January 27, 2016

Tough Juice

This past Saturday night I was supposed to be sitting in Section 109 at Verizon Center watching the Wizards take on the Utah Jazz for their annual meeting in the District. But winter storm Jonas had other ideas and forced the NBA to postpone that contest, only the second time I've seen a weather postponement in my 16 years as a season ticket holder. So last weekend instead of hoping the Wizards could finally find a way to win a couple in a row at home, I spent most of my time as a shut in from the snow just like most of the rest of the residents of Arlington, VA.

Other than the game cancellation, the weekend proved to be pretty enjoyable: pretty much nothing accomplished, some great company, a couple of movies, a Patriots loss, a Cavaliers loss, tons of Trader Joe's food and some hot chocolate (with a little dark rum). Sounds pretty perfect to me except for the lack of Wizards happenings. Luckily, I'd been hanging onto former Wizard Caron Butler's autobiography since Santa brought me a copy for Christmas for just such an occasion. So why not, right?

In case you are a Wizards novice, Butler (along with Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas) managed to guide the Wizards to the last three of four straight playoff appearances in the middle of the last decade. Unfortunately for Butler and the rest of our team (and me), they managed to lose to the hated Cleveland Cavaliers each of those seasons in the first round of the playoffs. Caron's four plus seasons in Washington represented the longest tenure with any one franchise and garnered him his only two All-Star selections. Caron is one of my favorite ex-Wizards and I always give him a one-man standing ovation along with one or two "TOOUUGGH JUUUUUICE"s whenever he returns to VC for another team. Caron's one of the classiest guys who has ever played for the Wizards.

Caron's autobiography is all about his escape from the mess he got himself into and almost couldn't get himself out of as a kid. I'm not going to cover all that here because I'm really here to write about the Wizards part of his book but suffice it to say he sold his first drugs at age 11, bought his first gun at 12, set up his first drug selling network at age 14 and was sentenced to his first jail term (of two years) at 15. Considering his environment, the guys he hung with and the fact that he was in numerous shootouts before he turned 17, it's a total miracle he's even still alive, let alone made it out of his hometown of Racine, Wisconsin to become the person he is today. It's an amazing story.

Caron's book is 224 pages long. Pages 202 through 209 cover his four and a half seasons with the Wizards. If you read this book, you should read the first 201 pages because it's worth it. But if you are like me, you really want to get to the Wizards stuff.

Caron focuses his very brief Wizards story on his arrival in Washington; his relationship with former owner Abe Pollin; and the lack of real results the team achieved in his time in D.C. But the juiciest bit of his story about being a Wizard is his recounting of the Gilbert Arenas - Javaris Crittenton feud that ultimately led to the 50 plus game suspension of Gilbert Arenas; the downward spiral of Crittenton that now has him sitting in jail for 20 plus years; and the blowup of a once promising team in Washington.

After reading the seven or so pages Caron devotes to his time as a Wizard, I'm confused. In addition to really learning nothing groundbreaking about Wizards history, I have an issue with one statement and questions about two other stories. I am not, by the way, too surprised I learned nothing new about the Wizards since I spend about 10 months of each year scheduling my life around this team. I'm pretty much embroiled in everything that happens to this team without actually being there for anything other than all the home games (in other words, I miss what happens behind closed doors).

But onto my two questions and one issue. My first question is about what really happened between Gilbert and Javaris Crittenton. Caron's account, which says the initial dispute was over $1,100 that Javaris alleged Gilbert owed him and ends with Gilbert and Javaris getting into it verbally a couple of days later is slightly different from what I wrote in this blog in 2012 which had the initial money argument about $200 between JaVale McGee and Earl Boykins and ends with Gilbert writing a "Pick 1" note for Javaris at Verizon Center. My version of the story was culled from various newspaper accounts written by people who quite definitively did not see the events unfold in person. Both versions end with Gilbert having a gun pointed at him before the situation calmed down a bit.

