Sports fans in Washington, D.C. finally have some hope that the future for their major sports franchises will be better than the recent past. Except for the Washington Capitals hockey team, the other 3 major sports teams – the Redskins, Wizards and Nationals have been bottom dwellers in the standings. Now with the prospect of new, young and star level talent on the horizon, there is hope anew.
The latest stroke of potential good fortune is with the Washington Wizards having the winning ping pong ball in this month’s lottery for the top pick in the NBA. With the odds against them, the Wizards’ fans held their breath as the balls were removed and a team announced. At the end it came down to the Wizards and the 76ers – 2 woeful franchises. The number 2 pick is “Philadelphia” said the Deputy NBA Commissioner. Euphoria rang loud in Wizardland.
For many Wizards fans, they crossed fingers in the hope that the team does not waste this pick like they did in 2001 when “His Airness”, Michael Jordan picked high school sensation Kwame Brown with the number 1 pick. Kwame quickly proved that he was both immature and a better high school player than a pro. He continues to labor today in the league as a journeyman center coming off the bench for the Detroit Pistons. The pundits’ top choices for the pick this year are 2 uber talented players – John Wall a guard from Kentucky and Evan Turner a small forward from Ohio State who was named player of the year. The experts and bloggers quickly lined up in support of both players. Magic Johnson, probably the best point guard to ever play in the NBA weighed in and said that he would pick Wall. He said that Turner will be a good NBA player. However, he said that Wall is special and will be a star. So this ex superstar, like Jordan, makes his selection. Time will tell if Johnson is right while Jordan was definitely wrong.
Another development that has fans excited is the purchase of deceased owner, Abe Pollins’ interest by local businessman, Ted Leonsis. It was Leonsis who made the right decisions on key personnel that has led to the resurgence of the Washington Capitals to the top of the hockey standings. He has let it be known that his plans for the Wizards are to grow the talent rather than spend freely to acquire high paid players who often do not pay dividends. Loeonsis’ luck began when he had the 1st pick in the 2004 entry draft and selected Alex Ovechkin who has become one of the top goal scorers in the league.
For the D.C. baseball fans, the season has been a better one than the last several after they moved from Montreal at the end of 2004. Since the move, they have secured last place as their perennial position. After a loss last night to the historically bad Baltimore Orioles by 5 – 3, the Nationals are only 1 game under .500. The bright spot resides on the roster of their minor league team, Triple A Syracuse. There a pitching phenom named Stephen Strasburg has dazzled and befuddled batters with the mix of his pitches and a near 100 mile per hour fast ball. He has almost been unhittable. The Nationals plan to bring him to the majors next month for the start of a potential long and successful career. The hope is that he will be the catalyst to drive the team to the top of the standings and create a buzz about the Nationals in the local and national media.
So we come to the Redskins who probably have more local fans than the other sports franchises combined. After a dreadful 2009 season where they finished 4 – 12 under a nice but outmatched coach, Jim Zorn, little loved owner Dan Snyder once again dropped the axe on the coach and other top executives in the organization. This time he chose as his coach a former Super Bowl wining coach Mike Shanahan who was out of the coaching after the Denver Broncos fired him. Shanahan quickly began the process of assessing talent which resulted in the elimination of many of the older veterans on the team. He brought in a large number of free agents as Snyder once again opened his checkbook to try to field a winner. The big catch was Donovan McNab as quarterback where he the leader of a winning Eagles team. This led to the trading of quarterback Jason Campbell who is still trying to remove the cleat marks on his back to the Oakland raiders for a mid round draft choice in 2012.
With a high 2010draft pick position, the Redskins had the opportunity to make a selection of a cannot miss talent. Like most bad teams, the Redskins had a lot of holes to fill. This time they decided to fortify their offensive line taking Trent Williams of Oklahoma, an agile and gifted athlete who has the ability on paper to protect McNab’s left side. Good teams in the NFL run the ball effectively and protect the passer. The fans hope that this pick augurs well for this to happen.
This April, local sports fans had a chance to enjoy the feeling of a winner as the Capitals had a great regular season led by the Russian born star Ovechkin. With high expectations, the team faced the 8th seeded Montreal Canadians as their 1st hurdle to winning the Stanley Cup. In a crucial game 7 played on home ice, the season ended with a thud as the Canadians prevailed 2 - 1 to advance. The Montreal Canadians became the first No. 8 seed to come back from a 3-1 series deficit against a No. 1 seed since the NHL adopted the current playoff format in 1994.
This was a sober reminder to the D.C. sports fans that having a winning record does not make a team a champ. However, Wizards, Redskins and Nationals fans will be very happy with a step in this direction this year. If it happens, the label of D.C. being a bad sports town may be replaced with a “City of winners”. We’ll see.