section 104 in the corner of the building. Right below me is the tunnel which connects the concourse to the arena in the middle of the section I am sitting in. I'm in the first row right above the tunnel so there's nobody in front of me. A speaker obstructs the court at the left side of the court where the Slam Dunk competition will occur (although I don't know that yet) but I can see the hoop itself perfectly.

To kill time between the first and second events of the night, we are trying to people spot. Eventually, we will find Rihanna, Nicky Minaj, John McEnroe, Floyd Mayweather, Spike Lee, Julianne Moore and a whole host of other characters. It's at this point that we spy Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors, and one of his assistant coaches, Luke Walton, walking in front of us and looking up into our section with the help of one of the staff from the arena. The Warriors have the best record in the Western Conference so Kerr, with the help of Walton and the rest of his coaches, are in charge of things for the West in the All-Star Game the next night. He's kind of a big deal.

From our point of view, Kerr is not happy being told he's sitting in Section 104 and he's totally trying to get out of it. He pulls the dude showing him to his seat aside and talks with him for a while. Kerr is standing under the blue arrow in the picture above; the guy he's talking to is under the green arrow (Walton is under the orange arrow headed to his seat). It didn't seem to work. Kerr relents and heads up to his seat in Row 7, which is exactly one row behind me. The kid next to us asks for a selfie with Kerr, which he allows, and then we turn our attention back to the court since the Skills Competition is about ready to start. 

I already felt good enough about this weekend but now I have better seats for the Three Point Contest and Slam Dunk competition than the head coach of the Western Conference All-Stars? I feel bad for Steve Kerr but whatever.

The next thing we know, Kerr's gone. I don't know what happened here because I was honestly trying to pay attention to the event rather than the customer behind me but whatever he said to the dude escorting him to his seat seems to have worked. He didn't want to sit where they showed him and so clearly he wasn't going to. Instead of occupying seat 12 or whatever it was in Row 7, they parked him on foot in the area behind the handicapped accessible seating area just to the right in front of us. He mostly stayed out of sight from our seats, leaning against the wall right in front of us, while the arena staff kept checking on him. He can be seen standing up below the blue arrow in the picture above, for a moment not hidden from our view.

Eventually, he gets a seat. He says hello to the guy in the wheelchair in the accessible seating area and then plonks himself down on a folding chair in that section away from me and the kid who asked for a selfie. His final seat can be seen in the photo below. Kerr is once again below the blue arrow.

Now I'm not saying Kerr doesn't deserve to sit where he sat. I just think it's funny that he didn't want to sit where his ticket said and that he has enough pull this past weekend to get re-assigned. If I had any sort of pull, I'd move my seat too, although I kind of liked it even though it was smack dab in the middle of the row. The funniest thing, though, is that he didn't get Luke Walton moved. Walton spent the rest of the night at the end of Row 7 in Section 104. I'm sure Luke's seat was just fine. As would Kerr's have been if he'd stayed put.

February 23, 2015

Hello Brooklyn!

The NBA All-Star Game is the marquee attraction of the NBA's All-Star weekend, but it's not the only event that generates some buzz during the mid-season break. Before the main attraction on Sunday night, there are two more nights of excitement in the Rising Stars Challenge (Friday night) and the All-Star Saturday Night. I suppose I could have headed to New York last weekend and just taken in Sunday night's game but what's the point of that? All-Star Weekend for me had to include all three nights. Plus I sort of had little option. More on that later.

On a typical All-Star Weekend, the Rising Stars Challenge, All-Star Saturday Night and All-Star Game all take place on successive nights in the same arena. After all, most cities only have the luxury of having one NBA team. But New York not only has two teams (as does Los Angeles) but the two teams play in totally different arenas. So instead of having one team host all three nights, the NBA elected to put the All-Star Game at the New York Knicks' Madison Square Garden and have the Brooklyn Nets' Barclays Center host the Friday and Saturday night affairs. That not only got me three nights of basketball, it also got me a look at the almost brand new Nets arena.

Barclays Center from the west.
The main lobby of Barclays Center.
Of all the arenas opened in the last ten years or so, Brooklyn's Barclays Center has to be the most expensive and most deluxe so I was excited about getting an up close and personal look at the place on both Friday and Saturday nights. There's an iconic image of the place with a giant hole in the roof with video displays within the hole which alone seemed worth experiencing. I really couldn't wait to get to Brooklyn to see it for myself.
After a couple of nights there, it's a nice place. I mean it's clearly newer than Verizon Center and the block (as with most arenas in the NBA) is not as restricting as the city grid at 601 F Street in D.C. so the concourses are nice and wide. The food choices are amazing and completely New York with a strong emphasis on Brooklyn. We ate pizza with a black and white cookie before the All-Star Saturday Night got started which I'd probably eat again, although Saturday I elected to wash all that down with a Budweiser instead of another $9.75 12 oz can of Brooklyn Lager like I had the previous night. I love Brooklyn Lager, but one per weekend at that price point is enough for me.
The hole in the roof disappointed me. I guess I hadn't looked closely enough at the pictures of the arena before visiting but the hole is in what is basically a canopy over the main front entrance. It looks like so much more than that in the pictures I guess. I can argue with the logic of having a canopy with a large hole in it but I guess I won't here. I'm probably being a little harsh about the outside appearance of the place considering I was only there at night and didn't feel inclined in the far-less-than-freezing temperatures to spend some time looking around the outside of the building.
If there's an impressive part of the building, it's the front lobby, which serves as a monumental arrival space and also allows crowds to filter onto the main concourse before the game and back out of the building after the final whistle without causing a horrendous backup at the exits. The space itself is more modern both in the way space is defined and the way it is lit than any other arena I have visited. I was truly happy to see the entry space. I hope the security tent we passed through on the way to the main lobby on Friday and Saturday nights was an All-Star only fixture. Otherwise, it significantly negatively affects the entrance sequence.

Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge.
First up at the Barclays Center: the Rising Stars Challenge. This was not my first time at this event. During the 2001 All-Star Weekend in D.C., which also happened to be my first as a Wizards season ticket holder, I managed to get a seat to this event on Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center. I paid $10 to sit in the last row of Section 119 in the lower bowl to see both this event and the All-Star Team practice. This year those two events were split, with the cost of each event far exceeding the ten spot I paid 14 years ago. I see that as a measure of how much the revenue stream for the NBA has changed in the last decade and a half. My seats this year were $55 each and they were not as good as my seats in '01. Assuming the cost of practice tickets were similar, that's at least a ten-fold increase in price over 14 years.
When I took in this event at Verizon Center, it was a contest between ten rookies and ten second year players, a true rooks vs. sophomores event. Since 2001, the game's format has undergone two changes: first to two teams drafted by two celebrity / former player coaches and then this year to a USA vs. the world format. Call me a traditionalist, but I loved the old old format. For me, the idea of taking a class of guys and pitting them against the draft that followed them is far more appealing. There seems to be a common rallying point for each group to show that their draft class is superior. I don't see it in the new formats. I am also not convinced there's enough talent in the world group to equal the American group. Sure the world won this year's inaugural battle in this format, but I think you will generally end up with something lower in quality by doing it this way than by taking 20 first and second year players regardless of national origin.
If I were buying these events a la carte (I was not), I'd likely skip this event. Maybe it was the players involved or that I've seen way more hoops than I had in '01 but I didn't find this game particularly spirited. I don't remember much from the game I saw in Verizon Center all those years ago, but I do remember the Chicago Bulls' Khalid El-Amin playing defense hard enough to draw blood and get some folks on the sophomore squad upset. Maybe he set my bar too high. On the other hand, maybe the complete lack of Wizards players in the game affected my enjoyment. Whatever the case, I was less enthusiastic about this game than I was the last time I attended.

Trey Burke and Brandon Knight ready to start their first round heat of the Skills Competition.
At the end of the Rising Stars Challenge, I was honestly worried that All-Star Weekend's hype and expectations would exceed the actual action on court. But any chance of that disappointment dissipated as soon as All-Star Saturday Night started. In fact, I'd go so far as to say this was the best event of the weekend. Even better than the All-Star Game. And it probably wasn't even close.
I had a couple of concerns about All-Star Saturday Night. First, the lack of Wizards players' involvement. John Wall was initially announced as a contestant in the Skills Challenge but then withdrew to get a little more (or just a little maybe) rest than he would have without participating that night. Second, I was concerned the event would end quickly and that it wouldn't be particularly exciting. No chance of that as I soon found out.

I think what makes All-Star Saturday Night so entertaining is that it's a real competition. Yes, I know they keep score in the All-Star Game but it's not really competitive. The margin of victory in no way reflects the amount of desire to win that is put out there on the court. But the events held on Saturday night are different. Guys are really looking to show that they are the best in the league at shooting three pointers or dunking or running rings around their counterparts in the dribbling/passing/shooting competition that is the Skills Competition. And believe it or not, the challenge that these guys put up for each other translates into the crowd. Team affiliation aside (although let's face it, I was rooting as hard as possible against Kyrie Irving), it was really easy to get absorbed into what was happening on the court.
This was pure entertainment all the way. And Barclays was probably the right place to host this event. I wrote earlier that I thought Barclays was a nice place. For this event, with its lighting and projection capabilities, it was incredible. The arena looked like it was hosting a rock concert, especially during the Slam Dunk contest, which was the last event of the night. If I were picking just one event in All-Star Weekend to attend, it would definitely be the Saturday night event. This, not the All-Star Game, is absolutely the best part of the three day weekend.
And it wasn't short either. It easily went three hours and while it's difficult to claim anything costing $500 was money well spent, it was worth every penny to do it once. I'm now one arena closer to visiting every building in the NBA. Now I need to get back to Barclays to watch the Wizards play sometime.

The light show before Zach LaVine's final dunk of the Slam Dunk competition.

February 18, 2015

2015 All-Star Break

If there's a team in the NBA in desperate need of a break for a week or so this season right at this moment, it's the Washington Wizards. The Wizards opened the 2014-2015 NBA season pretty hot, going 10-5 in October / November and besting that with a 12-4 December. But 2015 has not been kind to our local five. The team has posted an 11-12 record this year and has lost six of the last eight, including five in a row to start that stretch. Not encouraging for a squad that looked like it might contend for the Conference this season.
Looking at the team's 2015 woes in more detail only makes things worse. The six recent losses include two to division rivals the Charlotte Hornets and three to the Atlanta Hawks and Toronto Raptors combined, who sit one-two in the Eastern Conference. A couple of weeks ago, the Wizards were in second place in the East, somehow managing to withstand the Raptors hotter-than-the-Wizards start and a challenge from the Chicago Bulls in the last couple of months. Now the Wizards are barely clinging to fourth. To make matters even more dire, the team is waiting to find out how bad a stress fracture in Bradley Beal's leg is, the third such injury in just three years in the league for Bradley.
Fortunately for the Wizards, they haven't had to play in the last seven days (including today) and won't tomorrow either as the League stopped play for the last week or so for the 2015 All-Star break. Our players aren't the only ones who needed a few days off; so did I. I'm usually not one to get caught up in the hype of a winning team so early in the season but I guess I've been kept down as a Wiz fan for so long that I needed a glimmer of hope and let our second place start get the best of me. Fortunately, this year's All-Star break for the Wizards was also an All-Star break for me. I managed to get a hold of some seats to the All-Star Game on Sunday night (well, tickets for the whole weekend really) and headed up to New York with John Wall to experience the mid-season break in person.
Now I admit, I'm not really much of an All-Star guy, probably because there are usually no Wizards involved. But I wanted to go at least once in my life and the opportunity to get to New York at a reasonable price presented itself. So last Thursday, I hopped on Amtrak and made the trip three and a half or so hours north for a long weekend in America's greatest city with the anticipation of having a weekend I would likely never forget.

