Hail To The District writer Dash Kannan provides his thoughts on the Washington Wizards replacing the Chicago Cubs, in terms of the most hopeless fan base in professional sports.
After a 108 year drought, the Chicago Cubs finally broke through the pangs of frustration and won a World Series. And for a non-baseball fan like myself, that World Series Game 7 between the Cubs and Cleveland Indians was one of the best sporting events I had ever seen.
But soon, the sad reality hit me: regardless of whichever team won last night, the Washington, D.C. sports scene would be the ultimate loser. Or, put another way: after one of those teams – and those cities – exorcised their respective demons, it would instantly relegate Washington, D.C. to the status of THE WORST SPORTS CITY IN ALL OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Many people, including my closest friends who know that I view the local sports teams through DC-tinged glasses, have asked me why I can’t just be happy for the Cubs, without simultaneously feeling miserable as a DC sports fan.
The truth is, i’m not entirely a pessimist, like many would believe. In fact, I think this city does have three pretty good teams: The Capitals remain a perennial playoff team for the better part of the last decade, even if they can’t get past the second round. The Nationals have won the National League East division three times in the last five years. Even the Redskins returned to the playoffs last year, and have finally restored a sense of competence and competitiveness that had been missing for 25 years.
This brings us to the ugly duckling in the room; the one team I didn’t mention, and the team I am most invested in: the Washington Wizards.
This entire blog post didn’t really come to me until earlier this morning, when I came upon a Washington Post article discussing how Ted Leonsis – the majority owner of the Wizards and Capitals – was interested in a new arena for both teams, perhaps located at the site of the old RFK Stadium Location. He complained of having “the worst building deal in professional sports,” because of the $36 million annual mortgage he pays for the Verizon Center.
After becoming a part-owner of Comcast Sports Net Mid-Atlantic by parlaying his empire of Monumental Sports and Empire into a new TV deal, Leonsis still screams poverty when it comes to putting in money to the Capitals and Wizards:
“No more paying four, five times the rent compared to other teams that we compete with,” he said. “I know that sounds silly. But you’re competing with a team that pays $3 million in rent, and you’re paying $40 million in [building costs] . . . When we finish paying the mortgage, that will right-size the business, and for once we would be advantaged [economically], as opposed to disadvantaged.”
Understanding that owning a sports team is very similar to any other business and profit is the primary goal for these billionaires, how about some integrity when it comes to providing for its fan base?
Don’t get me wrong, Leonsis has done a lot to improve the gameday experience, especially when it comes to the Capitals, but the Wizards have been treated as a side-project for him. Local fans of the professional basketball team are painfully aware that WE HAVEN’T HAD A 50-WIN SEASON SINCE 1979.
You’d think that, as owner of the team, building a winning team would be the one and only objective for Leonsis. Instead, the team has endured nearly a decade and a half of General Manager Ernie Grunfeld’s miserable management (or total lack thereof), consisting of the following unspectacular eras:
1. The Gilbert Arenas era: led by Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler, the Wizards consistently lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the playoffs.
2. The knucklehead era: Grunfeld drafted Javale McGee, Nick Young, and Andray Blatche and oversaw the “guns in the locker room” controversy involving Arenas and Javaris Crittenton, and traded away the #5 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, which could have been Stephen Curry.
3. The purge: After drafting John Wall with the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Grunfeld proceeded to ship out distractions like Young, McGee, and Blatche, giving head coach Randy Wittman a chance to succeed with his young point guard.
4. The (short-lived) revival: Back-to-back second round appearances by the Wizards, led by Wall and 2012 draft pick Bradley Beal, was followed up with a majorly disappointing season in which the team missed the playoffs, replaced Wittman with Scott Brooks, and struck out completely on hometown hero Kevin Durant in the offseason.
Grunfeld, from his days running the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks, has consistently shown that he cannot draft players at a competent level, and has had to compensate for his short comings with free agency and trades.
While his trades and signings have been somewhat successful for the most part, striking out on draft pick after draft pick has left the cupboard bare in terms of young talent, leaving players like Wall to have almost no support (consider the fact that Wall has not played with a single all-star since he was drafted).
A look at the current roster provides an even clearer picture of the mess that the Wizards roster is. Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi represent two centers on the different ends of the spectrum, each with fundamental flaws: Gortat can’t defend the paint and Mahinmi has a limited offensive skillset.
Markieff Morris, Andrew Nicholson, and Jason Smith all provide scoring at the power forward spot, but they aren’t much on the defensive end; Morris has additional attitude issues to boot. Otto Porter is a former top-three pick in the NBA Draft, but at this point, he’s nothing but a super role player at best. Kelly Oubre Jr. is far from realizing his talents after a year of after not getting minutes under Wittman; while the potential is there, there’s far less hope the Wizards can – and will – develop it.
The cornerstones of this franchise – Wall and Beal – have their own issues, with rumors of Wall’s envy of Beal’s new salary and Beal’s contempt at being viewed as the secondary “star” of this team. On top of that, the duo is backed up by guys like Trey Burke, one of the worst players in the NBA whom Grunfeld still felt the need to trade for, and the unknown Tomas Satoransky, who just made his way across the ocean after playing for FC Barcelona for the past three years.
The Wizards are stuck in basketball purgatory, which is the worst place to be for a NBA team. With John Wall reiterating that he would like to stay in DC, having set all types of team records and leading the team to some modicum of success to hang from the rafters of Verizon Center (or wherever Leonsis moves the team), it’s criminal how much Leonsis and the organization have mishandled Wall’s tenure here.
Arguably, a top five NBA point guard, Wall has been made to shoulder the burden of keeping the Wizards competitive. While other franchises stockpile talented young stars as the foundation for new super-teams, the Wizards have saddled Wall with a “sidekick” in Beal who simply cannot stay healthy.
The dirty truth is, Ted Leonsis only cares about one thing, when it comes to the Wizards, and even the Capitals: money. His entire focus is about making those two teams, and his Monumental Sports & Entertainment company, his lucrative cash-cows. He cares so much more about opening new streams of revenue than he does about placing the right people in the right positions in the front offices of his teams. For all of Dan Snyder’s numerous flaws, at least he gives a damn about winning, and will spend the time, effort – and yes, money – to build a winner. Leonsis only cares about butts in seats, and how much money those butts spend on food, beverages, and merchandise on game day.
If the Wizards make the playoffs, Leonsis couldn’t care less as to whether they did so as the first seed, fourth seed, or eighth seed in their conference. All he cares about is the fact that he’ll earn revenues from two additional home games in the postseason.
So, perhaps after seeing the grand total of about 20 people in the stands at the Wizards home opener (fine, i’m slightly exaggerating), since Leonsis only seems to care about the bottom line, a lack of butts in seats may be what gets it done… though I seriously doubt it.
Congratulations, Wizards fans. You are now the most pathetic fan base in the entire country.
At least you’ve got THAT to celebrate?