“Oh, that sucks!”: Life as a Wizards Fan

During my second semester of college, one of my neighbors was a Lakers fan. One day, I casually referred to the Gilbert Arenas years as the Wizards “Golden Era.” He laughed and replied with a bit of snark “What, when they were the five seed for two years and lost to the Cavs?”

He had a point.

I had spent the past 18 years living in something of a “Fan Stockholm Syndrome.” Never once had it crossed my mind that my experience as a Wizards fan was anything particularly bad. My earliest memory of basketball in DC was, at the tender age of 8, learning that Michael Jordan played for the Wizards. Michael Jordan? Surely the Wizards were amazing!

I lived in ignorance.

Over the next few years, they played bad. I didn’t really care. Childhood Matthew was far more invested in the Baltimore Orioles, not that being a fan of the Orioles was a particularly thrilling experience. The most exciting thing about being an Orioles fan was the offseason where they signed Rafael Palmeiro and Miguel Tejada, a steroids-fueled dynamic duo. Side note: as a tender 12 year old, Rafael Palmeiro’s Viagra commercials led me to ask my dad what Viagra was. Anyways, a few years later, the Wizards had a star player: Gilbert Arenas.

A star player in DC? Our own star? I could not believe it. It seemed too good to be true! He even lived in my friend’s neighborhood. It felt good to be a Wizards fan. Playoffs? Awesome! I was just happy to have a team to root for in the playoffs. Was I bummed that we lost to LeBron James and some D-League players in the first round every year? Sure. But wow, it was so cool that we had “Agent Zero” on our team! We even had dope gold and black alternative uniforms. Life as a Wizards fan was great.

Until it wasn’t.

In late-2009, it came out the Gilbert Arenas was casually storing guns in his locker, because WHY NOT? Apparently he got into an argument with Javaris Crittenton (hahaha WHO?) which led to an armed confrontation IN THE LOCKER ROOM. According to Caron Butler, Crittenton owed Arenas $1,100 as a result of a card game that took place on a team flight. Arenas informed Crittenton that he “plays with guns.” Crittenton walked into the locker room the next day to find that Gilbert Arenas had laid FOUR guns on the bench and told Crittenton to “pick one” because he was going to shoot him with it. Naturally, Crittenton whips out a LOADED GUN of his own and points it at Arenas. Because that is just what happens in an NBA locker room. Where was our coach? Flip Saunders (may he rest in peace) was TOO SCARED to go into HIS OWN TEAM’S locker room. Both players were suspended for the season and the Wizards bottomed out.

We then lucked out, winning the draft lottery and mercifully were able to draft John Wall with the first overall pick. “Another potential star? Cool!” I rationalized, “I guess that makes all of that okay! We have a bright future!”

The next season we trotted out a starting lineup of rookie John Wall, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans (who?), Andray “35 million dollar extension after egging on Gilbert Arenas in the gun incident” Blatche, and… JaVale McGee. We also gave significant minutes to pre-Swaggy P Nick Young. We played even worse. We proceeded to pass on Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, and Jimmy Butler to draft the worst NBA player of all time, Jan Vesely. It should be telling that Jan Vesely doesn’t even crack my top five “least favorite Wizards of all time” list. Somehow, it was during this season that I began to care deeply about the Wizards and form something of an emotional attachment to them. During my one semester at BYU-Idaho, my best friend and I would skip the university devotional every week to play each other in NBA 2K11. We called these “2K Tuesdays.” I religiously used the Wizards and got to know every one of those awful players. Because of the lockout, the season did not start until the winter, and I had already fallen in love with those players and that team. I genuinely believed this team could win games. A demonstration of just how naive I was:

I really believed that the Wizards would be good. I believed that with all my heart. Despite somehow managing to win many games with them on 2K, that team was truly awful to watch in real life. If you’re looking for a visual representation of what that season was like, take a look at this:

Throughout that semester at BYU-I, I mostly hung out with people I grew up with, fellow Wizards fans. We commiserated together. There was nothing bad or weird about being a Wizards fan. After that semester at BYU-Idaho, I transferred to BYU. Whenever I told anybody I was a Wizards fan, their response was “Oh, that sucks,” accompanied by a chuckle. I didn’t understand. Of course the Wizards weren’t the best, but why would it suck rooting for your hometown team?