The NBA's 2015 All-Star weekend was a shared affair between two teams in two of New York's boroughs: the Brooklyn Nets hosted Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge and All-Star Saturday Night at Barclays Center over on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and the New York Knicks hosted the All-Star Game on Sunday night at the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden. There were way more events than just those three in New York this past weekend but the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights are the signature events of All-Star Weekend. I'm sure I'll talk about some of the other events in future posts.

My first pro basketball experience took place in Madison Square Garden a little less than 20 years ago. My dad and I headed down to New York from my parents' house in Connecticut and watched our then favorite team Knicks take on the Toronto Raptors just a couple of days before Christmas in 1995. Over the next two and a half years, my dad and I would travel down to the Garden four more times to watch the Knicks, seeing Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley and the rest of that great late '90s team lose only once (in double overtime to the Utah Jazz no less) in our five games. Since my last trip to the Garden way back in 1998, I've traveled all over this country to watch pro basketball so I was excited to return a little more seasoned and see how the experience compared.

Madison Square Garden can be found between Seventh and Eighth Avenues and 31st and 33rd Streets in downtown Manhattan. It is located right above Penn Station, which is a hub for Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit rail system and the Subway, on one of the busiest blocks in the city. It is truly one of the most urban sitings for sport in the United States today. The main marquee of the arena is on Seventh Street but you would have a difficult time seeing the building from that side because there's an office building between Seventh and MSG. Thus begins the paradox of everyone's Madison Square Garden experience.

The approach and entrance to the Garden has to be one of the worst in professional sports. The initial pedestrian sequence takes you from Seventh Avenue, up a series of steps, through one of a couple of multi story openings in the office building and into the lobby of the arena. Throughout this whole promenade, you never really see the cylindrical form of the building itself because the views are constrained and restricted by the rest of the stuff in your way.

The lobby of the building is no better. In fact, it might be worse. Upon entering the building, you are faced with a series of ticket windows and a wide corridor proceeding left and right of the windows to what appears to be a dead end. Welcome to the lobby of the World's Most Famous Arena! When the gates are opened, which are at the end of the dead end corridors, all fans are admitted to an escalator lobby not much larger than would be required to make the space fully functional and you ride the escalators up to your designated level and step out into the concourse. Sounds very thrilling and ceremonial, right? Just wait until the end of the game when you have to walk down a fire stair to get out. Not kidding.

When you go to see a game in the Garden, be patient with all of the above because it's totally worth it when you get inside the arena. The first thing you see when you walk into the arena is that gorgeous steel cable suspension roof with the wood panels inlaid between the bicycle spokes of the exposed structure. It's the only basketball arena I've been in where there is anything to look at above the scoreboard. The ceiling alone makes the Garden different than any other pro basketball hall; the images of the court below that roof structure, like the one above towards the end of Sunday's All-Star Game, are timeless. The place is instantly recognizable.

Once you get to your seat and start looking around, you see the championship banners and retired numbers hanging in the rafters. The Knicks only have one more NBA Championship banner than the Bullets and Wizards but they have an historic collection of Division Championships hanging from the roof. And the retired numbers hail back to the two great Knicks teams that won it all in 1970 and 1973: Walt Frazier, Dick Barnett, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley. It's impossible not to be impressed in the Garden even though the Knicks have been just awful for about the last 15 years.

Finally when the game starts, the Garden focuses all the attention on the court. When you sit in Verizon Center's upper deck during a game, they turn out the lights but they keep them on in the lower level. Not so at MSG. It's all dark everywhere except the most important place in the building: the hardwood. This allows the attention of the audience to be focused exactly where it should be. The reason we are there is to see basketball being played at it's highest level.

I feel like a little kid describing this place. I guess I understood all this from my trips to the Garden in the 1990s with my dad but I never really appreciated the importance of the building until I experienced some other arenas around the U.S. And admittedly, the view from the lower level corner is way different than the upper level end zone. I'm not knocking the tickets my dad and I bought way back in the last century; they were the best we could find, after all, in the pre-internet, pre-legal-secondary market days. It's just way better taking it all in from Section 114.

Ariana Grande and Nicky Minaj are somewhere towards the center of this pic during the halftime show.
So the All-Star Game isn't exactly basketball at it's highest level. Sure some of the greatest players in the world are there and the game ends up being close in score but it's a far cry from a playoff game or a critical regular season contest. Nobody plays any defense, there are no plays being run, you can generally count the total number of fouls committed by each team on two hands and the referees call traveling less than they do in the regular season. But it is a great show and it's way better in person than it is on TV. And it's way better in New York than any other city in the world.

