In my closet you'll find three Wizard jerseys. Obviously, it would hard to really write effectively over here if I didn't own a Gilbert Arenas #0 jersey. I've also got a Antawn Jamison jersey that I was fortunate enough to get on sale right after Christmas. Then there's a Wizards jersey with a number 1 on it. It doesn't belong to Nick Young and sadly, it's not a Rod Strickland jersey. No, my Wizards #1 jersey is a Jared Jeffries special. If you don't believe me, here's your visual evidence:
I know, I know. You could insult this choice of jersey in a lot of different ways. You could talk about Jared "had a polar opposite relationship with the basket" or how his defense was like a "needle in a haystack of crap" or any number of insults that you could come up with. All the criticisms of Jared are well-deserved, but without Jared, I simply would not be the fan that I am today.
To understand how a lottery pick that's averaged a rather pedestrian 5.3 points per game could have such an impact on my fandom, you have to go back to December 2004. The Wizards were an impressive 10-6 at the time and people were starting to take notice that this could be the year that the Wizards break back into the playoffs. Even though the Wizards were putting together a solid season for the first time in almost a decade, I found myself unmoved by the Wizards newfound success.
The MIchael Jordan era had left me high and dry as a fan and I hadn't liked the direction that the team was headed post-Jordan. Signing Gilbert Arenas? Desperate move by Pollin to stay relevant after he lost his cash cow. Trading for Jamison? The wrong move by a franchise that should've been looking to rebuild with young players. Clearly, I had no idea what I was talking about, but I was young and stubborn, so I was convinced that I knew everything and felt convinced that it would be another decade of cellar dwelling for a team that knew a lot about living down there.
Even though I had soured on the Wizards a bit, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to go on a field trip to the Verizon Center to watch the Wizards take on the Knicks on December 10th. Since I lived about 2 hours away from D.C., I'd never been to Wizards game before, so I was interested in seeing what it was like being at a game in person, if nothing else.
On the day of the game, I saw on the news that Kwame Brown had been suspended for the game. I really didn't have much of an opinion on it, other than "There goes Kwame again..." but when I talked to my friend (who had a very FD mindset, even though FD wasn't around yet) about it, he thought that it was a good thing for the Wizards. I don't quite remember if he thought that because he thought Jared was good or Kwame was especially terrible, but right then I made a mental note that I would keep a close eye on the third year vet.
As it would turn out, I picked a good game to observe Jared Jeffries in. His 12 point, 5 rebound, 3 steal, 2 assist night was one of his better showings of the season. It also helped that he had the highlight of the night on a put back dunk in the 4th quarter that really got the crowd going in what was an already fun-filled, dramatic game.
At the end of the day, Brendan Haywood's gift-certificate performance would be the focus of the papers, but I'll always remember Jared's performance that night. Not only because it was one of his few double digit scoring nights, but also because he was a big part of why I got excited about Wizards basketball again. If he hadn't played as well as he did, the Wizards probably would've lost that night and if that had happened, most of my unfounded beliefs about the team very well could've been reinforced in my mind and then who knows what would've happened. Maybe I'd only be a casual fan. Maybe I would've hopped on another team's bandwagon. Or maybe I would've just forsaken the NBA altogether.
Thankfully, none of that happened and as the year went on I grew more and more as a fan as the team kept winning. By the time Gilbert sank the Bulls, I was more devoted as a fan than I'd ever been before. While the newfound passion I had for the Wizards would sometimes be directed at Jared in a negative fashion, I could never get really mad at Jared because of his role in my fanhood. When I decided to get my first Wizards jersey, the choice for who to get was obvious. Nowadays, it gets nowhere near the use that the other Wizard jerseys in my closet get, but without that #1 jersey, there probably wouldn't be a #0 or #4 jersey (and a #3 at some point, obviously) and there would probably be one less writer at Bullets Forever.