The Washington Wizards of the mid-aughts will always be remembered more for how their time together ended than the actual run itself — and for good reason. The team only won one playoff series, and that was the year before it traded Kwame Brown for Caron Butler, who would make his only two all-star appearances as a Wizard.
That ending was so epic that it required media from far and wide to gather in early 2010 at the then-Verizon Center, the home of a squad that would go on to finish a second-consecutive season with fewer than 30 wins. During the 2009 holiday season, a gambling disagreement resulted in Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton bringing guns to the Wizards’ locker room. Both players would soon be suspended for the rest of the season. Crittenton never played again; he is currently serving a 23-year sentence for manslaughter.
Antawn Jamison was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the 2010 deadline, and Butler was sent away during the offseason. Arenas would play 21 more games for the Wizards the following season and then the Wizards would use the amnesty clause following the 2011 lockout.
Even though those Wizards swerved into a ditch and lost a tire at the end of the run, that is a memorable team in the history of the NBA. The franchise will honor it as such come Nov. 18 of this year. The Wizards announced that Arenas, Jamison, and Butler will be in attendance for a throwback night game against the Miami Heat and will be acknowledged at halftime.
While those three never won a playoff series together, the Washington basketball franchise — Bullets was deemed offensive a decade before the R-word was — hasn’t won 50 games in a season since Good Times was still on the air. Not every professional sports franchise’s history includes a championship ring. Does that mean Seattle Mariners fans aren’t fond of 2001 or that Barry Sanders’s 2,000-plus yard season means nothing to Detroit Lions fans?
Getting to buy a championship t-shirt and hat is great, but those years are few and far between. Even when a franchise does pull off the ultimate victory, that win is likely not a harbinger of things to come. Many sports fans don’t have a championship season to remember, but having their team nationally relevant is worth taking that yearly ride that ends with an unsatisfied feeling.
Arenas, Jamison, and Butler’s Wizards were an actual rival to a young LeBron James. Those first-round matchups resulted in Jay-Z finding it necessary to make a diss track about DeShawn Stevenson after James made the analogy that equated a rivalry between the two players to if Soulja Boy had one with H.O.V. Nobody won more from this than Stevenson who had a song made about him by Jay-Z, Soulja Boy wore his jersey at the height of a short but memorable run as a pop star, and ended up winning an NBA Championship before James.
However, none of that fun happens without Arenas, Jamison, and Butler playing at an All-Star level. Sure the talent never fully meshed and the on-court product was some of the most unpleasant that the NBA age of iso-basketball had to offer. But still, those were recognizable names that made a franchise relevant that hadn’t made the playoffs in consecutive years since the 1980s.
For those who approach sports as a zero-sum game with champions and 29 other losers, that Wizards run of the mid-2000s isn’t for you. Those teams were never good enough to contend, and it showed by them never winning more than 45 games in a weak Eastern Conference. That most certainly could be viewed as a disappointment when noticing Arenas, Jamison, and Butler all made all-star teams when they played together — just never all three in the same year.
Sports isn’t all about championships. Sure fans want to see their teams win but it’s not like they get a replica ring in the mail if their favorite team goes all the way. What the fans remember is how they felt during the seasons when their squad consistently won more than they lost. Those Wizards teams were nationally recognized for the first time since their last season as the Bullets when Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Co. got manhandled by the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the 1997 NBA Playoffs.
It will be a fun night in Washington when Arenas, Jamison, and Butler appear together at mid-court. Now if only they can convince Soulja Boy to MC the evening and put back on the Stevenson jersey, that would be the perfect salute to this particular era of NBA basketball in the nation’s capital.