How great a show was it? How about Queen Latifah singing the national anthem? How about former president Bill Clinton sitting courtside? Yes, there were other stars there like Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Spike Lee and countless NBA legends but nobody ever tops Bill. Ever! How about a halftime show with Ariana Grande and Nicky Minaj? How about Christina Aguilera and the Rockettes kicking off the evening with a tribute to New York? How about timeouts with performances by the casts of Chicago, Mamma Mia and Jersey Boys? Yep, the All-Star Game on Sunday night had all of that. I don't think we are getting all that in any other city and lucky for us our seats were about 30 feet from the stage.

But back to the game. As a contest between two teams it was fairly non-interesting. I found myself remembering why I don't watch the All-Star Game all the way through on a regular basis during the times in the game when the Garden was absolutely silent because nothing interesting was going on. Yes, the whole crowd sometimes made pretty much no noise. At all. Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook came off the bench for the Western Conference and lit it up during the first half, scoring 27 of the West's 93 (!!!!) halftime points en route to a 41 point total output (one shy of the All-Star Game record held by Wilt Chamberlain) and the game's Most Valuable Player award.
I thought John Wall represented the Wizards fairly well, scoring 19 points, good for third on the East squad, on 9 of 16 shooting, although he did all that with a -10 plus/minus rating which was last on the Eastern Conference team. Before the game he declared he was going to chase Magic Johnson's All-Star Game record of 22 assists and seemed to have the East coaching staff in his corner. He failed. And pretty miserably, handing out only seven dimes in almost 30 minutes of play. I'm always amazed at how guys set these targets publicly before games. Just go out and play. Yes, LeBron missed some shots (including a wide open dunk) and passed the ball to others to kill a number of John's assist chances, but even I can't blame the difference between seven and 22 on LeBron and I don't like LeBron at all.
This game was truly different than any other NBA game I have ever attended, and not just because I actually applauded for LeBron James and Chris Bosh. There's an old adage that in pro basketball the first one to 100 wins. I think with the All-Star Game, it's the first one to 150 that wins. The score ended up being historically high, with 321 points total in the West's 163-158 victory and the West did, in fact, reach 150 first. But just like a regular season NBA game, there were folks who didn't stick around to see the outcome. I'm always amazed when people leave Verizon Center towards the end of a tight game just to beat the traffic. I was honestly astonished when I saw people leave the All-Star Game early. The list price on my ticket was $750. No way am I leaving before I get the maximum entertainment value with that sort of price tag.

I don't imagine I'll be showing up for an All-Star Game again any time soon. I don't think anything could top my experience in New York. I'd put Washington as a definite if it ever comes back here and I'm still a Wizards season ticket holder and I'd be tempted by Los Angeles but it won't ever be the same as the event this past weekend in the Garden. I picked a good game for my first All-Star experience.

About 2:30 to go in the fourth quarter: empty seats all around me.

February 10, 2015

The (Insert Your Name Here) Memorial Court

If you watch college basketball regularly or even semi-regularly, every now and then you are bound to find a game played on a court named after a current or former coach. Duke University has the Mike Krzyzewski Court, Syracuse University has the Jim Boeheim Court, Georgia Tech has the Bobby Cremmins Court and, well, you get the idea, right? It's been all the rage in the last ten to 15 years or so.

The NBA has generally not adopted this practice. The only arena I am aware of with a court named after a former head coach is in Boston where the hardwood is named after legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach. This is probably because head coaches at the NBA level tend to stick for shorter stints than they do in college, especially in today's "win now" culture. The longest tenured head coach in the NBA right now is San Antonio's Gregg Popovich; he's coached the Spurs since December of 1996. The second longest tenured coach is Eric Spoelstra, who was handed the head job for the Miami Heat more than a decade after Pop took the reins in Texas. Of the remaining 28 NBA head coaches, only two others have been at their job more than five years.

I don't think the Wizards are going to be inaugurating the Dick Motta or Eddie Jordan or Randy Wittman Memorial Court any time soon but they have put a whole lot of names onto the court this season. About 3,000 to be somewhat precise. Last week I found out what the deal was here and yesterday after a 16 point trouncing of the Orlando Magic, I got a lot closer look.

I don't get a chance to get down onto the court at Wizards games much but I've been fortunate enough to grab a pair of VIP wristbands on an occasion or two this year and have been able to walk along the north side of the court (the side opposite the players' benches) to get between the Dewar's Coaches Club on the east side of the arena and the Courtside Club on the west. On my first trip along the court this season in November, I noticed the Wizards added a "dcRISING" and a "@WASHWIZARDS" in the space between the edges of the court. Twitter handles and hashtags like dcrising have become increasingly popular in the last couple of years; I figured this was a way to get more people to engage in social media exchanges by seeing the on court phrases on TV broadcasts.

On one of my trips across the court earlier this season, likely with an ice cold Budweiser (king of beers, in case you were wondering) in my hand, I happened to look down at either the dcRISING or @WASHWIZARDS letters and noticed blue names on the white background. My immediate thought was that they put the names of the VIP season ticket holders in the letters. I mean they are the only people who can regularly see their names anyway, right? I didn't stop to read the names because (a) I don't know any VIP season ticket holders and (b) I didn't want to get wrecked by whoever was walking behind me and spill my beer. We all know how that worked for Mason Plumlee during Saturday night's game.

Well, as it turns out, the names are not those of VIP season ticket holders but instead are the names of every season ticket holder and so that's pretty cool. Every so often the Wizards do something that really hits home and makes a deposit in my emotional bank. This is one of those and I like it. I think it shows a real appreciation for fans' support. They don't have to do this and it works for me. I feel more appreciated with this gesture than I do about having my name on the wall of Verizon Center for being a 10 year plus season ticket holder. This one feels special.