So the folks I relied on got some things wrong. No big deal, right? Maybe. But Gilbert Arenas doesn't agree with Caron's account either and he was most certainly there. We know this because Gilbert published at least two rants on Instagram (Gil's current soapbox of choice) disputing the accounts. Now, going on character alone, I'm likely to believe Caron but there's no question Gil's version is closer to the written accounts published before Caron's book came out. So what really happened? I guess we'll probably never really know and the truth is probably somewhere between the two stories but I think it's interesting it's taken this long for an alternate truth to be written down.

My issue, which I hope is not seen as nitpicking, is Caron's story of how he arrived in Washington. He writes "After one season with the Lakers, I took advantage of free agency to become a Wizard when they offered me a great deal." Now this doesn't exactly say Caron was a free agent with the ability to choose a new team, but it's pretty darn close. The truth is Caron was traded to the Wizards along with Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown and had a year left on his rookie deal. His first season in Washington was spent on that rookie contract. He did sign a five year extension before he began that year, but he wasn't a free agent at that time. It's difficult to say the story is factually incorrect because there are facts missing. But it affects how I view the Arenas - Crittenton story.

My second question is about how Caron got his nickname, Tough Juice (or Tuff Juice depending on your preferred spelling). And this is really my only serious question. The story that has been laid out in the Washington Post at least twice is that Caron's teammates were complaining about how aggressive he was being in practice to which Caron responded "Man, you guys need to drink some tough juice." Eddie Jordan, the Wizards coach at the time picked up on this and started calling Caron by the nickname he carries around to this day.  Great story and one of the great all-time nicknames in sports.

Caron offers a different version. He claims Eddie Jordan used to call him a tough dude because of all the stuff he went through growing up. He then goes on to explain how Jordan eventually changed it to Tuff Juice after the expression "you got the juice now" that folks use to describe a player on a roll. While the two gunplay in the locker room stories play with shades of gray, the two Tuff Juice stories are totally different. I mean they are not even close. What gives??? I'm confused. Maybe one day Caron and Mike Wise (who wrote the story for the Post) can jointly clarify for me.

So that's my book report. A solid thumbs way up for a book about a solid guy and a great weekend's read. Still itching to know about the nickname story though. That one's going to stick with me.

January 21, 2016

Non Starter

The final results of the voting for the 2016 All-Star Game were announced tonight. As expected, John Wall was not voted into the starting backcourt by the fans for the mid-season exhibition game to be held in a few weeks in Toronto. I say as expected because despite receiving more votes than any other guard in the Eastern Conference last season, the first three rounds of voting results for this year's game released on Christmas Day, January 7 and a week ago today had John fifth. In each of those results he trailed, in order, Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry and Jimmy Butler.

The first three rounds of results did not hold. In a stunner, Kyle Lowry passed Irving to start alongside Wade in this year's game just like he did last year when he passed Wade at the last minute for the second starting spot. Something's going on up there in Toronto because not only did Lowry slip into second but DeMar DeRozan passed Wall for fifth. I'd believe anything out of those fans up in Canada. I'm still astonished at the energy level when I was up there last for a relatively meaningless early November contest against the Wiz. No doubt there was a concerted push by Raps fans that got Lowry past Irving and DeRozan past John. I'd still take John over both of those guys but that's just me.

So I get that voting for the All-Star starters is a total popularity contest and the Wizards haven't been exactly the fan magnet team they planned to be this season. But I totally don't understand how Wall dropped from being the absolute nuts last year to sixth place this year. I guess people are fickle and ain't that the understatement of the year. I'm with Lowry starting over Irving. In fact, if you know me at all, you know I'm thrilled with anyone starting over Irving. Now I'm just hoping his mere 13 games this year keep him off the coaches' ballots as a reserve.  And get John onto the team.

It's not like my votes counted for much but I thought I did my fair share to get John into the starting lineup. But looking over my Twitter voting record (presented below in all it's completeness) I see that I was horribly mistaken. Yes, I got 32 of the 40 days covered but I missed 20% of the total voting days? What am I thinking? I'll try to do better next year. In the meantime, I'm waiting for the announcement on the reserves a week from today. I can't see a way they can keep John out. But then again, I didn't think the Wizards would have a losing record at this point. Plus I thought we'd get a Christmas Day game. Plus I thought we'd have more than five games on national TV this year. Plus I thought this was the year that Bradley Beal would break through. I can't get anything right with this team it seems.