It was at the tail end of this semester that I had that conversation with my neighbor, thus being made aware of my “Fan Stockholm Syndrome.” Throughout all of this, I did not once think to myself “Wow, being a Wizards fan sure sucks.” I suddenly became aware of my suffering. I understood what everybody meant. Of course it sucked being a Wizards fan! When was the last time they competed for a title? Not once in my entire lifetime. I was surrounded by Lakers fans, who were accustomed to NBA Championships every couple of years. In the mean time, our star players were pulling guns on each other in the locker room. It SUCKED being a Wizards fan.

However, we had John Wall. His potential was limitless. I began to place faith in this young team. I began to crave what my neighbor was accustomed to: a team that competed for an NBA Championship. At the end of that miserable season, I left on a two year mission during which I was not able to watch or follow the Wizards at all. They traded for Nene and Marcin Gortat, drafted Bradley Beal and Otto Porter, and slowly began to improve. As my mission drew to a close, I got an email informing me that the Wizards had not only made the playoffs, but they had advanced out of the first round. I got home, we signed Paul Pierce, and I was ready for action.

We managed to once again make it to the second round of the playoffs, losing to the Hawks in six games. It sucked, but that was okay. They were the #1 seed! We pushed the #1 seed to six games! None of our players had reached their prime. The future was bright. It was around this time that articles linking Kevin Durant to the Wizards began popping up. When LeBron “went home” to Cleveland, Kevin Durant did some interview wherein he praised LeBron for going home and made a comment about how it was “classy.” Wizards fans (myself included) jumped to the wild conclusion that, two years down the line, Kevin Durant was plotting a return to his hometown (DC) to play with the Wizards. All we felt like we had to do was prove that we were a title contender, worthy of a player like Kevin Durant.

We then tanked the next season. We traded for Markieff Morris. We didn’t even make the playoffs. “Classic DC,” I thought, growing more and more pessimistic. But MAYBE, just maybe we would still be able to pull of the heist. Nope. KD didn’t even give us a face-to-face meeting. We then pursued Al Horford, who signed with the Celtics. The argument that swayed him was “which team do you see yourself winning a title with?” It was humiliating. To add insult to injury, within 20 minutes of finding out that Horford was going to Boston, I saw a tweet informing me that we had thrown heaps and heaps of money at IAN MAHINMI (who I had never heard of.) Ian Mahinmi was now the second-highest paid Washington Wizards. He was making more money than John Wall. I began to furiously pound out expletive-laden texts to my friend Matt. The signing also prompted this tweet:

We then signed a mixed bag of bench players: some garbage dude we eventually traded to Nets, Jason Smith (who I LOVE), Tomas Satoranksy (who I think has a bright future as a backup), and a bunch of inconsequential undrafted rookies who I had never heard of. Here’s a little exchange with Matt:

The Wizards started the season 0–8. I began to lose ALL hope. I was openly advocating for them to blow it all up and trade John Wall for prospects.

And then they took off.

They went on a winning streak, tearing apart everybody they faced. Otto Porter somehow became the leagues best 3 pt shooter, Beal stopped getting hurt, and John Wall was the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Over night we went from a lottery team to potentially the second best team in the east. The hype peaked when we played the Cavaliers. We lost in an triple overtime thriller that we would have won if LeBron hadn’t made a circus shot. Even though we lost, we had arrived. We were one of the best.

After a slip-up at the end of the season, we winded up as the 4th seed. That was okay. For the first time in 30 years, our path to the Eastern Conference Finals was clear. We beat the Hawks in 6. We were ready for the Celtics.

We played one of the most competitive series I had ever seen. The first four games were teeming with intensity. John Wall and Isaiah Thomas exchanged blows. The teams seemed equally matched. Then the Wizards decided to not show up for Game Five, getting decimated. The familiar gloom that so often accompanies DC sports began to creep back. That feeling didn’t go away throughout the entirety of Game Six. With a minute left, Isaiah Thomas hit a three. Dread began to creep in. That was the dagger. We were toast.

But the Wizards flipped the script. Beal drilled a three. We managed to get the ball back. Down by two with eleven seconds left. I still felt that dread. We were going to nail a two and then get destroyed in OT. I had seem this story play out before.

Otto chucked the ball to Wall. He stood for a second behind the three point line. “No,” I thought. John Wall is many things, but he is not a good three point shooter. He let the three fly. “NO,” I thought as the ball hung in midair.

And then.

The ball flew through the net. I leaped in the air and screamed. I was in shock. I wasn’t used to this. D.C. teams do not have moments like this. “THIS IS MY CITY!!!!” John Wall howled for all Wizards fans to hear. Maybe, just maybe the Wizards were going to make the Eastern Conference Finals.

And then we lost Game 7 because we were outplayed by Kelly Olynyk.

Being a Wizards fan really does suck.