January 30, 2018

The Washington Otto Show

I apologize in advance for the title of this post.

For the last 15 or so years, I've pretty much scheduled most of my life around the Washington Wizards schedule. Yes, I've had season tickets for 18 years now but the first few I was a bit less fanatical than I am now. Or was a few years ago is maybe a bit more accurate. In a typical year, that schedule involves something like the following sequence of events.
  • Training camp, maybe with a trip down to Richmond or somewhere else;
  • Preseason a.k.a. a total waste of money (still think preseason games should be free for season ticket holders);
  • Meet the Team party (can't miss this one each year);
  • First half of the regular season, hopefully with a roadtrip in there sometime before it starts snowing;
  • All-Star Break (good time to go on vacation or actually to the All-Star Game);
  • Trade deadline (taking the afternoon off work is ideal here);
  • Second half of the regular season, hopefully with a warm weather roadie;
  • Playoffs, if I'm lucky;
  • NBA Draft, if Ernie doesn't trade out;
  • Free agency, in which we never sign anyone good;
  • Summer League in Vegas.
Once you got all that down, you just repeat, repeat, repeat.
One other event that used to appear on this schedule for at least five of those 15 years was the Washington Auto Show, because it seemed like an annual occurrence that someone from the Wizards would be over at the convention center (either the old one or the current one) for a couple of hours during that event saying hi to folks and signing autographs. I first made my way over to this event in 2006, when Brendan Haywood, Jared Jeffries and Jarvis Hayes put in an appearance one Sunday afternoon. The next year it was Antawn Jamison who also showed up in 2010. Brendan Haywood made it back to the Show in 2008 along with Caron Butler and the dynamic duo of JaVale McGee and Nick Young filled in the gap in 2009. Dominic McGuire was supposed to be there in '09 but never showed; either that or I just left before he made it. Not sure which one, although I made it long enough so that there was enough dead time to see some dude pay Nick Young for his couple of hours sitting in a chair.
After 2010, nothing. Not a thing. And I check this stuff pretty religiously.
Well, nothing until this year, when Otto Porter will be sitting at some sort of table signing whatever fans can put in front of him tomorrow night from 6 to 8 pm, although remember we are talking about NBA players here so let's say it will really be like 6:15 to 6:30 before it actually gets underway. He'll apparently be joined by the Wizards Girls; best mascot in the NBA, G Wiz; and Gheorghe Muresan. The Auto Show is taking place over at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at 801 Mount Vernon Place NW.

Why is this even worth blogging about? Well, if you are an Otto Porter fan or just a Wizards autograph collector, it's a great opportunity to get some signatures on some swag from Otto. But sometimes, these things are not that well attended and it's actually a good time to have a quick conversation with these guys, which is something the average fan can't do very well very often. This opportunity was especially true during the McGee / Young year when there was literally about nobody there. If only I could have pondered having an intelligent conversation with either of those guys...
So, if you have something you really want to ask Otto, maybe tomorrow is a good time to make your way over to the Auto Show and ask away, providing the crowds aren't that big. I'm likely headed over there myself if my schedule allows. If there are a ton of people there, you can always just get some stuff signed and then head home or to check out some cars.

If things are really quiet, you might even be able to get a picture of yourself with Otto. There was a photographer there in 2007 taking pics of people with AJ. If they do this again, hopefully your pic looks better than my fattest pic ever wearing a shirt the size of a small tent with some hair that I don't know what was going on shown below. I appreciated the opportunity three years later to tell Antawn that I'd be happy if the Wizards traded him (the team was in the midst of a 26-56 disaster back then) but just not to Cleveland. He laughed. Then 18 days later the Wizards traded him to the Cavaliers.

January 25, 2018

Little Caesars Saved My Life

I will admit before even starting this post that the title of this post is complete hyperbole. But it's also true. Metaphorically maybe. I figured it was an appropriate time to tell this story since I just spent a couple of days in Detroit on a Wizards road trip for the first time in almost 30 years.

In March of 1993 I spent two nights in the Detroit airport (officially the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport). I didn't plan things that way. I even tried to avoid it. It happened nonetheless. I was a (relatively speaking) poor graduate student paying my way through college at that time. And if it wasn't for Little Caesars, I might not have eaten much at all in those two days. And for that they will always occupy a special place in my life.

I was never much of a spring break-er while I was in college. I never went to Fort Lauderdale or Panama City or Cancun or anywhere else college kids go to party their asses off. In fact of the seven spring breaks I lived through while in school, I only went somewhere once and that was in 1993. In a typical March of the school year, I usually retreated back to see my parents in Connecticut and went to see a couple of movies by myself because the University of Michigan seemed to schedule spring break before the schools all of my friends attended. And I was not a slow learner. I did the 7-1/2 year graduate school thing en route to my Master degree. Just explaining that one, that's all.

