A preview of Game 7 of the Wizards-Celtics game with a look at how much has changed since Washington last achieved this level of postseason success.
Washington DC fans have lost the ability to trust their teams. Decades of failure and misfortune will do that to a city. When the Washington Capitals rallied from 3-1 to force Game 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, many fans did not want to get their hopes up, lest they get burned again. Those that believed in the Capitals, that this year was different, suffered the same consequence as every Washington fan that has dared to believe a DC team can make a conference final for the last 26 years.
But this Wizards’ team seems different. Fans know they should not trust a DC team, but this Wizards’ team makes you believe. They have an edge. They have a starting five that logged 53 percent more time on the floor together than any other five-man unit during the regular season and outscored opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions during that time (per NBA.com). They have a superstar in John Wall, playing the best basketball of his career. Bradley Beal is healthy and attacking the rim at will, scoring almost 24 points per game. Otto Porter is now an elite three-point marksman. They beat the Warriors at home and the Cavaliers in Cleveland. This is the team that did not give up after a 2-8 start; rather they finished the regular season with 49 wins, their best tally in 38 years. This Wizards’ team is different.
Winning Game 7 on the road in Boston against the Celtics would be a momentous accomplishment for the Wizards’ franchise. It may not be the finals, but for this team, it would end a 38-year run of not reaching the Eastern Conference finals. 38 years! Thirty-eight years ago the NBA was completely different – there was no three-point line and eight franchises did not yet exist. The Wizards’ organization has also changed mightily in this time, moving cities, changing names, and cycling through star players. The only constant has been losing and lack of postseason success. Washington, then known as the Bullets, reached the NBA finals in 1978-79, losing to the Seattle SuperSonics. Since that time:
- The Washington Wizards have lost 1,760 regular season games. During these 38 seasons, they have lost 57.4 percent of their games, losing 452 more games than they have won.
- Washington has had two names. The franchise changed its name from the Bullets to the Wizards in 1997, seeking to dispel violent connotations. The other names to make the final five after thousands of fan suggestions: Dragons, Express, Sea Dogs, and Stallions.
- Three Washington players won the NBA Most Improved Player award – Pervis Ellison, Don MacLean, and Gheorghe Muresan. Unfortunately, none of these players were able to replicate the success of their award-winning season and all three were no longer with the organization within two years of their award.
- Eighteen different coaches have coached at least one game. Of these coaches, only Bernie Bickerstaff and Scott Brooks have winning records.
- Michael Jordan has given and taken. Jordan scored 1,484 points against the Wizards and 3,015 points for the Wizards.
- Washington has played in three different stadiums with six different names. Washington played at the Capital Centre, later USAir Arena, and later US Airways Arena in Landover, Maryland from 1973 to 1997. During this time, the Wizards also played a few home games at the Baltimore Arena, now known as Royal Farms Arena. Five home games into the 1997-98 season, the Wizards relocated to the MCI Center, now known as the Verizon Center, changing names in 2006.
- The Wizards reached the playoffs 16 times (including this postseason). However, they lost in the first round ten times, including five consecutive times from 1983-84 to 1987-88.
- Eight members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame have played for Washington (Bernard King, Elvin Hayes, Michael Jordan, Mitch Richmond, Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Spencer Haywood, and Wes Unseld). However, only Hayes and Unseld played their best basketball with Washington and both were at the twilight of their careers at the start of this 38-year stretch.
- Wizards’ management has distributed nine-figure contracts to three players – Juwan Howard, Gilbert Arenas, and Bradley Beal. Unfortunately, the season after Arenas signed his six-year extension he played only two games with the Wizards and 55 games total over three drama-filled seasons.
- The Wizards have made 15 top ten selections in the NBA draft. Of these selections seven became all-stars, but only three (Jeff Malone, John Wall, Juwan Howard) made an all-star team while playing for Washington.
John Wall’s game-winning three-pointer at the end of Game 6 is the type of shot that can change a franchise. It provides hope to a city and an organization that no longer believes it can win. Honest Wizards’ fans will admit to a feeling of despair when Wall, a mediocre shooter from beyond the arc, released his three-pointer. With the ball in the air, a loss seemed likely, even inevitable, another year ending prematurely. Loyal fans were forced to look inwards – why believe year after year in a cursed franchise, a team within a sports town that simply is not allowed to have nice things. But then Wall’s shot went in. That shot gave fans a reason to hope. This season, the 49 wins, the most since that 1978-79 season, gave loyal supporters reason to have faith.