While I'd love to end on my note of thanks to the team, I'm not going to do that. The names on the court are arranged first by tenure and then alphabetically. There are a total of 20 characters populated with names. All characters do not hold the same number of names because some of the characters are just bigger than others. The class of 2000, so to speak, which includes me, starts on the first line of text within the R of the dcRISING. That means that every season ticket holder that purchased seats prior to the year 2000 and still has them fits within the dc.

The class of 2014, or rookie year ticket holders, by contrast, occupy the final nine characters (or the SHWIZARDS) plus part of the A before those nine. I knew I'd endured some punishment lasting through two 19-63 seasons, the frustration of the Michael Jordan years and the complete collapse brought about by the Gilbert Arenas - Javaris Crittenton showdown. I just didn't realize I'd been through all that with so few people. By my count, only 287 season ticket holders have longer tenure than me. I feel like I'm part of a more exclusive club now. I never would have felt this way without the Wizards adding my name to the court this year.

February 9, 2015

Missing Bullets Banners?

It is extremely rare that I write anything in this blog about the Washington Bullets. In fact, I've only done it once ever before I published this post. This is a blog about being a Washington Wizards fan and since I was never a Bullets fan, I just don't spend a lot of time thinking about the franchise that would one day become my beloved Wizards. However, I'm confused about something. So here goes.

Look up in the rafters of Verizon Center and you will see a series of championship banners representing the collective achievements of the building's two major sport residents: the Washington Wizards basketball club (and all its predecessors) and the Washington Capitals hockey club. There are four retired Baltimore / Washington Bullets numbers at the west end of the arena (Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson, Elvin Hayes and Earl Monroe) flanking the 1977-1978 Washington Bullets NBA Champions banner and there are four retired Washington Capitals numbers (Rod Langway, Yvon Labre, Mike Gartner and Dale Hunter) at the opposite end of the building. In between those retired numbers hang the rest of the teams' winnings.

On the north side of the building, there are 12 Capitals banners: one for the 1988-89 Eastern Conference Championship team; eight for the Southeast Division Champions teams between the 1997-1998 and 2012-2013 seasons; one for the 2009-2010 Presidents' Trophy earned by that team; and two for the 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 teams which finished the season as regular season Eastern Conference Champions, meaning they had the most points at the end of 82 games. These last two seem highly suspect to me, but whatever.

The Wizards banners hang on the south side of the building. Or more accurately, the Baltimore Bullets and Washington Bullets banners hang on the south side of the building because the Wizards, to my great chagrin, have never won anything. No division titles, no conference titles and no championships. As you can see from the photograph above, there are six Bullets banners hanging in Verizon Center between the ends of the building.

There was a time, a long long time ago now, that the Bullets were actually a perennial winner. From the 1970-1971 season through the 1974-1975 season the team won five consecutive Central Division Championships; following the 1978-1979 season, the team added their first and only Atlantic Division Championship. The Bullets also made more finals appearances in the 1970s than any other franchise, winning the Eastern Conference in 1971, 1975, 1978 and 1979.

By my math, that makes ten banners (six divisions and four conferences). Why are there only six hanging in Verizon Center? Aren't the 1972-1973 Baltimore Bullets, 1973-1974 Capital Bullets, 1974-1975 Washington Bullets and 1978-1979 Washington Bullets Division Championships missing? I'm pretty sure they are.

When I first noticed this, I thought maybe the team was hanging only the best accomplishment from each season, meaning if they won their division and conference in the same season that they would just hang the Conference Champions banner from that season. But that's clearly not going on. There are two seasons without banners (1972-1973 and 1973-1974) entirely. And it's not like the building doesn't have space to hang more banners. When I was down in San Antonio a couple of years ago, I noticed the Spurs have won so much that they have aggregated all their Division Championships onto two banners. But space doesn't seem to be the issue. After all, there are 12 on the Caps side of the building.

A few years ago, I attended a chalk talk with Wizards' owner Ted Leonsis who told a story about the Bullets banners. Apparently, they originally credited all the championships won by the franchise to the Washington Bullets rather than recognizing some were won when the team was in Baltimore. A fan had to point this out to the team and they corrected the error immediately. I can't believe nobody noticed there were missing titles when they switched the incorrect Washington banners to Baltimore banners.

So are there banners missing or am I just missing something? I've checked and double checked this issue on websites, including the NBA's website. Can anyone help me out here with this question?

The San Antonio Spurs' banners from two years ago. Conference and NBA Titles only get their own banner.

February 6, 2015

Season Ticket Comparison Shopping

It's February, which is about the time of year that us Wizards season ticket holders start getting antsy about how much money we are going to have to fork over for the privilege of watching the Wizards battle the NBA's finest during the next year's NBA season. This year's season ticket renewal invoices were released last year in mid-February and I would expect about the same schedule this year. There was an announcement at Monday's home loss to the Charlotte Hornets (too many mid-range jump shots for my liking) indicating season ticket prices for the coming season will be published on February 23. We'll see if the team waits that long to break the news to existing season ticket holders.

Just like last February, I think Wizards fans better brace for an increase in ticket costs. And I don't think it's going to be a small one. I'd expect something similar or in excess of last year's hike. Last February I argued in a post on this blog that despite paying 10% more per game for my lower level seats and 25% more for my upper level seats, I believed the cost of Wizards season tickets were cheap as compared to other NBA teams around the country. I still believe that. So I also believe this year we continue to catch up to the rest of the league.