January 19, 2016

The Price Of Admission

It's mid to late January 2016. In about a month, the Wizards will likely be publishing the new pricing for the 2016-2017 season and I (along with every other existing season ticket holder) will have to decide whether the price of admission to games next year is worth it. For sure this year, there are a ton of variables influencing this decision, perhaps more than a typical year. These include the price cut ownership offered a lot of season ticket holders a few years ago, the performance of the team on the court (and especially at home) this year and the shiny promise of enough cap space to tempt a brand new marquee free agent who may or may not decide to sign here.

On this last point, I understand Kevin Durant is at the top of everyone's wish list but let's be realistic here, folks. There's only one team going to get KD, and there are tons of teams with cap space and that assumes he even wants to consider leaving Oklahoma City. I'd be pretty ticked off if a promise of KD affected season ticket prices for next year only to find out we end up getting this one of this offseason's second tier free agent for the max price.

I've written in this blog before defending the price of Wizards season tickets set by management. In both 2014 and 2015, I published my own research about the price of my season tickets vs. similar tickets available on secondary ticket market king StubHub finding season tickets to be appropriately cheaper than resale tickets. I have also defended the price increase for the 2014-2015 season and comparison shopped Wizards tickets vs. other team and found pricing through that same season to be clearly towards the bottom of the league. Throughout the almost four years I've been writing this blog I've been sticking up for ownership on the subject of ticket prices. Until now.

While there's no debate in my mind that 100 level seat prices that saw almost a 50% price cut in 2011 will still justifiably creep up towards their pre-2011 cost, I have a different view on the 400 or upper level seats. The point of this post is to argue that there should be no price increase in the cheapest seats at Verizon Center for this coming season.

There are currently three different pricing levels in the 400 level. The center five sections of the 400 level are priced at either $28 per game (for the lower half of these sections) or $24 per game (for the upper half). The remaining 24 sections upstairs are all priced at $16 per game. For each one of my 16 seasons as a Wizards season ticket holder, I have purchased a full season in the lower half of the center five sections in the 400 level, first in Section 402 and currently in Section 415. These seats have seen a precipitous increase in price during each of the last two seasons and I believe it might be time to put the brakes on.

When I first bought these seats for the 2000-2001 season, they cost me $10 per seat. That price held for two seasons before the team decided watching Michael Jordan in his second (and last) season was rightfully worth an extra $5 per game. When Jordan was (also rightfully) run out of town by Abe Pollin, the $15 price tag stuck until the 2008-2009 season when the price went up a buck to $16 per. Then two years ago the team decided to ramp things up a lot, adding a $4 (or 25%) increase for 2014-2015 and another $8 (or 40%!!) for this current season. So that's a 30% increase in cost over 14 seasons and a 75% increase over the past two. Hmmmm...

This ticket pricing thing is no doubt complicated stuff so I've always watched the secondary market as an indicator of whether or not I'm getting value for my money. Over the past two years, upper level tickets using season ticket holder pricing have been tracked by me as 30% (two seasons ago) and 46% cheaper (last season) than secondary market pricing. Based on that data, I could reasonably defend ownership's decision to raise prices to the level seen this year.

This year the data says something different. Through tomorrow night's game vs. the Miami Heat (home game 23), I could have bought a ticket on StubHub for each home game in a location comparable to my current upper deck season tickets for about $32.50, just $4.50 more per game than I pay by buying all 41. And that includes the artificially inflated Lakers game secondary market price caused when Kobe announced his retirement five days before the game. 

Compare those prices to the pricing available through StubHub for the first 23 home games last year and you find a $4 per game drop in ticket prices over the previous season. Now, no doubt this is likely directly related to on court performance this year but to me, these results are pretty conclusive: it only cost $4.50 more to see a game buying a la carte on the secondary market. Considering there's no obligation to spend money on worthless preseason games, the difference is actually less.

The Wizards have always touted a reduced per game price for the season ticket holder. This year's numbers from my secondary market research show that savings is about 15%. I think the Wizards intend it to be more than that. I certainly would argue it has to be when I'm watching the Wiz take on Milwaukee or Minnesota mid-week and I have to sell me second set of seats for $5. I think it's time to freeze upper deck pricing for 2016-2017 and maybe beyond. I hope the Wizards agree with me. I guess we'll find out in a few weeks.

