For the first time in 38 years, the Washington Wizards can call themselves division champions.
Washington Wizards’ John Wall (2), Marcus Thornton (15), Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13), of Poland, Markieff Morris, third from left, Bradley Beal, in red, and Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr., back right, react during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in Washington. The Wizards won 118-95. (Nick Wass AP)
When the Wizards last won their division, in the 1978-79 season, Jimmy Carter held the office that Donald Trump currently holds today. Sports network ESPN was still six months away from launching. Better yet, the Washington NFL franchise had zero Super Bowl wins.
This year, the Wizards edged out the Atlanta Hawks to win the Southeast Division. In doing so, they broke through the longest division title drought in all of North American professional sports.
When the franchise last claimed a division title in 1979, the team was known as the Washington Bullets, they were a member of the Atlantic Division, and played “LANDOVA LANDOVA” at team’s old home arena, the Capital Center located in Landover, Md., better known to fans as “the Cap.” The Bullets had won their lone NBA championship the previous season, and went on to lose the 1979 Finals to the Seattle SuperSonics.
After that season, Washington has had one of the worst winning percentages in the league. While the team has made the playoffs 14 times in that span, they’ve never gotten past the second round.
Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
I was born in 1978, into an era when the local franchise competed at a championship-level—or so my extremely young and impressionable mind might have thought. After the tender age of one, this franchise just sucked. The Bullets were ridiculed ad nauseam for all our misfires (pun intended) and ineptitude, and rightly so.
I attended Bullets games at the Capitol Center, but the franchise gave us fans little to cheer for. I still celebrated Washington players of old such as Jeff Malone, Manute Bol, Tom Hammonds and other solid, yet unspectacular players that we drafted.
I also cheered for the players past their prime who the team picked up over the years, such as Moses Malone, Bernard King, Scott Skiles, Kevin Duckworth and Mitch Richmond. I gleamed as dudes like Don MacLean, Gheorghe Muresan and Pervis Ellison won awards for being Most Improved Players, but then never amounted to anything more.
I watched with horror as star players like Mark Price, Rex Chapman, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and eventually Gilbert Arenas were either perpetually injured or never lived up to our expectations.
I was hopeful when the 1996-97 Washington team snuck into the playoffs after defeating the Cleveland Cavs on the last day of the season, and hoped they would live up to what Michael Jordan description of them as “truly one of the teams of the future.” Unfortunately, that future never transpired.
I’ve watched players leave the franchise and flourish, including Richard “Rip” Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace. They went on to win a championship together in Detroit.
I’ve cheered for average, but fan-favorite players like Courtney Alexander and Chris Whitney. And, I endured Arenas’ gun incident.
Now, after all of this, the franchise finally has something to finally be proud of, a singular accomplishment to cherish. For some franchises, such as the San Antonio Spurs, winning a divisional crown isn’t a big deal anymore. But imagine those very same Spurs fans and how they felt when they had to cheer for Alvin Robertson and Cadillac Anderson during the 1980s, and how they were lucky enough to draft David Robinson and Sean Elliott in 1987 and 1989, respectively, as high lottery selections. The Wizards did the same thing with their fortunate drafting of John Wall and Bradley Beal. When the Spurs started to have some real success, I bet their fans were as ecstatic as Wizards fans are today.
Supporters of other teams may look at us diehard Wizards fans and laugh. We are so happy, and they just don’t understand.
This is Washington D.C.’s team. Our team.
We should be proud of the accomplishments of John Wall. We should enjoy Bradley Beal’s leap to superstardom, and revel in the development of Georgetown University’s own Otto Porter. We should appreciate the contributions of Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, Jason Smith and the rest of the role-players.
We don’t suck anymore. Man, that felt good to say.