A sports fan's relationship with their chosen franchise(s) spans a lot of time, a lot of life. When your team is losing, there's a feeling of getting endlessly rolled back, like losing at life. It's just a game, but it's a story you invest yourself in, you come to identify with. The story of that franchise becomes your story, and that's where a real fan's passion comes from.
That's one aspect where I deeply appreciate Ted Leonsis' Ten Point Plan. I can always root for the players as I learn their stories, but the story of the team was a punchline on ESPN and every other thoughtless publication. That humiliation sat deep in my stomach. One of Ted's main objectives has been to bring the story of the team back to the forefront, and we're seeing that happen.
A commitment to the relatively thankless task of defense is something fans identify so deeply with because we feel a likeness to the relatively thankless tasks that litter our own lives. A hard-nosed defensive team is a team blue-collar fans can get behind. If you've ever thought cheering for Rocky was cheering for yourself, you know what I'm talking about. Where every forced 24 second shot-clock violation feels like an epic victory.
It's been a lot of years since the Wizards have won in Phoenix. The outcome in recent contests has depended on the likes of Andray Blatche and Nick Young scoring enough to offset the comedy of errors that often had my father and I groaning in our seats the one time a year our favorite team came to town.
Wednesday night was different for more than one reason. I've taken a sabbatical from Bullets Forever with the possible recurrence of my father's cancer. We found out today that the mass making it almost impossible for him to swallow his food is a three-fold problem and that, yes, the cancer is back after a prior (and successful) lumpectomy. We found this out at a doctor's appointment not two hours before gametime. That's a lot of tough news, and though my father is one of those stoic, blue-collar guys, he knew whatever the news was it would probably be bad and his spirits suffered weeks in advance. That was hard for me to watch.
So last night was a funny thing. I was my typical rowdy, foul-mouthed self drinking Dos Equis, and my dad took genuine heart in the stiff defensive play the Wizards put out, despite everything this day had been. Before long, his usually-reticent self was shouting right alongside me. I can't really tell you how it felt, screaming for the Wiz, just then. Nothing mattered but the heart, the commitment evidenced on the floor. That late 24-second violation was pure joy. John Wall taking command was rhapsodic.
The Wizards gave a solid gift to my family last night, and it was an experience we'll always have. Thinking about what this "meaningless" game meant for us kind of makes lottery calculations and tanking arguments hollow as a politician's smile. Fans want to see their teams scrap and win because, for a real fanatic, the pride we take in our team is also the pride we take in ourselves. Even the way Bradley Beal re-injured his ankle was further fuel for that fire. Today, I am very proud.
The denouement was almost an afterthought. We walked down the stairs from the eighth row to the first after a standing ovation for the team's effort. As Wall walked away from the scorer's table after giving an interview, my dad called out to him. John half-turned and gave a wave to the stands and my dad turned, looked at me and he was happy. "Most fans won't even get that," he quipped. It damn near broke my heart and I nearly started crying.
We hope to see the Wizards many more times in person, but we finally saw the kind of performance dad used to talk about witnessing at the Capitol Center. Last night was perfect. To John Wall, to the Wizards, thank you for your guts in a game no pundit circled in red on their calender. It meant the world to couple of random guys in the stands tonight. Thank you.