WASHINGTON — Ron Baker’s wavy blond hair was still damp as he headed towards his locker — the one that said “Wizards” on top rather than his name. He was the last Washington player out of the shower and noticeably in a hurry to meet up with the rest of his team after a triple-overtime 149-146 win over the Phoenix Suns.
That’s pretty much how this week has gone for D.C.’s newest basketball addition.
Baker was cut by the New York Knicks on Dec. 13 so the team could free up a roster spot for rookie two-way breakout guard Allonzo Trier. He had no clue when, or even if, another opportunity in the league would come this season, as he’d played in just 11 games in New York as a reserve. So, he told SB Nation, he shipped his car and clothes back across the country to Kansas, where he grew up.
He had no clue that five days later, Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld and coach Scott Brooks would reach out with a job offer, and a day after that, he’d be in the nation’s capital. He got all of one practice in on Thursday before finding himself subbing in for the final 9.2 seconds to play defense in a one-possession game in its third overtime on Saturday.
“I was a little stiff,” said Baker, who scored no points, but added two rebounds, an assist, and a block in 14 minutes. “But I was like ‘My guy’s not scoring.’”
He succeeded in that effort, face-guarding Jamal Crawford away from a potential game-tying attempt.
Brooks already saw what’s unique about the Wichita State legend, having enough confidence to throw him in for the finale of an exhausting three-hour marathon of a grinder.
“You know what I love about him?” Brooks said postgame. “He blows up screens. He’s like a torpedo. He gives his body up. I’ve been around a lot of players and noticed right off the very first play and it kinda took me back. I was like ‘this guy is a little nuts.’”
After the game, reality hit Baker, as he finished tying his shoes and threw his coat on to head out of the arena. The team would play the Pacers in Indianapolis in 18 hours, but Baker was thinking about a few other things. Namely, where he’s going to live when he gets back. (He’s temporarily staying in an apartment within walking distance of Capital One Arena.) Or, how he’s going to fully move out of his apartment in New York City. You know, minor things.
As it turns out, none of that even mattered as the Wizards cut him just two weeks later on Jan 7.
Through the whirlwind of a week, Baker at least had one thing straight: his jersey number, No. 84. The tale of how the backup guard became the second player in NBA history to sport the number is bizarre, but stick with me.
Baker has a family group chat with his parents, brother, and sister. They wanted to help pick his new number, since his old one, No. 31, was taken by Tomas Satoransky. His mother wanted him to take the five family member’s birth days and find the average. That would’ve been 14, but Ron countered.
He took their five birth years, and found that average instead.
“I just liked the sound of 84 better because it was higher,” Baker said. “And, it’s not a common number in the league.”
Just Ron Baker and Chris Webber.