Whatever local interest remains in the NBA’s 1999-2000 season will wane after next week’s draft lottery. Odds are that the Wizards’ first-round pick will go to Golden State to satisfy the debt from the Chris Webber deal. (Sad reminder: On Nov. 17, 1994, the then-Bullets gave up future all-star Tom Gugliotta and first-round picks in 1996, 1998, and 2000 to get Webber, the future Sacramento King.) One of the stipulations of that trade, however, was that if Washington got a top-three pick in any year, that year’s payment could be deferred. And just as the NBA’s first lottery in 1985 featured the Bended Envelope Caper that delivered Patrick Ewing to New York, things might go the Wizards’ way if the team’s envoy to the proceedings is a certain Athlete of the Century known to have his way with league officials.
In any case, before turning all our attention to football and “The Over the Cap Gang” that Daniel Snyder is assembling, let’s recap the Wizards’ year that was….
June 16, 1999: After a search of nearly three months, the Wizards announce the hiring of Gar Heard for the head coaching job. Heard’s resume shows one previous NBA head-coaching assignment—he guided the Dallas Mavericks to a record of 9-44 in the 1992-1993 season—and a stint as a teammate of General Manager Wes Unseld in Louisville. “I’d been waiting for the right situation to come along,” Heard says. “I didn’t want to get into a situation where I didn’t have any chance.”
Aug. 11: The Wizards announce that their rebounding woes are cured with the acquisition of career malcontent Ike Austin—an Orlando center with a three-year, $15 million contract, for whom Wes Unseld gives up four players, including low-paid fan favorite Ben Wallace.
Oct. 19: Rod Strickland misses preseason practice, offers acceptable excuse.
Oct. 20: Rod Strickland misses preseason practice, offers no acceptable excuse.
Oct. 21: Rod Strickland misses preseason game as punishment for missing preseason practice with no acceptable excuse.
Oct. 22: Rod Strickland misses preseason practice, but neither team nor player nor agent says why. A week later, team opens season with just two wins in first 10 games, causing owner Abe Pollin to cite “a lack of chemistry.”
Jan. 5, 2000: The Wizards lose on the road, 77-66, to the Chicago Bulls, who at the time have a league-worst 2-25 record.
Jan. 7: The Wizards lose at home, 110-103, to the Chicago Bulls, who at the time have a league-worst 3-25 record.
Jan. 19: A former Bull, Michael Jordan, is named president of basketball operations. With the world watching, the new boss calls new team “underachievers.” Hours later, with the new boss watching, Wizards underachieve in 104-86 loss to lowly Dallas.
Jan. 29: With the new boss off partying in Atlanta during Super Bowl weekend, Wes Unseld is told to fire Heard and to announce Darrell Walker’s appointment as head coach. Walker’s resume shows one previous NBA head-coaching assignment—he guided the Toronto Raptors to a record of 40-91—and a stint as Jordan’s teammate in Chicago.
Feb. 9: Ike Austin gets his first crack at his former team, the Orlando Magic. Austin hauls in just three rebounds. Ben Wallace, one of the four players the Wizards dealt to Orlando to acquire Austin, gets game-high 16 rebounds in 107-96 Magic win.
Feb. 23: The Wizards say Wes Unseld, architect of the Ike Austin trade, will be kept on the payroll and will retain the title of general manager, with no clear duties. Shortly thereafter, Michael Jordan announces that he intends to hire an assistant general manager in the off-season.
March 6: While a healthy Ike Austin sits on bench for the entire 48 minutes, Orlando’s Ben Wallace gets a game-high 16 rebounds in an 87-85 Magic win.
March 14: While a healthy Ike Austin sits on the bench for the entire 48 minutes, Orlando’s Ben Wallace gets a game-high 12 rebounds in the Magic’s 107-98 win. This completes Orlando’s season sweep of the Wizards. (Wallace goes on to lead the Magic in rebounds for the 1999-2000 season; Doc Rivers, the coach who got away from the Wizards, goes on to win the NBA’s Coach of the Year honors. Austin’s most notable statistic at year’s end comes in the category officially listed as “Did Not Play, Coach’s Decision”: 21 games, the most of any nonrookie on the team.)
March 29: Rod Strickland doesn’t bother to show up for a home game against the Denver Nuggets. By phone from his home office in Chicago, Michael Jordan tells Strickland that truancy upsets him. Jordan reportedly levies a fine of $111,111—or one game’s pay, based on Strickland’s $10 million per season contract.
April 5: Rod Strickland tells reporters that after considering retirement, he instead has decided he’ll be a different sort of Wizard—next year. “I’ve just got to be ready to take the whole summer and really, really work out and be ready from Day One,” says Strickland.
April 18: Rod Strickland misses a special morning shoot-around open to season-ticketholders at MCI Center and is fined one last time. Every other Wizard attends. (Strickland was a no-show at last year’s fan appreciation day, also.) Hours later, the Wizards take the court against Boston for the last home game of the season, one of the few that Michael Jordan attends. The Wizards never lead, and they lose 114-81.The highlight of what is labeled “Fan Appreciation Night” comes during a break in the game, when the wheels on a tricycle being used in a promotional contest actually come off, causing the vehicle to dig into the court. One courtside spectator, possibly struck by the metaphorical significance of what he has just witnessed, yells, “This game sucks!” for the entire arena to hear.—Dave McKenna