January 18, 2016

Children's Crusade

Today is the third Monday of January. That means it is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. For me (since 2016 is not a presidential inauguration year), that means a half day of work and a Wizards home game later today, which makes this one of my absolute favorite days of the year. Next year, it won't be quite the same; for some reason the NBA avoids Washington on the MLK holiday on inauguration years so there will be no game here next year unless there's a change of strategy on the league's part. I'll mourn the loss of a 2017 home game when Hillary is being sworn in as the first female president of the United States.

This holiday also means it's time for me to write a post offering a glimpse into some site related to Dr. King's life or legacy. I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's a reason the NBA makes an effort to schedule afternoon games on this day and it really has nothing to do with basketball. This day is for remembering something we should never forget. Last year I made a trip to the Lincoln Memorial, site of Dr. King's famous "I Have A Dream" speech given in August 1963. That post followed a column the previous year about my trip to the memorial to Dr. King erected on the National Mall. Unfortunately, those two posts pretty much killed my list of local significant sites, so this year, I traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to find out more about the Civil Rights Movement. Things were a lot more serious down there than they were here in Washington.

The beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States can be traced back to April 1951 at R. R. Moton High School in Prince Edward County, Virginia when the students at the segregated all-black high school walked out of class to protest the overcrowded and inadequate conditions which existed in their school. That act, and the subsequent two week strike by the students, ultimately led to the United States Supreme Court ruling on the Brown v. Board of Education case that segregation based on race in public schools was unconstitutional. Subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court required segregation be phased out over time, but with no specific schedule. And it only applied to public schools.

Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Kelly Ingram (formerly West) Park.
12 years after that initial Moton High School walk out, life was not a whole lot different when it came to race relations in most of the south,  despite a series of sit-ins at lunch counters and other locations; Freedom Rides; some significant integration of schools; and what could be called a successful bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1963, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) led by president Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. along with local leader Fred Shuttlesworth selected Birmingham, Alabama for the site of what they called Project "C", a series of non-violent protests and sit-ins designed to force an end to segregation in Birmingham, a city at that time was perhaps the most segregated city in the nation. "C" by the way stood for Confrontation.

Project "C" followed an effort in Birmingham begun in late 1962 to boycott local downtown businesses which supported segregation. The boycott (or "selective buying campaign" since boycotts were illegal in Birmingham) had already drawn reactions. The City Commission of Birmingham cut back funding for a surplus food program used mostly by low income black residents in the city and Police Commissioner "Bull" Connor started issuing threats to cancel business licenses for stores that removed "Whites Only" or "Colored Only" signs from their storefronts.

One of the keys to the success of Project "C" was Bull Connor, who had historically reacted to non-violent or passive protests with alarming violence. The hope was that the expected police violence would draw national media attention and that mass arrests would fill the city's jail system and shut down the city's law enforcement's ability to function. But by April of 1963, Project "C" was not having the results desired by Dr. King and other leaders and the program was costing more money than planned, in part due to Connor quadrupling the bail requirement for arrested protesters, which included Dr. King. Project "C" was not working.

Sculpture of Parker High School student Walter Gadsden being attacked by police dogs based on a photograph published in the New York Times.
Local SCLC leadership was desperate. This desperation led them to make a controversial but critical decision in April 1963 to enlist the help of children in their protest effort. The decision was widely condemned by everyone from Robert Kennedy to Malcolm X and Dr. King initially remained silent on the decision. But the logic presented by SCLC organizer James Bevel that students would present a more united front while also not hurting their families through loss of income caused by their arrests were compelling and the campaign proceeded. The effort over a few days in May of 1963 would later be referred to as the Children's Crusade by Newsweek magazine.

On May 2, 1963, more than 1,000 students skipped school and gathered at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in downtown Birmingham. The plan was to march downtown to meet with the mayor and demand integration of selected downtown buildings. The reaction from the city and Commissioner Connor was to arrest everyone. Everyone. All of them. They used police cars and fire trucks to block the streets in the path of the marchers and used paddy wagons and school buses to haul the students to jail. By the end of the day, 1,200 students filled the 900 person capacity Birmingham jails.

