Drew Gooden Flips Script as Second-Chance Wizard
Midway through the fourth quarter of Game 4, Drew Gooden strolled to the bench for a breather. As the P.A. announcer highlighted Gooden’s exit, the Verizon Center roared to recognize the forward’s exceptional all-around play. It marked the second standing ovation Gooden received in as many home games against Indiana. He drew two key charges against Pacers David West and Paul George, swatted away several shots, and sparked the Wizards’ reserves—aka the “AARP Unit”—with his intoxicating energy. His flying dunk, moments before a timeout, had sent the home crowd into a frenzy.
During Washington’s first-round series versus Chicago, Gooden barely saw any action and only scored one basket with three rebounds total in four appearances. He took the dreaded “DNP-Coach’s Decision” in the Wizards’ series-clinching Game 5 win.
However, when Randy Wittman called his number in Game 1 of the second round versus Indiana, the “Drizzle” was ready to pour. He immediately rained in buckets and wiped the glass clean. In only 18 minutes, the former Kansas Jayhawks standout pulled down 13 rebounds (seven offensive) and scored 12 points, propelling the Wiz to victory. He has now cemented himself as a cog in the rotation and is often the first big off the bench. In the Pacers series, Gooden is averaging 5.6 points on 12-for-30 field goal shooting (40%) and 7.2 rebounds per game. He has pulled down at least two offensive boards in each contest and his total plus/minus is plus-33.
Via Comcast’s Ben Standig: “Gooden has grabbed 36 rebounds in 95 minutes over five games against Indiana. Meanwhile, Hibbert has 25 rebounds in 145 minutes while Nene has 21 rebounds in 150 minutes.”
Gooden has surprisingly garnered national attention and his bro, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, continues to tout his presence on Washington’s squad and mid-range game on Twitter. Gooden is also often the first Wiz player to tweet after games, usually with a positive message.
Gooden has also became a mainstay in the Montgomery County community. Restaurants are picking up his dinner tabs, fans are recognizing him at Jewish bagel shops, and he has a whole crew of peeps at a Whole Foods near the Twinbrook Red Line Metro stop. Seriously.
The Washington Post’s Dan Steinberg investigated:
I pointed out that a friend of mine has spotted him at the North Bethesda Whole Foods.
“All the time,” Gooden agreed. “I go there every day. I’m on the way there right now. I’m serious, I go there every day.”
This was of particular interest to me, because I used to work at Whole Foods (Georgetown and P Street) and still consider the store a home away from home. So I wondered whether Gooden gets recognized during his daily shopping trips.
“All the time,” he said. “Because I feel like they were a part of me doing the grind of working out during free agency, when I was living there before I signed with the Wizards. Hey Drew, what are you doing in town, do you live in the area? Then it went from yeah yeah, and knowing the people that work there, to now playing with the Wizards, and they’re like hey good job last night!
“So it’s kind of like I feel like they’re my family, and they helped me — all the workers and employees kind of helped me get to the point where I am now,” he said. “It’s been amazing.”
This is a crazy transformation for a player that was out of work three months ago and spent most of his time just hanging out at his girlfriend’s crib in (North) Bethesda. (There is a point of contention if North Bethesda exists or if it is actually Rockville, MD. I will stay out of these territorial squabbles.)
Even crazier is that this wild Wiz ride began with a simple 10-day contract back on February 26. The reception to this low-risk move was more negative than normal because of the Washington fan base’s past history with the former Jayhawk. In the Cleveland and Washington battles of the mid-aughts, Gooden reveled in the role of a villain.
His demonstrative personality, wild on-court antics, and weird hair patch, made him an easy target for the ire of Wiz fans. Gooden beasting against the Wiz in Game 2 of 2006 playoffs and averaging 14.5 points and 10 rebounds in the 2007 series victory over Washington did not help matters.
When the Wizards began to break up their roster in 2010, Gooden was shipped to D.C. from Dallas in the Josh Howard trade. He reported to the team late, informed them of his desire to play elsewhere, and he was immediately moved to the Los Angeles Clippers before ever suiting up for the Wizards. Famously, Gooden did show up once at the Phone Booth, but left with Antawn Jamison, who had just been traded to Cleveland in a separate deal. A hoard of reporters chased Jamison in the arena’s parking garage before he took off with Gooden riding shot gun. The odd incident left a bitter taste for followers of this team. The “I never liked the guy, and now he thinks he is too good to play for us,” sentiment was solidified.
