-- They needed this. The Washington Wizards needed to have some fun tonight, needed to hear the odes to Michael Jordan and feel the wild standing ovations and see the arena light up with flashbulbs like a giant disco ball.
Little else has been going right for this team, especially since Monday, when Coach Doug Collins accused some players of an "insidious" disrespect for himself and the game. By the time players gathered in the locker room tonight, several appeared frustrated.
"I don't know what [Collins] was doing," said veteran Charles Oakley before the 107-87 loss to the 76ers here in the season finale.
"I just think the timing didn't make sense -- why wait until the end of the season? I just feel he was upset that we lost," said forward Kwame Brown.
Brown in particular has been one of the targets of Collins's ire, and while Collins did not mention Brown -- or any other player -- by name on Monday, Collins did note that "I've had guys in that locker room curse at me this year, show no respect."
Last month, Brown cursed at Collins when Collins removed him from a game in Phoenix.
"But I went to Doug and apologized the very next day and said I made a mistake," Brown said. "Just because I play basketball doesn't mean I'm not human. I got frustrated, I said something disrespectful to him and I went like a man and apologized. I'm just a little upset that he mentioned it at the end of the year. I feel like I was a man about it."
For his part, Collins stressed that he had not been talking about all the players on his team, noting there are several professional players who have been quite respectful of the coaches. But he also defended the timing of his original comments, made shortly after the postgame ceremony honoring Michael Jordan's final game at MCI Center.
"I didn't find it [to be] criticism -- it was the truth, and we only had one game left," he said. "Michael was very good with that, he was fine. He didn't feel like in any way I took away from his night. I'm a very smart man. I speak when it's time to speak."
Oakley, joking that he was Brown's "spokesman," said that he wasn't sure why Collins hadn't addressed his problems earlier in the season.
"There were a lot of things that if they had corrected from the beginning, it wouldn't have lasted over 82 games," Oakley said. "If someone's talking back to him, he should correct them at the time. If you have a flat tire, you don't keep driving down the highway, right? You pull over and try to fix it so you can go where you're going."
The controversy comes at a time the team had hoped to be preparing for a playoff run, or at least providing a more positive atmosphere for Jordan's final week. Players did stress, though, that even with the ups and downs of the season, they have retained their respect for Jordan, as well as their desire to have him return to his former position of president of basketball operations.
Even Brown, who was not always close with Jordan in their two years playing together, said he would not have traded the experience.
"If anything, I slowed his game down," Brown said of Jordan. "With him being so smart and me being so young, it was tough to adjust to the reads.
"People have kept saying to me, if Michael wasn't here, 'Could you have done this? Could you have done that?' Well, it could have been worse. You've seen us play without Mike. Sometimes we don't do that well."
Certainly, playing with Jordan has meant that some players have had to sublimate their egos; tonight, as several of the players who will make up next season's roster took the floor, fans chanted "We Want Mike, We Want Mike," while waving their fists at the bench.
But instead of looking resentful, many of the Wizards had smiles plastered on their faces, and when the game halted for a resounding standing ovation, all the Wizards on the floor clapped right along with the fans.
Both Collins and Oakley clapped as well, a change after a rough few days. Still, Oakley said he does not expect to be back in Washington next season and may not play for any team until midway through next season.
"If I knew all this was going to happen, I would have never signed here," he said. "I didn't want to go out like this, and I didn't want to see Michael go out like this. I wanted the playoffs, I wanted to have a good time."