The big questions on my mind and I'm sure it's the same for other folks are "how much?" and "is it fair?" I can't do anything but speculate right now as to how much ticket prices will increase but I can gather some information on the prices of tickets in other cities to get an idea of how Wizards tickets stack up against the rest of the market and why they are either more or less than what other teams are selling them for. So that's what I've done. Read on.

Celtics tickets in the lower level corner are $115 per game minimum. That's double the Wizards' rate. Of course there are 17 titles in Boston...
Comparing the costs of NBA tickets is incredibly subjective. Some markets are more expensive than others. Some franchises win more than others, either now or in the past. Not all venues have the same geometries and equivalent sized seating sections. Some tickets come with perks, like free food and beverages or access to gameday or non-gameday benefits. Averaging the price of every seat in the building doesn't do it for me. There's just too much to consider. So I did it a different way.

Considering the amount of judgment involved in assembling a ranked list, there is bound to be some sort of debate as to whether one team offers better value than another. My list below considers the price of seats on the side of the arena in the lower deck (behind the hockey boards, or where they would be in a non-hockey arena) and upper deck only. I also differentiated based on the drop in ticket price as you approach the corners of the arena. I did this specifically to inform myself as to whether I am overpaying for seats in Sections 109 and 415 in Verizon Center but I believe it paints an accurate picture of ticket prices for different teams. Here's my ranked list with a brief comment on each team.
  1. Brooklyn Nets: By far the most expensive tickets in the NBA, although many lower level seats come with free drinks 30 minutes prior to game time. I'm using 2015-2016 prices for the Nets because that's what's published on the Nets' website. All other analysis is based on 2014-2015 prices except where noted.
  2. San Antonio Spurs: Five championships in the last 16 years. You get what you pay for. This will be a recurring theme for the next five spots.
  3. Los Angeles Lakers: Five championships in the last 15 years. 16 titles overall (second most all time).
  4. Chicago Bulls: Six titles in the 1990s. Been sold out for years. High prices in all sections.
  5. Miami Heat: Four straight Finals appearances, although they won't be back this year. Three championships in the last nine years.
  6. Dallas Mavericks: 2011 NBA champions. Also made the Finals in 2006.
  7. Boston Celtics: 2008 NBA champions and 17 titles overall (most all time).
  8. Orlando Magic: From here on down, we are generally dealing with teams who do not have a recent championship pedigree. I imagine prices are so high in Orlando ($173-$285 to sit in the center lower sections) because they failed to realize they no longer contend for division titles.
  9. Sacramento Kings: "California's expensive" is all I have to offer here. The Kings haven't made the playoffs the last eight seasons. And they won't likely this year either. Maybe fans are paying for the new building.
  10. Golden State Warriors: Until the last two years, the Warriors might have fallen into the same "California's expensive" category that I put the Kings in. Now they have the best record in the Western Conference. They also have one of the most loyal fan bases. Games have been sold out for years. Demand is there.
  11. Portland Trail Blazers: Only game in town? Portland's tickets are actually pretty reasonable, as I think all other teams below this point are.
  12. Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron = sellout (intended double entendre there). Probably could have charged more but haven't won a title EVER!
  13. Minnesota Timberwolves: A bargain in the upper deck and towards the back of the lower bowl. Seats closer to the court ($144 in the corner and $221!! in the center) seem way high for this franchise.
  14. Utah Jazz: The maximum ticket price in the center of the arena are $162, which I think is pretty reasonable. There's no price drop for sitting in the corners however. Good seats upstairs are $45 which I find to be high.
  15. Indiana Pacers: I thought folks in Indiana were crazy about basketball. The fans close to the court in the center of the arena are paying a good amount per game ($187) but tickets are cheap elsewhere, especially upstairs, where the highest price ticket is $19. I would have thought prices would have been higher.
  16. Phoenix Suns: No seat is really too expensive in Phoenix. No seat is too cheap either. Prices seem consistently mid-range all over the arena.
  17. Toronto Raptors: The Raptors spot on this list will go up and down based on the U.S.-Canadian currency exchange rate. I used $1 Canadian = $0.80 U.S. in my comparison. That's lower than it's been. The fans here are crazy loud based on my November 6 trip to Air Canada Centre. I can imagine the demand is high here.
  18. Philadelphia 76ers: I have no idea how the 76ers can live with themselves charging their fans $154 to sit in the center of the arena and $89 for corner seats in the lower level to see the roster they have assembled. They must have some rationale.
  19. Memphis Grizzlies: Great team (right now) in a small market. I believe the market size and lack of historical success in terms of actually winning something (like divisions, not just games) are making these tickets cheaper than they could be. Lower level seats top out at $155 per game; upper seats in the center of the arena start at a paltry $11 per game.
  20. Denver Nuggets: Reasonable prices downstairs at the Pepsi Center. Upstairs tickets are higher than they should be and not differentiated very well. Some $31 upper deck seats in Denver would cost $11 in Utah, a team with the exact same number of playoff wins over the last 10 years.
  21. Milwaukee Bucks: I think Milwaukee's tickets are priced pretty well. Lower level side seats range from $69 to $140 and upper level tickets go for $22 to $28. I'd be all in if I lived in Milwaukee.
  22. New Orleans Pelicans: Pelicans tickets are a little more expensive than in Milwaukee close to the court in the center of the arena, but everywhere else they are cheaper and significantly cheaper in the lower level corners.
  23. Charlotte Hornets: The Hornets $10 per game upper level seats are the cheapest in the NBA in the center of the arena. I put them ahead of the Wizards based on lower level corner tickets, which are a lot more than they are in D.C. I used 2015-2016 prices for the Hornets, just like I did for the Nets.
  24. Washington Wizards: Historically not very good. Historically large price cut for a lot of season tickets a few years ago.
  25. Detroit Pistons: Last on this list due to their lower corner and upper deck pricing, which is the cheapest in the NBA. Pistons tickets in the center lower level seats are very expensive ($180) but include all you can eat (and presumably drink) with each ticket.
The New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers do not list ticket prices for season ticket holders on their website in any way and so are not ranked here. I imagine I could have contacted each one of those teams to find out more but I did not. I can't imagine any of those teams are selling seats for less than the Wizards (which is sort of the point of this post). Also not ranked here is the Houston Rockets. The Rockets only list prices for seats which are available for purchase, and all their good seats are taken. That would have made Houston season ticket seats seem artificially low.

