March 31, 2017

L.A. Story

If you had told me last year after I watched the Washington Wizards take on the Los Angeles Clippers in California that I'd be back again after just one year, I'd have said you were crazy. But here I am writing this blog post after four days of work and the past two nights over at Staples Center watching my beloved Wizards take on not just the Clippers, but the Lakers as well. Two nights ago, I watched my team win their first division championship in my 17 year and counting run as a season ticket holder. Unfortunately, we couldn't pull out a second win in as many nights against the Clips on a night when defense was mysteriously absent in the first three quarters and Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter were mysteriously absent in the fourth quarter.

I can't remember the last time the Wizards played the Clippers and Lakers back to back in Los Angeles. It may actually have never happened. I loved it because I got to see the Wiz two nights in a row without having to move anywhere. I also loved it because the contrast between going to a game featuring the Lakers, who are very definitely one of the two most successful franchises in NBA history, rather than the Clippers, who are very much the upstart ugly stepsister of the pair, is interesting to see on back to back nights. There's a lot to compare and contrast there. I'm picking six things, because the best things in life come in six packs. Read on.

1. Ticket Prices
As of the end of last night's game, the Clippers are 45-31 and sitting in fifth place in the Western Conference. They've qualified for the postseason already and are very definitely in a fight with the Utah Jazz to secure home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers, on the other hand as of last night, are just 21-52 and are in last place in the Conference. They are already eliminated from the postseason but in some happy news for Lakers fans, they will not set a franchise lowest wins in a season mark for the third straight year.

Know whose tickets cost more on the secondary market? The Lakers for sure. I bought my tickets for both games on StubHub (whom I LOVE) and looked in the upper deck, the Premier level (the equivalent of Verizon Center's 200 level with a little extra), the lower level and the center three sections of the lower level. The cheapest ticket I could find in each of those sections for the Clippers game was $11.96, $57.20, $48.35 and $141.30 respectively. Prices for the Lakers game in those four spots were lows of $27.90, $36.32, $85.47 and $175.95. More expensive across the board except in the Premier seats, where I ended up sitting. As good as the Clips are, the Lakers are still the show.

2. Outside
On the north side of Staples Center there is a plaza which serves as the primary entrance to the arena. Scattered about the plaza near that entrance are a series of seven statues: one of Wayne Gretzky, one of Oscar De La Hoya, one of legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn and four of Lakers legends who brought the team championship contenders and NBA titles. The Lakers own the outside of Staples. There is very little signage hung on the building to suggest this is the home of the Lakers. They don't have to. Their former players are everywhere in bronze form.

So what happens before a Clippers game? Well, there's a very large banner hung from the roof and there's some kind of outdoor broadcast booth erected in Star Plaza (that's the name of the place; it's just missing Clippers' stars) in an in vain attempt to draw attention from their big brother Lakers. There's an obvious inferiority complex on display that wouldn't be there if they didn't share the facility with a way more successful team. There are no Wizards statues in front of Verizon Center. But there are also no other teams' statues mocking the lack of success of our franchise.

Ahh the harmony...
3. Fans
When I walked in Staples Center I was handed a program with the words "Remembering 1987" on the front, a reference to the 30 year anniversary of one of the Lakers' championship teams led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was both appropriate and sad. That team is worth celebrating but there's also nothing current to make any noise about if you are the Lakers. But I have to tell you, Lakers fans show up. Wearing Magic Johnson jerseys, Shaquille O'Neal jerseys and Kobe Bryant jerseys. They are living in the past because there's nothing good about the present but they are there in all their delusion about their team.

Clips fans? Well there are some but I'm not sure how much they believe. Sure there were a few Chris Paul jerseys, plenty of Blake Griffin jerseys and maybe one or two DeAndre Jordan jerseys but all the jerseys are shiny new. There's a feeling that folks are jumping on the bandwagon and they are hoping like heck that the Clips redeem them. I saw a number of Wizards shirts and jerseys at the Lakers game but there were (in my informal survey of the building) more Wiz fans on the second night vs. the Clippers. This is a fan base that wants to believe but doesn't feel confident about it. I guess that's better than being a just wanting to believe but knowing there's no hope Lakers fan.

