It is appropriate that I watched the Washington Bullets (I never use Wizards) close out the Chicago Bulls in a bar in Chicago. The great God of basketball shined on me and sent me to Chicago for a conference. And so it happens that I was in Chicago when the teams met last night for Game #5, with my Bullets leading the series 3-1. The game was on in every joint in town.
The bar where I watched the game was full of Chicago fans who seemed to want to just get the season over. They know their team is in a transition mode. The Bulls lost their two biggest stars this year (Derrick Rose, to injury, Luol Deng to a trade) and they are just not the same Bulls who had championship aspirations just two years ago. They will be back but last night, it was about the Washington Bullets (Wizards), my Bullets.
I go back decades with the Bullets. They were once the Baltimore Bullets and played at the Civic Center in downtown Baltimore. I saw games there. Then they played games in Washington D.C. at the Washington Coliseum, in the hood. My father would take my brothers and me to the games and we cheered wildly for Gus Johnson and then the great Wes Unseld, not the mention, the incomparable Earl “the Pearl” Monroe.
I was a fan when Lew Alcindor and the Milwaukee Bucks swept us 4-0 in 1971, and was a fan with Golden State did the same in 1975. Coach K.C. Jones got fired after that madness because the Bullets, understand, were 60-22 that year, and were favored to win it all. They had Unseld, the future Hall of Famer, and Elvin Hayes, the “Big E,” one of the best low post players in the history of organized basketball in the U.S. “The Big E” did not deliver.
But in 1978, magic struck. The Bullets won it all. Bob Dandridge, the great small forward who ran circles around Dr. J (Julius Erving) that year and gave George “the Ice Man” Gervin hell, was MVP of the championship series. Wes Unseld, the team’s most famous player, was a rock.
The Bullets won the series 4-3, beating the Seattle Supersonics on the road in Seattle. They made it back in 1979 but lost to the Sonics 4-1. And then the bottom dropped on my Bullets, and they slipped into 30 plus years of mediocrity and forgettable basketball. They became known for bad trades and gimmicks like the 7’6” Manute Bol playing with 5’3” Mugsy Bogues of Baltimore.
Until last night.
All of the decades of ineptitude ended. All of the bad trades, draft picks, bad behavior, and organizational failure ended. The Bullets, my Bullets, are real.
John Wall, as usual, the team’s leader, point guard, and the first player chosen in the 2010 draft was solid: 24 points 4 assists, 7 rebounds. NENE, who almost turned the series on its head when he was tossed from Game 3 for a head butt on Jimmy Butler, had 20 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and delivered another super cool floor game. Bradley Beal, Wall’s backcourt mate, had 17 points, 5 rebounds.
Yet, the real story of the game was the Bulls played their type of game for the first time (slow down, grind,
low scoring), and the Bullets were fine. They dug in, played defense, and grabbed just enough rebounds to close the series out 75-69 in Chicago. It was their first playoff series win since 2005.
As fate would have it, they will play either the struggling Indiana Pacers, or the 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks who had a losing record this year. They beat the Hawks 3 of 4 this season and though the Pacers dominated my Bullets, these Pacers look lost.
Who knows what will happen? The chatter on the streets everywhere is the Washington Bullets/Wizards are a legitimate NBA franchise again. And it is true, they are because the fat lady sang last night (at least for one series) and only a real fan of the Bullets/Wizards would know what that means.