The Wizards are still technically in the playoff hunt. In the top-heavy NBA Eastern Conference, the 30-41 Wizards are only 4.5 games out of the final playoff spot, even after a dispiriting 116-95 loss to the Utah Jazz earlier this week.
But that doesn’t mean fans want the team to win and make a push for the eighth seed. Many of those fans are actively rooting for the team to lose.
The home crowd booed and heckled its own team during the Jazz game and that loss guaranteed Washington will end the regular season without a winning record for the 26th time in 36 years.
“It’s been a tough past couple of years,” says Bastel Nooristany. “[Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld] signing terrible players and this and that. At this point I just want them to blow it up.”
Nooristany gained a few supporters after the Wizards beat the Orlando Magic, 100-90, on March 13. The 21-year-old Virginia Tech student from Arlington attends two or three games a season but watches most of them via an online stream. So when he saw team owner Ted Leonsis walk toward the players’ tunnel, Nooristany decided to make the most of his opportunity.
He repeatedly shouted “Fire Ernie!”—a sentiment shared by many Wizards fans—at Leonsis until the two locked eyes. Leonsis, according to Nooristany, told him to “just enjoy the win.”
“I felt good because people were knuckle punching me,” he says of his brief interaction with Leonsis. “They were happy because I said something to him.”
In mid-January, Leonsis told reporters that the team’s “first goal is to make it into the playoffs and to do better than we did last year,” and that the Wizards “will never, ever tank.” A few weeks later, he said in a lengthy WTOP interview that changes will come if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.
When Mike Wise of WUSA9 asked Leonsis about Grunfeld’s future, the owner remained noncommittal.
“Well, let’s see how the season turns out,” he said. “Every year you articulate what your goals are.”
None of that makes the fans like Nooristany feel any better.
“Ted’s a nice guy. I have nothing against him, but he’s the top guy and he has to enforce who’s going to get hired and fired,” he says. “It’s been 16 years with Ernie. You gotta do something about it.”
With John Wall out for an extended time and due to miss next season, and the Wizards trading Otto Porter Jr. to give the team more financial flexibility, Bradley Beal has stepped up as the team’s best player. On March 16, Beal scored 40 points in the team’s win over the Grizzlies, his second-consecutive 40-point performance. He is playing 37.6 minutes per game, which ranks 16th highest in the NBA.
Beal is providing fans with highlights from a lost season, but the flashes of brilliance from the All-Star are not worth it to some fans.
“I want them to lose every single game,” says 19-year-old Aron Hagos, one of Nooristany’s friends from high school. “I don’t see what winning does for us right now.”
Hagos has been a Wizards fan since he was 5, and considers Gilbert Arenas his favorite player of all time.
Grunfeld has been the team’s president almost as long as Hagos has been alive.
After the summer of 2016, in which the Wizards missed out on the Kevin Durant free agency sweepstakes, and signed Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson, and Jason Smith, Hagos’ felt his fandom fade. Then Leonsis gave Grunfeld an extension in the fall of 2017, which did not become public knowledge until the following May. Hagos says he has never been more frustrated with the team.
“Nothing will ever change me from being a Wizards fan,” he says, “but I’m obviously disappointed in the direction the team is going. I don’t know what this organization is doing. They just want to win games right now. At the end of the day, I want this team to get a high draft pick. I want them to lose, and I want Ernie to be fired.”