So there I was a few weeks ago, like many were, checking out this new ESPN documentary, “The Last Dance.” In the second episode, the focus was on the absence of Scottie Pippen, who was out after delaying foot surgery until late in the summer, causing him to miss the early part of the 1997-98 season.
Pippen’s absence had a strong impact on the Bulls early on that season as they started out slowly. Part of the recap of that time period was the Wizards 90-83 win over the Bulls. This was after the Wizards gave the Bulls a competitive first round series the previous season, that prompted Jordan to call the Wizards ‘a team of the future’.
Indeed they were a team on the rise and it was largely because of the trio of Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland. At the time, Chris Webber was one of my favorite players in the entire league. When I went out to play basketball in the neighborhood, I would find myself trying to emulate his moves and even attempting to do his famous one hand grip of the ball to his side, despite my hands being much smaller than his. My admiration for him even grew to the point of me getting his signature shoes made by Fila.
Indeed, I was a big Chris Webber fan and I thought a large part of what we saw as a ‘team of the future’ was because he was the franchise player that was going to take the Wizards far beyond anything I experienced in my time watching the team in the 80s and 90s.
This is why May 15, 1998 was a particularly difficult day for me. That is the day the Wizards traded Chris Webber to the Sacramento Kings for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe. It began a tremendous run for the Kings, who were largely pedestrian for much of the time that Richmond was on the team.
Don’t get me wrong, Mitch Richmond is one of the best shooting guards of all time. He was a tremendous talent and at the that time a clear future Hall of Famer. Jordan even called him the toughest shooting guard that he ever had to defend. Despite all of that, he was clearly on the decline of his career and simply could not replicate the impact that Webber was beginning to have on this franchise.
That trade was yet another reminder of the countless bad decisions this franchise has made for decades and it was perhaps the one that stung the most. For me, I had a difficult time supporting the team after that trade. I found myself, despite still being a Wizards fan, watching more Kings games that I would have ever imagined and actually adopting them as a second team.
When I watched the Mitch Richmond version of the Wizards, it just didn’t have the same spark for me that it had years before. You just knew watching the team, there was no future success happening. Richmond was declining and Juwan Howard just did not live up to his big contract.
If the goal was to split up the party-happy former members of the infamous Fab Five, many would probably agree the wrong was moved, but it just wasn’t realistic for any team to want to take on Juwan Howard’s huge (7 years, $105 million) contract.
It would take until Michael Jordan joined the Wizards and of course the phenomenon that was Agent 0 before I really became fully invested in the team again.
Even now, the clamoring that some fans have had to trade Bradley Beal still brought back those memories of what if we never traded Webber? Then I sometimes wonder would I have the same regret trading Beal as I did when we traded Webber? I think that is something that many of us will ponder, but for now, I will just clinch my teeth if I have to see another image of that team with Chris Webber in a Bullets/Wizards jersey.