“Fifty wins is an audacious goal,” Ted Leonsis said in June. “Really, really good teams get to 50 wins. And I’m hopeful that we can set a bar — that we become one of those really really good teams.”
The Wizards, of course, will not reach 50 wins this season; even if they win out, which seems unlikely, they would only reach 49. And Leonsis’s (very accurate) quote is central to understanding why fans are feeling inordinately blah about now, even as the team approaches its best regular season record in three decades, and a second straight playoff berth.
Sure, part of it is the several months of uneven play, the pessimism about the postseason, and the dissatisfaction with the coaching. But for the first part of this season, it felt like 50 wins — the mark of a “really, really good team” — was an inevitability. And now that’s gone. Again.
Washington, if you didn’t know, has the NBA’s longest 50-win drought, one that has now stretched to truly absurd levels. Since the franchise last won 50 games (in 1978-79), the NBA has seen 263 50-win seasons, with several more likely to arrive in the next few days. That’s an average of more than seven 50-win campaigns a year.
Even franchises that seem middling have reached 50 wins multiple times. The Orlando Magic have seven 50-win seasons in that span. So do the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Milwaukee Bucks have eight. The Clippers — long thought of as the Wizards of the West — have done it twice. And the Lakers, at the other end of the spectrum, have done it 24 times.
Now, this might all be arbitrary; the Raptors have never reached 50 wins, but have gotten to 48. Is that really so different? But the Wizards have long been striving after that notable number. You can hardly go through the archives without stumbling over 50-win talk.
“Looking at the overall makeup of the team I thought we were headed for a 45- to 50-win season if everyone stayed healthy,” Frank Johnson said after the 1986 season.
“If [Moses] Malone is healthy and properly determined to show up the 76ers for trading him, ’86-87 could be a 50-win Bullets year,” Tom Boswell wrote the next fall.
“The last three years, if everybody’s healthy, we would have been near 50 wins each season,” GM Bob Ferry said in 1987.
“I think we should be out front that we want to win 50 games this season,” Chris Webber said in 1997.
“At the beginning of the season I said, ‘This is a 50-win team,'” Harvey Grant said in 1998. “And I’ve been disappointed because the talent is here to win 50. Definitely.”
“It appears entirely possible as the Wizards set up shop that they could be pretty good this season, perhaps 50-win good,” Michael Wilbon wrote in 2006.
“We have what it takes to win a lot of basketball games if we do the right things,” Antawn Jamison said at the same time. “To me, anything less than 50 wins would be a disappointment.”
“Without the injuries and everything, this was a 50-win team,” Jamison said a few months later. “But until we actually get to 50 wins and the Eastern Conference finals, it’s just talk.”
“The Wizards (30-21) are in good position to earn the top seed going into the Eastern Conference playoffs and have a shot at posting the franchise’s first 50-win season since 1978-79,” Ivan Carter wrote in 2007.
“You put [Darius Songaila] on the floor with Big Three and one other legitimate big man, that’s a 50-win squad,” Mike Wise wrote around then.
“I see this team finishing with 50 wins, or thereabouts, and advancing to the conference semifinals,” Tom Knott wrote at the same time.
“After that [first win],” Randy Foye said in 2010, “we looked at each other and said, ‘Yeah, what everybody is predicting about us might be right.’ Fifty-win season and things like that. It felt good.”
“I really do believe we can win 50 games with this team,” Marcin Gortat said in 2013. “There’s not too many people that believe this. It might sound crazy. I know how it sounds.”
“I feel like we could’ve been a 50-win team, to be honest,” John Wall said last spring.
“I feel if we could find a team that is healthy and in shape that can play with that kind of intensity for 60 games in a season, we’ll be a 50-win team,” Al Harrington said then. “That’s the type of potential this team had.”
“We’ve got to win 30 games at home if you want to be a 50-win team,” Wall said in November.
“Our ultimate go is to try to get 50,” Wall said in February.
It didn’t happen. It never happens. It seems almost impossible. And yet, the rest of the league finds a way. Four teams already have 50 wins this season. Six other teams made it last season. More than half the league — 17 teams — has reached the 50-win threshold since 2011. Every team besides the 76ers, Hornets, Raptors and Wizards has done it in the 21st century.
And the Wizards have now gone through three full decades without a 50-win season.
“Yeah, it’s a big deal,” Wall said of failing to reach that mark. “We feel like we let a lot of games slip and all we can do is try to win as many games as we can and get some momentum going into the playoffs. Forget the 50 wins. Now we just got to go out there and play the best basketball we can.”
Which is fair. Because a playoff win would make virtually everyone forget about that whole 50-wins thing.
(Apologies for the wicked pixels. I dunno why. My heart remains pure though.)