True story: This past summer, I had correctly anticipated the date of Stephen Strasburg’s professional debut with the Nationals (thanks to the endless speculation on ESPN), yet stupidly passed on the chance to purchase tickets for that exact date well before it became official that he’d pitch that night. Given his 14 strikeout performance that night, I’ll be kicking myself for a long time on that one.
That’s why there was no way I was going to miss John Wall’s (home) debut with the Wizards. And in honor of this occasion, I even decided to write my first-ever running diary of the evening.
Away we go…
5:25pm: I’m on the Metro, and let me tell you: I don’t miss this one bit, now that I drive to work every day. I forgot how completely and positively misreable everyone looks after a work day on a cold & dreary Tuesday evening. In vintage metro-passenger-douche fashion, the guy in front of me is taking up the entire seat by himself, with his legs spread apart like a cheap hooker, while his man purse occupies the other seat. Yep, exactly the same as I remember it.
5:28: We have First John Wall jersey sighting of the evening. The guy wearing it also has on a red and white wool cap like Waldo from the “Where’s Waldo” books. Awesome.
6:50: After dinner with the wife (enjoying the high class dining of Potbelly’s sandwiches and Diet IBC Root Beer), we meet up with John and find our seats just as the Philadelphia 76ers (tonight’s opponent) and Wizards come out for warm-ups. Me, my Wife, and John immediately get into a deep philosophical discussion about whether the the large blimps emblazoned with the Chipotle logo are actually pooping out the Chipotle coupons, or would it be classified as farting them out? In the meantime, Nick (the brick) Young throws up his first brick of the evening, and the game hasn’t even started yet. Good to know things haven’t changed THAT much.
7:10: As part of the home-opening festivites, we’re “treated” to a 3D show on the jumbotron (requiring us to wear those cheap red-and-blue lensed 3D glasses from the 80’s ) that registered somewhere between “pointless” and “Meh” on the excitement scale. The Wizards then begin introducing their starting lineup. Kirk Hinrich’s name is announced (starting in place of the injured Gilbert Arenas), and my buddy Neel – fresh of his expedition of dealing with the Metro shit-show as well – starts clapping enthusiastically. Even as a long-suffering Bulls fan, he still likes Hinrich. That makes one of us (and i’m not talking about the “Bulls fan” part). Neel says it’s sad to see Hinrich in a Wizards jersey, and I agree – as a Wizards fan.
7:11: John Wall is introduced for the first time as a Washington Wizard (officially) to the home crowd. He spends the next 30 seconds doing the “John Wall dance 2.0,” mixing in the old John Wall dance with a whole bunch of Dougie. On a side note, who or what the hell exactly IS a Dougie?
7:12: The arena, by my (eyeball) estimates, looks to be about 70% full. I can’t decide if that’s a good turnout or not. One one hand, you’re talking about a team that won 26 games last season, 4th worst in the NBA. But with all the hype surrounding John Wall (and given the fact that he’s the next great young phenom in DC Sports), you’d think there’d be more people out. Who knows.
7:18: Wall, at the free throw line for the first time this evening, misses his first of two. Some idiot fan decides to shout: “You suck, Wall!”. I guess that honeymoon didn’t last very long now, did it? Oh well. He’s probably a Tea Partier anyway.
7:29: Wizards down by double-digits already, and it’s just the first period. Right now, they’re running a highly sophisticated and complicated offense known as: “give the ball to John Wall, stand around like a bunch of buffoons, and hope he makes something happen.”
7:33: Right on cue, the Wizards start to rally. Nick Young has five quick points on back-to-back buckets that somehow manage to go in, and not clang off the side of the rim or backboard. Neel, John, and I go nuts like we’ve just seen some type of David Blaine street-magic trick.
7:39: For the record, I’m not exactly what you’d call an Andray Blatche fan. More like the polar opposite, actually. In Bill Simmons-like fashion, I spent most of the summer concocting trades on the NBA trade machine, where the Wizards could trade away Gilbert Arenas and Blatche in one fell swoop. Obviously, none of them came to fruition in real life. So just as I’m getting done telling John and Neel about how Blatche actually looks pretty good so far, he shoots an airball. Well then. If that isn’t proof that Karma is real, I don’t know what is.
7:43: Wall looks like he’s dusting off the early jitters and starting to heat up. After shaking Louis Williams (a lot more on him later) for a layup plus one, on the last possession of the first quarter, Wall astutely fakes a drive and kicks the ball out to Cartier Martin (more on him later, too) for a wide-open three, cutting the 76ers lead to one.
7:47: Hinrich’s three point shot gives the Wiards their first lead of the game, and I have to reluctantly clap for something that Hinrich did, much to Neel’s delight. Meanwhile, John misses the entire sequence as he’s too busy staring at the Wizards cheerleaders/dancers, who are parked right in front of us tending to a group of Iraq war vets.
7:51: It’s time for the highly-anticipated animated Dunkin Donuts paraphernalia race. Our hopes for a freebie ride on the legs of “Cuppee Coffee,” the stumpy small cup of joe, who is competing against “Dashing Donut” and some other thing which I can’t remember. Halfway through the race, Dashing whips out some sprinkles, slows down his competitors with his sprinkle trap, and ends up winning the race. We’re absolutely distraught and outraged.
