Dear Washington Wizards Fans,
How are you holding up? I know things have been rough. I hope you’re still eating well and sleeping regularly. Those of the best things you can try to remember to do for yourselves during these trying times. Some days are better than others, I’m sure, but I know that there are so many reminders of the past — of assembling your own “Big Three,” of the carefree rise to NBA relevancy, of always thinking that next year would be the season it all comes together — that it is nearly impossible to forget what happened.
Or, what is still happening, really.
Seeing your favorite franchise transform from a something discussed as a basketball team to something only mentioned for legal, disciplinary or other knucklehead-related reasons is very difficult to go through.
I know how you feel. I’ve been there. All of us Pacers fans have.
But as you progress through the stages of grief while witnessing your once-proud franchise spiral the commode, you should keep something in mind: It could be worse. It really could. As Kyle Weidie of Truth About It recently reminded us, even your coach, Flip Saunders, speculated that the Gilbert incident would not be the end of the team’s tribulations: “‘Don’t think it can’t get any worse because it can,’ is prob the worst thing Flip Saunders (in mid-Dec) could have ever said this season.”
The Gilbert Arenas ordeal will forever tarnish the team. There is no coming back from that. For the rest of your life, your favorite NBA squad will be the team whose captain illegally brought guns into the city then brought said guns into the locker room then got caught doing all that and then thought it was funny. For those who think the NBA is a league full of thugs, the incident will go down as the last straw. (Although, personally, I think we should reserve that moniker for Caron’s 2/24/10 game with Dallas vs. the Lakers). Others will just call it FINGA GUNZ.
Regardless of how high of a moral soapbox the observer has, however, Gilbert’s guns will now be brought up ad nauseum whenever an analyst, writer or just some drunk guy at the bar discusses the worst moments in NBA history.
You will hear about it forever.
I still hear about the Malice at the Palace every week.
In many ways, the incidents will be remembered very similarly. Both were “off-court but sorta on-court” events. Both were unthinkable outrages to most fans. Both will cause many people to remember exactly where they were when they saw/heard it. Both forced an All-Star into a season-long vacation. Both set in motion a franchise-altering downfall that has yet to end.
Of course, Gilbert has to serve time in a halfway house and you will probably have to watch him represent your city again next year after an awkward, post-mea culpa reunion with the franchise that tried to wish him out of existence immediately after the incident. Ron Artest was merely banished to Sacramento after he sabotaged his relationship with the Indiana front office the following season.
But, hey, at least Gilbert didn’t actually hurt anyone physically. Compared to some other crimes committed by players in the NBA, what he did — while infinitely stupid and embarrassing for you — did not physically harm any victims. I’m not saying that that’s something that you should hold your head high about, but fortunately, whatever went on in that locker room did not escalate to the point where any people were hurt.
And it isn’t like Gilbert was the first player to ever have a gun.
Pacers fans who are old enough — or anyone who has read Loose Balls — remember the days when Pacer players openly brought guns to the locker room. Apparently Marvin “Bad News” Barnes of the “Detroit Hoodlums” remembers those days fondly as well. And we now know that former Celtic player and coach ML Carr, who is much more infamous for his towel-waving than anything nefarious, was consistently packing heat like the oven door.
But, I know, I know. Those were simpler times. Times before a national crack epidemic led to unprecedented gun violence and millions of men being incarcerated throughout this country. ABA stories from the early 1970s are hardly relevant to today’s discussion of firearms and understandably give you no solace.
Still, it could be worse.
Stephen Jackson, who has starred in such films a “Crazy Haymaker Thrower Guy in the Brawl,” infamously brought shame to the Pacers and the NBA again when he shot up the sky during an altercation outside an Indianapolis strip club before being run down by a car. Jamaal Tinsley was there with Jackson that night and later got indicted on felony charges of intimidation and misdemeanor charges of battery for a bar brawl that put both Jamaal and Marquis Daniels in the pokey. About a year later, Tinsley again made the police blotter, this time as the victim in a high-speed chase where someone in the trailing vehicle opened fired with an automatic weapon on Tinsley’s car, leaving gunshot wounds in both elbows (don’t ask me how) of the Pacers equipment manager, who had been hanging out with Tinsley that night. (You can watch video of the aftermath of the incident here.)
