WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 07: Members of the Washington Wizards bench celebrate during the closing moments of their 106-101 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at the Verizon Center on March 7, 2012 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Remember Bookie Ball? Remember Gheorghe? And Mugsy and Manute and DeShawn and Rod Strickland's half smokes? It's time to celebrate the Wizards, the franchise with more cult heroes than every other NBA team combined.
Why are we talking about the Wizards on a Friday in August? Because A) It's a Friday in August, so why not? And B) SB Nation's NBA blogs put together a series of posts this week celebrating various Cult Heroes from the past, so we have the perfect excuse.
- Our Celtics blog wrote about Brian Scalabrine.
- Blazers Edge did Arvydas Sabonis.
- Our Pacers blog wrote about Antonio and Dale Davis.
- Our Rockets blog opened it up to a vote, but the only correct answer is Moochie Norris.
- Our Grizzlies blog chose Hamed Haddadi
You get the idea.
You can find all these tributes compiled over here, and they're all pretty great. I wanted to contribute a version of my own for SBNation.com, but ran into a problem: The Wizards have had waaaaay too many Cult Heroes to choose from. They've only had cult heroes.
And it's a strange time to be a Wizards fan: they're suddenly looking more competent and stable than ever, which means I'm getting all nostalgic about the two solid decades where they were the most dysfunctional organization in sports. All the radioactive, ridiculous cult heroes are gone, replaced with steady characters like Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, John Wall, Bradley Beal, and more. For the first time in more than a decade, it feels like the Wizards have a real plan to build a stable, winning team. It's jarring.
We'll see how it goes. It's exciting to imagine the possibilities.
But you know, if the Wizards are about to turn over a new leaf this year, we have to look back one more time and remember what they were, and the Cult Classics series is the perfect excuse. If we're being honest about it, the Wizards and Bullets have had more Cult Heroes than every other NBA team combined. So let's look back, beginning with ...
RASHEED WALLACE. You probably forgot he played in D.C., but he did! There should be a separate version of the internet just to tabulate all the amazing stories from Rasheed's career and post photos all day. This site isn't quite a separate version of the internet, but it's worth re-reading if you're looking to waste an afternoon. My favorite anecdotes from that site:
Under his personal directory in the 1994 Granville Towers phone book he wrote, "Peace to my peoples in Philly."
Had his face on the back of a t-shirt that simply says RA!
In 1994 pre-tournament interview with Tom Suter drew the profound metaphor between team chemistry and jello..."See, we are like the dust...we just need to be mixed in right so we can gel."
Appeared on an episode of MTV Cribs where it was learned that the bathroom next to the master suite includes a urinal.
Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2000, Blazers at Wizards. Rasheed was matched up against Juwan Howard. Rasheed had a foul called against him which sent Howard to the line. Surprisingly, Ra disagreed with the call. After Juwan missed the first free throw, Rasheed started clapping and yelling, "THAT BALL AIN'T GONNA LIE, THAT BALL AIN'T GONNA LIE!"
And there are literally thousands more from around the internet. I'm just glad his NBA career started with the Bullets. Did you know he threw a ball at Luc Longley's head as a rookie in an NBA preseason game?
POPEYE JONES. His name is Popeye, so that earns him cult status all by itself. He was also one of the ugliest players to ever set foot in the NBA, played uglier than he looked, and we all absolutely loved him for it. He's got a son who'll be playing professional hockey soon, which might just be enough to turn me into a hockey fan for the next 15 years.
MICHAEL RUFFIN. For this play alone.
Kenny: "I like you Michael Ruffin, but that is maybe the second dumbest basketball play I've ever seen."
Chuck: "Would we expect anything less out of the Wizards?"
No! No, we would not.
MICHAEL JORDAN. A Cult Villain, maybe. Remember when 40-year-old MJ verbally abused an 18-year-old No. 1 pick until he broke down psychologically, guaranteeing he'd never fulfill the potential the Wizards had built their future around? LOL.
This set of City Paper features should have won a Pulitzer.
KWAME BROWN. Ah, the other half of that MJ coin. He paved the way for Darko, and his greatest moment in the NBA was
dropping 30 and 19 on Chris Webber as a third-year player, tricking thousands of Wizards fans into thinking he'd turned the corner the cake toss, of course.
As the AP reports:
HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. -- A man walking down the street at bar-closing time with a $190 cake in his arms claimed Los Angeles Lakers center Kwame Brown swiped his birthday treat. ... In a police report, Alexander Martinez said he left his 30th birthday celebration at the Shore Restaurant and Lounge at about 1:45 a.m. Saturday with the uneaten 2-by-2-foot cake and walked north toward the Blue 32 nightclub.
Martinez told police he first came upon Lakers forward Ronny Turiaf, who he said agreed to pose for a photograph with him and the chocolate cake.
But outside of Blue 32, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Brown came along, grabbed the cake and threw it at Martinez, according to the report. Brown got into a white limousine and left, Martinez claimed in the report, although he didn't suggest any reason for the cake toss.
No NBA fan will ever forget Kwame Brown, no NBA diehard will ever forget the cake toss.