Of the 25 teams that are ranked above, I am sure there are folks out there who could quibble with a placement or two. So consider this: debating whether the Portland Trail Blazers or Cleveland Cavaliers should be eleventh and twelfth or thirteenth and eleventh or twelfth and thirteenth isn't really important to me. What I was trying to do here was get the relative cost of side of the arena tickets for Wizards games compared against other teams. I'm OK with someone debating whether Wizards tickets are more expensive or cheaper than Hornets tickets. Yes, center court Wizards tickets ARE more expensive than Charlotte Hornets tickets but as you move towards the corners the scenario flips. If you want to put the Hornets below the Wizards, I'm fine with that.

On the other hand, I don't think there can be much debate when comparing Wizards tickets to Orlando Magic tickets. Center court tickets in the lower level in Orlando are at least $43 more for any one seat and that number climbs in some spots to $140; tickets at Amway Center are also more expensive in the corners ($21 to $55 more) and upstairs ($7 to $21 more). So the point here is to get the order of magnitude right in a ranked format.

The Phoenix Suns interactive ticket map. I like the cost of lower level corner seats in Phoenix.
So what does this all mean? Well, to me it means that Wizards season ticket prices are in the bottom five of the NBA. Is that a reasonable place for the Wizards to be in? Based on this season's performance and our cost of living locally? Probably not. But historically based on performance? Maybe. Over the last 14 years, the Wizards have posted the fewest number of wins in the NBA (I'm excluding the current Hornets because they didn't exist all 14 of those years) meaning they are the absolute worst. They also have no division titles, no conference titles and no NBA championships.

Success clearly affects ticket prices based on the list above. And I don't mean winning 50 games in a season or one or two playoff series each season. I mean something with the word champion in it. The six teams on my list ranked two through seven have won 21 of the last 24 NBA titles. The only exceptions are Houston in 1994 and 1995 (Houston is not ranked) and the Detroit Pistons in 2004. That's no coincidence. Make no mistake, as the Wizards win, prices will go up. But winning titles (or having the Nets' payroll) seems to push the ticket prices to really high levels. I don't expect the Wizards to do that until we really start winning something.

All that sounds pretty ominous for the Wizards season ticket holder fearing he or she is going to be priced out of their seats that they have held onto for the last however many years. I think the Wizards are in an especially interesting spot because many of their season ticket holders likely bought tickets in the last three years and whether those folks realized it or not, they were buying reduced price tickets. The Wizards' decision to rebuild entirely during the 2010-2011 season came with a price break. When the rebuild is over, I imagine they are going to restore prices which might cause a bunch of their current season ticket holders to flee.

I think the response to the Wizards' dilemma will involve a gradual increase in ticket prices over the next few years and that's generally good news for folks fearing a 50% or more price hike this year. If there's some more potential good news, it won't take the Wizards raising prices much (say $25 downstairs and $10 upstairs per ticket) to get them into the top 15 on my list above. Hopefully those types of increases are palatable to a lot of season ticket holders.

So what will happen? I have no idea but rest assured the Wizards know what I've just laid out. They have access to all the data I have access to and likely more. They also probably have someone assigned on their payroll to track this stuff in a great amount of detail. I also believe the Wizards are tracking the price they are selling tickets for vs. the secondary market. Last July I published my analysis of resale data based on some informal but regular tracking. I bet the same dude that is tracking cost of tickets in other markets is assigned to track the secondary market. If there's nobody over at Verizon Center doing that, I'm probably available for hire.

What's my point here? I believe we as season ticket holders will see an increase in pricing in our invoices that will arrive in the next couple of weeks. I can't honestly say for sure that will be true and my guess as to how much last year was way off. I can only say what I expect will happen. For what it's worth, I am expecting the cost of my lower level seats in Section 109 will increase from $55 per game this year to at least $70 next year and my upper deck seats in Section 415 will go up another $5. That's an increase of about 25% across the board. That seems like a lot for a single season increase for a team that still will likely not have won their division since 1979. I still think it's reasonable and maybe a little cheap. I'll re-up at that price for sure. Let's hope it's lower.

February 2, 2015

It's A Bird! It's A Plane!

This past Saturday night, the Washington Wizards hosted the Toronto Raptors for the first and only time this season (barring a playoff meeting, which is not out of the realm of possibility) at Verizon Center. The Wizards lost a laugher earlier in the season in Toronto, a game which I was unfortunate enough to select as one of my road games this year, so I was hoping our guys were looking to get some payback at home. The Raptors don't look quite as ferocious now as they did in early to mid-November so it seemed like the time might be right for the Wizards to assert control over second place in the conference.

