As a native to the DC region, a few moments stood out to me in recent years:
- the night the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup,
- the night the Washington Mystics won the WNBA Championship, and
- the night the Washington Nationals won the World Series.
It seems odd even making that list because our area has been mired in disappointment after disappointment. Prior to the Capitals winning, the region’s last championship in the four major sports was won by the Washington Redskins in 1992. And no, Baltimore is not included in this discussion.
Of the three teams that won recently, the Nationals’ World Series resonated with me the most because their run was so improbable and the backstory was so good.
In 2005, the Nationals started its life in Washington with a respectable first year, but it took until 2012 for them to become a perennial contender. While they were in the hunt for a championship, there on-field performance mimicked the Capitals — great regular seasons with elite talent and disappointing losses in the postseason.
When the Nationals finally broke through in 2019, their postseason was something special. What stands out to me is the number of times they were on the brink of losing — five elimination games on their way to the title.
I remember the National League Wild Card game and thinking, this team can’t score a run and now the Brewers are bringing in Josh Hader to close the game out. This looks like another disappointing end.
I said something similar against the Dodgers when they couldn’t hit Walker Buehler. And then I said the same thing in the World Series after they were swept at home by the Astros. There were so many times I thought this team was done, but they kept fighting. That’s what made their championship so exciting, so satisfying, and amazing. It was the most emotional moment I’ve had as a sports fan because I was a part of the ups and downs of the championship run. The unpredictable and dramatic nature of their postseason made it so amazing to process.
While in that moment though and while reflecting back on what happened, I often tried to imagine how I would feel if the Wizards went on a similar run. A number of teams over the years gave us flashes of excitement.
I remember the years with Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes /Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. Those teams had talent, particularly on offense, but they ran into Lebron James and the Cavaliers too many times and were unsuccessful each time.
A couple of the John Wall, Bradley Beal-led teams tantalized, like the one that dominated the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in game one of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, only to have John Wall break his hand at the end of the game. That team looked ready to get at least to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Seeing a team similar to those squads go on a run similar to the Nationals would likely surpass that Nationals win for “most emotional moment,” at least for me. I would love having my favorite teams be dominant and winning, but it’s different when it’s an improbable run. The Wizards, for us as fans, have always been the lovable losers. It took them 40 years to win a division title, they haven’t threatened to compete for a championship since 1979 and we’re still fans.
It’s something special to emotionally invest in a team that struggles for so long and finds a way to put it all together at the right time. It’s the inverse of why some fans frown upon Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors a year after the team won 73 games. Many fans want to see an organic transition — bad to mediocre to contender to champion — built piece by piece.
The Wizards have never been a dominant team for this generation of fans. Even when they won the championship in 1978, they were only 44-38 in the regular season and considered long shots to win the title. They overcame every obstacle, including eliminating the previous Eastern Conference Champion Philadelphia 76ers, thanks to the heroics of the late, great Wes Unseld. Those moments are just that much sweeter. That team would go all the way to the last moments in game seven to win the title against the SuperSonics. How much sweeter are those moments given the improbability of the run?
So while we have our endless debates about how to fix flaws on the roster — is Rui Hachimura a 3 or 4? should trade Bradley Beal? — maybe somehow, someway, the front office can assemble a roster good enough to get to the playoffs and make a run similar to the 1978 Bullets or the 2019 Nationals.
I don’t know about you, but a run like that is something that as a fan stands out more and is more emotional than simply dominating. A guy can dream, right?