The next day proved to be the turning point. That morning, another 1,000 children turned up at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church to march. At that point there was no sense arresting any more students because the city had no place to put them. So as the protesters made their way into West Park across the street from the church, the police department tried a different strategy, using high pressure water hoses set on maximum power to repel and disperse the children. When bystanders observing the police using water hoses started fighting back by throwing rocks at the police, Connor ordered police to use the department's German shepherds to stop the attack.

It was a disaster and by the end of the day, the damage was done. Photographs and television footage of water hoses knocking children off their feet and rolling them down city streets or of dogs attacking high school students and bystanders were seen nationwide. Calls for the passage of a Civil Rights Bill were heard in congress. An editorial in the New York Times called the behavior of the police department "a national disgrace". And Oregon senator Wayne Morse compared Birmingham to South Africa. Birmingham was on the national radar in just the way Dr. King and the other Civil Rights leaders had hoped.

Hoses turned on children. I can't imagine how strong these kids were under this sort of assault.
While I'm making this sound like an unequivocal victory and a quick happy ending, it was not. Far from it. Desegregation happened slowly in Birmingham even though the integration of public schools began with the start of the new school year in September 1963. Even the protests and arrests didn't end on May 3, the first day the hoses and dogs were set on protesters. But there's no question that the acts of those two days under the direction of Dr. King and other local leaders made change happen quicker than it would have otherwise. The New York Times was right: racial segregation (and not just the behavior of the police that day) was a national disgrace.

Today, West Park still exists in downtown Birmingham, although now it's called Kelly Ingram Park, and it, along with the adjacent Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (which turned out to be closed for renovation), was my destination this past fall during a trip to Alabama to watch cars go round and round in circles. The Park now serves as a memorial to those two days in May 1963 which turned the tide of racial segregation in the city. It's pretty powerful despite the fact that it likely comes nowhere close to representing the chaos and horror those two days.

The memorial in the Kelly Ingram Park is a series of sculptures and interpretive signage describing the two days of arrests and protects in the Park and the events leading up to them. Just how devious and sinister the white leaders of Birmingham were is pretty obvious in reading the signs which dot the sidewalks around the Park. But the sculptures are the more visceral storytellers. The prejudice of the city's police force is on full display in a sculpture where a police officer is holding a young black man while also loosing his German shepherd on the man. And the sidewalk which runs through a sculpture of dogs leaping at stomach and eye level forces you to come face to face with something akin to what the protesters did on May 3. Although honestly, it's not dangerous at all any more.

But the most chilling sculpture for me in the Park is the firehose being trained on two what look like junior high school students. You can actually stand behind the controls of the hose and understand the view that the police had, one teenage boy on his hands and knees after withstanding a blast of water and a girl of similar age trying to turn her back and protect herself against the pressure. I can't imagine how these men continued to use these hoses after seeing helpless kids doing nothing other than being black being knocked down and hurt. God help us if we ever do anything like this again.

I don't know as much as I should about the Civil Rights Movement. It was a clearly a complicated, frustratingly slow and heartbreaking process to get some people in this country the basic rights which should be afforded to everyone. Every time I write on of these posts I learn a little bit more and so I intend to keep doing it on this holiday when the Wizards play at home, with a focus on events centered on Dr. King. Project "C" was an important step towards the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and may have been a sort of tipping point. After the events of May 2 and 3, 1963, most of the nation could no longer ignore what was going on. A visit to the former West Park makes that pretty clear.

Sculpture with police dogs straining at their leashes on either side of the path.

January 11, 2016

Wizards Socks

Yes, this is a blog post about socks. Deal with it. There's probably some shameless product endorsement somewhere in here too. Well, actually, there definitely sort of is.

This year, for the first time ever, the NBA is allowing a clothing manufacturer to add their logo to a component of the official NBA uniforms. This has never happened before. Seriously. Look on an NBA jersey or shorts during a game and you won't find any Adidas logo anywhere in sight. It's deliberate. The NBA has steadfastly resisted clothing manufacturers branding the league's uniforms. I'm not talking about the Swingman or Replica jerseys and shorts you can buy in the gift store at arenas or online. I mean the real deal on-court jerseys. Among the four major sports in this country, the NBA is the only one whose uniforms are logo-less.