4. The Banners
Gaze toward the west end (at least I think it's the west end) of Staples Center during a Lakers game and you'll see a lot of gold banners with purple stitching on them hanging above the upper level of seating, one for each of the 11 titles the team has won since they moved to Los Angeles in 1959 and one for the remaining five the team won in Minneapolis (which admittedly is not purple and gold but blue and gold). There are no division championship banners or conference championship banners; the additional 54 (!!!) banners that would be required for that display would just clutter up the building rafters. It's pretty impressive I have to say. Especially if you are a Clippers fan.

The night after I took a couple of pics of the Lakers' banners, I returned to Staples and took a similar photo of that end of the building during the Clippers game. All I can say is it's a good thing they can print large banners with the likenesses of players who have never won a championship or even made it to the Conference Finals. The Clippers made it their first 41 seasons in the league without winning a thing before winning a division title in years 42 and 43 (2013 and 2014). I thought they'd at least have those two hanging in the building but I guess I either couldn't find them or they are not there. Maybe there's a rule in the building if you don't win it all, you don't get to hang any laundry. If that's a rule, the Clips have to hate that one.

5. The Intros
So far in this post, I've dissed the Clippers pretty heavily. I think as a Wizards fan I have the chops (if that's the right word and I'm pretty sure it isn't) to do that. But if there's one spot the Clippers have the Lakers beat, it's in this department, but maybe not for the reason you expect.

If you are an NBA franchise, no matter how good or bad you are, it seems like you have to have a lights out (I mean that literally) special effects type video for the introductions of the starting lineups (this year the Wiz have three, one of which features Jason Smith playing Skee-ball which is the best thing ever). If you are good, these things can be awesome; if you are not, they seem a little silly. The Clips are good and their pyrotechnics and laser show let's get ready to rumble starting lineup intro is appropriately scaled. The Lakers are not good. Theirs is a bit sad.

I don't think I've seen a starting lineup announcement quite like the Lakers use. After they turn out the lights, they drop two enormous curtains from the scoreboard to form a cylinder of fabric on which they project way larger than life images of their star players and blast music to get the crowd fired up. And by "star players" I mean Nick Young, D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. etc. etc. Sort of a lot of fuss for those guys, right? I know I've made fun of the Clippers for being historically bad in this post, but they win this one.

6. The Game
Celebrating the Clippers in this post is short lived. I've only made it to about half the arenas in the NBA but if there are two franchises which get game lighting right, it's the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers.

When I go to a basketball game, I want the focus squarely on the court, not on the crowd. I want the playing surface lit brilliantly like a Broadway musical or a movie stage set. I don't care how good the team hosting the game is (and let's face it the Knicks and Lakers are awful), you ought to light the building like you mean it. That means the court brilliantly lit up and the stands dark to make the lighting on the court that much more bright by contrast. They get this in New York and they get this in Lakerland. The bright lights make the court and the jerseys of the two teams stand out so theatrically, I don't understand why all arenas don't do this. Sure it makes it difficult to see your cup holder when you are done taking a swig of your beer but who cares? It's what's on the court that counts.

The Clippers don't get this. Nor do the Wizards and many many many other NBA franchises. At a Lakers game you can't see the crowd; at a Clippers game, you can. And there's nothing wrong with the way the Clips do it until you take in a Lakers game. It's almost like they are doing it differently to just be different without realizing that the value is so much less. Actually, that would be historical Clippers to a tee.

