Saturday, April 11, 2009

Washington Wizards vs. Seattle Supersonics

Washington Wizards vs. Seattle Supersonics
Originally uploaded by tonbabydc

Growing up as a sports fan in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s, there were some damn good times. The Skins could be counted upon to go to the Super Bowl every few years – and they typically raised a banner when they went. The Orioles won a World Series when I was at that perfect baseball age of 9 years old. And maybe the Capitals were perennial Patrick Division bridesmaids, but they at least were a competitive team full of colorful characters, much like my beloved Skins were.

Of course, things would change over the years. Redskins ownership has since turned the franchise into a punch line. The Orioles seem further away than ever, now that we have an NL doormat right here in town. And the Caps may be the best team in town, but honestly, I’m way too fucking smart, clean and handsome for hockey culture. That’s just a fact.

And then there were the Bullets.

Now, I know that the Bullets were a good team when I was small. But I can’t honestly remember the team being anything other than sub-average at any moment when I was growing up. The Capital Centre was dark and dingy. The players tended to look a little old and out of shape. And the television broadcasts...Oh, the humanity of watching those terribly-lit games on TV, perhaps most painfully accentuated by the complete and total lack of crowd noise (which only made every single sneaker squeak sound that much louder).

Robin Ficker was pretty much the only thing that team had going for it.

To Abe Pollin’s credit, the man’s decision to fund and build his own kick-ass stadium in downtown D.C. was just about the greatest thing the guy ever did – for the team and for the city of Washington. If you've been living here for less than 20 years, it's hard to fathom just how beat up the majority of Washington used to be; Chinatown was a pretty seedy area before the Verizon Center/MCI Center came to town, and it’s probably safe to say that Metro Center was generally considered the end of the city for a great many visitors.

You can choose to disagree, but you’d be wrong to: The House that Abe Built was THE landmark investment into the future revitalivation of Washington, D.C.

That did not stop his team from sucking. Nor did the supposedly blockbuster acquisition of Fab Five college superstars Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. Nor did the effort to change the team’s name/brand from the Bullets to the Wizards. Or the following additions of names like Mitch Richmond or Rod Strickland (Don’t get me started about that Jordan guy).

Even as the triumvirate of Pollin, Wes Unseld and Susan O'Malley did everything they possibly could to bring Washington basketball into the modern age, the team rarely became more than “competitive”. It was a real shame. After a very public blunder, the management had finally woken up from a decades long slumber but they just couldn’t get their act together.

And what that meant for ticket sales was an all too familiar phenomenon: the seats remained largely empty until a team like the Knicks or the Bulls came to town, at which point the tickets would sell, just so that people could say that they saw Patrick Ewing or Michael Jordan. It was an utterly depressing state of affairs.

With the arrival of our new downtown stadium, however, there was reason to believe that this could all change. You could now travel to games via the Metro rather than trucking it out to Landover. The building had a modern design, with appropriate lighting. There were new concessions, with vastly improved sightlines. And the team looked one hell of a lot better (on paper, at least) than any other Washington basketball team (, Washington **NBA** team) I’d ever seen.

Games were going to FUN, and I was glad to be there as it was happening.

That’s where the irony of this ticket comes in.

Now, for the life of me I cannot remember how I got my hands on this ticket – and I should because this was the first game ever played in the MCI Center. I think I won it in a contest, but I can’t remember at all. Maybe my little brother won them? I seriously can’t believe it, but I simply have no idea how I came into these amazingly kick-ass seats.

I know that I went with my little brother, and I know (via a web search) that the Wizards were sporting a pretty cool line up that season, including Howard, CWebb, 1997 3-Point Champ (and La Salle University standout) Tim Legler and future star BEN FREAKING WALLACE, but for the life of me, the only person on our team that I can vividly remember was God Shammgod. (and that’s just because I loved his name, particularly as sung with the “YouDaManYouDaMan” song that played before all of the home games).

But I do remember seeing the Glove play that night. And I *THINK* I remember Branford Marsallis performing the national anthem. And I do remember President Bill Clinton giving the team his trademark thumbs up after the game from Mr. Pollin’s box seat.

And I remember that the Wizards won.

But that’s it. After all that effort by the ownership and management, all I can remember is that I finally got to see Gary Payton play.

How distasteful.

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