Ted Leonsis’s existential defense

November 25, 2013

(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Fans and media members have assumed this season to be a crucial tipping point for both of Ted Leonsis’s teams. For the Wizards, it’s playoffs or bust; the core is healthy, the kids are growing up, and the end result has to be a playoff berth. For the Caps, it’s time to see postseason results; Alex Ovechkin is again an MVP, Adam Oates has had a full offseason and preseason, and the end result has to be playoff success.

To both those suppositions, Leonsis has recently mounted an interesting counter-argument: what happens if the first part fails? Like, ok, playoffs or bust!, but what does bust mean? And ok, postseason success or bust!, but again, how might you define this bust?

Here is Leonsis, recently talking about the playoffs-or-bust Wizards with the AP:

“Playoffs or bust, what does that mean?” Leonsis said. “Shut the team down if we don’t make the playoffs for the Wizards? We would certainly, if we don’t make the playoffs, for both teams we would do our due diligence in a more hypersensitive manner, right? Because we didn’t meet our expectations. But the team’s not going bust. The fan base isn’t going bust. It would just heighten the scrutiny that we have to do.”

And here is Leonsis, recently talking about the Caps’ pressure to win, with Washington Business Journal:

“If we don’t win the Stanley Cup, we do what?” Leonsis asked. “Will people cancel their season tickets? Will sponsors stop supporting us? Will Verizon say, ‘No, we don’t want to be on the Verizon Center anymore?’ No, I don’t live in fear of that….

So what if, once again, the Capitals don’t win a championship and the Wizards miss the playoffs this year? Or the next? Or the next?

“You write nasty articles,” Leonsis replied, “and we go at it again next year.”

I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision, to counter apocalyptic questions from two different outlets about two different teams with similar “life goes on” language. But I’m going to call this the Existential Defense from now on.

And the thing is, I guess Leonsis is sort of right. There’s no such thing as a must-win game, unless a team owner pledges to disband the team with one more loss, and Leonsis seems disinclined to do so. Neither, then, is there a must-win season. Playoffs-or-bust doesn’t work if there is no bust. Same with Stanley Cup or bust.

If the Caps lose in the first round, or the Wizards finish a game out of the eighth seed, everyone will wake up the next morning, and the franchises will still be there, and people will still buy season tickets, and another season will eventually arrive. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time. And even then, Kuznetsov will be in Europe somewhere, and that’ll be okay.

So until you sense the last syllable of recorded time approaching, you might as well shelve all your fancy Wizards and Caps mantras. There is no “….or bust.” There is no “or else….” There is just eternity, stretching out in front of us.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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