I didn't attend Friday's big John Wall introduction "event" because I was still in New York, but there's been some backlash from some mainstream media members wondering whether the Wizards are fawning over Wall too much. The whole shebang featured a red carpet, a limo, a huge crowd and a declaration that Friday was forever known as John Wall day in the city.
Was that all a bit much? Several media guys who I respect say so, and their arguments were probably summed up in this Tracee Hamilton column from over the weekend. The basic argument? All this hype is silly, considering Wall hasn't played a single game yet. In response, Ted Leonsis shot back sternly on his blog, saying he "won't let the media generate controversy when there isn't any to talk about."
I didn't attend, so who knows if I'd feel differently if I did. But honestly, I'm with Ted 100 percent here. Complaints about the whole spectacle completely miss the whole point of the event.
The bottom line, which many media members appear to be forgetting, is that this was not a media event. Sure, there was a press conference, but this was not your traditional media-only, let's-make-Wall-available-for-mundane-quotes type of thing. I think that's what many of these guys expected, which explains their cynicism.
But at the end of the day, this was an event for the fans, not for media. Media was invited, sure, because that way, the Wizards could kill two birds with one stone and give the press the access to Wall that they needed (which, by the way, is fair, considering how busy the man has been this week doing interviews). But first and foremost, this was a way for fans to celebrate. As Leonsis writes:
It is the off season - summer time in DC. We are in need of repositioning our team to be future-focused; we just closed on our new ownership agreement two weeks ago. What better way to re-launch the new Wizard's brand and culture than celebrate with our season ticket holders and fans that we won the lottery and have the first round pick on board? The first round pick in the draft. And what better way to generate some off-season interest and sell some tickets - which we really need to do to get our building loud and proud for Wizard's games next season?
He's exactly right. By and large, after what happened last year, the Wizards desperately need to sell optimism to a fanbase that's in a pretty cynical state right. (Need proof? Consider how negative this place has been over the past few days. I'm not going to make any judgement calls over that negativity - I personally think a lot of it is fair - but there's definitely some trust the team needs to rebuild after the last couple seasons). What better way to do that than to invite any and all fans to introduce their new franchise cornerstone to the city?
From a marketing perspective, it's a no-brainer. On this here site, for example, we disagree about a lot of things, ranging from site rules to actual team decisions. But if there's one thing that comes close to unifies us (besides being fans of the team of course), it's that pretty much every Wizards fan is really flippin excited about John Wall. I've been running this site for four years now, and I've never seen any topic that spurs as much excitement as John Wall coming to D.C. As the owner of a downtrodden sports team, you HAVE to capitalize on that.
And frankly, we as fans deserve the chance to show our excitement. At the end of the day, sports fandom is about moments and feelings, not about rationality. (This site tries to find balance between the two, but if we err, we always err on the side of passion). The question of whether John Wall lives up to the hype or not is not something we're particularly interested in thinking about right now. For lack of a better term, it's a buzzkill. We have the next few years to figure out the answer to that question. For right now, we're just excited, and we want to be able to say we shared that excitement with others, even if it means waiting in line in 90 degree heat at the Verizon Center just to see the man arrive to our city.
In other words, we don't care if the John Wall Dance video was cheesy, or whether the red carpet was a bit much, or whether this is too much hype for a 19-year old. (Oh, and for the record, it's not. This is the NBA, where stars mean more than in other sports. Hamilton sort of acknowledges this in her column, but it's ridiculous to even bring up a comparison to Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals. It's not like comparing apples to oranges; it's like comparing apples to ice cream). We just want to celebrate our good fortune without having to worry about that stuff. If that celebration rained on media's ability to get good John Wall quotes, tough luck. It's 2010, not 1980. Fans and press should be able to stand side by side.
Bottom line: this was an event for fans, with media invited. This was not an event for media, with fans invited. Under those circumstances, the hype is completely justified, because it mirrors how us fans are feeling right now. And since John Wall has been the only major thing us Wizards fans can all get excited about over the past two years. It would be nice if we could enjoy that with other Wizards fans without having anyone grumble about whether we and the team are being a bit over the top expressing our excitement.