Random Wizards Archives: 10 Years Ago and Tricking Rod Strickland
December 7, 1999: Ten years ago today, as Y2K hung over the world, the Washington Wizards lost their 20th game of the season to the Los Angeles Lakers, dropping their record to 5-15. In fact, the game was probably going in L.A. about the time I published this post. Let’s check out the Washington Post game story by Steve Wyche, courtesy of Dan Steinberg:
The Washington Wizards’ entire front court scored 16 fewer points than Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal, and as a result, Washington fell, 91-80, tonight before 15,571 at Staples Center.
O’Neal scored a game-high 30 points and grabbed 16 of his team’s 44 rebounds as the Lakers won their seventh straight game. The Wizards lost their fifth straight, an unflattering mark seeing as they have a seven-game losing streak already to their credit this season.
Washington forward Juwan Howard scored just six points on 3-of-17 shooting. Forward Michael Smith added two points and center Ike Austin had six. Combined they were 7 of 30 from the field, and none of the three attempted a free throw.
“We just couldn’t get anything from our starters in the front court,” Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. “We can’t win any games unless those guys score, and we had opportunities to score. But you’re going to have games like that.”
The failure of the front-court players to equalize O’Neal cost Washington the game, as did the fact that the Lakers made 25 of 38 foul shots compared with Washington’s 13 of 20. Heard blamed some of that disparity on the officials.
“As usual, everybody seemed to get an assist from the officials except us,” he said. “They shoot 38 free throws; we shoot 20. I don’t mind losing the game, but at least give us a chance.”
Michael Smith? Ike Austin? Seems pretty sad.
Things were obviously not going well in the initial 20-game window of that season either. In fact, you can say the outlook was more bleak with the franchise fully entrenched in the second season of the Mitch Richmond debacle, recalling that Richmond and Otis Thorpe were acquired by GM Wes Unseld in exchange for Chris Webber in May of 1998.
That seemingly dire situation was compounded prior to the ’99-00 season when Unseld gave Richmond a 4-year, $40 million contract on August 24, 1999, almost two weeks after he traded Terry Davis, Tim Legler, Jeff McInnis and Ben Wallace to the Orlando Magic for Ike Austin.
Wallace would later be named to four NBA All-Star teams and rack up four NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards. Austin averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds over 59 games, was traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies the following summer, and was out of the league after the ’01-02 season.
The Richmond situation wasn’t any better. Actually, it was worse. One could have argued that the 30-year old Austin, who had played a whole 49 games the previous season for Orlando, was more “established” than the 24-year old Ben Wallace, who was still a couple years shy of NBA relevancy. Ok, I can’t even type that with a straight face.
In any case, Richmond played 111 games over the next two seasons before the Wizards bought him out of the last two years of his contract for $10 million. Webber, already with an All-Star appearance with the Bullets under his belt, played in four more All-Star games and was named to an All-NBA team five times.
This post wasn’t mean to be a complete Debbie Downer, piling on the latest “time to break up the Big Three” woes of the franchise. Honestly.
I’m was trying to make this one of those “one day we’ll look back and laugh” things. But the names Mitch Richmond, Chris Webber and Ike Austin have never caused me to elicit so much as a brief chuckle … perhaps a smirk, but nothing to do with any sort of amusement.
The name Rod Strickland, however, does. And in that loss to the Lakers on December 7th ten years ago, Strickland put 15 points, 10 assists, and seven rebounds in the stat sheet, the 99th time he achieved a points/assists double-double in a Bullets/Wizards uniform, and the 27th time that occurred while Strickland also pulled down seven or more rebounds.
Of course, that December 7th loss made number five in what would become a streak of six, and gave Los Angeles a winning streak of seven. Ironically, that Laker streak was broken two days later by Chris Webber and the Sacramento Kings.
Gar Heard, with whom the WizzNutzz have a robotic infatuation, would only coach 14 more games before being let go with a record of 14-30. Darrell Walker took over and went 15-23 the rest of the way.
But more about that Rod Strickland fellow … the lighter side of team history.
Most of us know about Rod Strickland’s hot-dogging ways … and I’m not talking about his on court skills that were dubbed sickenin’ by the Wu.
As was once infamously related by Michael Wilbon in a WaPost online chat, Strickland used to saunter (I’m assuming that’s how he walked) into the media lounge and snag pre-game hot dogs (among other junk food items), which made him throw up on several occasions, including a time on the court in New Jersey in March 1998.
I can attest that through my nine home games with media credentials, I’ve yet to see a Wizard come into the press lounge. I’ve also never seen hot dogs served. The current food is much better.
That being said, I guess it’s not an uncommon occurrence for opposing players to be spotted partaking in some pre-game press lounge food. I saw Danny Green do it before the Cleveland game. And as I arrived before the Toronto game, the sign-in sheet indicated that Hedo Turkoglu and Jarrett Jack had already been through. I suppose beef-brisket helps Hedo hit game-winning shots.
If I had to guess which Wizard would be the most likely candidate to eat a hot dog or peruse the media room for vestiments … and no, I’m not going to say Andray Blatche, who did actually eat nachos before a game his rookie season when he didn’t think he was going to play, drawing the ire of Antawn Jamison (that took place in Miami) … it would probably be Mike James. Two reasons, one from the telephone interview I once conducted with James where he said:
“Listen, I’ll eat a hot dog on the street corner after coming from the club in New York City, and I’ll buy three hot dogs at three o’clock in the morning. I don’t have a favorite food. As long as the food is good, I eat everything. I eat hamburgers, hot dogs, cake, cookies … and also chicken (laughs).”
Also, at this year’s media day, he was the only player who dipped into the salad, munching on a bowl just prior to conducting interviews.
But to finish this random Wizards archive post, I’ll include an excerpt from J.A. Adande’s old LA Times blog, Overtime, which can be found via the WayBack Machine here. Adande covered the Bullets for the Washington Post for a handful of years in the mid-90s and once duped Rod Strickland into divulging himself as the target of Wes Unseld’s assumption.
That reminds of one of my favorites, Rod Strickland. In the 1992-93 season four Portland Trail Blazers were suspected of having sex with underage girls during a trip to Utah. At first the names weren’t released and speculation swirled. But when they finally came out and Strickland wasn’t among them, the troubled guard walked past the media and said something to the effect of, “I bet y’all thought it was me, huh?”
When I covered Strickland on the Washington Bullets in 1996-97, Juwan Howard was arrested on a drunk driving charge. During General Manager Wes Unseld’s press conference, Unseld said he’d had to call and apologize to another player, because when Unseld first heard the one of his players was arrested for drunk driving he thought it was someone besides Howard. Why Unseld admitted this to the player and the media is beyond me. But when we saw Strickland I asked if he had received a call from Unseld that morning.
“Yeah,” Strickland said. “Why?”