On Love and Basketball: Randy Wittman and the Wizards | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

On Love and Basketball: Randy Wittman and the Wizards

Updated: February 11, 2015


Valentine’s Day is here, just about. As if you hadn’t heard.

It’s not my favorite holiday (it usually involves me dressed to impress absolutely no one, hot date with the TV, which is fine, really: it’s not even a real holiday). Valentine’s Day (is also a stupid holiday because it) puts pressure on perfectly happy couples to do something… It’s not always wanted by “love birds,” they tell me.

Anyway. This story is less about that and more about love, which kinda seems to be in the air (measles, too). And in print.

Daniel Jones, in the New York Times, recently wrote about how we write about love. About good writing (something I cannot promise) and bad, and how each reflects real-world relationships.

“Good writing about love features the same virtues that define a good relationship: honesty, generosity, open-mindedness, curiosity, humor and self-deprecation,” explained Jones. “Bad writing about love suffers from the same flaws that define a bad relationship: dishonesty, withholding, defensiveness, blame, pettiness and egotism.”

Another common occurrence in bad relationships: cheating. Which leads us to the point. Not the tip of Cupid’s arrow, but to the point, here: love in basketball.

The Wizards are in a bad, often unhealthy relationship with Randy Wittman. The team is not getting the type of true-shooting lovin’ they need to grow and mature and fulfill their desires. Physically, emotionally, professionally. Wittman—proudly defensive, stubborn to a fault, and not moved by conjugal faithfulness—is holding the Wizards back.

The relationship between team and coach began as one of convenience. Why not? Same city. Some familiarity. An understanding. Great expectations. Great times, too. But there have been a few too many regrettable nights. Too many fights (about style, or philosophy), which all sound the same: “a broken record,” in Wittman’s own words.

The Wizards once needed Wittman, after rolling over one morning only to find the bed empty: Flip Saunders was gone. You can’t really blame Saunders. The team he thought he knew, the team he committed to, turned out to be incredibly immature. He didn’t sign up for that.

Wittman stepped in, not with love necessarily, but with counsel and perspective. He got the Wiz Kids to stop smoking. They got in shape, cut the fat, lost the attitude. The team grew up fast. Wittman and the Wizards caught feelings.

Wedding bells came next. This summer, team brass #blessed the union with faithful vows and promises for happiness together forever after.

But it’s plain to see there’s something missing. And there’s no way the sex is good. Certainly not good enough to make up for deficiencies elsewhere: weird chemistry, head-scratching decisions on date nights, and what seem like increasingly incompatible personalities. Oftentimes, no “magic” happens at all (which married readers know all too well: the top complaint-related search term for marriage is “sexless,” found Stephens-Davidowitz, in the Times.)

Even worse: tell-tale signs of infidelity. A few too many red flags to ignore.

When I last left you, long-form informed, on the state of the Wizards and their hard-ass head coach, I wrote about Wittman’s love affair with the midrange jumper, the love he once knew, way back, as a pro.

“We never really used [the 3-pointer],” he said last week, reflecting on his time on the hardwood. “The way we played, you just played. We didn’t play to the 3-point line, obviously. And really in the pros it wasn’t used in that manner when I first came into the league. I mean, teams didn’t use it usually unless it was at the end of a game, like that.”

And while Wittman’s stuck on his midrange muse, other head coaches from his generation, most notably Kevin McHale of the Houston Rockets, have stopped worrying about tradition and learned to love the long ball, as uncomfortable as it may be at first.

“We would play really well if we got all layups and dunks. That’s what we try to get,” McHale told the Houston Chronicle last month. But when a defense packs into the paint? “You throw it out and you have to shoot a 3,” he said.

Wittman sees the world differently. That 3-ball thing the kids rave about: it feels dirty. He can’t do it. Wittman keeps the Wizards inside, smothered, and refuses to even consider that a little spacing or a drive to 3-Point Land would do wonders for the relationship.

(Even last year, when four players made more than 100 3-pointers, the Wizards’ team 3-Point Attempt Rate was just .246, ranked 18th. This season it’s .196, ranked 28th.)

The Wizards always look pretty, standing there beyond the arc, firing rainbows toward the cylinder. Wittman’s never told them. They rock that shot better than most teams in the NBA. Baby, you’re special.

Wittman says basketball is simple. That it always has been. No lab or special degree is required. Couples therapy? No thanks. But love can be awfully simple, too. And it can happen anywhere. To find and fall in love with anyone, you just have to be willing to change, to be vulnerable, to be open.

And, sometimes, “some lab” can help, as Mandy Len Catron explained in—yes—The New York Times. Psychologist Arthur Aron, many years ago, successfully made two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. How? By pressing commonalities, which can be uncovered in just a handful of questions. But really, truly, because love isn’t something that happens to us—it’s an action, a conscious choice.

It’s true you can’t choose who loves you, although I’ve spent years hoping otherwise, and you can’t create romantic feelings based on convenience alone. Science tells us biology matters; our pheromones and hormones do a lot of work behind the scenes.

But despite all this, I’ve begun to think love is a more pliable thing than we make it out to be. Arthur Aron’s study taught me that it’s possible — simple, even — to generate trust and intimacy, the feelings love needs to thrive.

See, it’s not always about “taking what the defense,” or love, gives you. It’s about using life’s lessons—from others who have loved—and learning from mistakes to make smarter choices and even improve your own ability to care deeply about others.

That’s not Wittman’s way, though, despite his insistence that he’s willing to listen and willing to try something different.

“The game has changed, as has a lot of things in our lives over the course of the last 30-to-40 years,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to coach what kind of talent you have and put those guys in the best kind of position that they’re going to succeed in.”

The reality? The Wizards (top 3 in 3-point percentage) are attempting the fewest 3s per game (16.1) in the Randy Wittman era, and the fewest since 2010-11. Is that really the position that suits his players best?

That old mistress, the midrange jump shot, is busier than ever. The Wizards are attempting the most midrange shots per game (30.1) since Wittman’s been with the team—and they’re shooting more midrange Js than they did five years ago when they led the league in attempts.

Also frustrating, he’s not interested in letting the “cloud” do the thinking. He’s not interested in the #FancyStats and apps and the algorithms, which these days seem to do the heavy lifting when it comes to love. The online dating scene has exploded and all you have to do, seemingly, is cut the bullshit and swipe right. (Fun Fact: The newest Tinder trend marriage.)

The Atlanta Hawks do it, they’re on Tinder, and they’re smoking hot: best record in the East by a mile. (And they have a 3PAr of .313, ranked 5th in the NBA.)

Wittman is many things, and not all bad, but he’s not “the one.” He’s an Ice King that’s stuck in the past. He won’t ever fall in love with the 3-pointer. There’s always an excuse, a reason not to try. Today it’s the lack of a stretch 4, tomorrow it’s Rasual Butler riding the bench. There’s also no push for more perimeter action. (If there is, Wittman’s a reject of desire: his pleas are falling upon deaf ears, or refused.)

Maybe the Wizards don’t even need to find “Mr. Right” so much as someone who’ll love them for who they are instead of giving sermons about the way things used to be done—about respect and authority and pride.

The Wizards have sex appeal. Personality, too. The world wants to see them.

They can do better. They deserve better.


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John Converse Townsend
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
John has been part of the editorial team at TAI since 2010. He likes: pocket passes, chase-down blocks, 3-pointers. He dislikes: typos, turnovers, midrange jump shots.