Saturday night's game was important on two fronts. First, there are only three games this year against Toronto and head-to-head record could be an important determinant in playoff seedings at the end of the season. Losing Saturday's matchup would guarantee the Raptors winning the season series. Second, the Wizards have been winning against every team in the Eastern Conference except two: the Atlanta Hawks and, you guessed it, the Raptors. There have been questions about the Wizards' ability to beat good teams all year. A win against Toronto might squash some of that talk. Some.

After a slow start for the home squad; some hot shooting from the Raptors (there was so much junk that seemed to go through the net for Toronto); a miserable first half defensively; some questionable calls from the officials; more questionable calls from the officials; and a last minute Wizards comeback where they outscored Toronto by 16 in the final period, the game ended regulation tied at 109. And then overtime hit. And for the second straight game, the Wizards succumbed at home to a good team in the extra session, only managing seven points to the Raptors' 11. Season series lost just like that and now a full two games back of Toronto for the two spot in the East.

Saturday's game was a missed opportunity. I truly believe the Wizards can beat the Raptors. They have one more shot just before the All-Star break to prove me right. Saturday's game was also Marcin Gortat Action Figure day, the only game worth attending from a giveaway standpoint after the season opener. And so I think that deserves a few paragraphs on this blog. I've been vocal in my criticism of the Wizards organization for declining to put a bobblehead on the freebie schedule this year (see here, here and here). Bobbleheads are without question the top shelf item in the giveaway universe, although admittedly, I'd never been handed an action figure on the way through the F Street entrance of Verizon Center. Please don't let this one be a missed giveaway opportunity, Wizards.

Marcin Gortat was the Wizards' premiere off-season free agent re-signing after the 2013-2014 campaign. Marcin came over to the team in a deal with the Phoenix Suns just before the start of the 2013-2014 season. Essentially we traded Emeka Okafor's bad back and our 2014 first round draft pick for the right to rent Marcin for a year and hope we could convince him to stay. We did. For five years. We'll see how that's working out a few years from now.

This year has definitely been an up and down year for Marcin. If there's one thing that's been consistent about his game this year, it's been the inconsistency. His scoring and rebounding averages are down from last year but he can take over games on the offense end for plays at a time with the pick and roll; he's just unstoppable sometimes. And then he also has games like he did Saturday, when he had two of almost everything (points, rebounds, assists, blocks, personal fouls and steals) except turnovers (he had four). Oh, and he didn't play at all in the fourth quarter. Not such a good night when they are giving away a doll of you dressed in super hero garb.

So the question about the giveaway is which is better: action figure or bobblehead? I own more than 30 bobbleheads and, after Saturday's game, just one action figure. Bobbleheads are the tried and true giveaway in varying degrees of actual resemblance to the player they are supposed to be; action figures have way more movable parts, and more closely resemble an actual person because the head isn't grossly oversized. But let's be honest, neither the bobblehead nor the action figure serves any useful purpose in this world. They just sit on a shelf in my condo doing nothing except looking like a collection. Well, the bobbleheads do anyway. The action figure is solitary. I'll give the nod to the bobbleheads and state once again, I'd rather have a Gortat bobblehead than an action figure.

So now that's out of the way, let's take a closer look at the action figure. Generally speaking, the figure looks like Marcin Gortat or at least Marcin playing Lex Luthor. OK, so the physique is a little idealized but that's generally the case with action figures anyway. Until today, I was upset about the lack of mohawk on his head but since he just shaved it today, I guess I don't get to be too ticked off about that after all. He's made his head look like his action figure. How strange is that?

I think the Wizards uniform/super hero costume he's wearing looks OK. I mean it looks like a Wizards uniform, although I could quibble about the monument ball on the back of the uniform below the neck; this year the team moved that to the waistband of the shorts after the league decided to move the NBA logo to the back of the unis league wide. Paving the way for advertisements on jerseys soon, if you care and/or didn't know. Marcin's legs and arms move at the shoulder and hip respectively which is standard for an action figure but his head doesn't swivel which I think is unusual.

Now I realize there are no other Wizards action figures and I also realize that it was free, so what I'm about to say is maybe a little petty, but keeping in mind I'm still upset about the whole lack of bobblehead giveaways this year, I'm saying it anyway. Would it have killed the Wizards to have some action figure accessories here? All good action figures come with a gun or something to hold, right?

Check out the picture of Gortat with Lando Calrissian (the best Star Wars Character EVER) and Lobot (just because Lobot doesn't get a whole lot of air time) above. Both characters came with weapons so they can shoot stormtroopers and other sorts of space villains; I may not have the right gun with the right figure (all my Star Wars figures weapons are just piled into one spot with no chain of custody information available any more) but that's sort of the point, right? You can mix and match accessories with figures to create all sorts of different scenarios. Of course, I've already pointed out there are no other Wizards action figures so

I can think of some pretty good accessories for the Marcin Gortat action figure. There are the obvious ones like a basketball or a bottle of Gatorade or something and some more obscure ones like a (borrowed) pet pig that Gortat showed up with this summer on Instagram but at the very least, you would have thought they could have set him up with a Polish Hammer, right? That would have been hilarious. Of course, Gortat's fists are clenched, so he couldn't hold one anyway. 

I'm not calling this giveaway a missed opportunity. I'm keeping it on my shelf in it's original packaging (isn't that what you are supposed to do?) but I'm still hung up on the whole hammer thing. It's the small things in life. I'm offering the Wizards my services free of charge to enhance next year's giveaways if they want it; just expect plenty of bobblehead recommendations to come out of that assignment.

Lando Calrissian can hold a gun. Marcin Gortat cannot.