Wizards vs. Heat: With RGIII in the building, win is a reminder that Washington is now an electric sports town


LeBron James, right, helped Miami win the NBA title last year but couldn’t get the team past Trevor Ariza, left, and the Wizards. (Toni L. Sandys/THE WASHINGTON POST)
December 4, 2012

Forget the two missed free throws and errant three-pointers with the game in the balance. You knew LeBron and the Miami Heat were going down when the Jumbotron flashed the crazed pregame scene from “Hoosiers,” when Gene Hackman and his slay-the-giant team started clapping madly before running onto the court in a frothing frenzy.

No, Jordan Crawford is not a dead ringer for Jimmy Chitwood. And though Wizards Coach Randy Wittman is from Indiana, he never to my knowledge went out with Barbara Hershey. But work with us.

“I told the guys, the only people that really think you have a chance is us here right in this locker room,” Wittman told his then-1-13 team before the game. “You guys don’t believe it, the outside didn’t believe, and I said we need to have a statement game.”

Doormats 105, Defending National Basketball Association Champs 101.

Hickory wins — for the second time in 15 games!

In a game that could mean everything and probably is more likely to mean nothing, bedlam ensued in a Washington-area sporting venue for the second time in 24 hours.

The Wizards, without John Wall, knocked off the Heat in what may go down in April as their most important victory of the season. The problem, of course, is that that’s the same month where Miami begins playing important games.

Big picture, though: This isn’t a bad place to take in a game anymore. I suppose if you have to say you’re becoming a very good sports town you’re probably not there yet.

Still, what are the chances the defending Super Bowl and NBA champions go down on back-to-back nights at FedEx Field and Verizon Center — and Robert Griffin III was there for both?

Griffin sat in Ted Leonsis’s seats, a few steps away from the Wizards bench. He clapped his hands, sprinkled pixie dust and — voila! — victory for the home team. (Okay, it didn’t go down like that. But several Wizards players were pumped about his presence.)

Bottom line, we matter. When the Miami Heat go down, even the worst team in town matters.

Washington is now home to the two most electric rookies in North American sports, a 19-year-old bolt of intensity who plays center field for the Nationals with ‘tude and another serene cat in braids who has impeccable quarterback credentials for just 22.

In the past 11 months, teams not named the Wizards from the nation’s capital have combined to pull off a blockbuster trade for Robert Griffin III, knocked off a defending Stanley Cup champion, won more games than any team in the Major Leagues and — heraldic trumpets, please — made football matter in December here for the first time in five years.

Not since 2008 have three big-revenue teams from Washington — the Wizards, Capitals and Redskins — competed in the postseason during the same calendar year. But you have to go all the way back to 1987 when all three teams were in the playoffs the same season.

D.C. sports is suddenly nationally recognizable. We are boffo box office, leading cable sports networks’ news shows, inspiring the NFL Network studio panelists to do Naughty By Nature cover songs (“Ya down with RGIII . . . yeah you know me.”) Ask Deion, we are not Loserville anymore; we are nearing prime time.

Oh, other cities have great young players. But it’s not the same. Andrew Luck is essentially Mike Trout in the NFL; all the future Hall-of-Fame credentials and none of that move-the-needle electricity of Bryce or RGIII.

“The only thing left for this town to really get going is for us to get back to .500,” Martell Webster said afterward. “We’re nowhere close yet. Tonight was great, but we’ve had too many losses to even think about putting ourselves in that category.”

True. But on a night when Wittman was right, when everyone and their mom expected LeBron to put Spalding tattoos on Nene’s head, the Wizards came up huge against the Heat.

They turned Kiss-the-King’s-Ring night into their own coronation, sending LeBron’s followers home moping about a loss.

And LeBron did have some followers. “It’s like, ‘Geez, tonight was an away game,” Webster lamented of the ovations and applause LeBron received throughout the game. “And we won. We won on the road at home.”

This is something Webster and the other Wizards need to get used to until they become a .500 team or better. Until Miami is knocked out in the playoffs, the Heat are the NBA’s star-power team. People flock to visiting arenas to see LeBron and Dwyane Wade and now Ray Allen like they use to flock to visiting arenas to see Kobe and Shaq.

The refreshing news here: Griffin leads a crop of special young athletes who have that kind of must-see potential.

The reeling Lakers come to town next Friday. I’m not saying Kobe and friends go down, too. I am saying another very good sporting event is taking place in Washington, a place once considered a moribund sports town. No more.

For more columns by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post.
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