DeAndre, Jamal, Blake, J.J. and Chris. Those guys or banners. Take your pick.
I'm disappointed that I've seen the Wizards lose twice in a row to the Clippers in Los Angeles but I'm for sure not disappointed in any way that I leveraged a work assignment to get out here twice in one week to see the Wiz take on Los Angeles' finest (and not finest I guess). Traveling to new places or places you have been before enriches life's experiences. I wouldn't have missed the Wizards clinching their first division title since 1979 for the world, and I'm glad things came together so I could see them do it in person in L.A. I feel I deserved that experience, no matter where it happened and I feel lucky that I was in the right place at the right time.

There's one other story worth telling here. Before the Lakers game the first night, I had my cab driver drop me off at El Cholo on Flower Street just a couple of blocks from Staples. El Cholo was the joint that introduced nachos to Los Angeles (and perhaps the entire United States by extension) in 1959. Over a plate of Carmen's Nachos I met my new friend Clem and we spent 30 minutes or so talking hoops, from Lonzo Ball (Clem thinks his dad talks to much and he's right) to west coast vs. east coast in the NCAA final four (I'm pulling for South Carolina; Clem wants Gonzaga or Oregon) to this year's NBA MVP (Clem's looking at Russell Westbrook; I hope I convinced him James Harden is first followed by John Wall).

I love random encounters with basketball fans. Clem bought Lakers season tickets some years ago with some friends and had them for a few seasons but really loves all sports. I know I talked with this guy for just half an hour in my life but I wish him the best. And I'm glad his Lakers lost to my Wizards. And I'm sure I'd be happy for him if his team beat mine and won their first championship (yes, I know it's JUST a division) in 38 years. Can't we just all get along? Going home tomorrow late. Go Wizards.

Jordan (the wrong one), Wall, dude with a Wizards hat and Jordan (the right one but only just).

March 29, 2017

Southeast Division Champions!


Tonight the Washington Wizards clinched the NBA's Southeast Division Championship. I'm so happy and proud to say I was there when it happened even though it was on the west coast. It was a game the Wizards had no business losing and then ironically had no business winning.

It is the first division title for the franchise since they adopted the Wizards nickname and the first since I first bought season tickets in the fall of 2000. Finally, my team has won something and I couldn't be more happy. I can't wait to get my hands on a Southeast Division Champions t-shirt, which will be ordered as soon as they are available online or picked up at Verizon Center next week, whichever comes first.

Why am I so happy about this? Know how long it's been since the Wizards franchise last won a division championship? 1979. 38 years ago. That year the NBA had 22 teams in four divisions. The Jazz were still in New Orleans, the Nets were still in New Jersey, the Kings were still in Kansas City, the SuperSonics were still in Seattle and the Clippers were still in San Diego. The Rockets and Spurs were in the Eastern Conference and the Kings, Bucks, Pacers and Bulls were all in the Western Conference despite all those four cities being east of both Houston and San Antonio. The SuperSonics that year beat the Bullets for the NBA title, Moses Malone was the league's Most Valuable Player and George Gervin led the league in scoring.

As you might expect (and if it wasn't obvious from the paragraph above), in the 37 seasons between championships a lot has happened in the NBA. The league has expanded to 30 teams by putting franchises in Dallas, Miami, Charlotte (twice), Minnesota, Orlando, Toronto and Vancouver (who have since moved to Memphis). One of the Charlotte expansion teams moved to New Orleans to replace the departed Jazz who moved to Utah. Three teams have changed their names not related to a city move: the New Orleans Pelicans who ditched the Hornets nickname, the Charlotte Bobcats, who picked up the Pels' unwanted Hornets name and my beloved Washington Wizards, who decided the world was just too darned violent and would rather not be called the Bullets anymore. Some folks are still clinging to the old name.

Of course there have been 37 champions crowned since the end of the 1978-1979 season but only 11 franchises have managed to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy over those years. The Lakers have won it all 10 times, the Bulls are second with six, the Spurs follow them with five and the Celtics, Pistons, Heat, Rockets, 76ers, Warriors and Cavaliers fill in the rest of the years. Congratulations to all those franchises I guess as well as the Trail Blazers, Suns, Knicks, Magic, SuperSonics, Jazz, Pacers, Nets and Thunder who made it to the Finals but couldn't pull it out. At least you made it.