Until this year. And the logo is not on the jerseys or the shorts or the headbands or anything else above the knees. It's on the socks. Yep, the socks. Now, in case you are wondering...shoes don't count as part of the uniform since players are permitted to wear whatever footwear they choose. And yes, I know the bottom of players' shorts often extend below the knee (except for DeAndre Jordan who seems intent on taking at least one step towards the '80s short shorts); stop nitpicking.

The company that makes all 30 NBA teams' socks this year is Stance. They are a fairly new company (founded in 2009) and all they make is socks. Their logo is pretty subtle. It's a simple square diamond with an "X" through it. It's so simple that if you even notice it on the official on court socks, you might not think it's a logo. But I guess all logos sort of start out that way. The first time Nike's swoosh was applied to a piece of clothing, it must have seemed like something other than a logo too. Now if it seems like a big step for a relative newcomer to the clothing industry to insist on their logo being included, it's probably a sign of things to come. The All-Star game uniforms this year feature the KIA logo as an advertisement and that might just be the start. Don't worry Adidas, you'll probably get yours on there soon.

So why am I writing about socks in the NBA? I mean, who cares anyway, right? Well, I care and I'm writing about them because I love the addition of designed socks to the NBA uniform. Prior to this year, players opted to wear one of a few solid, NBA logoman branded socks. Players choice seemed to the be the rule here, not only in terms of color but length. The result was a complete disintegration of the uniform below the knees. That's now all changed. And I love it. And that's why I'm writing about socks.

The designs that Stance has rolled out, I think, serve as perfect complements to the already in place NBA uniforms. Of course, I love the Wizards home socks the best because I think our home unis are the best in the league. The horizontal striping on the home socks mirrors the tops of our jerseys perfectly: a large red band over a smaller white band, an even smaller blue band and a larger white field. I'm less enthusiastic about the road socks, but then again, I'm less enthusiastic about our road unis, although the genius of the mostly blue road socks is that they harmonize well with the primary red jerseys (which have too much red in my opinion) and our alternate blue tops (which still need a white band to make them perfect). Good job on this one.

The thing that impresses me most of all about Stance, though, is the obvious pride they take in sock making and in the clients they are serving. Their website includes a diagram describing the anatomy of sock, which is just awesome. Their product pages for each team (the company makes more than just NBA socks, including some killer Star Wars socks) also show a concern for a connection to the history of the game. And they are so detailed that they didn't just come up with one description per team. The home and road descriptions tell a little different story.

A couple of years ago, I started buying Wizards socks. I figured why not? I have every other sort of Wizards branded apparel I could find. Might as well have some socks to wear to the games to make myself feel like an extra super duper Wizards fan. I started with the old blue, black and bronze hideous Wizards-logo socks and then last Christmas (courtesy of my amazing parents) graduated to the new red, white and blue with still hideous Wizards-logo footwear. And I literally wear these thing to every game I go to where I'm not wearing shorts or work clothes. I have to be committed after all.

So, the roll out of the Stance socks could not go ignored by me and I once again asked Santa for a pair for Christmas. Stance makes two grades of socks for the NBA fan: the official on court sock (with a  retail price of $28! Yikes!) and the consumer version (with a more reasonable $16 price tag). I opted for the cheaper edition, figuring handing over $28 for a pair of socks was just too rich for my (or in this case, Santa's) blood. I picked the road version of the socks because they have the Wizards' unity hand logo on them as opposed to the home version which sports no Wizards branding at all other than the pattern matching our jerseys.

I have to say I love these things. As a sock they are incredibly comfortable. They are warm and fluffy without being too thick and they don't cut off the circulation to my feet the way some socks do. I'm so impressed by Stance backing up what's on their website (which could seem like a whole lot of mumbo jumbo) with a comfortable and well-made product. In fact, I love them so much that I opted to grab an additional couple of pairs of our home socks ($16 price again of course) for myself after I became besotted with the pair Santa brought me.

