Not many people think of Washington DC as a sports town. The first thought that jump into people's mind is that DC is where people go to work for Congress and then leave after a few years. Having a transitory population, how could DC sports teams have loyal fan bases?
There are actually two cities...the city of Congress and the transient. But then there are the multi-generational families that form intensely loyal fan bases for the local teams.
My family is working on its third generation here. When I was a kid, the Washington Bullets were in the playoffs often during the 1970s and won a championship in the 1977-1978 season. Elvin Hayes, the power forward, would back his opponents into the lane while fans were yelling "E!" He would turn around quickly and sink a short jump shot. Phil Chenier, the shooting guard, was cool as ice with a silky jump shot. Wes Unseld, who recently passed away, was the iconic undersized center at 6' 8" who was known for his physical and gritty play and could out-rebound most other big men in the league. Often leading the team in assists and picks, he would grab a defensive rebound and while in the air throw a cross court outlet pass for a streaking teammate who would make a layup.
Abe Pollin changed the name to Wizards in the 1990s when he soured on the Bullets name as connoting violence. The team relocated to downtown DC in our convenient and fun Chinatown. It had long stretches of tough years in the basement of the league. Then in the mid-2000s, prospects improved first with the trio of Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. A few years later, John Wall electrified Chinatown with his speed and Bradley Beal sank threes. Wall is coming off serious injuries, Beal has developed into a superstar and the Wizards have some exciting big men. While we are still in rebuild, the future looks bright again.
Over the years, the distinguishing aspect of DC sports is a sense of community. The Wizards play in an area where people can walk, take Metro, or drive to the game. This aspect integrates the team into the surrounding community as patrons can make a day out of attending the game, eating out and going to surrounding museums like the Portrait Gallery with stunning paintings and photographs of cultural and historical figures. Also, locals can literally walk from their apartments, take in a game, and keep returning for years on end. Proximity is the stuff that makes for a loyal fan base even during dry spells. It is just so easy to go to a game.
So don't under-estimate DC fandom. When folks think of legendary sports towns and NBA teams, Boston, New York and LA usually top the list. But there are old timers like myself who can tell you about Bobby Dandridge from the 1977-78 Wizards, Doug Williams from the Superbowl DC team of 1987 to Max Scherzer from the 2019 World Series Nationals. And here is the secret --DC fans cannot be fair weather fans -- we went through lots of dry spells and bad luck. This makes the great teams all the more fun to relish. Integrate the team into the city and the fans will keep coming back! Go Wizards!
- Josh S.
Josh and his family live with Charlie, the intrepid spaniel, whose spirits rise and fall with the Wizards wins and losses.