There have been lots and lots of Division winners since '79 too, just not the Wizards. 28 different teams to be exact, including one franchise (the Seattle SuperSonics / Oklahoma City Thunder) who won at least one under two different names. The Spurs have raised the most banners since the 70s with 19, the Lakers are just one behind and the Celtics and Heat round out the list of 10 plus division winners since the 80s began. Before this year, just four teams were without titles in their current incarnations: the Brooklyn Nets (who did win four while in Jersey); the Charlotte Hornets (who didn't win one the first time they were in Charlotte or when they were called the Bobcats or under their current identity); the Memphis Grizzlies (who stand with the Hornets as the two only completely win-less franchises); and the Washington Wizards.

Now the Wizards are off that list. I feel a weight lifted. Congratulations to the 2016-2017 Washington Wizards for winning the Southeast Division. And to me, for persevering this long. Well, 17 years anyway.

The madness, and I use that term lightly, once theWizards had clinched.

March 27, 2017

Bradley Beal Bobblehead

A couple of Saturdays ago, I posted my thoughts on this blog about the only free bobblehead handed out by the Washington Wizards this season: the ultra-excellent Kelly Oubre, Jr. simulated hair bobblehead. That followed a post last fall about the Monumental Rewards-only Scott Brooks bobblehead the Wiz pushed out to season ticket holders willing to drop 15,000 Monumental Rewards points (since reduced to 10,000 FWIW). Today, I'm tackling the third of the team-issued 2016-2017 bobbleheads, the $20 G-Wiz Kids' Club offering for this year, which turned out to be Bradley Beal.

First of all, let me say how amazing it is that the Wiz are finally offering what I would consider a significant amount of bobbleheads per year. Even if it's going to cost me a 20 spot and 15 large MR points. Sure, it's nowhere close to the Dallas Mavericks' 12 pack of in-game free bobbles but it's better than scraping for one per year. Nice to know someone is out there listening. Or maybe it's just coincidence.

The 2016-2017 season is the fourth consecutive year that the Wizards have offered a unique bobblehead as part of the Kids' Club program. Martell Webster got us started in year one followed by G-Wiz then Otto Porter last year. By chance, it's also the fourth year my four year old niece has been enrolled in the Club. And I swear she's real. One day she's going to inherit a killer Wizards bobblehead collection. Whether she wants to or not.

There's a lot to love about this bobblehead. The first thing I look at when I pick up a new bobble at the arena is the quality of the paint job. And this Beal bobblehead has a killer paint job. Check out the transition between colors in the picture above. There is no sweater paint on the jacket or jacket paint on the arm and the backpack/bag of cash and the piece of gold (or is it a car key?) in Brad's left hand are meticulously detailed. They definitely used the best quality painters on this one.
Need more proof? Just look at the shoes (it's gotta be the shoes!) in the image below. These things look like they have actual laces and eyelets. They are absolutely awesome!! Brad's head (next picture down) also looks pretty sharp. They got the glasses painted right, there's the birthmark on his right temple which seems to be about the right size (if a little glob-y) and the facial hair's about as good as you can get. No complaints on the paint job on this one. It rivals the very very lifelike John Wall throwback sleeved uni bobblehead from last season.

