Hope, Health, Hope: Wizards Media Day For Your Eyes and Ears
“Summer’s lease hath too short a date.”
With all the brash splendor of a steel spoon clanging against a broken bell signaling supper, the 2013-14 Wizards campaign mobilized on last Friday’s Media Day. Fortunes have shifted since last we saw this eager bunch, both for the better and for the worse, depending on who you ask.
Martell Webster was in fine form, easily the most amiable of the Wizards. Within minutes of arriving on the practice floor, he was joking with photographers that the incredible amount of lotion he’d applied to ward off the advancement of ashy skin was prohibiting him from palming the ball. Martell walked across the floor to greet Steve Buckhantz, putting a hand on his shoulder while they caught up. Webster’s inclusive demeanor encouraged questions across the spectrum of relevancy, and netted answers that provided insight as much into the charismatic forward’s personal life as they did into his day job as a basketball player. Some highlights from the conversation with Webster included:
- As a rookie in Portland, Martell was hazed. And in no small measure. The anecdote he gave was a time during his first year when Zach Randolph, Ruben Patterson and Darius Miles picked him up in the locker room and dunked him, head first, into the ice tub, holding him under for at least fifteen seconds while they stuffed the rest of his body down with his head. According to Webster, while other Wizards might have something in store for Otto Porter and Glen Rice, he has no plans to initiate the duo.
- The beard is gone. He had a proper burial for it. Martell remarked that while the catalyst for its removal was his wife’s urging, his willingness to shave it off may have stemmed from a morning when he woke up, and it had folded itself straight up and around, sticking into his face.
- Otto Porter is probably nervous. And he should be. More accountability, bigger spotlight.
- Martell doesn’t believe that there should be increased expectations for Wall after signing a big contract. His philosophy seems to be that contracts aren’t signed in contemplation of prospective improvement. Asked what Martell has been saying to John this summer: “I told him to be him. There’s no pressure.” According to Webster, during a relaxing session in the tub, Wall claimed that he felt no pressure after the extension and said that “they extended me to play the way that I’ve been playing.”
- On signing with the Wizards in 2012: “I almost felt like a fish out of water, because I was just thrown here.”
- Last year, the Wizards were the only team willing to give him a chance. This year, it was easy to make the decision to sign with the Wizards. Other teams were willing to make an offer, but the Wizards were family.
Otto Porter was all smiles.
For others, like Kevin Seraphin, the mood was less jovial, even if questions posed to him aspired to the same degree of levity. Kevin, who spent the summer (ostensibly) training for the upcoming Wizards season instead of with the French national team, seemed affected by the vocal disappointment which reached him from fans of Les Bleus. “Usually, people always like me …”
Some good news: he’s been working, with Wizards coaches, on breaking out of the double-teams which doomed many of his possessions last season.
Questions about Seraphin’s revolving stable of pets also took a dark turn:
- Snakey, the adorably named snake owned by Seraphin, escaped. Somehow, the two-foot milk snake slithered free of its presumably comfortable yet secure bonds, and is missing in action. Seraphin was quick to point out that the snake is not dangerous.
- Kevin has bowed out of bird ownership after a truly brief run. Public service announcement: birds live forever, and you have to feed them.
- Kevin is the proud owner of two pit bull puppies, Rocky and Fox. Because dogs are easier to care for than birds or snakes….
Because I know you’re wondering, the full-size artificial skeleton that Kevin has been hanging out with of late, and who has appeared in a number of Kevin’s Instagram posts riding his segway, has not been instructed in the deathtrap sport of “segball” of yet.
On a day where hope still burgeons through reserved smiles, and the team has yet to suffer a loss, two players’ fortunes were less rosy: Emeka Okafor and Chris Singleton. In high school, kids who returned from summer vacation with an injury could usually expect a temporary bump in popularity. There’s a curiosity surrounding the unusual, and teenagers haven’t yet had their impulses dulled by years of blunt-force socialization. On the first day of school for an NBA player, an injury is also an object of curiosity. Unfortunately, it too often became the only thing on the menu for a conversation with the media; questions about anything else are difficult to pose, much less answer. Okafor looked the healthier of the two on the day, but it’s more likely that Singleton, who was on crutches and a walking boot, will return first.
A lot of the talk on the day focused around Okafor’s injury, rather than Singleton’s, and all of the Wizards expected to compete for time in Okafor’s absence expressed their readiness to step up if given the chance. Trevor Booker, undersized to play center in almost any lineup, claimed that Nene would shift over to center, leaving the power forward position wide-open for some combination of Booker, Jan Vesely, Al Harrington, and Kevin Seraphin to claim minutes.
John Wall emerged last of all (Beal being the penultimate arrival) onto the Wizards practice floor, where media and team photographers eagerly awaited his arrival. His nervous circling of the one available basket with teammate Bradley Beal had the feel of a letterman returning from summer vacation, braces removed in the interim. John’s awareness of his increased status is expected; money talks, and it talked to Wall all offseason.
Bradley Beal and John Wall are being sold as super best friends. A pair. You’ve already heard “backcourt of the future” out of pretty much every mouth speaking on the matter. The Wizards are counting on the surety of that promise, and all of the trappings of dual-focus marketing were in place. More than any other duo, or trio, Wall and Beal spent time being photographed together. Although the photos themselves were at times awkward, with “excited,” “tough,” and “rawr” poses aplenty, the laughter that passed between the two seemed, to an observer, sincere. If there’s not an updated Wall-Beal lunchbox available soon, the streets will run hot with longing.
Although Brad Beal was shuffled in front of a Wizards curtain to stand against, fenced in by members of the media, John Wall (the last to speak) was allowed a table to protect him from the horde. Another example of needlessly catering to stars and filling a young man’s head with delusions of grandeur? Nah, not this time. This table was beat. The end result: a reasonably sized group of individuals was forced to lean in close in order to put microphones near a young man’s face.
After John had been grilled about the playoffs, his game, his house, his money, his new teammates, and most importantly, about #WittmanFace, the shop closed down.
Next up: practice, hopefully distanced from the Blood Bowl-like gauntlet of the past few weeks, which have seen Okafor, Singleton, Ariza, Booker, and rookie Otto Porter all come down with a myriad of carefully worded injuries. Hope first, health second, hope third. And basketball, soon.