Want to see some basketball? Turn on ESPN. Want to see some flying burritos, flexible man-boys, jazzy dance numbers, trained dogs, and basketball? Go to a Wizards game.
With one $10-to-$98 Wizards ticket, you can receive: one clownish, overweight Fan Patrol member comically losing an extended popcorn-eating contest; a dozen children gyrating to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”; two meandering overhead blimps; one giant avian magician called GWiz accosting the crowd with burritos; one brief appearance by Wolf Blitzer; one cartoonish representation of a cup of Dunkin’ coffee beating out both a bagel and a doughnut (and a free cup of joe if you’re in the 100 level); one JumboTron tribute to “Just a Friend” chanteur and Easterns Motors star Biz Markie. And that’s all before the half.
“Our goal is to have entertainment going on at all times,” says Wizards Game Operations Director Danny Zollars, who supervises all of the Wizards’ in-game promotions, announcements, and funny dances.
Can’t all this entertainment get a little bit distracting from the ballgame? “Well, I don’t think it’s a distraction,” Zollars says. “This is basically all that I’m focusing on during the game, for my job.”
The highlight of the entertainment assault is, of course, the halftime show.
When the Wizards aren’t at the Verizon Center, but the Washington Capitals are, the hockey club simply throws some Mites on the Ice and calls it “intermission.” Not the Wizards. The Wizards host 41 home games a season; only 14 of those halftimes are typically dedicated to Sprite Mites youth basketball. That leaves 27 crippling 14-minute entertainment voids that must be filled with Frisbee-chasing dogs, arena-wide games of Simon Sez, and 20-year-old Moldovian contortionist-archers. “She is this lady who shoots a bow and arrow with her feet while standing on her hands,” explains Zollars. “I’m sorry, I can’t say that with a straight face.”
Zollars has served as the Wizards’ game operations director for two seasons; John Hyman, 45, has been a season ticket holder for 40. Hyman began attending basketball games as a kid in the ’60s, when the Washington Wizards were the Baltimore Bullets. In that time, he’s watched a lot of halftime acts—and he’s not terribly impressed. “I think if you ask most of the people who are in row 20 or down, it’s sort of a joke,” says Hyman. “I don’t know how they pick these things.”
How they pick these things isn’t so different from any slacker’s typical day in the office: Zollars and two others on his staff watch videos on YouTube and decide whether they like them or not. How do they decide? “Well, there are three of us, so if two out of the three of us like it, then it’s in,” Zollars says. “If only one person likes it, then, you know, we rule it out.”
If an act does make it past that delicate review process, it stands to cash in $1,000 to $4,000 and join an elite group of Verizon Center halftime performers. Zollars says that he receives 20 to 25 videos a month throughout the year; about 10 percent of acts submitted will end up on the court.
Hyman isn’t exactly sold on the winning selections. “The kids playing basketball is a ‘we-don’t-want-to-spend-any-money’ kind of act. The other entertainment, most people don’t pay attention to it.” If it were up to him, “man, you know, it’s either got to be something that’s going to be a real showstopper or a real opportunity for children to do something.”
Below, Zollars and Hyman weigh in on Verizon Center halftime acts past—and future.
Signature Move: Dislocating limbs from sockets, sassily bouncing his buttocks as he attempts to squeeze them through a toilet seat
Accessories: Box, tennis racket, and toilet seat; a red, white, and blue jumpsuit
Zollars: “Yeah, this. This is just a guy who is very flexible. This is more ‘oohs’ than ‘ahhs.’ He climbs out of a box, puts himself through a tennis racket, puts himself through a toilet seat, and wiggles his way through that. This is definitely a good halftime act. It has a different kind of feel. Our season ticket holders like to see different kinds of things like this.”
Hyman: “This is just a freak show to me. This is the circus. I don’t think it’s good.”
Verizon Center Event & Venue Public Relations Director Sheila Francis: “We would not call this a freak show.”
Signature Move: David Michael Mass and Dania Kaseeva change their clothes really fast.
Accessories: A sassy Latin-flavored mix tape, enough costumes to outfit a community theater production of Les Miz
Zollars: “They dance around and just change outfits very quickly.…They get a standing ovation every time.”
Signature Move: Red Panda Acrobat Krystal Liu balances bowls while riding around on an oversize unicycle.
Accessories: (Ostensibly) traditional Chinese music, lots of bowls
Zollars: “So, she’s on an 8-foot unicycle, she has eight to 10 bowls on her feet, and then she flips them onto her head.…I think that it’s a very unique thing for a lady to do, what she does on that unicycle.”
Hyman: “This is better than something like Rubber Boy, which just makes fun of the freaks. You go to the circus to see those things, or you go to the carnival. The juggling is good. The trampoline is good. This unicycle thing? Yeah, I think it’s pretty good.”
Signature Move: Emerging from the slinky at the end to reveal self as white dude in sunglasses
Accessories: An enormous, four-pronged, extendable rainbow suit that entirely obscures the “man” in Slinky Man
Zollars: “He is a one-man show, very unique.…He kind of does a choreographed routine like a slinky. He, uh, he resembles the movements of a slinky. We haven’t booked him yet, so that’s just what I’ve seen on the video.”
Hyman: “I think most people are going to watch this for a minute or two. But I think it’s mostly going to draw attention from the kids, and you don’t see a lot of kids at basketball games. I really wonder what the percentage of kids is, because it’s a weeknight and everything.”
Signature Move: Amassing Internet fame—15 million YouTube hits—for making hands dance to Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”
Accessories: Daft Punk, hands, a Sharpie
Zollars: “I would describe Daft Hands as a mime routine, but using hands. Performed with music. We’re not sure yet how to make this translate into the arena.”
Hyman: “Yeah, I mean, it’s OK.”
Signature Move: Cup-stacker Emily Fox breaks world records by arranging cups quickly.
Zollars: “There are kids who can stack and unstack cups really fast. We would like to book this, but it’s very fast. We’re concerned about it filling the time.”
Hyman: “That young girl doing the cup stacking? I mean, that’s not too bad. That’s a young girl trying to do something that’s different, instead of something from a freak show, or from the circus. A lot of people are interested in seeing something energized where kids are doing something, where it’s not like the circus.”
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