But 1993 was different. If I recall correctly, my parents had a free flight voucher or whatever it was called back then on Northwest Airlines that was going to expire and they offered it up to me to see if I wanted to use it to get out of town from Syracuse for any reason. I decided I would use it for spring break that year to go out to California since I'd never been out to Cali before. I managed to find a flight that worked, secured places to stay with friends in L.A., San Diego and San Francisco and somehow got a car rental that was affordable (read: cheap) and took off.
Pizza! Pizza! Yummy! Yummy!
Then while I was gone I found out there was a major storm developing that would likely affect travel all throughout the east coast. If you look up that storm today on Wikipedia, it's the 1993 Storm of the Century. And yes it ended up being that bad. I thought it might be a good idea to change my flight back from Oakland to a day earlier to make it back home before the storm hit, especially since I had a final design review a couple of days after the end of spring break and I had a lot of work to do (I honestly had no business taking off spring break that year). I made the flight change and hoped.

It didn't work. Syracuse got 48" of snow over a couple of days and most of the east coast got something similar. And nothing got out of Detroit for next two days, including me who made it to Michigan but couldn't go any further. I couldn't afford a hotel and there weren't any vacancies anyway so I just stayed in the airport until (a) they started letting flights head east again and (b) I could get high enough on the wait list to allow me to fill and empty slot on a flight to Syracuse.

I wasn't the only one. There were a few other folks stranded with no hotel. So at night, there would be people (myself included) sleeping on airport benches and couches. I bought a couple of books to read (Jurassic Park and The Pelican Brief if you must know) and before I went to sleep put my stuff in a locker (including my glasses; extra paranoid back then but no way could I afford something happening to them) and drifted off for the night.
2018 recreation of my nights at DTW in 1993. The couches didn't have arms back then.
While I could go without a real place to sleep, I couldn't go without something to eat. Airport food is not the cheapest. Honestly the only thing that resembled a cheap meal that would fill me up in those days at DTW was Little Caesars Crazy Bread, which was essentially a whole pizza's worth of bread but with garlic and oil or butter or whatever it was instead of sauce and cheese. So for all my meals over the two days I was in the airport I headed to Little Caesars, got myself some Crazy Bread (it came with dipping sauce) and ate. They didn't have Little Caesars in Syracuse back then I don't think but I knew about Crazy Bread from my undergraduate days at Michigan. Crazy Bread kept me fed those couple of days and I'll forever have a soft spot in my heart for that franchise because of those two days.

Ultimately I made it back to Syracuse which was literally snowed completely over, finished my design project, took my C- in that class (I believe I failed but had someone watching out for me) and graduated. And I haven't had Little Caesars since.

Until last weekend. And yes, I know there are Little Caesars spots in northern Virginia. It's just not the same if it's not in Michigan. So how could I go see by beloved Washington Wizards play the Detroit Pistons last Friday night in Little Caesars Arena and not have some Little Caesars food? The answer: I couldn't.

Call this post a belated thank you for saving my life.
Thanks for keeping me alive in 1993 (and 2018).

January 23, 2018

Detroit Rock City

Last weekend I visited Detroit. It was the latest (and last this season) stop in my quest to see the Washington Wizards play in every building in the entire NBA. 16 down, 14 to go.

Because this past Friday's Wizards - Pistons game was the same weekend as the North American International Auto Show, hotel rooms were a little scarce and a little expensive in downtown Detroit so we stayed in Windsor, Ontario, which is across the river in Canada, a decision that had us explaining to customs and immigration staff on both sides of the Detroit-Windsor what we were doing visiting Canada three times in two days. On our way to the game Friday, we explained to the guy letting us back into the USA that we were going to see the Wizards game.

His response? "I thought that team would be better this year. They were supposed to be in the Finals, right?" Yeah. Welcome to my life as a Wizards fan, dude.

After Wednesday's horrible 133-109 loss in Charlotte, I really didn't want to go all the way to Detroit to see the Wizards lay the same kind of egg they laid down in North Carolina. But head coach Scott Brooks promised Wizards fans some changes. About time! That promise, and the prospect of the Wizards being re-energized and looking like the Eastern Conference contenders that they seem to think they should be, had me actually excited about the possibility of watching my new re-invented Wizards team in person for the first time in Michigan. Stop laughing. Seriously.
Warming up for a blowout of the Pistons. One day...
So what happened? How about no changes to the starting lineup and a dreadful start leading to a 10 point deficit after the first quarter. Yes, coach pulled Marcin Gortat a little more than 4 minutes into the game and didn't send him back into the contest until the second half. And sure, Ian Mahinmi got the rest of the first quarter under his belt after being subbed in for Gortat and then also sat the entire second (and third and fourth). And somehow the Wizards pulled even at the half behind superior efforts from Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre, Jr. I was (and I can't believe I'm writing this) dreading the starters coming back in when the bench got tired.
The third quarter was totally different. The starters played almost the whole way (still waiting for those changes, Scotty...) and ended up with a 17 point lead (down from 20 earlier in the third) after putting up 45 on the Pistons that quarter. 45!!!! Finally things are corrected, right? The confusion I got from the customs guy letting us back into the country right before the game should be gone now, right? THIS is the Wizards team I wanted to see. Everything corrected. Let's get up by 30 or 35 and cruise to an easy victory with Tim Frazier and Chris McCollough bringing it home.

