While Andray Blatche will be celebrating his 24th birthday a bit early this evening, there are a couple former Bullets/Wizards who are actually turning an additional year in their lives on today’s date, August 18. Now, these aren’t franchise greats by any means — in fact, one didn’t make it to 60 games in Washington and the other came just short of 100 games — but both hold places near and dear to the fun-loving hearts of those who have suffered with this futile team.
So here goes …
[image via DC Sports Bog, David Bergman - AP]
Isaac Austin turns 41 today. Yes, the same Ike Austin who the Wizards traded for in August 1999 in exchange for Terry Davis, Jeff McInnis, Tim Legler and Ben Wallace. Austin was fresh off a 49-game 1998-99 campaign with the Orlando Magic where the center shot 40.8-percent and averaged 9.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 2.3 turnovers during 25.7 minutes per game … I guess those numbers were impressive to someone at the time. His 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds he averaged in 19.9 minutes over 59 games with Washington in 1999-2000 (hey! his REB% improved! — 10.9 to 13.8) earned him the famed Ike Austin Cheese Boot and being made fun of years later for loving donuts. Austin was traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies for Obinna Ekezie, Felipe Lopez, Cherokee Parks and Dennis Scott in August 1999.
But don’t feel that bad Wizards fans. In a sense, Magic fans should feel worse, even though they did pawn Austin off on the Wiz (like I said, “in a sense”). In ’95-96 the Magic won 60 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals, losing to the Chicago Bulls in a 4-0 sweep. Then Shaq bolted for L.A. and left Penny Hardaway all on his own.
Next season, the Magic won 45 games and lost in the first round of the playoffs with Rony Seikaly getting the majority of minutes a center. The following season, ’97-98, the Magic only won 41 games and didn’t even make the playoffs — with Seikaly only playing 47 games, Orlando turned to the likes of Bo Outlaw, Horace Grant and Danny Schayes to hold down the paint. It wasn’t working for Penny, who only saw action in 19 games that year himself. He just had to do something.
So let’s turn to the Sport Illustrated Vault and a February 1999 story by David Fleming to see what went down:
… during the off-season Penny invited Austin, the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 1997, to stay at his house in Orlando, where his private chef saw to Austin’s every culinary need. The lesson: The way to every 270-pound pivot’s heart is right through the gullet. After his last visit to the Hardaway house in mid-January, the 29-year-old Austin called his agent and told him to cut a deal with the Magic. The two sides later agreed on a three-year, $15 million contract. “If Penny ever needs to get another job outside the NBA, sales may be the perfect opportunity for him,” says Daly. “Without him, we don’t even get close to signing Ike.”
“We haven’t had any respect since Shaq left,” adds Hardaway. “I think we’re going to regain a lot of respect from around the league with a guy like Ike Austin. This team is going to be pretty scary.”
Scary indeed. The ’98-99 Magic went 33-17 in the tail end of a lockout shortened season, which tied them with the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers for the third best record in the Eastern Conference. But Orlando lost to the 6-seed Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs. And Austin, he was traded to the Wizards less than seven months after the SI article was written. Yay.
Anyway … Happy Birthday Ike Austin!
And of course, there’s an Ike Austin mix on YouTube (set to some weird, emotional foreign music, and nary a highlight while he’s wearing a Wizards uniform is to be found … most of them come from Austin’s time in Miami. I imagine this is how Mike Miller highlights will go moving forward.):
Kenny “Sky” Walker has the second past franchise player birthday on August 18 … he’s turning 46 (and probably should’ve been mentioned before Austin).
The Kentucky alum signed as a free-agent with the Bullets in October 1993 after spending the first five seasons of his NBA career with the New York Knicks (’86-91), and then some time playing in Italy and Spain. He appeared in 73 games, starting five, in ’93-94 and averaged 4.8 points and 4.0 rebounds as a role player in 19.1 minutes per game off the bench. D.C. fans were quickly attracted to his high-flying hustle plays. Walker injured his knee during training camp in October ’94, which was especially devastating given the knee injury history he already had, and only appeared in five games with the Bullets in ’94-95. He would finish his professional basketball career playing in Spain during the ’95-96 season and finally in Japan during the ’96-97 season.
So, Happy Birthday to Walker … now let’s watch his YouTube mix:
And of course, the 1989 NBA Slam Dunk contest that he was most known for: