I have a confession to make: I have booed Andray Blatche. I’m not proud of it, but it happened.
It was a Friday night, and the Washington Wizards, coming off an improbable 105-102 win over Kevin Durant and the Thunder, were hosting the Denver Nuggets. Having won just two games all year, the wretched Wizards were good for a cheap punchline or two every few hours. But they weren’t just the butt of jokes; all-knowing pundits smelled blood in the water and gnashed their teeth in response — even those who had previously supported the Wizards.
“So they don’t have that much talent,” said a presumably well-layered Michael Wilbon on the Scott Van Pelt Show; the very same Wilbon who once maintained the Wizards were on the right track to march deep into the playoffs.
“They have less talent than any team in the league by that measure,” Wilbon continued. “And they do the dumbest things night after night. We can’t even go into it. I mean, it is the Wizards, so at some point you have to say OK, you’re talking about the Wizards. People have stories, opposing players have stories, the assistant coaches have stories. I mean, there are stories about the DUMB things they do.”
The sharking was expected, though, and not just from Wilbon. Remember, this was a team that was expecting to “compete for the playoffs” before the season. Less than a full month into a compacted NBA schedule, Washington’s only stars were those stitched onto the team’s game shorts.
The Wizards were off to the worst start in franchise history, playing some of the least competitive basketball the nation’s capital has ever suffered through. The “new big three” of John Wall, Jordan Crawford and Andray Blatche, as announced by owner Ted Leonsis last year, were betraying even the lowest of expectations. Despite being touted as the franchise’s savior, Wall had become synonymous with regression; Crawford was taking more shots than an alcoholic; and Blatche, among the worst starting power forwards in the NBA, was dishonored as the “most depressing Wizards player so far” by Sports Illustrated.
See, everybody was bagging on the Wizards. The wicked pixels and sinister sound bites that were focused on the franchise, from the players to the front office, were justified in most cases. But was such criticism productive? That’s debatable, even in light of a head coach recently fired…
Which brings me back to booing. That Friday night, I booed Blatche long and good. I booed Blatche as a civilian, mind you, not as a member of the media, having paid the price of admission to watch the Wizards try to run with the Nuggets. (For my trouble, and my dollars, I was gifted a coupon for a free order of chili mac at Hard Times Cafe — not valid at the Verizon Center, though!) I wasn’t alone, either. Thousands booed Blatche that night (including a few of my friends), and not one person stood up in solidarity with the Wizards’ captain.
The supersized 25-year-old missed all seven attempts from the field and finished the game with just two points, six rebounds and three turnovers. All too predictably, Blatche, as a Wizard and only a Wizard, lost the 352nd game of his five and a half-year career.
What I didn’t expect was for my “verbal vandalism” to leave me unfulfilled, even if I didn’t realize it until I found myself looking for a story in the Wizards locker room before the Celtics game on the following Sunday. Andray Blatche was speaking candidly about getting booed to several members of D.C.’s sports media. Blatche conceded that the boos from his hometown crowd are crushing him, leaving him seeking guidance and support from his family, his friends and even his preacher. If he ever were to leave the franchise, Blatche said, it wouldn’t surprise him to see his face on the jumbotron as a means of provoking the Verizon Center crowd, producing a result similar to the flashing of a Duke Blue Devils logo on the big screen to induced Maryland Terrapin loyalists (and Duke haters), at Wizards games, into booing while an opponent shoots free-throws.
Does Blatche deserve the boos that rain down from the rafters? Sure; he has played like a soppy rag. The better question is whether he’s earned the right to be booed, with what, having disappointed fans since 2005?
Even in defense of Blatche, teammate Roger Mason, a VP of the NBA Players’ Union, admits that Blatche is an appropriate target for boos. “Hey look, these fans pay a lot of money to come see the team play, they have a right to boo or do whatever they want to do,” Mason said, recognizing that fans will always target the top players.
Mason’s take on the matter isn’t much different from that of Stephen J. Dubner, co-author of the book Freaknonmics and host of the WYNC podcast of the same name:
“If you’ve made the big time – if you’re a professional – well then boos kind of come with the territory. If you aren’t getting booed – well, you probably haven’t gotten where you want to go. Nobody boos a bad clown at a kids’ birthday party, do they?”
Blatche is a professional athlete, but he’s not “big time,” in spite of what his $8 million salary would suggest. And in a way, doesn’t that reduce Blatche to the clown that gets booed at a party?
Look at the situation. He’s wearing shoes he’ll never fill and has been miscast in a role he’ll never grow into. The party is the worst we’ve ever attended. Adding to our woes, we’re stuck here – fandom has barricaded the doors.
Wizards fans are certainly entitled to jeer Blatche, but those that do should consider the consequences. Booing Blatche won’t make him perform at a higher level, and it certainly won’t halve his salary. Instead, booing will continue to diminish the value of an already embattled brand fighting for respectability. Speaking as a fan, I take solace in the fact that the NBA rewards the utmost failure. So I’ll wait, and I’ll watch (perhaps with few beers to dull the pain).
As for the next time I’ll boo? Just forget it. Booing Blatche is like booing the Dallas Cowboys Star (in the past used in a similar manner as the Duke logo). Sure, The Star can rightfully be considered offensive in D.C., Maryland and Virginia (this is Redskins territory after all), but that symbol is also wholly incapable of answering critics.
Where’s the fun in that?