More than ever, media surrounding a professional sports team is a battle waged with pixels. Even winning franchises must deal with damage control, getting out feel-good messages about players, feeding the machine. But for teams like the Wizards, the task is even tougher.
Nothing looks good about this season, and fan frustration with team management is quickly coming to a head. Only one NBA team has accrued more losses over the reign of Ernie Grunfeld in Washington (since 2003, 458 and counting): the Minnesota Timberwolves (462). The T-Wolves, propelled by woulda/coulda/shoulda-been Wizards draft pick Ricky Rubio, beat the Oklahoma City Thunder last night—the team that everyone wants to be like. And the Houston Rockets, who managed to turn their roster over faster and more efficiently than the Wizards, are the surprise story of this NBA season.
Meanwhile, the Wizards are 3-20. Sure, there are a plethora of legitimate excuses—injuries (as always), youth, roster turnover, owner turnover, the list goes on…
And so it’s the thankless, unenviable job of team-fueled media—from television to radio to the owner’s blog—to pump out the positive pixels of puffery surrounding such a dead-in-the-water team. Somebody has to combat the cold, cruel vitriol—sometimes fueled by facts, sometimes fueled by fatigue, sometimes fueled by friggin’, frackin’ emotions in that people just want to be able to enjoy the basketball being played by their hometown professional team.
“You get pummelled. You guys pummel us here, you do. You pummel so much in this new world, you become numb,” said Ted Leonsis about the media leading into training camp. Indeed, that happens (both the pummeling and the numbing for members of the media who don’t hide their fandom, I suppose).
But it’s kind of like when an NBA head coach says, “The players dictate who gets time with their play.” As goes public reaction to the team—the record and functionality of the Wizards will dictate whether the NBA owner and his crew are pummeled with pixels.
And the players—these Wizards—they are a-tryin’, usually. Most observers understand that the major issues derive from roster construct, not player effort. Without uncertain top talents in Wall and Nene, the remaining unproven, but earnest, players simply don’t have the adequate skills to mesh. When other teams have managed to do much more with just as little as the Wizards, the simple fact remains that the basketball product in Washington continues to be very bad, shameful if you will. Close loss after close loss is tough, but some efforts, like the one against the Orlando Magic, who, despite Washington’s injuries, do not field a roster with that much more talent that the Wizards, are unacceptable.
All things considered, is simply playing hard (most of the time) enough anymore? Has the quest high-and-low for positivity only turned up a concept that well-paid athletes should be doing anyway?
The D.C. Sports Bog’s Dan Steinberg, who walks the range of pixels like no other, wrote a post today relaying the uber positivity emitted by Wizards, contrasted with quotes from Steinberg’s “pal,” the cantankerous old coot, Tony Kornheiser.
Reading between the lines of Steinberg (or Kornheiser … or perhaps just conveying my own opinion): the bottomless, meaningless positivity gets old, very old.
But like I said, it’s a battle. And it is interesting to watch. Most of all, it might be legit. At least the positivity coming out of a 3-20 locker room.
Before the home game against the Atlanta Hawks last Saturday, a member of the Wizards staff casually spoke of relief. Relief in that there’s little worry about the players in this year’s locker room, as opposed to last year—and the year before, and the year before.
But we wil never be able to determine how much the overseeing of Grunfeld (and Pollin, and Leonsis) contributed to the toxicity of immaturity that ran rampant around the Verizon Center for years. Because they will never admit any hand in the blame. Certainly more responsibility would be expected in exchange for player salaries seven figures and more. But, accountability starts at the top. No one said running an NBA team was easy, and last time I checked, guys like Ernie Grunfeld get paid pretty well, too.
But I will agree with the anonymous staff member. From most of what I’ve seen, these Wizards bring a much better, more productive team dynamic … a better foundation. Most locker rooms of bad teams deteriorate pretty quickly. Hell, the locker rooms of some bad teams deteriorate after the very first game of the season. (See: Andray Blatche after the 2010-11 Wizards home opener, the “this is your captain speaking” game.)
Not these Wizards. After the home loss to the Hawks, I posed the question of “why?” to the ever-talkative Martell Webster. Why hasn’t this locker room crumbled?
“Because we’re resilient. It’s easy to fold over, it is,” said Webster. “And the fact that we believe that our record should be flipped is the reason why we continue to fight for each other. Plain and simple.”
Sure, Wizards of Wizards past might have said the same thing, but I actually believe this Webster guy.
So the failing Wizards continue to choose fight over flight; while many fans are seemingly choosing the latter. Or, if not leaving the franchise fandom altogether, they choose not to watch. Yet some are still around. Around because of hope, around because of no choice, around because, even though negativity can be consuming, realistic and relieving, sticking with a team is worth it. (We think.)
So what’s wrong with positive pixels? Nothing. As long as people don’t become blinded by them. What’s wrong with negative pixels? Nothing, either, as long as they are well-reasoned and based on a good argument. Whatever the case with pixels, positive or not, at least there seem to be positive attitudes from Washington, D.C.’s pro basketball players. And in the face of 3-20 or worse—another disastrous season—I suppose that’s about all one could ask for.