Having said all of that...I just don't get it.
I don't get why the Wizards are issuing another Bradley Beal bobblehead this year when there are legit players on our roster without their image cast in nodding plastic (Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris come to mind here) wearing Wizards jerseys. I also don't get why he's in civvies and I don't get why a kid wants a Beal bobble in a suit. Is it because someone liked the picture of Brad that ended up on the bobblehead box so much that they just had to make a 3-D likeness of it? Is it because Brad's spent so much time in street clothes over the first four years of his time with the Wizards that someone thought it was either appropriate or funny or both? Low blow, I know; especially considering the relative lack of injury this year. Is it in his contract that Brad can ask the team to make a bobblehead of him in the manner in which he sees fit?
Don't get me wrong. My new Beal bobblehead will take a prominent place on my bobblehead shelf. He's just likely to be behind (like in the second row) his own rookie bobblehead, bobble John Wall, bobble Otto Porter, newly acquired bobble Kelly Oubre, Jr., coach Brooks and Marcin Gortat in action figure form. Four bobbleheads and an action figure. Coulda had a whole team of bobbleheads, Wizards!!!

So enough complaining and looking a gift horse in the mouth. There are some other things to note here.
First of all, this is about the most deluxe bobblehead base I've seen on a Wizards bobblehead lately. The Wizards have been infatuated with the circular wood-y base for their bobbles over the last couple of years but they amp it up on this one, rolling out the Monumental Ball logo surrounded by a faux wood border with red and white piping running along the vertical sides of the base.
They have also gone out and gotten themselves a sponsor, which I think is significant in light of recent rantings on this blog. Yep, that's right. We are paying $20 for this thing and we get a Giant advertisement as part of the deal. Not a giant advertisement, a Giant one. Just look at the picture. I'm actually OK with this; if there's an indicator of free-ness on team issued bobbleheads, it's them having a commercial element to them. Inactive list Brad looks right at home next to the other free bobbleheads in giving a shout out to a local (or national) business.

Finally, there's the box. The containers bobbleheads come in are often a conversation piece in and of themselves. Not saying there's much of a conversation to have there but there are sometimes some curious things on there. And Brad's box this year is no exception. Alongside many many many 3-themed entries in various statistics, there are some fun facts about Brad. The one that I found most puzzling was his nickname: BB3. Has anyone ever heard of this? Now I get that I'm not completely plugged into everything in Wizards cultures in the District but what the heck happened to Big Panda? I gotta tell you I never heard of this moniker. Someone's got to get to the bottom of this.
I'm installing Brad in my bobblehead display as soon as I get back from this mini work and Wizards road trip I'm on out here in California (bobbles stay in a virtual bullpen of sorts until I'm done with their post). I'm thrilled to add Brad as the third Wiz bobble of the year. I've been very glass half empty about a number of aspects of my new bobblehead but there's certainly no reason to be down about getting three new bobbles in a single season. Keep it up, Wizards! Just...more guys in uniform. Please.

BB3??? What happened to Big Panda?

March 18, 2017

Kelly Oubre, Jr. Bobblehead

So as it turned out for me, March 2017 was Washington Wizards bobblehead month. The first Wizards home game this month on the 3rd vs. Toronto featured the only bobblehead freebie of the season in a Kelly Oubre, Jr. bobblehead. That same night by coincidence I also picked up the 2016-2017 G-Wiz Kids' Club bobblehead of Bradley Beal. All that of course means two bobblehead posts this month. Read on! We'll start with the Oubre bobble and get to Mr. Max Deal a little bit later this month.

Every once in a while the Wizards hit it out of the park on the fun scale with their bobblehead promos. They did it over a decade ago with the Gilbert Arenas talking bobblehead (mine still talks) and followed it up with the DeShawn Stevenson bobble-HAND a couple of years later to celebrate D-Steve's "I can't feel my face" move after each big shot he hit during a game. This year's Oubre, Jr. bobble falls into the same category. Nope, it doesn't talk and it doesn't have a waving hand but it does have real hair. Well, not real hair but simulated real hair, not hard plastic molded hair. Every once in a while, you just gotta do something different. And this something different works for me.

But the best part of the giveaway may be the video the Wizards released of Kelly Oubre talking about himself in miniature plastic bobble form. Kelly's super into this thing, which is not unexpected since KOJ loves to comment on this sort of stuff and has the enthusiasm of a little kid sometimes which is really refreshing in the league he plays in. Not everyone has it.

