Wizards Coach Randy Wittman defends Nene


(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

RIO DE JANEIRO — Nene’s Brazilian homecoming didn’t end the way he or the Wizards had hoped on Saturday at HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. After three days of participating in several community events, acquiescing to every request for a hug or autograph or photograph, and serving as an ambassador for the league in his home country, Nene got booed by fans before and during the Wizards’ 83-81 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

The negative reaction came as a result of Nene often declining to play for the national team during the summer. Nene played for Brazil in the 2012 London Olympics but aggravated a foot injury that gave him problems throughout 2012-13, his first full season with the Wizards. Last summer, Nene decided to stay away from basketball to let his body heal and received a negative backlash when Brazil went winless in the FIBA Americas tournament in Venezuela.

“If people want to boo because of the national team and those things, they should boo me,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Because I really thought this was a summer that Nene needed to take off for his body. The summer before he played, he had plantar fasciitis, and played through it. His body needed a recovery. And when you play 100 games, alright, like we do and you get to a point in your career where your body breaks down a little bit, you’ve got to let it recover. That’s what I wanted him to do. So if Brazil wants to be mad, don’t be mad at Nene, be mad at me.”

Nene didn’t need Wittman to speak up for him, since he has never danced around the reasons for not playing. Peppered with several questions about the fan reaction, Nene tried to focus on the positive but didn’t back down from his choices. He added that his problems have been rooted in perception and could easily be changed with a better presentation from reporters in Brazil.

“I don’t owe anything to anybody. Everything I do has a very good explanation behind it,” Nene said. “I’ve had injuries, my baby was born, I’ve had a broken arm and this doesn’t interfere with my plans. I know the Lord has a plan for me. Sometimes the fans and the press don’t understand.”

Wittman said the boos of a few fans in the arena shouldn’t diminish what Nene accomplished or the lives that he impacted in his return home. “Hey, we get booed all the time. So, he’s fine. I think this trip for him has been one of the more amazing things for me. To witness a guy coming back home to his native land and doing the things that he did. It was remarkable. And, I think most people in this country understand who Nene is and what he brings, and the kind of person he is. And I witnessed it for four days. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes to go through what he did for not only little kids, but everybody that came and touched him and that was every day.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.

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Michael Lee · October 14, 2013