A Wizards Franchise About Nothing — The Mid-Season Seinfeld Awards
The last 35 years of the Washington Bullets/Wizards franchise can be summed up in one word: Nothing. No titles, no banners, no 50-win seasons. No conceivable reason for even getting up in the morning.
In short, Washington has been the George Costanza of the NBA.
But something strange happened these last two months. It’s like Scott Brooks introduced us to the Bizarro Wizards.
Up is down, down is up.
Long-time fans are having difficulty accepting their new reality: The Wizards are no longer a short, stalky, slow-witted franchise.
Since everything in the world can be explained by Seinfeld, we’ll try to make sense of the new look Wizards in a segment I like to call … The Mid-Season Seinfeld Awards.
And the awards are not limited to just this season. After all, the last 35 years of the Bullets/Wizards franchise has given us enough memorable characters and wacky plotlines to fill 200 episodes of primetime TV.
So, without further ado, here are 22 Seinfeld quotes that reflect the many moods, the many shades, the many sides of George Cost—er—the Washington Wizards.
#1) “They’re real, and they’re spectacular.”
Before this season, John Wall and Bradley Beal’s bona fides were scrutinized almost as fiercely as Sidra’s.
Washington only won 41 games with Randy Wittman in 2015-16 and Beal only played 55 games. The off-season only brought more uncertainty. Wall underwent two (two!) knee surgeries, Beal received a controversial max contract, and the media hyped a feud between the two. When the Wizards started the season 2-8 – and Beal missed three games – fans were understandably on edge.
That seems like ages ago.
John Wall has produced one of the greatest seasons in franchise history while morphing into a deadly crunch-time scorer. Meanwhile, Beal has finally made good on the potential he flashed during Washington’s two play-off runs.
The dynamic duo have re-claimed their rightful spot among the best back-courts in the NBA and are making everyone who doubted them seem mentally ill.
#2) “If you hesitate, if you stumble, you can kiss the crown goodbye. Now, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times. Poise counts!”
Miss Rhode Island had everything you could want in a title contender, she just needed some guidance. The Wizards were in a similar situation and they found their perfect chaperone/pageant consultant in Scott Brooks.
Brooks has pushed all the right buttons with this team and the results have been staggering. Washington is currently one of only four teams in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (the other three: Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Clippers).
Brooks has also done a masterful job masking the team’s biggest weakness: its bench. His month-long experimentation in November was painful but it yielded a serviceable rotation that no longer lays waste to the leads built by the starters.
Yet, Brooks’ most impressive feat may be the very thing that Kramer was yelling about so passionately in that Atlantic City hotel room: Poise.
The Wizards of the past five years had a reputation for being inconsistent and mentally weak. The team floundered around the .500 mark, with every three-game winning streak followed by an equally long losing one. The frustration in the locker room was palatable during those demoralizing sub .500 slides.
Paul Pierce, and other veterans, publicly called out Wall and Beal, saying they needed to decide if they wanted to put in the work necessary to be superstars.
Brooks has flipped the script. Every player has bought into his system, and they are putting forth the kind of consistent effort that was absent in Wittman’s tenure. As a result, the team’s confidence is at record levels. The players believe they can compete against anyone and that attitude has translated to efficient crunch time performances on both ends of the floor.
In pageantry, as in the playoffs, poise counts. And, thanks to Brooks, the Wizards finally have plenty of it.
#3) “Cheap fabric and dim lighting, that’s how you move merchandise.”
Let’s get this out of the way: Ernie Grunfeld does not get enough credit for putting together one of the best starting fives in the league. Unfortunately, they cannot play all 48 minutes. And that’s where the perpetual holes in Ernie’s roster construction have come back to bite this franchise year after year.
Ernie applies the wisdom of Morty Seinfeld’s 35 years in the raincoat business to the running of an NBA franchise. ‘Cheap veterans and mid-season trades, that’s how you build a roster.’
The parade of under-performing acquisitions is littered with Eric Maynors, Yi Jianlians, DeJuan Blairs, and Francisco Obertos. This off-season’s free-agent crop could fill a float all by itself.
But, the great thing about Ernie is that he is always working on the next quick fix. There’s always a Drew Gooden, Andre Miller, or James Singleton right around the corner. All it takes is one call to Jack Klompus, and we’ll have a veteran combo guard on the next flight from Fort Lauderdale.
#4) “So, attractive one day – not attractive the next?”
“Have you come across this?”
“Yes, I am familiar with this syndrome — she’s a two-face.”
