"There's not much I can do to soften the blow that Bucks fans are feeling this week. The sharp kick to the solar plexus that is having to watch the Sixers play for the NBA Championship. A team you know should have been beat. There's little I can do to put a balm on the sting of an Eastern Conference Finals that was laced with a feeling that the deck was stacked against you. I can't eliminate the puke stains on your rug from being force fed the"Allen Iverson is the greatest" story line for seven straight games by NBC.
But I can say this. There are worse places to be in the NBA Universe. Like here with me, in D.C. Hell, with not much hope on the horizon.
I have made the analogy that having your sports team flounder in mediocrity(or worse) for a long period of time, is like being a sports nomad. You and the diehards wander the sporting desert in search of the magical oasis of success. Many years you and your team wander, completely uncertain as to whether you are even wandering in the right direction. You think that after five, 10, 15, 20 years, your lonely pilgrimage just HAS to come to an end soon, right? That there HAS to be the oasis of success just over the next barrens and hill of a season.
No, no it doesn't. Your pilgrimage could last decades, or even the better part of a century and you have no guarantee of being rewarded with a ring. Ask fans of the Cubs, Red Sox, or Browns. Or in my case, the Washington Bullets. In the spring of 1978 I forced my father to take me to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Elvin Hayes/Wes Unseld/Kevin Grevey Bullets and the George Gervin led San Antonio Spurs. We bought tickets at the last minute outside the Cap Centre, and ended up watching the Ice Man go down in the final seconds. We were cheering, yelling, hi-fiving the two guys we didn't even know sitting next to us, and enjoying the ride. The Bullets had just come off the "Fat Lady Ain't Singin' Yet" championship from last season, and we were certainly going to roll to another.
Then they lost to the Sonics in the Finals. And that was the last we saw of glory in the NBA.
Me and my fellow Bullets nomads proceeded to pack up for the sports wasteland, and set out for a nice little 22 year trek through basketball hell.
Not only were there no moments of magic here in DC since I was 10 years old, there was often comedy piled upon farce. GM Bob Ferry drafted 7-6 Manute Bol and 5-3 Muggsy Bogues in the same year, momentarily confusing the NBA for a tented freak show at the county fair. Everything the franchise touched turned to stone.
They traded for two former #1 overall picks. Pervis Ellison proved he was never worthy of that honor, and Chris Webber lied, drank and caroused his way out of town. First round draft picks were casually thrown around in trades like dollar bills at a strip club. Webber cost three #1's to acquire, plus former lottery pick Tom Gugliotta. When he was shipped out, the Wizards got the aging Otis Thorpe and a soon to be over the hill jump shooter in Mitch Richmond.
Good organizations don't trade three #1's and an All Star for those guys. Bad ones like the Wizards end up doing it without even figuring out how it happened.
They changed buildings, changed names and changed coaches (God, did they do that) and nothing changed on the court. Right now, the great Michael Jordan is leading our dwindling pack of Bullets diehards through the desert. He promises the oasis of success is just over a few more hills. He's checked the maps, looked at the compass and swears that we are headed toward fertile, lush, and bountiful NBA ground.
Like many others, I'm not so sure. It seems like we've traversed this stretch of NBA desert before. Many think we're just marching deeper into the desert. Especially if MJ attempts his much talked about comeback. We have the top pick in the draft, so we should be happy, right? That's like finding a healthy, sturdy young ox to help carry our packs to the promised land. Instead, MJ will probably get cute and trade down for future picks or an over rated veteran who can "help him now."
We'll trade the ox for a straw hat and a stick of lip balm. You watch, it'll happen. We're the Wizards.
So even though as Bucks fans, there is immense disappointment right now, stop to count your blessings.
Your team took you as fans, on an exhilarating 42 day, 18 game ride. If you had any appreciation for what the franchise had been through, this was like mopping up the "au jus" with a big piece of bread. The Bradley Center rocked so loud, former claims that the building's design "dampened" noise were exposed as ludicrously half baked. Sam Cassell carried everybody on his busted ribs through the Charlotte series. Big Dog threw a quiver of dagger-like shots throughout. Ray Allen went thermonuclear. The role players relished those roles with a blur of loose balls, blocked shots, rebounds and floor burns.
Your coach didn't flinch, didn't panic, and most importantly didn't sell out this own guys when the going got dicey and calmer heads didn't prevail. The Bucks are just a few turned cheeks and a short jumper away from even more glorious spring times. The nucleus starts at age 31 with Cassell, and gets younger from there.
Tim Thomas is a sleeping giant of talent. George Karl is loved by the fans, and paid well by the owner. Your star player is good looking, intelligent, and absolutely fearless with the basketball. He likes the city, and has no plans to get out to a "major market." I hate to lecture, but it doesn't get much better than this. Even so, chances are, it will.
The history of the East in the last 20 years is that early failure brings subsequent glory. The Celtics begat the Pistons, who begat the Bulls. Both Detroit and Chicago were in exactly the same spot (Eastern Conference losers) as the Bucks are now. The Pistons lost once, the Bulls twice. Heck, the Pacers lost four times before making the NBA's grand stage.
So while the bitterness still lingers, and the handful of fateful moments (Dog's missed jumper, Scott Williams' elbow) get replayed in your mind, take a moment to be thankful that your basketball emotions have, at least, been so deeply stirred. That you rode the bull for so long before it kicked you in the face. That at the very least, you had some foul calls in the month ofMay to bitch about with co-workers the next day in the office. For two months Bucks fans frolicked in the oasis of success. The palm trees swayed, the crystal blue water was refreshing, and the basketball buffet was deep and plentiful. You swung on hammocks with bikini clad harem girls, and life was so good soooooo goooooood after so many years wandering.
It was nice for me (as a Wiz fan who had a rooting interest in the Bucks) to be able to quietly nibble on a piece of fruit at the fringes of your playoff celebration. I could not in good conscience, dive in completely. Because I hadn't suffered during the long Bucks death march that included "fan favorites" with no talent (i.e. Marty Conlon) instead of genuine stars capable of greatness.
Someday my people, the Bullets faithful, will find our own oasis of success. But we have no idea when that will be. It could be soon, or it could be another 23 years. So enjoy it now Bucks fans, and don't let the bitterness spoil an otherwise glorious springtime run.
Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.
A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.