When Gooden struggled in his first few Wiz appearances, many, myself included, were unwilling to grant him any slack. They were ready to abruptly end the experiment. But with his NBA career virtually on life support, Gooden responded with 12 points versus the Jazz on 6-for-7 shooting. He followed that up with two more double-figure point outbursts versus Milwaukee and Miami. Washington then signed him to another 10-day contract and eventually for the remainder of the season. The recitation was complete.
Fans reversal on Drew began in a home game against Brooklyn. Gooden caught fire in the second half and his season-high 21 points was instrumental in Washington’s comeback victory. From TAI’s game recap, Adam Rubin:
After Brooklyn took an early 10-point lead, Gooden, Al Harrington, and Andre Miller turned up the intensity, turned back the, clock and willed their team to victory. There was signature play after signature play. In one 1:30 minute stretch Gooden hit a layup, drew a charge, and hit two 20-foot jumpers, the last of which gave Washington an 87-86 lead with 7:18 remaining. Gooden ran down the court after each basket with his arms outstretched à la 1992 Finals Michael Jordan screaming to the crowd, “What more do I have to do?”
The ‘Drew Gooden Show’ became an endearing entertainment.
In the next game in Sacramento, #ShrugLife continued…
The Kings moody forward Boogie Cousins also took exception to Gooden’s celebratory move by mocking it.
Cousins complained about it after the game, a Kings OT win (via DC Sports Bog): “Well, it kind of [annoyed me] when he did the little shrug after hitting the three. I mean, it was a good shot I guess, but it’s whatever.”
The reaction from Wiz fans was immediately to defend “Drizzle” and take umbrage to Boogie’s boorish behavior. #WizardsTwitter had Gooden’s back, as his stellar play was now worthy of defending. The tide had officially turned.
Before the Wizards regular season home game versus the Bulls on, I caught up with the California native on a range of topics, including those past ordeals with Washington.
What have you been doing?
I have been doing Bikram yoga and catching up on “Game of Thrones.”
Are you ready for Sunday? (Game of Thrones premier)
I am ready for this Sunday as well (GoT). Watching the game (basketball) from afar, and I had some time to spend with my family. I did a lot of soul searching. What a found out in my time off is that I really have a passion for this game. And I love it. Being a Washington Wizard, now I get show the fans how much I do love it and appreciate this game. And my teammates.
You struggled early and then hit a switch in the Nets game, playing with a swagger and confidence. What clicked?
The first two games, I didn’t really have the opportunity that I did after five games into my contract. The first two games, I just wanted to see what the team needed … kinda get familiar with the offense. Coming into my third game, fourth game, fifth game, I started to put a string of good games together. It was just a natural transition of playing any sport. Just getting acclimated to what the team was running offensively and defensively.
What specifically did you do in your time away? Did you play basketball? Stay away from it?
I did not play. It is hard to emulate. I picked up Bikram yoga, which is hot yoga. I was doing that three or four times a week. Really getting the heart rate up. I put up a lot of shots. I did a lot of shooting. A lot of teams needed stretch 4s. I was considered more of a power forward. But I had to developed my game and reinvent myself. That is what I did.
When you signed here, what do you think the fans initial reaction was?
From the time I played in Cleveland, all the passion and antics that I had then.
All that stuff and coming here when that one season was a mess over here. And not really wanting to be here. I definitely thought the fans would have a chip on their shoulder. Now that I am on the team. Now, the fans know what I bring to teams. And now this is why the other teams hate us now. Hate me, for what I do for the Washington Wizards.
When you left the arena with Jamison in 2010, what happened there?
Honestly, when I got traded here—of course, the Wizards took care of me, drove me in, put me up in a hotel… When I got traded out of here, I was kind of stuck. Kind of stranded. So I asked Antwan for a ride from the arena because the Washington Wizards damn sure wasn’t going to pay for it. (Laughter)
Did you see the image of you and Jamison leaving the arena?
I didn’t know. I was out of here to L.A. I was gone in the wind by then. (Laughter) It is funny how things come full circle. We sewed and stitched that up so let’s not open up old wounds.
Have you seen a warming up to you by Wiz fans? Fans were upset that Boogie Cousins said you couldn’t do your celebration move.
It just comes with the game. I think that is what the NBA is missing. When I was coming up watching the NBA, there was a lot of trash talking out there, lot of hard fouls. Now, you have to play with hands behind your back and mouth shut. When something that small makes the news, I think the NBA needs it.