The video can be accessed in the link in the tweet above. And because Kelly's so juiced about this thing, I thought I'd give my comments on one of the latest additions to my bobblehead collection as a point by point response to Kelly's narrative.

"See the hair? Oh, that's cold, man! And the hair is soft, just like mine, too."
Kelly's right. The hair is exceedingly soft, although I'm going to have to take his word for it that it's just like his. The hair is clearly the best part of this bobblehead but the shaved portions on each side remind us that this is a giveaway. These areas are sloppily painted. The right side of my Kelly bobblehead's head (shown above) has a sideburn that comes to a point; the opposite side of the head is cut square. And if there's an honest complaint about this bobblehead, it's that the back of the hair is not dyed like Kelly dyes his; it's all black and that's just not correct. Again, free. I get it.

"See the short shorts, too?"
For sure, this thing has some short shorts, which is the most noticeable Kelly-ism about his gameday dress once you get beyond the hair. I wondered last summer if they'd go with the short shorts on what I predicted would be the G-Wiz Kids' Club bobblehead this season. I was wrong about the Kids' Club, but right about the shorts. This sort of a detail proves people are putting thought into these things. Bravo on this one, Wizards!

"They got the low-cut socks."
Honestly, it's a testament to how much Kelly thinks about his on court style that he's focused on the length of his socks. I quite frankly just missed this one but I guess he does wear low-cut socks. The socks on my John Wall bobblehead from last year and last year's Otto Porter Kids' Club bobblehead are all appreciably higher than they are on bobblehead Kelly.

"They got the little chin-hair I got too. It's pretty dope!"
No way does Kelly Oubre have this much facial hair. They got it in the right place on his face but there's not enough fuzz on Kelly's face to warrant this much on his mini-bobble likeness. I guess if they proportioned it correctly, we'd have to use a magnifying glass to see it. This shot above of Kelly's face shows the impressive intense hazel eyes in addition to the all too thick 'stache and goat. And in typical free bobblehead fashion there's some stray paint on the face that I just can't remove because it would lose its treasured free quality level.

I'd been waiting for March 3 all season ever since I first saw the promotional schedule and the Wizards did not disappoint on this one. I've put Kelly on my bookshelf next to John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Marcin Gortat (in action figure, not bobblehead, form) and head coach Scott Brooks. Finally I got a full lineup of current players again.

Told you I called the short shorts. Appreciate the shout out from Rory Harty eight months after I tweeted.

March 16, 2017

Does Everything Have A Sponsor?

There was a time when I loved American advertising. When I first moved here as a kid from England in 1979 one of the things I loved most about the United States was that there were conspicuous and unapologetic posters, commercials, billboards, signs and everything else you could imagine urging you to buy! buy! buy! whatever it was they were selling. Coming from a more reserved society where the primary TV channel didn't even advertise anything, America in the late '70s was a breath of fresh air for a kid ready to fall in love with blatant commercialism.

38 years on, I feel differently. Sure, I still love the art and flashiness of billboards and signs and even TV commercials. I'm especially a sucker for beer advertisements. I have a few signs and other things scattered about my condo and a whole collection of other breweriana stowed away under my bed just waiting for the right time to bring it out into the light of day. But lately, and especially in the NBA, I feel things are going too far. I remember (and here I'm going to sound like I'm about 75 years old) back in the day when signage was reserved for select spots at Verizon Center; now it seems like it's everywhere.

Check out the ends of the arena where the Wizards play their home games and all you will see is Etihad Airlines signage. Look to the court for the Verizon logo. Walk in the main entrance on F Street and you can't help but see the primary advertising partners of the building just to the left of the doors. Park your car in the building and you'll be in the Lexus Garage.