At Tim Whatley’s party she’s a 10, but under the wrong street lamp she’s a 2. That was Markieff Morris’ first 50 games with the Wizards. You never knew what you were getting on a game-to-game basis. Markieff would dominate the Clippers one game then pick up two quick fouls in the first quarter the next.
But something changed when the calendar hit 2017. In the 22 games since January 1, Morris is averaging 17.8 points on 48.8 percent shooting (including a career-high 42 percent from long-range), along with 8.3 rebounds, and 1.1 steals.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe has taken notice: “Morris has never played this hard over an extended stretch … He’s shoulder-blocking through guys around the rim, and defending with new energy across multiple positions.”
Markieff is playing like one of the top power forwards in the league on a consistent basis, despite what Bleacher Report might think.
As long as Ted keeps the lighting the same in the Verizon Center, Morris should keep looking good all season.
#5) “I don’t know what to believe. You’re eatin’ onions, you’re spottin’ dimes, I don’t know what the hell is going on!”
Jason Smith looked like one of the worst players in the NBA at the start of the season. He was missing jumpers, fumbling the ball, and committing silly fouls. Now, he’s blocking shots, making top-10 dunks and hitting 3s. I don’t know what to think.
Actually, I do. Against all odds, Smith has become the second most valuable player off the bench and a glue guy for the second unit. His consistent jumper has been a safety valve when ball movement comes to a standstill. Smith is shooting 58.8 percent since the beginning of December and has played both power forward and center.
#6) “But I don’t even really work here!”
“That’s what makes this so difficult.”
It’s unclear what Wale ever did for the Wizards – or if he still has a job. It’s almost as if he has no creative liason training at all.
#7) “Mr. Costanza, Mr. Pensky is here to see you.”
“Mr. Pensky? Of the Pensky file?”
The 10-Point Plan has been a mystery ever since Ted Leonsis handed it to Ernie on his first day and told him to get started. It seems like virtually any roster move can be contorted to fit within its guiding principles. Best I can tell, the most Ernie has done with it is re-organize its contents into an accordion folder.
#8) “This was supposed to be the summer of George!”
When George received three-month’s severance from the Yankees, he had so many plans for his life.
Washington’s front office had similar stars in their eyes when dreaming of the summer of 2016 – aka #KD2DC. They meticulously saved cap space, hired KD-friendly coaches, and drafted KD-friendly rookies. However, Washington’s summer plans were crushed as spectacularly as George’s, who, as you may recall, was left incapacitated in a hospital bed.
Durant took meeting after meeting in the Hamptons while Washington could not even get a return phone call. You could imagine Durant sitting on his couch with a bowl of popcorn letting his phone go to voicemail every time a “202” number popped up:
Believe it or not, KD isn’t at home
please leave a message at the beep
I must be out or I’d pick up the phone
Where could I be?
Believe it or not, I’m not home
#9) “I can’t be with someone if I don’t respect their career.”
“You’re a cashier.”
To Mike Bibby … for thinking he was too good to suit up for the Wizards all those years ago.
#10) “Why the hell did you trade Jay Buhner? He had 30 home runs, over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you are doing.”
We are all Frank Costanza when it comes to the Chris Webber-Mitch Richmond trade.
#11) “Where are people? You see people? Show me people! There are no people!”
Washington fans have a bad reputation around the league and home attendance levels at the start of the season were downright embarrassing – even by Babu’s standards. When ESPN showed highlights of John Wall scoring 52 points against the Orlando Magic on December 6 (in a losing effort), it looked like he was playing in a high school gym.
Wizards’ fans have redeemed themselves (somewhat) during Washington’s 17-game home winning streak and the players have taken notice. Wall, Beal, Oubre, and Gortat routinely mention the crowd support as a vital part of the team’s turnaround, and Wall and Beal released a joint statement thanking the crowd after the February 6 Cleveland game.
Washington is still 23rd in the league in attendance and crowds are perpetually late-arriving. But at least they are trending in the right direction.
#12) “Hey! That’s my cirrhosis! He’s stealing my cirrhosis!”
Comcast viewers and #WizardsTwitter followers are familiar with the good-natured bickering between Chris Miller and J. Michael. These two are the Kramer and Mickey of the Wizards media. They argue constantly but always make-up in the end — just like Kramer and Mickey.
#13) “How can anyone not like you?”
To Buck and Phil … After 20 years together, they are still the only consistently good thing about this franchise.