GHEORGHE MURESAN. He was the goofiest, friendliest player in Wizards history, and any NBA fan growing up in the '90s knew him and loved him and joked about him constantly. And he took it all in stride, because Gheorghe is just the greatest. Did YOUR favorite team give the world My Giant?
MANUTE BOL AND MUGSY BOGUES. Possibly the two most celebrated and adored mediocre NBA players of all time, so of course they both played for the Bullets at one point. This should be a centerpiece photo in the Basketball of Hall of Fame.
BEN WALLACE. God he was fun to watch in D.C. When they made it onto the court in those early years, he and Darvin Ham produced a tornado of murderous dunks, bulldozing rebounds and perfectly clueless basketball otherwise. It was great. Like they'd let two linebackers walk onto an NBA court and just play without ever learning to shoot, dribble or pass. Obviously Big Ben went mainstream with the Lakers-slaying Pistons, but HE WAS A WIZARD FIRST, DAMNIT.
GOD SHAMGOD. Do you believe God could be the Savior? Ten-year-old me definitely, definitely did.
CARON BUTLER. Any player nicknamed TUFF JUICE is a hero to one and all, but Caron gets bonus points for chewing on a McDonalds straw at all times during games, and for bravely overcoming his Mountain Dew addiction before it tore apart his life:
I was in the bed sweating. My wife would turn over in the bed and ask "Are you OK?" Honestly, those first two weeks without The Dew [were] the roughest two weeks of my life. I'm talking headaches, sweats and everything. Before that I drank at least six 12-ounce Mountain Dews a day.
It was so bad at one point that I had to have a cold one right there at the night stand before I went to bed. I had to get the coasters and let it drip a lil' bit and just have it waiting on me. Come 2 a.m., I'd wake up out of my sleep, I'd pop one open and hear the fizz sound ... and just down it! Then I always had to have another one in the morning when I woke up. Before practice I had one too and before games I would knock back two.
OLEKSIY PECHEROV. LEGEND.
DESHAWN STEVENSON. Before he won an NBA title and had an ATM installed in his kitchen, DeShawn was like the Tony Yayo to Gilbert's 50 Cent, complete with the Can't Feel My Face routine. SBN's Bullets Forever chose him for the Cult series, and Thomas Pruitt has a heartfelt look over there at why Wizards fans loved him so much while he was there. Things you should never forget:
- He wore a Michael Vick jersey the same week all the dogfighting allegations came to light
- He called LeBron overrated
- LeBron James compared that to Soulja Boy dissing Jay-Z
Oh, and then Jay-Z recorded a diss track to DeShawn Stevenson, which led to DeShawn inviting Soulja Boy to sit courtside for a Wizards-Cavs playoff game. There hasn't been a better stretch of NBA trash talk since, and maybe there never will be. God bless DeShawn.
MIKE BIBBY. Played in two games for D.C. in 2011, went 1 for 9 with two points, and then gave up his entire $6.2 million in guaranteed salary to get away from the Wizards. ICONIC.
KENNETH "BOOKIE BALL" LANG. Remember him? A few weeks ago a post at Wizards' blog Truth About It reminded me of Bookie Ball, and it's important that we never forget him, because he played an integral role in bringing us one of the most spectacular scandals the NBA's ever seen.
Bookie Ball, you might remember, became internet famous for a few days in 2010 when he confirmed Peter Vescey's report of a locker room gun standoff involving the Washington Wizards. Even now, every element remains completely surreal, from Bookie Ball The Whistleblower to JaVale The Instigator to, well ... Everything Javaris Crittendon And Gilbert Arenas Did.
Just ... Holy shit, you guys. Seriously. The details from Mike Wise in 2010 (emphasis added):
The dispute between Arenas and Crittenton began on the team plane during a popular card game between players called "Boo-ray." Crittenton lost roughly $1,100 to JaVale McGee, a Wizards center, in the game, according to a player who watched the game and who also spoke on condition of anonymity. Crittenton, already angry over a dispute over the game's rules, became irate when Arenas began needling him.
Their barbs escalated to a point where Arenas, smiling, said he would blow up Crittenton's car, according to two players on the flight, who requested anonymity. Crittenton replied that he would shoot Arenas in his surgically repaired knee.
Walking into the locker room two days after the dispute on the team plane, according to two witnesses, Arenas laid out the guns in Crittenton's locker. Two other teammates eventually sauntered in and, while Arenas was writing the note in front of Crittenton's cubicle, in walked Crittenton, according to their account.
Asking Arenas what he was doing, Arenas replied, "If you want to shoot me, I'd just thought I'd make it easy for you." As other teammates laughed, Crittenton crumpled up the paper, tossed one of Arenas's guns across the room, where it bounced in front of a team trainer, and said he didn't need any of Arenas's firearms because he had his own, according to the witness accounts.
Crittenton then drew his weapon, loaded it and chambered a round, the witnesses said. ... Crittenton began singing as he held the gun.
It's all completely insanity up there, so we'll focus on the two most important elements.
- Can you imagine being the trainer who has a gun bounce at his feet during all this? I wanna talk to THAT GUY.
