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At tip-off time of the Wizards-Cavaliers game on April 15, scalpers on 7th Street NW were unloading tickets for just $5, which is why I ended up doing my taxes from a seat in the upper regions of a sad and barren MCI Center. As I crunched small numbers during the home team’s ultimately hollow victory, I thought about how the Wizards have spent the past fiscal year. After Michael Jordan pronounced Washington a “team to watch” at last season’s end, the Wizards morphed into unquestionably the most unlikable squad in all of pro sportsa title that’s been hotly contended for by a number of teams. Here’s a recap of the just-completed season, which should explain why the Wizards are on top of the bottom of the barrel:
Nov. 28: God Shammgod goes on injured list.
Dec. 5: After assessing technical on Rod Strickland during Sacramento Kings game, referee explains he cited guard for “floating around, having a good time” on defense.
Dec. 10: With God back in Washington, Strickland attacks teammate Tracy Murray in North Carolina hotel room. Strickland, who broke hand in bar fight in San Antonio in 1991, beat unrelated battery rap in Chicago in 1994, and was convicted in 1996 of beating girlfriend Judith Cruz in New York, has completed court-ordered therapy program for batterers. The counseling doesn’t deter Strickland, Wizards’ assist leader, from dishing out seven-stitch cut to his teammate’s left eyebrow after hearing Murray question his sexuality during phone conversation taped by mutual acquaintance. The night of the attack, with Strickland’s wrist taped and Murray’s head bandaged, Wizards’ four-game winning streak ends with loss to Charlotte.
Jan. 20: Wizards forced to reschedule taping of music video for team theme “You Da Man” because Chris Webber doesn’t show up for morning shoot. Turns out Webber is busy with other Man, having been pulled over for speeding on P.G. County highway and maced after ignoring cop’s order to end cell-phone conversation with agent. After brief scuffle, Webber is arrested and charged with nine counts, all still pending.
Feb. 4: Owner Abe Pollin responds to Wizards’ off-court capers by buying team converted Boeing 737 to travel in.
Feb. 5: Juwan Howard twists ankle early in game at Orlando. Though ankle is taped at halftime, Howard, who has guaranteed $105 million deal, sits out next 16 games.
March 1: Lawrence Moten is released when 10-day contract expires. (Moten averaged 1.1 points per game during his cup of coffee with Wizards.) When team eventually holds rescheduled “You Da Man” shoot, Webber, Howard, and Strickland all refuse to appear in video, produced as gift to season-ticket holders. As result, when patrons get video, they see Moten, now with La Crosse, Wis., Bobcats of CBA, in feature role. (Days later, given chance to make up for taping snafu, offending trio, along with Harvey Grant, play hooky during autograph session for season-ticket holders.)
March 17: Monica Lewinsky watches as Wizards blow late lead and suffer jaw-dropping loss to Nuggets at MCI Center, one of only two road wins Denver gets all year. At time, the Nuggets are on pace to break record for fewest wins in NBA history, but with victory Denver goes on to be only second-worst team of all time, with 11 wins.
March 22: Webber goes berserk in road win against slumping New Jersey. After making layup, he throws violent elbow at head of rookie Keith Van Horn. The Nets, playing without best player Jayson Williams, have also lost 11 of previous 12 games. But when buzzer sounds, Webber celebrates victory by stomping around the court with psychotic facial expression, then running toward grandstand pantomiming slitting own throat.
March 25: Strickland, still showing no benefits from court-ordered counseling, is fined $5,000 for cursing at official during game against Portland.
March 28: Webber, whom Washington gave up three (!) first-round picks and good-guy star Tom Gugliotta to get four years ago, announces GM Wes Unseld should do whatever it takes to bring Latrell Sprewell to Washington.
April 1: Wizards blown out at home by woeful 76ers, 112-91. After game, Bernie Bickerstaff, NBA’s Nero, refuses to criticize team’s play, saying, “This is not a finger-pointing thing.”
April 2: Strickland pleads guilty to DUI charge stemming from September incident on New York Avenue. (After arrest, attorney Billy Martin declared Strickland innocent, adding that the player was “only charged because of who he is,” and “because he was driving an expensive Mercedes-Benz.”) With admission of guilt, Strickland receives $425 fine, and, as with assault conviction, is ordered to get counseling, this time for alcohol abuse. Stay tuned.
April 5: Wizards defeat Orlando at MCI Center, inciting Howard and Webber to celebrate as if they had won a world war. During loud commemoration of win at Houston’s in Georgetown, Fab Two are asked to take party elsewhere, so they move en masse to Juwan’s place in Potomac.
April 6: In early morning call to police, guest at Howard’s blowout lodges sexual assault complaint against host and Webber.
April 7: Still hung over from Orlando victory, Wizards are bombed by Chicago Bulls. Dennis Rodman hauls in 20 rebounds, or four more than all Wizards starters combined.
April 9: Wizards, down by 31 at the half, get blown out by lowly Pistons at home. After game, Howard congratulates self and teammates for not “throwing in the towel,” while Webber tearfully says Unseld “wasn’t there” for him and Howard after sexual assault allegations surfaced.
April 10: My Giant opens, giving Washingtonians first look at Gheorghe Muresan at work this season. (While filming in Las Vegas, Muresan re-injured ankle, which explains how puny co-star Billy Crystal blocked just as many shots and hauled in exactly as many rebounds for Wizards as Muresan this season.)
April 13: Attorney Billy Martin, who represented Howard in November ’96 DUI case and Strickland in September ’97 DUI case, takes over Howard’s sex case. In odd attempt to clear his client’s name, Martin asserts that all sex at client’s party was consensual, adding that other partygoers observed acts in question as they took place and will testify that everything was kosher. (Maybe Jordan misspoke, meaning to describe Wizards as “team that likes to watch.”)
April 19: Wizards are knocked out of playoffs on last day of season when Nets, same team Webber taunted with throat-slitting display, beat Detroit in New Jersey. As buzzer sounds, Keith Van Horn, same player Webber cheap-shotted, leads teammates in joyous on-court dance to celebrate postseason berth. Webber watches merriment on TV via satellite.
April 20: MCI box office starts taking returns on Wizards playoff tickets.Dave McKenna