Thanks For the Empty Pixels: Putting the 2004-10 Wizards in Your Rearview Mirror
Sometimes, you don’t know how bad a thing is until it’s gone.
There is a strong chance that during your brief tenure on this blue and white orb we call Earth you have spent part of your existence in a crappy job, struggled with and ultimately capitulated to a slowly dying relationship, or spent more time than necessary with “friends” who seem more intent on listing the litany of your mistakes rather than taking constructive steps to build you back up. Then one day, as if by magic (or the Spirit within Nene), you find yourself removed from those situations and left with the thought: “What the ^$*&# was I thinking?”
Lost amongst the well-deserved praise of the Wizards’ Game 1 triumph over the Chicago Bulls was an inclined head toward the goings on of the rest of the league and the difference between how the Wizards are handling the media in their first playoff performance in six years versus how former Wizards are handling the pressure to perform. To wit:
There has been little heard from Mr. Can’t Say I Do McGee since his exodus from Washington to Denver (though the fine folks of Denver may want to have a mulligan on the trade, as they were probably not informed that it also included Pam McGee, JaVale’s Twitter stylings, or plans for a completely amazing television show). Jordan Crawford piped up in Boston and burned like a radiant candle, but has since been snuffed out after being traded to Golden State (he played five minutes in the Warriors’ Game 1 win versus the Clippers and saw plenty of garbage time (17 minutes) in their Game 2 blowout loss). Nick Young has finally found the following and team he deserves in the Lakers, and Wizards fans feel nothing but joy that others are enjoying the tragi-comic opera that is day to day existence on the court. (But by all means, let us continue to worship and celebrate at the court of a selfish player who puts his own statistics before team success. “I hope you enjoyed Swaggy P this year, I’m gone like I’ve never been here,” stated Young before leaving the final game at Staples Center and his Charnel house of a Lakers team.)
Of course Andray Blatche, your Captain, is still speaking.
“Shit, you better be careful what tree you bark up. He better be careful. He’s probably just saying that because he had a good game against us.” —Andray Blatche reacting to Terrence Ross’ comments about Toronto wanting Brooklyn as a first-round playoff opponent.
(It should be noted that ‘Dray went a mighty 2-for-5 from the field against Toronto in Brooklyn’s Game 1 victory and that he had the worst plus/minus on the entire Nets at minus-16.) That kind of performance really demonstrates which tree is the proper tree to direct your barking toward.
When John Wall was drafted out of Kentucky and first suited up for the Wizards, those who covered the team bemoaned the fact that he was actually rather boring. There was none of Gilbert Arenas’ slyness, nor Blatche’s brashness, nor Young’s ebullience to the future franchise savior of the Wizards. Matters became markedly worse for reporters when the Wizards traded JaVale McGee (although not a great personality directly with the media) for the reticent Nene and drafted the soft-spoken Bradley Beal out of Florida. Only the emergence of the gregarious Martell Webster and a trade for the garrulous Marcin Gortat helped feed the omnivorous pixel machine. ‘Thank God for those guys,” we muttered. Without them we would never get a decent quote. (It should be noted that the same treatment has been given to Kevin #KSLife Seraphin, who is similarly “nutty” but isn’t defended with the same passion as Mssrs. Arenas/Blatche/McGee/Young.)
But really, the long con worked out in the end. Fueled by absurdity, those covering the Wizards in the media laid down covering fire to explain away the reasons the team never “got serious.” A Wizards reporter is like the Manchurian Candidate, conditioned for so long to an abusive relationship with Arenas and the hollow proclamations of Blatche that they forget that sometimes decent basketball teams don’t actually need Soulja Boy beefs or matching mohawks or powdered donut pranks to be enjoyable. This is in large part due the fact that there is a cottage industry in Wizards nostalgia, led by the likes of Andrew Sharp and Mike Wise, which constantly points out how much more “fun and carefree” the 2004-08 installment of the Wizards were and how much enjoyable they were to report on and generate pixels. What a wacky bunch of marauding pirates they were! We miss the quotes about “swag!” Please, sir, could I have another DAGGER?
What is really missed were those teams’ ability to provide quality, debatable content for writers and silly stories to tell our children. Yes, Brendan Haywood ripping out Etan Thomas’ dreadlock (or more appropriately, just “lock”) was a funny story, but did it make the Wizards a better basketball team? The circus came to town (as immortalized by the Free Darko tribute poster to Gilbert Arenas seen up top), but it overstayed its welcome by several years. Empty pixel upon empty pixel were provided for writers upon request, as long as we didn’t have the temerity to question why the team never seemed to succeed when it mattered. As long as the players kept feeding our all-consuming desire for cryptic quotes, GIFs, and every-once-in-a-blue-moon amazing play, they were granted immunity to criticism as they had yet to ‘achieve their potential.’ Arenas was even propped up by the league machine itself, given a platform on NBA.com to generate his own pixels and further leveage his brand. How this translated to on-court success remains for the historians to parse in future generations.
That it took the sanctimonious claptrap of GunGate for the curtain to be pulled back on a bad basketball team demonstrates how far down the rabbit hole we had descended in our daily quest for entertainment. But even that wasn’t enough sublime ridiculousness to make us question the brief torrid love affairs we had with the Javale McGees and Jordan Crawfords of our tiny little universe.
Now that we are are out of the echo chamber we can see our relationship with the mid-aughts Wizards for what it truly was—a longing for something that was never truly good in the first place. Then the bad moments start to trickle back into your mind: Andray Blatche goofing off while Darius Songalia studied tape, Antawn Jamison tipping over the fruit spread and motivating absolutely no one, or Brendan Haywood sulking on the bench and taking shots at Eddie Jordan. Sure it was entertaining if you like car wrecks, but was it really fun as a fan or just mindless white noise to keep attention away from an average basketball team?
Following the Game 1 victory over the Bulls the Wizards had zero incendiary things to say about their competition. There will be no diss tracks, no special blog entries and no promises of epic performances to come. Instead there is silence, which for all the world sounds like the loudest, and most welcome, statement to make.