Almost as good as it got. A win's a win, I guess. I LOVE this scoreboard.
Of course not. The 20 point margin that had become a 17 margin was down to 4 with less than four minutes to play. Luke Kennard was warming up to become the next in a long line of Wizard killers. What the heck is going on with this team? I can almost understand blowing a 20 point halftime lead to Brooklyn (although not really) but a 17 point lead in one quarter? To a Pistons team missing a couple of guys? It's almost as if the Wizards collectively were like "We scored 45 in one quarter. That should be enough to win the game. Let's just coast for the other three quarters." Fortunately, that attitude didn't kill the team this time. Some clutch free throw shooting and a career game from Kelly Oubre put the Pistons away.
There were a ton of Wizards fans at this game. Maybe more than I've ever seen in an opponent's arena. Despite the lazy and completely lacking any sense of urgency or opportunity style of play the Wizards have enjoyed (maybe the wrong word there) this season, it appears John Wall and company are catching on beyond the DMV. And I guess that's a good thing for the Wizards. I just hope those new bandwagoners can handle the stress of being a Wiz fan.
I've been itching to go to Detroit for a game for years. Unfortunately for me, the Detroit Pistons didn't actually play in Detroit for, like, forever. So before this year, going to see the Wizards on the road in Michigan would have meant just that: going to Michigan (not Detroit) to Auburn Hills, a full 45 minutes or so away from the city whose name graces the team's jersey. But not this year now that the brand new Little Caesars Arena is open downtown. So of course no Wizards road trip report would be complete without a little something for me to say about the arena. This one is really pretty cool.
Like most arenas (or likely all arenas), the new one in Detroit is bigger than our own building down on 601 F Street. Like most places I've seen the Wizards play on the road, that translates into larger concourse areas, but Little Caesars is probably taking this to the extreme. On the south and east sides of the building, they've managed to create an interior street of sorts with stores, restaurants and bars on either side of the really really wide walkway. I suppose from a climate standpoint (and a moneymaking standpoint) this is a smart move. Get people inside out of the cold as soon as possible and have them eat and drink inside the stadium. The food choices are pretty diverse. Sure there are two Little Caesars stands in the building but there's also a ton of other stuff, including two food courts with multiple food stands arrayed around a communal seating area. Unfortunately, they also let Kid Rock into the building. You don't have to go there. Just saying...
The other cool feature of the indoor streets is that it allows the upper concourse to be expressed in the building as an object, making the arena appear like a stand alone stadium within a larger urban box. It's a pretty creative idea, but one that will only work with the kind of space that you can get in a city other than Washington. I definitely get stadium envy when I travel.
The center of the arena where the action takes place is equally well done. And it's not just the new-ness of the place, although sitting on months old brand new Redwing-red (this place was built for hockey and the Detroit Redwings, not basketball and the Detroit Pistons) seats rather than purple-ish 20 year old MCI Center/Verizon Center/Capital One Arena seats was surely nice.
There are a few features that make the main performance space really special. First, the lighting system is incredible. I never really think of the lighting system in a building adding much value to the experience (although I thought the same thing in Brooklyn a few years ago also) but my couple of hours in this building reminded me of how I can forget things. Almost every timeout had some kind of lighting effect that was pretty spectacular. It was almost as if the building staff were showing off their new toy.

Second, the scoreboard is fantastic. I raved about the scoreboard at the Grizzlies game two weeks ago but this thing blows away the one at FedEx Forum in Memphis. It's bigger, crisper and the square corners are actually way better than the radiused corners in Memphis. This scoreboard there is pretty much perfect. The colors, just like the colors in the light shows, are amazing.

Finally, and oddly enough, it's the small things. The lighted ceiling, rather than the painted black exposed utilities ceilings you see in most arenas, makes a huge difference to the atmosphere of the space. I've written that the ceiling at Madison Square Garden makes all the difference to that building; the blue luminous ceiling at Little Caesars is a great update to MSG's ceiling for the 21st century.

During the fourth quarter we started talking to four dudes in front of us a little about the game. They were complaining about the Pistons losing to everyone they should beat and beating a team or two they had no business beating every now and then. Sounds familiar, right? Ultimately, I think the Wizards are better than the Pistons. After Friday's closer than it should have been win, we are 3-0 vs. the Pistons this year. That's how it should be. Thank God I didn't go to Charlotte or Dallas either side of that game. Ultimately we need someone to step up in this organization and get people to perform at the level that is required. It's clearly not going to be the players and it doesn't appear that Scott Brooks is going to be that guy. OKC is up Thursday. I can't honestly see that game going very well. Trade deadline is less than a month away.

Two final notes about Little Caesars before I close this one. First, the interior streets in the arena come complete with manhole covers. I'm assuming based on their somewhat random placement that these are actual manholes to access actual underground utilities, although whether they are or not doesn't really matter. In some spots, the generic manholes are replaced with custom made covers with the names and playing dates of Pistons and Redwings legends. Ben Wallace's is shown above. I think it's a great way to celebrate past team legends.

Second, and because it's Detroit and a hockey arena, there's a statue of Gordie Howe in the building. Gordie is an NHL and Redwings legend of course. But he's also the first guy I can remember knowing about in hockey as a kid in Connecticut when he was playing for the New England and later Hartford Whalers. Mr. Hockey ends this post.

January 15, 2018

April 4, 1968

Today is the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. As I have done each year the Washington Wizards have played at home on this holiday since I started writing this blog, today I am publishing a post dedicated to the memory of Dr. King. Each year I have done this I have strived to write about a site I have visited that is related to today's holiday. Last year, I ran out of sites that I'd seen in person so I wrote a quick history of the civil rights movement. This year, I am back to writing about places I've visited.
In the early evening of April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King was standing outside room 306 on the front balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  Across the street from the motel in a boarding house, James Earl Ray, an escaped convict with multiple convictions, was aiming his 30-06 Remington rifle right at him. He fired and hit Dr. King in the neck with a single shot. About an hour later, at 7:05 that evening, Dr. King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital in Memphis. Just like that, the most visible leader of the civil rights movement since the mid-1950s was gone.
The Lorraine Motel is still standing today, although not as a waystop for travelers passing through Memphis but instead as the National Civil Rights Museum. I visited Memphis for the second time earlier this month and the Museum was the number one spot on my list to visit. Yes, I missed it the first time I was in town, likely because I was focused on my own agenda of taking in as much musical history as possible and not really paying attention to more important subjects above and beyond my own needs. There's a lesson there, I think.
The museum is spread over a number of buildings: the original Lorraine Motel to the south and a series of (now) interconnected buildings to the north, including the boarding house where Ray fired the shot that killed Dr. King. The exhibits in the Lorraine Motel building cover the beginning of the slave trade; then address the Jim Crow era in the United States after the Civil War; then finish with the civil rights movement up to April 4, 1968. Across the street, the exhibits focus on the assassination of Dr. King and the aftermath; the aftermath here meaning both what happened right after the assassination and the position of minorities and women in American society since that time.
The Museum is an uncomfortable place to be and deservedly so. If I wasn't uncomfortable then I would really start to question my basic humanity. There are many many exhibits that made me realize just how cruel we as humans can be to people who are so little different than we are.
The unease starts in the first room after passing through the rotating exhibit space right after buying your ticket, a room dedicated to the slave trade that occurred almost as soon as Europeans arrived in West Africa in the 1400s. The facts and stories are chilling. It was the largest forced migration in the history of the world; an estimated 12.5 million Africans were involuntarily removed from their homes and transported across the Atlantic Ocean as property. By the year 1820, nearly 4 Africans arrived in the new world as property for every one European.
It doesn't stop at numbers. There is a cross sectional diagram of a cargo ship showing the tiny space that the people were transported in. The space allocated to their human cargo is staggering, a condition made all the more obvious by a full scale mockup of a section of the hold in the Museum. There's no space whatsoever for people to move to even extend their limbs just a bit. The sounds of the ship's wood creaking, people coughing and chains clinking piped into the room emphasize the point while I'm sure not conveying even a small degree of how awful it was. The terrazzo floor of the first room explains how these conditions "seasoned" the slaves, making them used to abuse and disease, presumably making them more valuable for having survived the ocean voyage, as if it was actually a market-facing strategy to increase the value of the products being offered. 


The Civil War, which raged from 1861 to 1865, was supposed to have fixed all that, right? No way. As I wrote last year in my post, the Federal Government pretty much turned a blind eye to what the states in the Union were doing with their laws after the withdrawal of Union troops from the former Confederate states in 1877. How did they think that was going to go, assuming they thought about it much at all?
The response was for each state to adopt lots of rules. I don't mean things like poll taxes and literacy tests to votes with "grandfathered" exceptions that allowed all illiterate whites to vote like I wrote about last year. I mean laws and codes that were so specific in some cases as to be excessively picky and petty. Prohibitions on children of different races playing together. Bans on different races playing pool or billiards (not just one or the other; no loopholes here) together. Restrictions on white and non-white marching bands playing in the same parades. Just unbelievably specific codes to prevent any notion of equality.
And it wasn't just the South. If there's one message that hit home loud and clear for me in the National Civil Rights Museum it was that this was (and is) an American problem, not a problem that only existed (and exists) in the former Confederate states. California passed a law in 1906 that prohibited intermarriage between whites and blacks and whites and mulattos (their word, not mine). And there is a lynching map of the United States that shows every known lynching in the country including occurrences in California, New Mexico, Idaho and, well, every state actually. I think we tend to think today of places like California and Oregon as places of acceptance and integration. I think we are likely fooling ourselves if we think there's no more work to be done everywhere, including those places.
There are a lot of historical artifacts and a lot of stories throughout the Museum. Some, like the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott and the lunch counter sit-ins in multiple locations, will likely be familiar to most people. Stories of people being beaten unconscious by angry mobs of white people for no other reason than supporting a non-white's right to ride a bus across state lines are despicable but obviously true.
But there are a lot of stories that I just didn't know about. In addition to making me understand the national nature of the civil rights struggle, the Museum also made me realize how hard it was to overcome laws and actions everywhere. By that I don't mean every state, I mean every county, every campus, every town and every street. Rescinding oppressive laws or rules wasn't going to help. The people that fought to try to erase a little of the institutionalized inequality did it bit by bit and inch by inch. I can't imagine how frustrating and discouraging it must have been to engage in that struggle every hour, day, week and month.
The first portion of the Museum ends at a spot between the original Lorraine Motel rooms 306 and 307, which were two of the rooms rented by Dr. King's party. Each room is reconstructed to show what it would have looked like at the time but more importantly, it allows you to see the boarding house across the street where Ray fired his rifle. It's the small second floor, white painted window in the building right above the tunnel to which is the gateway to the Museum's second half.
The view from where Dr. King would have been standing to where Ray fired his rifle.
The opposite view: from Ray's vantage-point towards the Lorraine Motel. The wreath marks room 306.
There is far more to see in the first half of the Museum than in the series of buildings which include the boarding house Ray was using as his assassin's perch. But the second half of the place has some essential exhibits. The first rooms are focused on Ray's flight and capture and the circumstances leading up to the assassination, including some very obvious coverage by the local media and police about just where Dr. King would be staying. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist (call me naïve and I'll probably agree with you) but it kind of makes it easy for someone to kill someone else if you let the whole world know where the target of a murder is going to be when he or she is in town, right?
Dr. Martin Luther King was 39 years old on April 4, 1968. It seems amazing to me that he was that young considering the leadership role he played in the civil rights movement for more than a decade. Within one week of his death President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited the sale, rental or financing of housing on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex. The Fair Housing Act was the last significant piece of civil rights legislation ever passed. I'm not sure if our government thought that was enough or what, but it certainly didn't fix everything. We still haven't fixed everything. We are still talking about a lot of these same issues today and leadership, if you can call it that, at the top isn't helping one bit.
If you are a first time visitor to Memphis, I'd encourage you to add the Museum to your must see list. Even if you think you have no interest or are cynical about what's inside. There's surely something in there that must touch the humanity in all of us. If you do, give it some time; we spent a little more than three hours in the place (with a stop for lunch between the two parts) and we didn't read everything in there by any stretch of the imagination.
Wizards - Bucks today at 2. Go Wizards!
The Lorraine Motel's reconstructed room 307.