8:10: We’re now entering the Yi Jianlian portion of tonight’s entertainment. I am unbelievably amused with the entire crowd shouting “EEEEE!!” every time Yi shoots the ball. After he hits a shot off a nice pick-and-roll with Wall, I dutifully inform everyone that you can’t stop Yi Jianlian, you can only hope to contain him. John subsequently informs everyone that he’s going to start calling him “My Jingaling.”
8:16: Halftime. We’re treated to festivities which includes a faux blue-man group performance, except instead of guys painted in blue, the performers look like a bad 80’s hair band reuniting a decade later to bang on a bunch of trash cans. Only the finest for Wizards fans.
8:48: Wizards up their lead to nine points as Wall begins to start taking over. The third quarter is when we really started to see glimpses of how Wall could take over a game, at both ends of the floor, with his ridiculous speed, length, and court vision. First it was the gorgeous no-look laser pass to Javale McGee, who finished things off with a thunderous dunk. That’s followed by Wall leaping at least two feet in the air to break up a cross court pass and steal the ball, and then yet another steal which leads to a fast break layup.
9:01: More Wall, who finally gets a one on one with Evan Turner, the 2nd overall pick in the 2010 draft (taken right after Wall). Turner decisively loses the battle as he gets badly shaken by Wall off the dribble. Wall then drives and kicks it to Young for an open three (and he hit it!). Amazingly, off the Sixers miss, the Wizards run the exact same play the next time down the court, with Wall finding a wide-open Young on the exact same place on the court as the last three (Young misses, and all is normal).
9:16: Sixers guard Louis Williams goes on a tear and starts playing at an unconcious level – the Wizards simply had no answer for him all night – and Turner hits a couple of late shots as the Sixers rally to tie the game.
9:25:A horrific goaltending call on McGee (it was as textbook a block off the backboard as can be) and a miracle three by Williams as the shot clock expired helps put the Sixers up by six with a hair under two minutes left in the game. At this point, you wonder if a young & relatively fragile team like the Wizards have it in them to re-rally and steal a win in crunch time, especially after blowing a double-digit lead at one point in the game.
9:30: we get our response. Wall drives to the bucket, gets the hoop and the harm, and converts the free throw. Next time down, Al Thornton hits two clutch free throws (including a friendly roll on the second one) cutting the Sixers lead to one.
9:44: Wall and Williams start making this game a fight to the finish, with the fate of their respective teams hanging in the balance. Two free throws by Williams. A sweet layup by Wall. Two more free throws by Williams. Free throws by Wall. Neel informs us that Williams is “due for a miss.” Williams goes two for two (so much for that). Williams played like a man possessed, finishing with 20 points in the 4th quarter.
9:45: Wizards down by three, just a few seconds left in the game. There isn’t really one pure shooter on the Wizards you can count on, so Who gets the shot? Do you give it to Wall, your franchise player but a suspect shooter? What about Young, whose brick count was remarkably low for the evening? I actually think you give it to Hinrich. Grizzled vet, experience in pressure situations, and as reliable a shooter as anyone on the Wizards…
9:46: Or none of the above. Wall inbounds the ball to Cartier Martin (his name is a cross between a fancy watch and a fancy British car – I love him already), who swishes the tying three even with Andre Iguodala practically molesting him. The place absolutely erupts. We’re heading into overtime!
9:48: You know it’s a good game when even the women can feel it. I hear my wife say: “Man, this game is intense!”. Of course, she and Neel’s wife then proceed to spend the next few minutes watching people make complete asses of themselves while “dancing” (and I use this term very loosely) so they can appear on the jumbotron. The lengths that people will go to, to get their five seconds of fame, will never cease to amaze me.
9:56: – There’s the scene in “The Matrix” where Trinity asks Morpheus why Neo is manning up and going toe-to-toe with the sentinel, and Morpheus answers “because he’s beginning to believe.” Right now, as Wizards fans, we’re seeing the same thing from Wall, who is starting to believe that he is unquestionably the best player on the court. In LeBron-esque fashion, Wall chases down Andre Iguodala on a fast break and swats the ball before it goes in, like a cheetah closing in on a gazelle (Wall was called for a foul, but it was still awesome as hell). He then blows by Jrue Holliday (a very good defender) on a drive before kicking it out to Thornton for a long two, and then answers with a 21-footer right as the shot clock expires.
10:01:Elton Brand almost demonstrates some semblance of not being entirely useless, reeling off two quick long jumpers to give the Sixers a one point lead with 14 second left in OT, but then fouls Blatche, who goes on the sink both free throws.
10:04: as soon as Thaddeus Young passed the ball to Andre Iguodala off the inbounds pass for an attempt at the game winner, I knew the ball wasn’t going in. We discussed this during the game: Iguodala can run the fast break, dunk on anyone, and defend three positions on the floor with a high degree of success, but he’s definitely not a guy you want shooting a 16 footer with the game on the line. True to form, Iguodala’s shot clangs off the right side of the rim, and the Wizards win their home opener.
Wall finished the game with ridiculous stat line of 29 points, 13 assists, and 9 steals. NINE. The guy almost had a triple-double in the third game of his NBA career, and one of the stat categories was steals. Who does that? John Wall, that’s who.
The Wizards aren’t going to win a whole lot this year, but watching Wall’s development is going to be a hell of a great time.
And this time, I can say I was there from the beginning.