Even the stanchion behind the basket is festooned with commercials. Earlier this season you could get by with the Tissot shot clock, the State Farm logo on the horizontal arm right behind the basket and the rotating video display a little bit further back. But then Libman, who apparently makes mops, took over the rest of the portable backboard, complete with a pair of Libman outfitted floor wipers at each end of the court. We've come a long way since the days when the team used to wrap a towel around a squeegee to clean the sweat off the wood. In Toronto they've taken it one step further and sold advertising space on the top of the backboard. I'm sure the Wizards will get there eventually.

And here's a news flash: it's only going to get worse. Next year we are going to see advertising patches on the players' uniforms, a la English soccer or the WNBA, although admittedly not as prominent as they are on either of those sports' kits. Not yet anyway. The Wizards haven't announced which company's logo will be inartistically plastered on the upper left shoulder of our players' jerseys. My money is on Etihad or MGM, for the record. As if all that wasn't bad enough, there's going to be a Nike logo on there as well, the first time the NBA has allowed a manufacturer's label on their shorts or shirts. All this while ticket prices continue to go up. This league is almost literally minting money.

But I'm not writing this post to complain about corporate sponsorship of the building the Wizards play in or the clothing they wear while doing it. And I swear I really sound like I'm some crusty remember-when septuagenarian.

Boston's 2017-2018 kit, complete with green and white GE logo. Ugh...
No, I'm writing this post to complain about what they did to the NBA Development League last month when they changed the name of the league. That's right, starting with the 2017-2018 season, the NBDL or D-League won't be called that anymore. Starting this fall, it's going to be known as the G-League, which is short for the Gatorade League. They sold the naming rights to the whole freaking league. And I'm not on board.

Now this is not without precedent. For years, England's Premier League, the top soccer league in the world, was known as the Barclay's Premier League because it was sponsored by the bank of the same name. But they have since recently abandoned the sponsorship and the league hasn't seen fit to replace them with a new sponsor, despite the 40 million pounds in lost sponsorship money per year. I get this is not the NBA we are talking about picking up a sponsor, but it's a slippery slope, especially when Gatorade have taken over the entire league title. I could see it being the Gatorade D-League or something like that but that's not the way it's going.

There are a couple of good points. First, I guess I'm OK with more sponsorship at the minor league level if it keeps it out of the parent league. However, since the NBA gets more and more sponsored each year, I'm not optimistic it will. I can easily see a day a decade or so from now when it's the Kia Association (or the K-Association?) or something similarly nonsensical as that. Second, players are no longer going to have the stigma of being sent to the "development" league, like it's some remedial performance improvement plan. I'm not sure the G-League is worlds better but it doesn't sound like a punishment anymore.

I also have to wonder will any other sports beverages be permitted in the G-League other than Gatorade? Will Powerade or similar brands be allowed at all or maybe just with their labels removed? Of course, it didn't seem like Powerade did LeBron James any good in game one of the 2014 NBA Finals but I guess some players still might opt for a brand other than Gatorade. Is there going to be that much separation of church and state in the G-League?

As if all that weren't enough, Gatorade even got the logo of the league changed, from the right leaning red, white and blue (to match the NBA) D-League player dunking logo to a monochrome more upright logo.

I'm not a fan of any of this. I'll take the advertisements plastered all over the walls, floors and ceilings (including the underside of escalators) of Verizon Center. I'm even OK with Libman mops shirt wearing floor wiper guys. But I think selling out an entire league by changing the name and logo of the league is just too much. Call me old-fashioned if you will.

New logo. I'm not on board. Isn't the name as a prefix to the league name enough? Guess not..

March 6, 2017

Why The Division Matters

The Washington Wizards are about to embark on a five game west coast-ish road swing, their longest such streak of games away from Verizon Center this season. These five games represent the first part of the payback that the rest of the league owes the Wizards for a very friendly front-loaded home schedule. There are only 21 games remaining in the 2016-17 season for this team and just six of those are being played over at 601 F Street. With the team sitting in first place in the Southeast Division later than they ever have, my question is can the Wizards hold on and win the Division? And should they?

