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June 04, 2004
Why the Pistons Will Lose the NBA Finals
This Sunday, when the NBA Finals kick off in L.A., the Detroit Pistons will be overwhelmingly the underdogs. Forget that the team is young and that most of its players have never been this far in the playoffs. Forget that the Lakers have home court advantage. Forget, too, that Pistons Coach Larry Brown has an incredible track record of winning conference finals but losing when it counts.
The real reason why the Pistons will lose ultimately comes down to this fact: four of the team's starters once played for the Washington Wizards.
Washington is not very welcoming to its sports stars. To say that fan enthusiasm here is lukewarm is an understatement. Over the past few years, DC has welcomed some of the biggest names in sports: Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan, and, most recently, Freddy Adu. While all certainly helped to sell tickets, none was greeted with the sort of excitement he/she deserved. There was a quick bang, then a whimper. I'm sure I can walk up to the gates at RFK Stadium next weekend and buy a ticket to see D.C. United lose again. They've even closed the upper deck now so that on television, where they only show the lower deck, the game will appear sold-out.
How to explain this apathy? One reason could be that many who live here can't really call DC "home." Congressmen can't root for the Wizards, Redskins, or Capitals - how would they explain it to voters? Not to mention the many other transplants in the capital who bring with them childhood loyalties to rival teams.
I've attended games for all of Washington's sports teams, and it appears to me that the Wizards suffer from the greatest lack of support and the highest degree of mismanagement. Frankly, the Wizards (and anyone who has dealings with them) are cursed. Here's why:
1) Their name sucks
And then there was hope.
In 1994, Washington learned that the Bullets would finally get two star players to build a team around: Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. The Bullets got off to a slow start, but managed to make it to the playoffs in the 96-97 season. They were over 500! The following season, worried that the team's name was too violent, the team owners decided to hold a contest to rename the Bullets. (I think the game was sponsored by Boston Market - also no longer in Washington.)
After the name change came the "incidents." Webber was arrested. He and Juwan were accused of sexual assault. Webber and guard Rod Strickland (another player whose potential quickly waned once in DC) were picked up on numerous occasions for smoking weed. Eventually Webber was traded for Bitch Bitchmond (Mitch Richmond) and Otis Thorpe, two players that didn't amount to much once they got here.
Coincidence? I think not. I'm not saying that the players weren't guilty of the crimes listed above. But it's telling that their play started to slump and that they suffered more injuries once the team's name changed.
Imagine if the name had changed to the Washington Justice? MCI could have been the "Supreme Court." We could have screamed "Can I get a witness?" after every awesome play. But no. Some six year old dufus got to rename an entire NBA franchise. Nice work, Abe Pollin.
2) Their logo is wicked, their mascot a joke
And what can I say about the Wizards' mascot? It was about as well-conceived as the mascot for the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. While we're at it, check out G-Wiz's companion in the WNBA, Charm the Magic Rabbit. Awful. Just awful.
3) They need a change in management
Then there are the players. Washington has gone through players like dirty socks. Look at the playoff contenders from this year and you'll see many familiar names from past Wizards' rosters: Webber, Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Richard Hamilton. The last three, of course, are the heart of the Pistons. Washington once had those players in their grasp, but couldn't figure out what to do with them. You can blame the coaches, but many of them didn't have a long enough tenure to mold these players' talents.
Meanwhile, not much has changed in the Wizards' boardroom. Abe Pollin gave us the MCI Center but not much else. Wes Unseld is still making the big decisions as an EVP and GM. Wes may have been a great player, but he's not management material. The Wizards should have learned that lesson long before they hired then fired Michael Jordan. Everyone thought that a little bit of His Airness' good fortune would rub off on Washington; instead, Washington's lameness (is that a word?) rubbed off on Jordan.
And that's the fate that awaits the Pistons. Now, I wish the best for Detroit. I really do. In fact, I hate the Lakers and hope that the Pistons win. But four of the Pistons' players - R. Wallace, B. Wallace, Hamilton, and 2nd stringer Darvin Ham - have all had the unfortunate experience of playing in DC. It seems that former Washington players can blossom - even thrive - when they have a chance to play elsewhere under different management, for different coaches, and in front of excited fans. But that same old Washington curse - the one that imbues players with a sense of mediocrity - always comes flowing back.
But that's a topic to save for later...
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