By Tracee Hamilton
Tuesday, July 27, 2010; D01
It was Kirk Hinrich Day in Washington Monday, in case you missed it. No mayoral proclamation, a la John Wall. Just my own proclamation, which isn't the same, but still.
(And before we go on, to be clear, it's Kirk, not Kurt, as at least one media mate referred to him. It's KIRK, as in Douglas, Captain, or the Church of Scotland. Kirk.)
The happiest people in stuffy Verizon Center Monday were probably the campers who got to meet Hinrich. He was asked to shoot a "pressure" free throw -- if he made it, the youngsters didn't have to run a lap. They eagerly surrounded him and he made it, and his fan club had its newest recruits.
Some of us have had our membership cards a little longer. I've followed Hinrich through his very successful four years at the University of Kansas, plus seven years in Chicago, during which a lot of Kansans -- bereft of an NBA team of their own -- became Bulls fans.
Hinrich said Monday that it would take fans in Washington some time to get to know him. I don't think so. Wizards fans -- who've been a bit bereft themselves -- will see quickly that Hinrich has been a winner at every level, and they'll want him to bring some of that magic to D.C.
He's also been a leader at every level. Sons of coaches can go in two directions on the court: They can turn into obnoxious blowhards or floor generals. Hinrich, who played for his father from third grade through high school, made it through Door No. 2. Father and son won the Iowa state championship in his senior season at Sioux City West High School.
He then polished his game at Kansas under Roy Williams. That meant running the offense as well as hard-nosed hustling on defense. He took the Jayhawks to consecutive Final Fours; fans wept on Senior Night in 2003.
The Bulls drafted him seventh overall that summer, and if he hadn't gone seventh, he'd have gone eighth, because Wizards GM Ernie Grunfeld, then with the Milwaukee Bucks, wanted him badly. After his first season, he was named to the all-rookie team with some names you'll recognize: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony.
In seven seasons in Chicago, Hinrich averaged 13.4 points, 5.8 assists and 2.2 turnovers, went to the playoffs five times, and was voted captain four times. In fact, at all levels of the game, Hinrich was a leader, without even trying.
"It just seems like everywhere I go, the way I play, my teammates really respect me," he said. "It started out, I wasn't very vocal, I tried to lead by example. I wasn't even trying to be a leader. Guys are always looking to me for that. As I moved on in my career I knew that my teammates were looking to me for leadership. I tried to become a better leader and be more vocal and everything like that."
Hinrich is a physical player who has had a few on-court incidents in his day. Pat Riley once famously accused him of deliberately hurting Wade's wrist during a game. He threw his mouthpiece into the stands during a playoff game against the Heat in 2007 and should have been ejected, but got away with it.
And that's about it. There are no DUIs haunting his past, no off-court incidents. To put it bluntly, he won't be bringing any guns into the locker room or embarrassing his team. Instead, you'll get consistent play from a guy who never quits. He's as steady as the summer heat in D.C.
Hinrich also has an Iowa taciturnity about him. When he learned in June that the Bulls had arranged to trade him and the draft rights to Kevin Seraphin to the Wizards for the draft rights to Vladimir Veremeenko, he was less than happy, but the deal wasn't official, so he kept his mouth shut. The deal was completed on July 8, and when the Chicago Tribune finally tracked him down, he said only nice things about the Bulls, who had just dumped him to clear cap space to enter the race for the James-Wade-Bosh trifecta.
"It was a bit of a shock," Hinrich said. "I really didn't see it coming. I know the last couple of seasons my name has been in trade rumors. This one kind of hit us a little bit blindsided. But you know I'm very appreciative of my time in Chicago. They gave me an opportunity to become a pro player and to grow as one."
He's heard a lot of talk about how he mentored Derrick Rose during Rose's rookie season in Chicago, and he's quick to demur, saying that he's getting too much credit and that Rose is simply an incredible talent. He says the same thing about new teammate and No. 1 draft pick John Wall. The Wizards' plan calls for Hinrich to share time in the backcourt with Wall and Gilbert Arenas, whom Hinrich called "one of the toughest guards in the league."
"I know Gilbert and first of all, I feel like he's a top player in the league, no question," said Hinrich, who prefers playing point guard but insists he'll be happy with either role. "I've played against him a lot and I'm looking forward to being on the same side with him. My impression of him is that he's a good kid and we're going to go out there and have a lot of fun."
Hinrich smiled ruefully when talking about Arenas, whom he has good reason to know. The Wizards guard hit the game-winning shot to beat Chicago in Game 5 in the first round of the 2005 playoffs -- right over Hinrich. So the newest Wizard had the best seat in the house for one of the franchise's last happy moments.
He'd like to give Wizards fans some new happy moments. He and wife Jill, whom he has known since his Iowa days, just bought a house in McLean and are preparing to move. "Our family is very excited for the change," he said.
"I don't know exactly what Washington fans [think], how they view me, but I'm excited to get here and let them get to know exactly how I play," Hinrich said. "I'm just really excited to have a fresh start. I'm motivated as a player individually and as a team to bring the excitement back to town."
If Hinrich -- with the help of Wall and the other youngsters -- can do that, then perhaps one day there really will be a Kirk Hinrich Day in Washington.