The World According to 19-Year-Old "Knuckleheads" | Wizards Blog Truth About

The World According to 19-Year-Old “Knuckleheads”

Updated: July 1, 2015

[original photo via Rich Sugg, Kansas City Star]

[original photo via Rich Sugg, Kansas City Star]

“Good luck, Randy Wittman,” said a sports columnist, with a rumbling, internal chuckle (probably), and a wistful shake of the head (pure speculation on my part). That sobering line was pinned unceremoniously to the end of a Washington Times piece by veteran columnist Thom Loverro about 19-year-old Wizards draft pick Kelly Oubre.

Patronizing well-wishing was an appropriate bedrock for an article that never quite got out of the substratum of humility policing that professional athletes, new and old alike, often receive from writers. In the days after a new face shows up on the conveyor belt of professional sports, before any games are played, snap character judgment is one of the few avenues available for those who’d rather not dig very deep. This Manichean divide in “character” discussion, with words like “mature” on one extreme end and “knucklehead” on the other, is nothing new. It’s immediately recognizable by those of us who grew up reading this exact same newspaper article, over and over, whenever a professional sports man said or did something strange.

I still think there’s a way to write this article (entitled “Wizards purged ‘knuckleheads,’ but Randy Wittman may have another”) in a way that is less stale, or that contains a semblance of fairness to the subject, or that doesn’t attempt to judge a person’s ability to do non-basketball-related things like dress themselves by what they have or have not done in a league they haven’t yet entered. But, of course, it’s easier to just write it the way it’s always been written.

This kind of response to eccentricity (a potentially valuable quality) is why it’s often difficult to fault athletes for loyalty to a bland all-business #personal #brand, or for the vanillafication of locker room quotes despite their low value to the public without an infusion of the cult of personality. The penalty for deviation from normalcy is platformed criticism that self-validates by leveraging fan memories of gregarious but ultimately disappointing Wizards players like Nick Young into a discussion that would otherwise lack any real starting point.

Observe the opening salvo of the article at issue:

“If you think Washington Wizards top draft pick Kelly Oubre Jr. was talking trash when he declared on draft night, ‘Whoever gets me is getting a jewel,’ well, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

“Before the draft, Oubre left a trail of smack in his wake that would make Mr. Swaggy P himself, Nick Young, blush.”

Kelly Oubre’s sins, according to Loverro’s article, were that he wore gold-spiked shoes, mentioned he believed he could be better than his basketball idols James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, and Jimmy Butler (not a bad list, kid), and said things like this:

“Just being stylish, man. You know, I have swag, so I know for sure that I can steal the show with some of the stuff that I put on, so that definitely went into my decision-making, and I’m a confident person. My swag pretty much resembles that, and it did tonight with my shoes and my suit. I’m a grown man. I have my own style, I have my own mind, I have my own heartbeat, so I walked out of my room today knowing that I was going to shut it down with these shoes.”

Weird is not inherently bad.1 Exaggerated confidence is not inherently abominable. But more importantly, every last one of you was a “knucklehead” at age 19 and you can’t convince me otherwise.

Here are some things I believed when I was 19 that ended up being varying degrees of dead fucking wrong:

  • My short story about running over a ghost cat on the way home from an Ohio movie theater is good.
  • Friendster will be pretty big.
  • A bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 will still be under the stairs to the public dock the next day if I leave it there.
  • Khaki cargo pants are acceptable.
  • That girl was crazy, man.
  • Creating an Amazon book review list will not come back to haunt me.
  • This person won’t mind my prank call, really, and also won’t have caller ID.
  • “Disarm” by the Smashing Pumpkins was generation-defining.
  • The tarot card reader in downtown Annapolis that said I would do something that would change the world was, in fact, correct.
  • I can make an honest-to-god living writing poetry.
  • There’s a nobility in sports fandom.
  • “For all intensive purposes” is something people say.
  • I am important.
  • “There are other worlds than these.”
  • Ezra Pound’s weird fascism kick was maybe forgivable if you don’t think about it too much.
  • Making a Radiohead mixtape for a young lady is a good idea if you also write out some of the lyrics longhand.
  • The Wizards are just a player or two away from serious contention.

Here are some things that other people believed when they were 19:

And although I don’t speak for the Twitter correspondents listed above, the beliefs listed above were not backed by the multi-million dollar contract that would appear, at least to the casual observer, to provide a degree of validation to Oubre’s belief in his 19-year-old self.

Wizards fans are perhaps as sensitive as anyone to perceived “immaturity” after Gilbert Arenas provided an enduring stage for basketball outside of the pall of seriousness and then subsequently corrupted that creative haven with increasingly uncool decisions. It was that environment (and the long, long leash the Wizards rolled out until Arenas constructively bit the baby) that fostered the worst habits of Nick Young, Andray Blatche, and JaVale McGee. Jordan Crawford’s ouster via trade was symbolic in that it was entirely culture-based (the Wizards received nothing of value in return), with Crawford appearing to many as the last dissonant clang among a now-harmonious group.

The Arenas-era environment no longer exists (even if I have seen John Wall smile between three and ten times)2and it is entirely too early to conclude that Oubre’s idiosyncracies will trouble Randy Wittman in the same way Nick Young’s solipsism troubled Flip Saunders. The varieties of human experience are many, and like Oubre so charmingly put it: he has his own mind, he has his own heartbeat.

So let’s just see how this plays out instead.


  1. John Wall has worn similar, but all black, Louboutin spiked shoes during the course of his own personal “swag” adventure, and he appears to be doing fine as an NBA player. He even sits on Randy Wittman’s armrest on airplanes sometimes.
  2. Wall had to be put in his leadership place a few times as well, and readily admits it. Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza both gave him the business.
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Conor Dirks
Reporter / Writer / Co-Editor at TAI
Conor has been with TAI since 2012, and aids in the seamless editorial process that brings you the kind of high-octane blogging you have come to expect from this rad website. The Wizards have been an assiduous companion throughout his years on the cosmic waiver wire. He lives in D.C. and is day-to-day.