January 9, 2018

Beal(e) Street

This past July, I wrote a post about my continuing quest to get to all 29 NBA cities and arenas (yes, there are 30 NBA teams; L.A. has two teams in one arena). Part of that post looked forward to the then-upcoming 2017-2018 NBA season and included my own personal NBA city top five destinations for the season. I wrote that post without really understanding what the schedule had in store for me because the season schedule hadn't been released yet.

The number two city on that list? Memphis, Tennessee, home of the Memphis Grizzlies and blues. And maybe a little bit of rock and roll and some pretty darned good barbeque. Or at least I hoped there would be all that when I took off last Friday to the banks of the Mississippi River for a couple of nights to watch the Wiz play the Grizz and see what else I could get up to.

I'd been to Memphis once before a little more than ten years ago on a bourbon and music trip that had me spend a couple of nights each in Memphis and Nashville followed by a few days visiting all seven (at least that was the count in 2007) bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. Since that trip, I'd been back to Nashville and a couple of Kentucky's distilleries. Now it was time to get back to Memphis. I couldn't wait. Blues is one of my very favorite types of music to see live. Last time I was there I club-hopped one night before settling into some outdoor alley bar with some phenomenal piano blues that had me back there the next night as soon as they started playing.
Blind Mississippi Morris and band warming up.
So let's start with the non-basketball stuff and then we'll get to what happened at FedEx Forum on Friday night. Music first. Food second.

If you love music and you've never been to Beale Street in Memphis, I encourage you to go sometime soon and then go back maybe once or twice more. Think a much smaller but way better Bourbon Street if you know New Orleans at all. Or a little smaller Broadway if you've been to Nashville. Although from a musical level maybe Broadway is better because Nashville is the epicenter of the country music recording industry and it's big big business. Blues in Memphis or anywhere else for that matter? Not so big business, which is unfortunate for folks who prefer blues over country.

If you go, take some bills for tips because all four of the bands we saw this past weekend at B.B. King's Blues Club, Rum Boogie Café and Blues City Café were playing for tips and tips alone. The best two bands we saw were definitely Earl "The Pearl" Banks (unexpected Bullets tie-in there) and Blind Mississippi Morris. Any bluesman named "Blind" has to be good. There are historically a whole series of bluesmen with the blind moniker. And yes, they were all blind, as was Blind Mississippi Morris. Hard-driving guitar and harmonica based blues classics from both these bands was just what I was looking for alongside plenty of local Memphis beer when I was in town.
Last time I was in Memphis, I struggled with my food choices. I basically did no research into where I should go and ate nothing remarkable whatsoever. Foolishly, I accepted the recommendation of my hotel when I was looking for some barbeque and they sent me down to some very disappointing tamales and ribs on Beale Street.
Not so this time around. I checked out several "best of Memphis barbeque" lists before heading out of town. If you are looking for some serious smoked meat in reasonable walking distance of Beale Street, your choices are going to be kind of slim. Based on all the lists I reviewed, I came away with one: Central BBQ Downtown, which is about a 15 minute walk south down by the National Civil Rights Museum. After a half rack of ribs with some turnip greens and baked beans, this is definitely a place I'd go back to. The meat was flavorful and fall off the bone and I can highly recommend the spicy barbeque sauce on the side for some dipping.
Lunch Saturday was over at Central BBQ. Lunch Friday? Gus's Fried Chicken. I'm not a fried chicken guy at all but this was probably the best fried chicken I've had in my life. I've never had a batter so light and crispy that kept breast meat that juicy. It was absolutely phenomenal. I can't take credit for this find; I'm glad here that my friend Bryan is as concerned about eating good food while out of town as I am. Thanks, B!
But this is a basketball blog, right? Let's talk hoops.
In a season of trap games that have become so frequent that any game can become a trap game for this Wizards squad, a Friday night game against the injured and underperforming vs. expectations Grizzlies was the poster child for an unexpected road loss against a team far back in the standings.

