Friday, December 24, 2010


On Wednesday evening, I found myself practically skipping across town to the Verizon Center for the first of the Bulls' two visits to Washington D.C. this season. The thought "I get to see Derrick Rose" kept running through my head.

In over ten years of going to see the Bulls' play here, I cannot recall being as excited about seeing a player live. In fact, my expectations were so high that every time Rose beat someone off the dribble and cut to the room I gasped audibly -- even though the play was, in context, pedestrian. In retrospect, Rose did not do anything in Wednesday's game that terribly extraordinary (he didn't need to), but that fact does not detract from the experience of watching him and knowing that at any moment he is capable of a breathtaking play.

Because of the weird nature of sports in the nation's capital -- where tickets to events are bought extensively as chits for political influence -- I am usually able to get inexpensive tickets near the court for most Wizards games. Although it is nice to be close to the action, it lacks in atmosphere as few interested fans seem to have seats in these areas and most of the surrounding conversation is about work rather than the event that brought people to the stadium in the first place.

Until Wednesday, getting cheap regular season tickets to see the Bulls play the Wiz has not been difficult. No longer. In result, we sat a bit higher in the 100 sections and, for the first time in some while, found ourselves surrounded by honest-to-gosh genuine Wizards fans. Passionate fans that were immediately annoyed about our cheering for the Bulls in pre-game introductions.

I ended up enjoying being around knowledgeable fans who were extremely proud to be season ticket holders of a team that is hard to love. Because of their earnest interest in their team, our support for the Bulls was far more muted than it has been in previous visits. Sitting on my hands when Carlos Boozer took over the game seemed a bit like stifling our reactions to Scott Carson's penalty save when sitting amongst other tourists as Charlton visited Stamford Bridge.

My principal take away from the game is that my initial read of the team has been confirmed -- they are pretty good and probably the best constructed Bulls team in the post-Jordan/Pippen era. Most of the Bulls struggled on Wednesday, Luol Deng had a pretty poor game, Rose seemed tired, Bogans and Brewer made limited contributions, and Kyle Korver was off. Nevertheless, the Bulls won against a struggling team because of Boozer's ability to score in the post and Kurt Thomas's ability to manipulate some awful refereeing.

My secondary take away is that I would not want to Andray Blatche. I had also gone to see the Wizards on Monday night when the Bobcats visited -- tickets were unbelievably inexpensive and I was interested in seeing Tyrus Thomas again. The game was a disaster. Down just five at the end of a dire second quarter, the Bobcats got whupped in the third quarter as Charlotte largely gave up. And not just the players on the court (watching Stephen Jackson lose the ball on multiple ill-conceived isolation offensive drives was painful), but Larry Brown as well. Coach Brown made, I think, two subs during the whole of the third quarter as the Wizards' lead grew from five to thirty points and one of those substitutions was necessitated by Nazer Mohammed's ejection from the game.

Nevertheless, despite comfortably cruising to just their sixth win in 26 games (and breaking a seven game losing streak), the Wizards' faithful booed Kwame Brown mercilessly and, inexplicably, began riding Blatche and Lester Hudson for innocuous errors in the second half as well. I was surprised by the negativity of response, but even that did not prepare me for the fans' hostility to Blatche on Wednesday.

Everyone in our section expressed a disdain for Blatche in visceral terms in casual conversation and showed no restraint in also loudly voicing their opinions -- one grandmother two rows in front of us who had previously been beaming while showing off pictures of her grandkids shouted "You Suck!" at Blatche after he committed another turnover in the second half.

There is no dispute that Blatche had a bad game, but I could not understand the booing. The attacks from his own fans clearly unnerved Blatche. You could seem him put his head down and try and prove his worth -- only to make a mistake, elicit more boos, and hang his head further. And his poor play was not due to a lack of effort. Indeed, on the heels of a pathetic display of professionalism by the Bobcats on Monday night, Blatche's dogged efforts should have won grudging recognition.

But that is clearly not the fans' collective take. In what appears to be a widely-held sentiment, Blatche is the object of the fans' ire and, as such, the better question is why Flip Saunders continues to trot him out to get abused.

The Wizards should have won the game on Wednesday night. In fact, I had resigned myself to such a result given how poorly most of the Bulls were playing, the ridiculous refereeing decisions (working to the detriment of both sides), and Boozer picking up his fifth foul with seven minutes of regulation left. But Saunders kept Blatche in and this seemed to work to keep the fans largely out of the game, while also effectively limiting the Wizards to four competent players on the court.

In the end, I left the stadium even more buoyant than when I came in. The Bulls' visits here are now an event. And I can think of no better measure for the success of the front office in building a competitive team than that.

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