I attended the Wizards-Thunder game at Verizon Center as a fan Monday night — pause for murmurings of sympathy — sitting in Section 108, Row T, in seats I paid for with the sweat of my brow, at least metaphorically. The experience was both an eye-opener and an eye-closer; I’ve still got a squint.
The Wizards were bad that night — historically, amazingly, revoltingly bad — in a 116-89 loss. The game was all but unwatchable. The crowd — announced at an incredibly generous 17,921 — was nearly silent. I expected at least some cheers for hometown star Kevin Durant, but even those were sparse. There was more noise made in my basement Saturday night during the Big 12 final.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not blaming my fellow attendees. There was so little to cheer for. Even Oklahoma City, normally a fun team to watch, seemed to be going at half-speed — because they could, and still win handily. The Thunder was the big brother, holding a hand to the little brother’s head while the poor kid swings wildly and hits air.
My guests — my mom, dad and nephew — were taken aback by the quality of play, or lack thereof. Of course, they are used to a steady diet of Celtics, Heat, Spurs and Lakers on cable; they hadn’t seen a team quite like the Wizards. They were there to cheer for Kirk Hinrich and the Thunder’s Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich as part of a University of Kansas alumni gathering — organized before the Wizards’ trade of Hinrich last month — but by the second quarter they were rooting for the Wizards.
“I can’t help it,” my mom said. “I feel sorry for them.”
I was feeling sorry, too, for the fans. I’ve seen the Wizards struggle plenty this season, but I was reminded of the difference between seeing them struggle from the La-Z-Boy in the living room or from a folding chat at the press table at Verizon — those seats are free — compared to paying for the privilege of sitting through a wretched performance for two-plus hours.
I would swear Verizon wasn’t more than half-full, but frankly, getting anyone to purchase a ticket to that game — never mind buying season tickets, or suites — is a feat worthy of an epic poem, or at least a power ballad. The fall of the Wizards has been well-documented; I have new respect and empathy for both the loyalty and despair of their fans.
I’ve written that the Wizards are at least three years away from respectability in the Eastern Conference, from being able to challenge for a playoff berth. That may have been optimistic by at least 12 months. The Wizards’ highlight Monday night, literally, was Nick Young talking on the scoreboard about his worst date, with a 40-year-old woman who reminded him of his mom.
Between the nights they quit and the nights they’re cold and the nights they focus on personal stats, a lot of Wizards games are out of hand early these days. And the fact that anyone is willing to pay money to see that is a tribute to the Verizon Center marketing department and the fans who still pony up the money to sit through this white hot mess. I’ve walked a mile in your corridors, sat two hours in your seats and paid $8 for your beer. My press hat’s off to you.