In wearing my new socks and looking over the website, it's easy to see why the NBA picked these guys. Great job! I'm tempted by the Wall and Beal graphic socks, but maybe I'll hold out for those a bit longer.

January 4, 2016

Otto Porter Bobblehead

As beginnings to seasons where your team is aspiring for greatness unseen in 35 plus years go, the 2015-2016 NBA season has proved to be a disappointment for my beloved hometown Washington Wizards. 32 games into the current season, the Wizards are sitting out of the playoff picture with a 15-17 record. More glaring than the sub-par record and the gaudy 103.8 points per game surrendered on the defensive end though are the number of games missed by key players. Through the first 32, Gary Neal has missed eight games, Bradley Beal has been absent for 15, Nenê has sat for 17 contests and Drew Gooden's played a paltry 7 (missing 25). The effects have been obvious in recent games, particularly the second quarter of last week's game in Toronto and this past Sunday's safe-to-leave-with-10-minutes-to-go-in-the-fourth-quarter loss at home to the Miami Heat. Ouch!

But in the malaise that has largely dominated the season so far, there has been a real bright spot on the die-hard Wizards collectible front: the release of the season's first bobblehead as the centerpiece of the G Wiz Kids' Club package. This year's honored player is none other than Otto Porter, occupying the spot pioneered two years ago by my former favorite Wizard Martell Webster and filled in admirably by G Wiz last year. It's ironic that I put Otto on my bobblehead shelf (OK...one of my bobblehead shelves) the day I had to turn my Martell bobble to face backwards on the day of his release from the team as is my custom. All-Stars and retired jerseys are exempted from this rule, just to clarify.

Now of course, if you want an Otto Porter bobblehead, you'll have to pony up the $20 (or $18 for season ticket holders - woo hoo!) for a Kids' Club membership. But considering the alternative to get your hands on a giveaway quality Wizards bobblehead is to wait until the release of the John Wall bobblehead on gameday against the Charlotte Hornets on April 10, the $20 feels like it's way worth it. My niece now has three Kids' Club bobbleheads held in trust for her by her favorite uncle on her mother's side. She has no idea how lucky she will be one day.

Otto's bobblehead, which photographs beautifully in front of the large Wizards box used to hold our season ticket holder gym bag gift, is standing holding a basketball and wearing the knee pads Otto frequently wears on court. ALL basketball bobbleheads it seems have to have a ball; the DeShawn Stevenson bobble-hand and G Wiz bobble-belly that I have do not but that's because they are variations on the theme I'm assuming. Otto's bobble is also smiling as bobbleheads have a tendency to do and he's standing on the circular "piece of court" base that the Wizards have commissioned for their bobblehead "giveaways" the past couple of seasons.

As bobbleheads go, Otto is definitely firmly in the "free" quality category. The paintwork is a little sloppy and almost seems rubbed off in some spots (I guess traveling from China in a styrofoam packed box can be rough). I applaud the attempt to duplicate the silver threading on the edge of the numbers but it can't overcome the overall imprecise paint job on the rest of his body. The Wizards certainly didn't request the best craftsmen over there on the other side of the Pacific like they did with the season ticket holder set of bobbleheads a few years back.

One of the things I love to check about bobbleheads is the players' faces. When I first open a new bobblehead my first reaction is they don't look anything like the players they are supposed to represent. Sure, they usually get the facial hair correct and maybe the skin tone comes close but most of these things look like the Wizards just ordered the generic black man head bobblehead and then someone painted the correct number on the jersey. This is not intended to be racially insensitive. I only have one white bobblehead and that's long haired Mike Miller, which I think the Wizards specified with the generic white female tennis player head.

My first reaction to checking out Otto's face was the same as my typical new bobble reaction: "This thing doesn't look anything like Otto." But a closer look reveals that they got the component parts pretty close even though the ensemble really only resembles Otto in a folk art sort of way. They got the side of the mouth smile pretty close, albeit with the lips up at the left of the mouth rather than down. They also got the shape of the eyes correct and the facial hair spot on, although as I've previously pointed out, that one's sort of a gimme. The eyebrows and nose also look pretty good and the hairline is almost perfect, although admittedly it appears to be the exact mirror opposite of Otto's actual hair line.