It almost was. This was another game where the Wizards seemed to have things comfortably in hand in the third quarter before thinking they could just put the bench in the game in the fourth and kill some clock later in the fourth and walk out of there with an easy win. And die-hard Wizards fans know what happens when this team tries to do that: the ball sticks and we end up getting a rushed isolation shot by John Wall or Bradley Beal with a second or two left on the shot clock. With the bench not on their best game for the second straight contest, this game was the Wall and Beal show all the way. And by that I mean they were great in the first three and the problem in the last half of the fourth playing iso-ball.

Beyond watching the game and being a completest in terms of seeing the Wiz play the entire rest of the league on the road, one of the things I love about traveling to other NBA cities is seeing what it's like in other arenas. You can't really get a sense of what that's like watching a road game on TV. Besides the awesome viewpoint from pretty much straight away center on the Pinnacle (read: second) level of FedEx Forum in Memphis, there were a whole bunch of things worth noting about this arena.

First of all, I love the scoreboard. This may be the most awesome scoreboard in the NBA that I've seen so far. It's enormous, gorgeous and super bright. I also love the rounded corners which double as mini-stat boards, although I have to say I'd prefer to see names rather than faces by the stat lines. I can get our guys by the numbers but I don't watch enough other teams regularly enough to know them by their jersey numbers or faces.

Like most arenas in the NBA, FedEx is huge compared to our home sweet home Capital One Arena. This is mostly I believe because other cities haven much larger lots than the confined city blocks that make up the District of Columbia. The result is much larger concourses so the home team can load up on circulation space, have cafeteria style restaurants on the upper level or have their upper levels not overhang the seats below. All these seemed to be true in Memphis.

But the Grizzlies' home seemed to be bigger in another dimension (the up dimension) that caused an excessively quiet environment in the place. I know this is going to sound strange coming from a Wizards season ticket holder that's seen more than a few mid-week games against non-popular teams over at 601 F Street in the last dozen plus years, but I don't think I've ever been in a building as quiet as the one in Memphis. I'm serious. From our seats in the second level, we heard high five slaps as guys substituted, crystal clear directions from the refs during in bound plays and individual fan voices in the crowd again and again.

We even heard one fan yell to Marcin Gortat "You are not an actual wizard!" during a free throw attempt, which was both notable for its crystal clear audio quality in the building but also for its undeniable truth. I should note for the sake of completeness there were likely no actual wizards besides Marcin playing at all that night, just like there were no actual grizzlies playing on the court. Although...if there were grizzlies or wizards playing, it would have been way easier to spot the grizzlies than the wizards. Just saying.

Beyond the scoreboard and the church-like atmosphere, there were all manner of cool and quirky things to note about the game environment at FedEx Forum last Friday night. What, you might ask? How about the signage on the marquee (shown above) right inside the front door which I assume has to be changed by hand each game night? Or how about the pictures of musical artists with Memphis connections on the walls of the lower level concourse? Check out Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash (who both recorded on Memphis' Sun Records) either side of Sam and Dave (Memphis' Stax Records) above.

Not cool and quirky enough for you? How about people dressed up in toothbrush and toothpaste costumes to promote a local dentist's office? Or two mirror balls (that's two) hanging from the ceiling of the arena? Still not impressed? Ever seen a burger stand at an arena which counts down the number of burgers available to impress customers with the freshness? Might need to stock up. The photo below shows just 36 burgers left and that was before the game. The restroom signs were awesome too: singing girls with beehive hairdos for the women's room and singing boys with pompadour for the men's (hoping I got my hairstyles right). They just got a bit weird when they went family on us. Is the baby being tossed or does he really just have some amazing hops? 

Hurry! Just 36 burgers left 'til BC Burgers is sold out for the night!
Maybe the sign's not as quirky as I think but I think it's pretty interesting.
But despite all the burger countdowns and mirror balls and jumping babies and toothpaste mascots, the thing worth spending the most time on here is the wrestling. Nope, I'm drunk or anything. They had wrestling Friday night. Grind City Wrestling. I'll try to explain succinctly.

First the Grind City thing. The Memphis Grizzlies until this season were perennial playoff contenders. Their run of playoff appearances was fueled by hard work by hard working players. The words grit and grind became associated with their (mostly) superstar-less teams fighting and clawing for every win they could get. The team nicknamed Memphis Grind City.

Now let's try the wrestling thing.

When I was in junior high school and maybe just into high school, I used to watch pro wrestling or what would be later known as the World Wrestling Federation. Of course, pro wrestling is really nothing of the sort; it's all just theater. Back then this was not big business like it is now. We used to watch matches with the Magnificent Muraco or Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka taking on some local stiffs on network television on Saturday afternoon. I think I got about as far as the emergence of the Strongbow Brothers before realizing it was essentially a total waste of time.