- Crittendon, not only loading his gun, but chambering a round and breaking into song. That just puts the entire thing over the top. Two years later, Truth About It finally found out what he was singing. "Oh Let's Do It" by Waka Flocka. SO PERFECT.
Farmer In The Dell would've been great if it was all an act, but "Oh Let's Do It" is just grimy and ordinary enough to make you think he was serious. And maybe he was! (He's currently in prison awaiting trial on murder charges.)
If anything had actually happened with those guns, we'd be talking about one of the greatest tragedies the NBA's ever seen. But nobody got hurt, so instead we're talking about one of the most amazing scenes in the history of locker rooms in any sport. All thanks to the Wizards.
STEVE BUCKHANTZ. For the "DAGGER!" catchphrase, yeah, and all its endless applications in life beyond basketball. But also, he and Phil Chenier announce Wizards summer league games every summer not from Vegas, but from Comcast Studios in Bethesda, where they announce a video feed from Vegas. It's the saddest shit on earth, and anyone who does that for the fans has my allegiance for a lifetime.
JAVALE MCGEE. Gave himself an altar-ego last summer, has a pretty amazing Twitter account, and became the most famous NBA player on the internet last season. Also, that whole locker room thing? JaVale started it, which is just perfect. We could put together a post with just JavVale highlights, but mostly, I'll always love him for inspiring my favorite Sports Illustrated paragraph of all time.
There's more to McGee than he lets on. He writes music. He creates clever comedy sketches featuring his alter ego, Pierre McDunk. (He has a tattoo of a mustache on his index finger, which he puts over his lip when he's in character.) He is a techie with five iPads, six laptops, two desktop computers and all the latest software. When friends and family have computer problems, they call JaVale. Nuggets officials watched the bloopers but viewed them in a different way. Sure, McGee ran back on defense while his team had the ball, but at least he ran back on defense. And sure, he missed a free throw line dunk, but at least he wasn't afraid to fail.
NICK YOUNG. Too many amazing Nick Young stories to list here, so instead we'll just go with a random game story from February last season, and just note that notes like this popped up from the Wizards every few days for about five years. Via Michael Lee at the Washington Post:
...he actually became a trending topic on Twitter as he scored 15 points and made three fearless three-pointers in the third quarter. After he made a series of threes, Young acted as if he were shooting an arrow from a bow, a new signature move that he credited to JaVale McGee.
“JaVale told me I should add some flavor to my threes, we was coming up with something. We worked together and came up with the idea,” Young said. Of course, he needed to make some shots so that he wouldn’t look foolish. Fortunately, as Young said, “It was one of those nights.”
The Wizards were 7-22 at this point.
But you know, as Swaggy P once said, "Hey man, there’s a lot of haters out there, for real. They tell me I’m dribbling too much, I need to learn how to come off screens, how to do that. I’ma just keep working hard. That’s the definition of Swaggy P." Nick Young is my favorite player in the NBA.
ANDRAY BLATCHE. Ah yes, the Lindsay Lohan of power forwards.
Who can forget his triple double attempt in 2010? From Dan Steinberg's synopsis:
After a missed New Jersey shot, Blatche flings his body toward the ball, but is called for a foul. He looks skyward in disbelief, hopping his way all the way down the court while grinning/grimacing. ... Now there's 4.2 seconds left and it's Wizards ball, up 10. Blatche gets the ball and dribbles frantically the length of the court, and then shovels the ball at the rim, presumably hoping for a rebound which would have turned this into a different level of farce. But he loses out to the clock, and mercifully, the game has now ended. Blatche lifts up and throws down his shirt in disgust, still shaking his head.
The best part about that almost-triple double is that a few months later the Wizards signed him to a $35 million contract extension, because well yeah, of course they did.
But now that he's finally gone, I kinda miss him already. He was Cabbage Blatche, he was Bulletproof (after he survived a shooting), he was Seven Day Dray (after he promised to work out constantly), he was Captain Dray, and he'll always have a soft spot in our hearts.
ROD STRICKLAND. You know why I've never been mad the Bullets traded to Rasheed? Because they got Rod Strickland back from Portland in that deal, and he's possibly the most underappreciated genius of the past 20 years in the NBA. He combined Blatche's workout and partying habits and Gilbert's cockiness and somehow made it work, and for a few years there he was basically the black Steve Nash.
He ate halfsmokes before games and at halftime, and it didn't matter. He was the first player who taught me that NBA players weren't always in shape, and also the first who taught me that sometimes the best players didn't have to be in shape to dominate.
My favorite Strickland anecdote took place in the
98-9997-98 season, when (then coach) Bernie Bickerstaff put him on Michael Jordan. Michael had about a good 5 inches on Rod. Rod SHUT HIM DOWN. And then, he made a three in MJ's face, got fouled, made the free-throw, and just stared him down.
WHO STARES DOWN MICHAEL JORDAN?!?!?!
Rod Strickland does goddamnit.
Goddamn right he does.
EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS VIDEO. Everything, forever.
And finally, most importantly...
GILBERT. The dictionary definition of "cult hero", NBA or otherwise. He came out of nowhere, he made the entire NBA fall in love for a few years, and his swag was phenomenal.