#14) “I mean parcels are rarely damaged during shipping.”
To the medical staff … “[Player X] is out 4-6 weeks.” “Define 4-6 weeks.” “Three months.”
#15) “Well we were all eating the raisins. And I remember you — you were eating some of the raisins. And then you left, and the raisins were gone. And I was just wondering if, you know (chuckles), maybe you took them with you.”
“Are you accusing me of stealing the raisins?”
Before “Vote for Sanjaya” there was “Vote for Sea Dogs.” Back in 1995, the Washington Bullets held a fan vote to choose a new nickname. The team pared the field down to five options: Express, Stallions, Sea Dogs, Dragons, and Wizards and allowed fans to vote via a 1-900 number.
Fans flatly rejected all five choices, booing when they were announced at home games. As Dan Steinberg chronicled, The Washington Post conducted a poll with the five names plus “None of the Above” and “Bullets” as options, and 85 percent of the vote went to “None of the Above” or “Bullets”.
Fans were so disgusted with the names that a viral campaign started to select the most absurd name — Sea Dogs — as a protest vote.
Since Twitter and Facebook did not exist back then, it is impossible to quantify public support for the Sea Dogs movement, but if you were around during that time you just knew it was the most popular choice. In fact, in the aforementioned Post poll, Sea Dogs got almost one-third of all votes cast for the five official names.
Here’s where the box of raisins comes in. Abe Pollin refused to release the final results of the voting even though he insisted that “Wizards” won by a wide margin. If that were really the case, seems like Abe would have no problem releasing the numbers.
To this day, many (ok, maybe just me) believe Sea Dogs won. The irony is that “Wizards” is no less embarrassing.
#16) “Of course I support your decision to change your name.”
“After the Giants game I realized that this problem isn’t going away.”
“Well, listen, I just want you to know that I was more than willing to stick it out with Joel Rifkin.”
To the Wizards … This problem isn’t going away. Just change the name back to the Bullets.
#17) “Hello, Newman.”
To the Boston Celtics. Don’t call it a rivalry but these two teams don’t like each other.
#18) “Boys are sick.”
“What do girls do?”
“We just tease someone until they develop an eating disorder.”
The story of Michael Jordan and Kwame Brown.
#19) Why separate knob?! Why separate knob?!
Game 5. First Round of the 2014 Playoffs. With the series tied 2-2, Paul Pierce hit a 3-pointer to put Washington ahead 81-80 with 8.3 seconds remaining. Washington was only one stop away from a 3-2 series lead and a likely trip to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1979.
Then, it happened.
Why Horford rebound! Why Horford rebound!
Nene gets the blame since he was closest to the ball, but it wasn’t all his fault. Pierce did not box out Paul Millsap, so Nene had to cover two guys. Nevertheless, Al Horford scored and the Hawks went on to win the series 4-2. And Wizards fans have been haunted like Jean Paul ever since.
#20) “I told you the Drake was bad! I hate the Drake!”
Everyone loved the Drake … until they hated him. Gilbert Arenas’ rise and all in D.C. was just as dramatic. From game-winning shots and 60-point games, to guns in the locker room and unflattering social media rants.
It’s hard to believe that a guy who was heralded for giving away jerseys every game could one day be persona non grata at the Verizon Center. But that’s where we are. Now we just need to get the big screen TV back.
#21) “So let me ask you a question. Who was the man in the cape?”
“He was my lawyer.”
It’s a question every long-time Wizards fan asks at some point in his/her life: Who is the guy with the grey hair and mustache at every Bullets/Wizards home game?
That’s Dolph Sand. As Mike Wise once explained, he’s a retired lawyer who has been with the team for over 40 years and has barely missed a game. You have probably noticed him on TV handing out stats to the opposing team and media after each quarter.
His official position with the Wizards is a little unclear but he’s part-public relations guru, part-game-night host, and part-post-game locker room manager, making sure players are prepared to face the media.
Dolph is also — as I learned 23 years ago after buying a scalped skybox ticket in the Capital Centre parking lot — a very nice guy. Dolph happened to be there when I tried to get on the skybox elevator and he noticed I didn’t quite fit in with the group of lobbyists headed to their skybox.
He asked how much I paid for the ticket and reached into his own pocket and refunded my $20.
#22) “Cartwright, party of four.”
Being a Bullets/Wizards fan is like living through a never-ending episode of The Chinese Restaurant. You want to leave but you’ve already waited so long and you just know Adam Silver will call your name as soon as you walk out the door.
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