Winning a division in the NBA used to get you something in the way of playoff seeding. But just prior to the 2015-2016 season, the NBA made a change to the playoff seeding rules. Starting with the 2016 playoffs, the league decided postseason seeding would be determined solely on the basis of win-loss record and would not offer special seeding or qualification based on a team winning a division.

This is not the first time playoff seeding rules have changed since I became a serious pro hoops fan back in 1994. Under the old two division per conference system, the division winners always received the one and two seeds and the league kept this rule the same when the conferences re-organized to three divisions per conference beginning with the 2004-2005 season. Then they tweaked the guaranteed part a bit starting with the 2006-2007 season when they decided the division winners would be guaranteed a top four seed, but not necessarily the one through three seeds.

The effect of last season's rule change removing a guaranteed 1 through 4 seed could have had a significant impact in past seasons. While no division winner has ever performed poorly enough to miss the playoffs entirely, if the new rules were in effect from the beginning of the division system in the league, there could have been some significant changes in matchups in past postseasons. Most notable among these would be the 2006 playoffs, when the Denver Nuggets finished tied for the seventh best record in the conference and still got the three seed, albeit without home court advantage. If Denver had been in the seven spot it could have had a potential huge effect on the series outcomes. Or not. The Mavs might still have won the conference. Who knows.

The change in playoff qualification procedures in 2015 caused a number of media outlets to declare the end of relevance of the divisions. A quick google search while I was writing this post yielded SBNation declaring divisions "essentially meaningless" while For The Win went with "the uselessness of divisions." Further searches got me Deadspin's declaration that the NBA move would "kill divisions" and Blazer's Edge wrote "division titles no longer relevant."

While most of these articles I found (correctly) address the lack of connection between division titles and playoff qualification, they collectively de-emphasize the importance of anything but an NBA championship and some go further than the playoff seeding issue only. The For The Win piece notes that no teams are "holding parades to celebrate a team winning the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division." While they are not incorrect, the importance of winning a division is not diminished completely by the re-organized playoff seeding rules. After all, no team celebrates anything but a NBA title. That doesn't mean seasons aren't worth celebrating if a team fails to win it all.

I've had or been witness to a few conversations this season about whether the Wizards should try to win the Southeast Division. After all, the conventional wisdom out there is sometimes that the division title means nothing. In today's NBA, there is definitely a prevailing undercurrent that if you can't win it all, you may as well tank and start over. Maybe you'll get lucky enough to get the next game changer through the draft.

I say this reasoning is false and division titles still mean something. And if there's a team out there that needs to win SOMETHING, it's my beloved Washington Wizards, a franchise without any sort of wins in the last 37 years. That's right: there have been no titles of any sort, not Division, not Conference and certainly not NBA that would cause the Washington Wizards (and before them the Bullets) to hoist a banner up to the rafters of the Capital Centre (later USAir Arena) or Verizon Center (formerly MCI Center). I think the Wizards should go for it and make sure they win the Southeast Division this year because there are fans out there who need to win something for all the metaphorical blood and real sweat and maybe even some tears and certainly some cold hard cash that we have poured into following this team year after year and decade after decade. I want a Wizards Division Champions t-shirt. And I want it this year.

I know some people will disagree with me on this. Yes, the Wizards should try at all costs this year (without sacrificing future success) to win the NBA Championship. Compared to winning a Championship, winning a Division means nothing. So what would that mean? Resting players? I'm not in favor of pushing any of our players so it causes them to be injured. Nor do I want to give up a playoff series because we played our stars too much in the closing weeks of the season. But there's enough time between games  in the postseason to allay most if not all fears about rest. If it means losing the Eastern Conference Finals in five games rather than in six (and nobody can predict that by the way), then I'm all in favor of grabbing a Division title. Because I believe it means something. If only to the fans. Let's get a banner raised to the rafters in 2017.

Washington Capitals banners; so many Division titles they had to consolidate.