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Why winning a division title matters to Wizards fans

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Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards - Game Six Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Wizards have developed a reputation for letting their fans down. I’ve lived in DC for a little more than four years, and I’ve never realized a city can be so jaded by its professional sports teams.

The Verizon Center, I’ve noticed, has very few banners, especially for the basketball team. Only those with the name “Bullets” hang in the rafters, an ode to the team’s previous life in the 1970’s. No Wizards player proper has ever had his jersey retired, nor have they raised a banner for a NBA title, conference title or division title since making the name change.

This year, things may finally be changing. They’ve reached 42 with three weeks left in the season, and they’re atop the Southeast Division. Following Monday’s game, they are ahead of the second place Atlanta Hawks — a team that is currently on a four losing streak — by five games.

If things hold, the franchise will have its best regular season in nearly 40 years. The franchise will also capture its first division title since the 1979 season, when yes, they were still the Bullets.

A lot has happened since 1979. The Bullets changed their name. The city added a baseball team. The football team won three Super Bowls. The San Antonio Spurs won 19 division titles, six conference titles, and five championships.

Every other team in the Southeast Division has more division titles than the Wizards: The Hawks have 5, the Magic have 5, and the Miami Heat have 12. (I can’t really count the Hornets/Bobcats because of their complicated history, yada yada.)

While a division title may not mean anything in terms of playoff seeding, it would help ease the pain of a city suffering from a 25-year drought without a major sports championship. It has been over a quarter-century since any of Washington’s four major teams — Wizards, Redskins, Nationals and Capitals — were crowned champion. And the closest call after the Redskins won it all in 1991 was the 1997-98 Capitals team, who lost in the Stanley Cup Finals.

I chatted with some Wizards faithful on Twitter to see what they thought of the possibility of winning their division.

Generally, most users were pretty happy about the notion because it shows that the team is finally seeing results after being on the come up for so long. (True.)

Someone said it doesn’t matter unless they make the Eastern Conference Finals (very plausible), and a few others said it is more important that the Wizards reach 50 wins (something the team also hasn’t done since that 1978-79 season).

A few others also said that it really means nothing. And they’re right. It’s like coming in 4th place in the Olympics — you don’t get tangible. But when you haven’t won a division title in over 30 years, the symbolism can suffice.

For storied NBA franchises like the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, winning a divisional title is like the sun rising in the East and setting in the West — it is hoisting the championship trophy that represents success for their franchise. But for a team like the Wizards, who hasn’t won any sort of title in forever, a division title will represent success. And while it may be just a small sign of success in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a very big deal for the Wizards, and their longsuffering fans.