Anyway...apparently after I stopped watching this stuff, Jerry "The King" Lawler was one of the wrestlers in Vince McMahon's stable. Jerry (now 68) is from Memphis and Friday night at the Grizzlies game was Jerry "The King" Lawler night, which featured the most elaborate halftime in game entertainment that I have ever seen, taking a story all the way from the beginning of the game with a marquee halftime wrestling match in an actual wrestling ring to pretty much the end of the third quarter. Almost every time out until the beginning of the fourth quarter featured a touchpoint to the story of how Lawler had the Grizzlyweight World Championship belt (yes, there was an actual belt) stolen from him and how the Grizzlies were going to get it back from him.

I'm guessing this is not the first time the Grizzlies have had some sort of wrestling night, although I don't know that for sure. If it's not, if this is truly a one time event, I have to admire the time, effort and money that the team put into this narrative. There is some true dedication involved here. There's no way this can be the only time they've done something like this. I mean they have an actual custom made belt and everything.

The story starts out with a "genuine tape" of a wrestling match between Lawler and some other dude (shown above; ironically considering how much I'm going to write here Lawler is not pictured in this post) in front of about 25 fans (maximum!) going at it until Jerry is robbed of his belt through foul play. Yes, I am too disinterested to look up who this other dude is. Anyway in the process of stealing the belt, he also hurt The King's shoulder, meaning he couldn't fight to get it back.

So...the Grizzlies brought in Tennessee's own Jeff Jarrett to fight for Lawler's belt and I guess his honor. But...as it turns out Jarrett is from Nashville, not Memphis, so after winning back the belt (in actual wrestling ring on the upper level of the arena) he keeps it for himself and taunts Lawler enough that despite the injured shoulder he fights anyway (again, in the actual wrestling ring on the upper level of the arena). Of course, after a rough start to the match, Lawler wins. But he doesn't. Because the referee was stunned by Jarrett and didn't see Lawler pin Jarrett. Ultimately through more foul play, Jarrett wins. What a bummer!!!

Yes, there's an actual wrestling ring inside FedEx Forum during a Grizzlies game.
Until...the Grizzlies mascot Grizz (ranked number 20 on my latest NBA Mascot Rank) wins it back from Jarrett in the third and final live wrestling match of the evening. Got all that? And this was during a basketball game, like between halfs and quarters and during time outs and stuff. Like I said, you have to admire the Grizzlies for their dedication to this show. Pretty amazing promotional department they got down there in Memphis, I have to say.

And I lied earlier: this is not the first time the Grizzlies have had wrestling night. Not sure how far back this goes (telling the truth this time) but they've definitely done this before.

So that's it. That's my report of my experience at my first ever Grizzlies game. That checks off my third NBA game in a Southwest Division arena and I now have 20 game experiences (with a few asterisks - see here and the post referenced at the top of this post) in the 30 NBA arenas. Long way to go. One more scheduled for this year then I think I'm home for the year. Detroit up next in a week and a half. Wizards home tomorrow against the Jazz. Go Wizards!!!

For some reason during the out of town scores update, the Grizzlies showed them beating themselves 100-4.

January 1, 2018

Stocking Stuffers

First of all, Happy New Year to everyone. Let's see if the new year does anything to cure the Wizards of this malaise they seem to have been in for this entire season. Spoiler alert: it likely won't. This will continue to go on for another month or more despite Markieff Morris' confident assertion that good things are coming and all will be well soon.

I took that last couple of weeks of 2017 off from this blog for some R&R and while I was (virtually) away, there were a handful of Wizards fan mini-events that happened around the holiday week that are worth probably discussing as a group but not necessarily worthy of their own posts. Yes, I'll touch on the continuing underperforming vs. teams with losing records but I'm pretty much glossing over that issue, much like the Wizards gloss over how to play hoops vs. inferior teams and then come up with excuses after those same losses. To tackle that issue in a blog post right will be too painful so I'm sort of skipping it. Let's go chronologically shall we?

Winter Solstice (December 21)
For the second straight year, the Wizards were good enough to host a holiday party / happy hour for season ticket holders in the Etihad Lounge on the floor level of Capital One Arena. Before you non-season ticket holders get too jealous, don't.

Yep, there were games and prizes and free holiday cocktails and free food. But the prizes were sort of left over surplus (I played trivia and came away with a shooting sleeve and a Wizards plastic bracelet; no idea what I do with those) and the grub didn't measure up to the usual Etihad Lounge fare which is typically pretty good. Notably bad were the fairly stale cupcakes with the wizard jumping over the crescent moon/basketball logo (maybe they were the same vintage as the now-retired logo?).

The couple of free holiday cocktails were a nice gesture but I could have done without the $11 price tag on the 16 oz. Budweisers. I'm complaining about something I didn't have to go to, I realize. This stuff's all part and parcel with the cost of tickets. Free or $5 beers would have been appreciated. Maybe next year?

Christmas Eve Eve Eve (December 22)
Just ten days after losing in Brooklyn to the miserable Nets, the Wizards made a return trip to New York to avenge their mid-December loss. Except that they didn't. Avenge it, that is. They were down 40 at one point in this game! 40!!!! To the Nets!!! Bradley Beal claimed after the game that teams were targeting the Wizards because the Wiz are an Eastern Conference contender or some such nonsense. You don't get down 40 to a team as bad as the Nets because of some onslaught of desire to topple one of the better teams in the league. The Wiz aren't serious and Beal's post-game narrative is a complete cop out. We need more locker room accountability.