Overall, I think Otto's a pretty good choice here. Otto may have the highest participation for a player at Kids' Club events, even dressing up for halloween this year in his third season on the team. And as a guy firmly deserving of a starting spot this year, it's an appropriate time to release a bobblehead in his honor, even if it did cost $20. Sorry, $18. I can't wait until April 4. Just three months until the next Wizards bobblehead. I hope I can last that long.

Gotta have the gold championship tag on the back. The paintwork on Otto leaves a lot to be desired.

January 1, 2016

Hey...Wait A Minute!

During Washington Wizards local television broadcasts this season, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic (the amalgamation of the old CSN Washington and CSN Baltimore) has added a new feature for hard core Wizards fans tuning in at home. At some point during the game, a "Wizards Twitter Question" is posted on screen and discussed briefly by either the in studio staff or broadcasters extraordinaire Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier. Then using Twitter and the hashtag #WizardsTalk, fans can offer their thoughts in response to the question du jour and maybe see their words posted during a time out or some other stoppage of play late in the game. CSN is leveraging social media here to increase fan engagement. I think it's a great idea. God knows the Wizards need more fan engagement.

This past Tuesday, the Wizards were in Toronto to face the home town Raptors in the final game for both teams in calendar year 2015. The game itself was one of those plodders that it didn't seem like the Wizards stood a chance of being competitive let alone winning. But as things go sometimes in the NBA, the Wizards actually had a shot to pull it out in the last minute despite no Washington bench player scoring in the first half and Toronto outrebounding the Wiz by 11 and shooting 22 more free throw attempts. Since it was the last game until the new year, the Wizards Twitter Question that night was "What is your fondest Wizards memory from the year 2015?"

Now I have a few fond Wizards memories in this past year, as well as some I'd rather forget, and despite having never participated with Comcast in their Twitter question, I thought this particular question was one I could get at pretty easily. I picked as my fondest 2015 memory the last game of the 2015 playoffs that the Wizards won, game three of the second round vs. the Atlanta Hawks clinched at the buzzer on Paul Pierce's insane game winning bank shot. Why not, right? What an amazing moment punctuated by Pierce's drop-the-mic interview with ESPN's Chris Broussard. In my response to Comcast Wednesday night, I just let Pierce do my talking.

So it gets to be the fourth quarter and the Wizards are still hanging on for dear life and Steve and Phil re-visit the Wizards Twitter Question during a timeout. And guess who's up first but yours truly with my Twitter handle and everything. Woo hoo!!! On a late December evening of 2015 I get to mark about 10 to 15 seconds more of my 15 minutes of fame in the books. Good for me!

But wait a minute, I didn't write that!

The tweet displayed on screen attributed to me read "Did you call bank?" "No, I called game" as shown above. But that's neither a correct recounting of the end of the Pierce-Broussard interview, nor is it what I wrote in my tweet. True, Broussard does ask "Did you call bank" but Pierce's response was "I called game! GAME!" Not "No, I called game." And Pierce's response to that last question is just what I wrote in my tweet. Nothing more, nothing less.

So what gives? Did someone at Comcast actually re-write my tweet or was it just an innocent mistake attributing my name to someone else's message (for the record I can't imagine this last theory is true)? Did the staffers over at CSN feel my tweet didn't have enough context? If that's the case, I'd heartily disagree. Any committed Wizards fan should instantly recognize Pierce's quote and instantly think of last May. And what about my branding? I can't have mis-quoted interviews attributed to me out there in the atmosphere. I need my name cleared!!! There was no "no" in Pierce's quote!

So I'm not actually upset about my branding. The only brand I need is to be known as a die-hard Wizards fan who shows up every game giving his all to cheer on the Wiz through thick and (unfortunately mostly) thin, whether it be a home game at Verizon Center or elsewhere in the country on the road. But I do think the whole thing is interesting. There's no logical explanation for this in my mind. I wonder if it happens to other people? I'll probably be blacklisted over at CSN for this and never get another tweet posted on their broadcast. So be it. Happy New Year, Wizards fans. Orlando tonight. I'll be there and I'll probably be tweeting.

My ACTUAL tweet.