An hour before the Spurs and Wizards tipped off at the Verizon Center, Gregg Popovich met with the media when a reporter asked him about Tim Duncan's longevity.
Reporter: Has (Tim Duncan) ever verbalized to you, 'I want to show people I can still do this'?
Gregg Popovich: No, he's never talked me, he's never needed to show anybody anything. In fact he doesn't even talk to me that much anymore. We've been married so long, it doesn't... (laughs)... Half the things he doesn't hear, the other half he tunes out if he did hear because he figures it's bullshit.
See, this is what good teams sound like. There is banter, there is history, and it's all fun. Meanwhile, next to the Popovich-Duncan marriage, the Wizards are the team that's just been cycling through whoever they found on Craigslist for the past five years. (Where else do you find A.J. Price and Randy Wittman?)
On the way into Monday night's Spurs game I stopped and talked to a scalper, and we joked about what good teams must think of the Wizards. "They love to see the Wizards on the schedule," he laughed. "It's like a warm-up." CAN YOU FEEL THE EXCITEMENT?
Monday's Spurs game was what rock bottom looks like. Imagine watching an NBA exhibition game, surrounded by people who don't know why or how they got there, interrupted every few minutes for the Chipotle Burrito Dash or cheerleaders dancing to an ear-splitting David Guetta song, and ending with the (meaningless) outcome guaranteed by halftime. A bad regular season basketball game is a special circle of hell. Monday was even worse because it was a definitive barometer for everything the Wizards have never, ever been. Especially not recently.
To put the recent past in perspective: The English Premier League relegates the three worst teams to a lower division every year. This costs the teams millions in revenue, and hijacks the entire franchise for years at a time. If the NBA relegated teams, the Wizards would've been relegated in three of the last four years. In the odd year they finished one game better than the Raptors as the fourth-worst team in basketball. In a rational universe, this would make the Wizards a failing business. Instead they charge full price, sponsors and TV revenue help them turn profits, and the Chipotle Burrito Dash rolls on.
Sure, some of the failure has been by design (to overhaul the roster with lottery picks). But at what point does "sucking by design" become "sucking by nature"? These are the questions that pop into your head when you watch your favorite team get methodically destroyed at home, in front of a crowd that's more or less apathetic except for the Verizon T-Shirt Toss.
It stung even worse because they were playing Spurs, the team that can sign cast-off veterans and turn them into weapons and take misfit rookies and make them stars. The team whose fossilizing superstars have every excuse to take games off all year long, but still show up every night and beat the hell out of teams. The Spurs are all the cliches about professionalism and culture brought to life.
The Wizards are the team that spent a summer adding cast-off veterans for the sake of professionalism and culture, only to see the whole thing fail miserably. Even with classy veterans who aren't Andray Blatche, the Wizards are still the Wizards. The Wizards always find a way to be the Wizards.
Take last Wednesday. They were up two in the final seconds of overtime. Then they gave up a go-ahead three to the' only great shooter on the floor. Then, with two seconds left on the clock, a Wizard airballed the shot that would've been a game-winner, only to have a teammate rebound it and score the game-winner a split-second after time expired. Cue the entire team running off to the locker room like they'd just won their first game of the year, not lost their 10th straight. They've turned failure into a magical art form.
As for Monday's masterpiece, the Spurs started slow and the Wizards kept things close through the first quarter-and-a-half, and then San Antonio got surgical with things. With their offense producing endless open looks all over the floor, they quietly pulled to a 12-point lead toward the end the the second quarter, then in the third 12 became 20, and by the fourth they were flirting with 30. They made it look effortless.
Meanwhile, there's Jan Vesely, the Wizards lottery pick from two years ago. So far this year, Vesely has more fouls than points, which is just perfect. But to be clear: He's not actually this awful. He's on an awful team. If Jan Vesely went to the Spurs he'd probably turn into a next-generation Andrei Kirilenko one day. On the Wizards he's hopeless.
A quick sequence from Monday night:
- In the second quarter Vesely is under the basket and throws a perfect no-look touch pass to Emeka Okafor for what should've been a layup. Okafor was blocked (badly), making Vesely's perfect pass irrelevant.
- The ball goes the other way, and Vesely picks up a stupid foul while he fights a losing battle trying to deny Tim Duncan the ball 16 feet from the hoop.
- Later in the possession, Vesely is guarding Tiago Splitter and gets completely abused in the low post, ending with his second desperate foul in 10 seconds.
Nothing goes right, everything goes wrong. The Wizards are Jan Vesely.
The worst part? My reaction to all this is to remind myself to remember it, because one day they will stop sucking, and all this lifeless misery will make the reward that much sweeter. Remembering Vesely, Andray Blatche, sarcastic scalpers, Emeka Okafor -- the $13 million addition who had four points and three rebounds Monday night -- this will somehow enhance the experience of winning, in my twisted head.
The Wizards have found new and different ways to drive me crazy for four years straight, and the situation's more hopeless than ever. And watching the Spurs game Monday night, I realized that no matter what happens, I will still argue about them, write rambling articles about them, schedule my nights around their games and ride this out as long as it takes, even if there's no reason to think anything will ever really change. In between the Chipotle Burrito Dash and the DC Lottery Kiss Cam and the Verizon T-Shirt Toss and the Dunkin Donuts D.C. Derby on the Jumbotron, watching the worst teams in sports exposes just how ridiculous being a sports fan can be.
It's insanity. But it'll all be worth it when they win it all one day.