In the midst of all this, Shawne Williams, who was at the time a semi-promising first-round pick for Indiana, was once arrested after being pulled over while driving, without a license, an unregistered car containing a lit blunt and a stolen handgun. OK, not the worst thing in the world. Could happen to a lot of people. But then he missed his court appearance to deal with the driving without a license charge. And then a murder suspect, who was one of the guys riding in the car Shawne was driving when he was locked up, was arrested while leaving Shawne’s house. In Shawne’s car.
Yes, when it comes to having run ins with Johnny Law, it definitely could be worse.
Ultimately, your troubles spawn from a guy who once pooped in a shoe for a laugh and later proved to have a truly delusional sense of how the real world works when he brought a gun to the locker room. Was it purely a prank or more nefarious? We’ll never know. But even a judge considers him “basically a good person” who has “demonstrated genuine remorse.”
More importantly, no shots were ever fired. And no one was ever physically hurt.
Sure, there’s also the Andray Blatche incident from earlier this week. Given the tornado-force winds of trouble already in town this week as Gilbert awaited sentencing, I’m sure that must have felt like another true embarrassment. I mean, here you have the same guy who was arrested a few years ago for trying to hire a hooker and now he’s publicly embarrassing the team by pulling some pouty, Scottie Pippen-refusing to enter the game/Robert Horry-towel-throwing shenanigans? Sigh. And perhaps worse still, you read these types of seemingly sensationalized stories about what a mess your franchise is. Stories that will continue for a while, it’s safe to assume.
I get it. Times are bad in the nation’s capital. And not just on Capitol Hill anymore.
I know what it’s like. I had to read similar pieces about the Jamaal Tinsley banishment for over a year, not to mention all the stories speculating on the ways in which management brought these problems on itself by letting guys like Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson flaunt the rules for years.
It’s ugly. Really ugly.
But guess what? You guys are already ahead of the game. The Gilbert contract will likely remain a millstone around the team’s neck for years to come, but the front office wisely gutted the roster rather then try to pretend it could continue as constructed. The Caron-and-Haywood-for-not-much deal had to hurt. And even though getting out of Antawn’s deal was probably wise regardless, giving him away such a great player in Wizard history for literally nothing can’t feel good. But at least now you have some flexibility. There is hope that things can change.
I’m not going to lie to you: Your team is going to be really, really bad again next year. By now, you should be used to the losing though. The losing is embarrassing, sure, but the legal and disciplinary problems are a whole different type of embarrassing. When your favorite franchise is constantly discussed for its legal problems, you are rooting for an NBA laughingstock. When your favorite franchise is constantly losing, your favorite team is merely irrelevant.
Trust me. I now understand that part of this first-hand, too.
So if you want a silver lining in all this, that is it.
Within 12 months, you will again just be another bad NBA team. That’s not great news, no, but it’s better than what you’re going through now.
And in that sense, you are not far behind us Indiana fans in the recovery process. We wallowed in court-room embarrassment stench for years before fixing the problem. And even the fix (the Peja rental, the decision to take on the terrible Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy, Jr. contracts, the Tinsley Ordeal) extended our irrelevancy stage for longer than the one you will likely have to withstand. And my guess is that we will both be emerging from even that irrelevancy at the same time.
We’re still both a while away from that, I know. But just remember: You’re not alone. We Pacer fans are here for you. When you are not strong. We’ll be your friend. We’ll help you carry on. Just call on me, brother, if you need a hand.
We all … need … somebody … to … leeeeeeaaaaan … ooonnnnn.
Or hit up a Jail Blazer fan.
Those cats are also highly-equipped to talk you through this, too.
Somebody to Lean On