But...I said I wasn't going to go into the Wizards' hopelessnesses against bottom feeders. Nope, what I want to talk about here is our hometown television coverage.

During each Wizards TV broadcast, announcers Steve Buckhantz and Kara Lawson highlight some plays during the game that become sponsored by NBC Sports Washington's advertising partners. These are ideal times for the folks that pay advertising dollars to the station to have their products mentioned alongside a Wizards highlight from the game. The issue I have here is that the highlights for the Honda Drive of the Game and the Campbell's Chunky Maxx Performer that night weren't of Wizards players doing good stuff but were instead of Nets players taking it to the hoop for a bucket (uncontested I might add).

What's up with that? I realize I'm picking about the most devoid of Wizards highlights game of the season but there were some highlights that were equal to Joe Harris (top photo of this post) or Spencer Dinwiddie (photo immediately above) scoring at will. I'm also not in favor of homer-ism to the max (or Maxx if you are Campbell's) but the TV station that covers the team ought to be able to have a policy of assigning these advertising moments to actual Wizards highlights, shouldn't they? I'm disappointed in NBC Sports Washington here.

By the way, is Marcin Gortat really pushing Otto Porter into Dinwiddie in the pic above? Or is it just a caught in the moment glitch? I mean he's shoving him with two hands, right?

Christmas Eve Eve
One night after the Wizards got drubbed by the lowly Nets, they headed home to take on the similarly bad Orlando Magic. After an embarrassing loss, the Wiz were up for this game and cruised to a 20 plus point victory. It was routine and it should have been.

The excitement I expected this game was the Wizards' unveiling of their fourth jersey or what Nike is referring to as the "City Edition". Based on the schedule on the Nike website (clip shown above), the jersey design, which was somehow leaked for every team on the NBA 2K18 videogame the previous week, was supposed to be released that night. Instead of getting a look at a maybe motivated but just equally as likely unmotivated Wizards team in their new kit, we got a look at the blue unis one more time (still missing the stripe that would make these threads killer). The conspiracy theory I started working on in my head about the players hating the City Edition turned out to be a fabrication. Turns out the "Jersey Dates Subject To Change" warning on the Nike site was true.

Christmas Day
About a month ago, I wrote a blog post summing up my thoughts on the first quarter of the season. One of my peeves about the first 20.5 games was the emergence of the Celtics as a legit Eastern Conference contender after turning over basically 3/4 of their roster while the Wizards stood pat / maintained consistency (depending on your point of view) and were struggling at a little better than .500.

So of course the underperforming Wizards went up to Boston on Christmas Day and knocked off the Celtics, the first time in more than three years (including four losses in the playoffs last year) that they have accomplished that in Beantown. Go figure. It was one of the finest performances in the season to date in a series of quality road wins. Surely this would be the turning point, right? Right? Right?

But that's not the important part of Christmas Day. I deliberately did not ask Santa for any Wizards stuff this year considering the state of play so far. I got one Wiz gift anyway and it's pretty much the best Wizards gift ever. Yep, it's a John Wall Funko Pop figurine. I love these things (we may have Jon Snow and Ghost figures at home already...OK, we do) so it's awesome to see the NBA partnering with Funko to get some of these made for fans like me. I love it. Not much more to say here other than he's not wearing the Nike uni. The Easter egg on the bottom of the shorts is intact. See here for more on that.

The Day After Boxing Day (December 27)
I'm  not very good at conspiracy theories. The day after a quiet (NBA-wise) Boxing Day saw the official release of the Nike City Edition jerseys. The Wizards' entry? A white on white offering sporting "The District of Columbia" where the "Washington" and "Wizards" appears on their other three jerseys.

It's not the worst thing in the world. Like a lot of folks out there on Twitter I'm not thrilled with the "of Columbia" part of the jersey but also agree with a lot (maybe the same lot) of folks who have made the point that people don't refer to D.C. as just "The District" much. It's generally in keeping with the theme of the Wizards' other jerseys (unlike some other team's City Editions) which I love. I'm not crazy about the marble-esque pattern on the sides of the jerseys but it's not going to keep me up at night.

I do LOVE the D.C. flag on the "belt buckle" of the shorts. This is one of the truly great flags in the world. If I ever get a tattoo (I know...I'm almost 50), 80% chance it's a variant of that flag. I think we got away with a good design here. I'm going to hate the Wiz wearing these things at home because deep down inside I believe teams should wear home unis with the team nickname on them, not the team city. But since Nike's blown that whole thing up with the abandonment of home / away threads, I'm going to let it go.

As an aside here, New Era (one of the NBA's official hat partners) has released a series of hats to mirror the City Edition unis. I hate the faux marble veining on the hat and I object to white hats in general (they show dirt although marbling will admittedly counter that) but I'm seriously thinking about one of these.

So that's my essay on the holiday season 2017, Wizards style. Back in action Wednesday against the Knicks. We have to win that one, don't we. A little more confidence at this point after the Bulls win.