Many Wizards fans often endure long, unpleasant journeys to get the pleasure of seeing their home team play. Mostly, that's just driving in from Northern Virginia or dealing with the unpredictably of Washington's metro system.
None of the matches the journey of Dutch Wizards fan Jules, who trekked all the way from Brussels, Belgium through New York to make it to the Verizon Center for the Wizards home playoff game against the Toronto Raptors.
If you are surprised someone would make such a trip, you aren't alone. The Wizards aren't a global brand in the way of NBA stalwart franchises like the Lakers or Bulls; put it another way, when you see Americans rooting for European football teams it is far more likely to be Manchester United or FC Barcelonan than West Ham United or Granada. So what makes a Dutch citizen living in Brussels such a hard core Wizards fan?
It starts with the days of Agent Zero. "I interned here during the Gilbert Arenas era, and that's when I got hooked up with the Wizards," Jules says wearing a long sleeve Wizards jersey as we talk in the 400 level of the Verizon Center.
"I watched the playoffs against Chicago and the Miami Heat. When I went back home, I wanted to continue following the Wizards but at that time there was no NBA TV in Europe."
Prior to the age of on demand archived games on League Pass, one had to actually watch the games at the times they were on TV. Given the 6 hour time different between Washington and Western Europe, this is inconvenient to say that least. Jules continued to follow the team despite the logistical challenges. "I had to get up at two o'clock in the morning, go back to bed around 5, 5:30 and wake up at 7 to go to work...In between, I was following the team on Bullets Forever, Washington Post and NBA.com. So I thought I had to come back, and so that's why I made this trip."
With the Wizards off to a fast start this season, Jules knew that Washington would be in the playoffs around this time. To sell his girlfriend of the trip, he extended the vacation to about a week and included a stop in New York to go along with the sightseeing and shopping in DC. They arrived on Monday, in time to make it down to the Greene Turtle on Tuesday night and join Wizards fans to watch the road game against the Raptors.
Friday night, he finally got to see his beloved Wizards in person at the Verizon Center. The last time he had been to a Wizards game, Larry Hughes was on the roster, Abe Pollin was the owner of the team and the arena was known as the MCI Center. Talking to him before the game, Jules was clearly excited about seeing the Wizards and his favorite players (Wall, Gortat, Beal) take on the Raptors.
He had high expectations for his first in person game in 9 years. "Of course they have to win, based on how they played the last two games, and because they lost the first home game to Chicago, they are really motivated."
The Wizards rewarded Jules for his travels winning a dramatic game to put them on the verge of the first 4 game sweep in franchise history.
Jules emailed me after the game that he was happy. "Great atmosphere, exciting and the crowd showed up in my opinion. It was definitely worth the trip."
The next time I'm waiting 15 minutes for a train, I'll try to keep that in mind. At least I didn't have to go through customs.