One can only hope, whether he was intoxicated with alcohol or uncut stupidity, the latest so-called “fan” to breach expected behavior at a game — like the bottle-throwing, popcorn-dumping, spitting clowns we’ve seen recently — is rewarded with criminal charges, prosecution and jail time to go along with his immediate banning from games. And the sobering question: Was it worth it?
A question not unlike the one I found myself asking about the Wizards. who staved off being swept out of the postseason with a 122-114 win over the 76ers.
For their effort, they left the building for a trip back to Philadelphia trailing three games to one. To pull off a comeback in this series would be a miracle. Even on Monday, they were aided by the first-quarter departure of Philly’s 7-foot MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who banged a knee and limped off the floor and up the same tunnel as the bouncer and the fool. He was not to be seen again, either. He had eight points, six rebounds and two assists at the time, and forged his team a slight lead.
Still, it took everything the Wizards had to prevail against an Embiid-less 76ers over the final three quarters. Just like it took everything for them to make the postseason in the first place.
There was the NBA’s college-ification of its postseason with NCAA-like play-in games to qualify for the traditional 16-team playoff field. And there was the mad rush for the Wizards over the last 25 games of the regular season — when they managed to win 19 — to even qualify for the play-in tournament despite a losing record.
It probably isn’t fair to shower Bradley Beal, Russell Westbrook and company with anything but praise for continuing to perform as professionals when they understandably could have packed it in, like the pretenders to postseason success they really are. But we’ve praised Beal plenty and the record-breaking Westbrook, too, and rightfully so.
This isn’t about them.
This is about the franchise. This is about the franchise. It’s about the Washington fans, of which I’ve been one, growing up here. It’s about being mired in mediocrity and managing some way to escape. A 34-38 record, last ticket punched in the playoffs and soon-to-be ouster in the first round isn’t the solution.
Fans at Capital One Arena, who’ve been starved for live sports, found plenty to shout about as the Wizards made plays to win late after the game was tied at 108. Big shots by Beal and Westbrook. A dunk by Daniel Gafford. A bunch of Philly fans in the building to razz for showing up certain they would see their team move on.
But the conclusion wasn’t even fool’s gold.
The Wizards aren’t, for example, a team of young budding stars who can learn something from a taste of the postseason. How they got so far won’t be a selling point to some superstar free agent, looking to be the difference for a team on the cusp of competing for a championship.
And they aren’t a young draft pick away from moving into the upper echelon of the league.
In one way, however, this playoff series may have provided a path out of the NBA muck that the Wizards have sunk into. It is the example set by the club that is about to vanquish them.
Just five seasons ago, in Scott Brooks’s first year here after a great run with then-young stars Kevin Durant and Westbrook in Oklahoma City, the 76ers were the league’s worst — out of a diabolical design to become one of the best.
Most of us laughed at the scheme promoted by then-Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie, which became known as The Process. But five years later, the 76ers earned a top seed in the playoffs, have a young MVP candidate in Embiid and are an exciting team to watch, with an even-brighter future than the current season they are enjoying. Over that span, the Wizards have declined.
Hinkie wasn’t afraid to trade star players — including his rookie of the year, Michael Carter-Williams — to amass draft picks. He realized that most NBA championship teams were built around a pair of superstars that those teams drafted. He dumped salaries by letting some free agents walk.
And he had great luck in the draft, which the Wizards haven’t had, either. The 76ers got a top pick to grab their point guard, Ben Simmons, who has rounded into the all-around player scouts predicted him to be.
Hinkie’s plan didn’t move fast enough. He angered NBA honchos under charges of not putting the best product on the floor.
And he resigned.
But his slash-and-burn method fertilized what now is one of the best teams in the league, so good it could win a championship this season.
Every team can’t do that. Maybe the Wizards and their general manager, Tommy Sheppard, can’t either.
But there is something to be said for having a plan. Laying it out. And following it through, no matter how painful at times it might be.
For me at this point, almost anything beats what feels like winning for nothing.