Caps’ title reflects working-class D.C.


There’s a large segment of the DMV sports population that I would consider bigger Washington Capitals fans than myself, and a large percentage of that group is white people. So I know several people see me pull for the only hockey team I’ve ever been able to name more than five players from, and think I’m a bandwagon fan riding this recent success to the joy of a championship season. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I’m a first generation Capitals fan. Like many African-Americans, I didn’t grow up in a household that cared for hockey. As anyone with vision can see, people who look like me aren’t well-represented in the sport. And unlike basketball, which started white before diversifying – therefore attracting viewers of all backgrounds – hockey has always been white. So drawing black fans can prove to be somewhat of a challenge. But I chose from a young age to root for all D.C.-area teams (aside from the pro football team), so over the years I’ve watched plenty of Capitals hockey games, playoffs or not.

That being said, hockey is my fourth favorite sport, and I’m more a Capitals fan than a hockey fan. So in the pecking order of my sports interests, hockey always came after the Wizards, Nationals, New York Giants, and the NBA and NFL in general. So no, I don’t remember the Caps’ 1997-98 playoff run and eventual sweep in the Stanley Cup Final the way I do the Bulls’ win over the Jazz that same year, when I was going on 11 years old. And although I do remember Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig being my favorite players at that time, my knowledge of what held those teams back isn’t up to snuff. But I do remember the recent Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams, and this year’s squad gave me a feeling they didn’t, a feeling best described through the city the Capitals play for.

Before this year, the Capitals reminded me of the white collar professionals and politicians of Washington, D.C. Somehow they eleveated to the status of something akin to blue blood without ever actually earning it through postseason success. They were often the favorites entering each season, and their style of play matched; it was rich, finesse, preventative, soft. This year’s team more resembled the working class folks of chocolate city however, the generational families of D.C. fighting tooth and nail to make a living and remain in the city. These Caps scrapped to keep pucks inside the blue line. They put shots on goal from anywhere on the ice and out-skated, if not out-willed, their opponents to rebounds. They seemed to hit more often and with more aggression than teams’ past, and they put their bodies on the line – like Devante Smith-Pelly in Game 7 of the Conference Finals – the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good of the team. And this was all done in a more disciplined manner, taking minimal penalties and capitalizing on power plays.


This Capitals’ championship means the world to the thousands of Capitals fans around the world who have been waiting for this moment since 1974. It also means a lot to the thousands more D.C. sports fans that have been waiting for a championship since the Redskins brought one home in 1991. But the meaning of this championship goes even deeper because this team wasn’t as favored to be here this year. And against another team that exceeded expectations but quickly ascended to become the Golden Knights child of the NHL world, the Caps played the role of underdog and kept winning. And in doing so, they represented a class of the city that can relate to and appreciate the story line of struggle more than the one any previous team could’ve provided.


Time to talk G.O.A.T.


It’s that time of year again; when LeBron James amazes playoff audiences across the world with the things he can do on a basketball court and his legions of minions break out their best ‘he’s-better-than’ takes, crafted since the previous postseason. This in turn brings out the millions of passionate Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant fans who feel the need to shoot down the notion of James somehow passing either as the greatest basketball player of all-time. LeBron haters alike, who don’t necessarily love Kobe or M.J., join in to smother the “LeBron is G.O.A.T” wildfire before it can go any further.

I want to go on the record as saying Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever in my personal opinion. That statement as opinion should be a given, but whenever this debate comes up people state their opinions so matter-of-factly as to dismiss counter-opinions as wrong. I lean toward Jordan because I enjoyed his style of play more. It always felt like he was in charge and like his fingerprint was on every single play of every single game, a trait I didn’t feel James always had until recently. But I understand why people are beginning to say James is the greatest and it doesn’t bother me, and to say that I KNOW Jordan was better would simply be a lie. I have no clue. And that’s where most people in the Jordan corner begin to lose me.

People who argue James as the greatest of all-time usually do so based strictly on what they see on the basketball court. They watch James play, how high he can jump, the type of shots he can make, the chase-down blocks, and they can’t imagine another person being able to do those things for as long as James has been able to. To me, that’s the correct criteria when judging who can play basketball better, even if I disagree with the idea of James being the greatest. People who argue Jordan talk about rings, Finals MVPs, and an undefeated Finals record, things Jordan deserves a lion’s share of the credit for, but also things impacted by a surrounding team.

I’m not so sure that if you replaced James with Jordan on the 2006-07 Cavaliers, they wouldn’t still get swept by the Spurs. I’d like to think Jordan would get at least a win, but that Cavs team was terrible. It’s incredible how people try to factor that loss into an argument against James’ legacy, when he should be given credit for his 22-year-old self dragging those bums to the Finals in the first place. I’m also not sure Jordan could’ve done any better than James in his two Finals loses against the Warriors, one of the greatest teams ever.

I do, however, think Jordan would’ve beaten the Mavericks in 2010-11, the year James shit the bed in the Finals – but the attribute I point to as a reason for that is mental toughness. I think James at that point in his career was mentally fragile in a way I personally never saw Jordan. James tried to defer to Dwyane Wade his first year in Miami because it was “Wade’s team.” Jordan never would’ve conceded a team to another player. He could’ve joined Patrick Ewing in New York and that would’ve become Jordan’s team the day he signed the contract. But to hold Finals losses against James in the debate of G.O.A.T. is ridiculous. If we do that, we have to count Jordan’s playoff failures before reaching the Finals, but we don’t. Seven straight Finals appearances, regardless of outcome, is a plus for James. The personal attribute I felt held James back in 2010-11 is the negative, but people arguing for Jordan or Bryant fail to make such points. For them, it only comes down to 6-0, 5-2, 3-5

To flip the script and put James on those Bulls teams, some of the greatest teams we’ve seen play, I’m not sure he wouldn’t have two three-peats to his name as well. Not saying it definitely would’ve happened, but James is great enough to have beaten the same teams Jordan did, even if in a different way. And to think of James on those Lakers teams with Shaquille O’Neal, that’s scary. They might’ve won more titles because James would’ve deferred to Shaq in a way Bryant’s ego wouldn’t let him. That’s not a knock against Bryant, because that’s the same ego that made him great, but James is great in a different way.

I’m never bothered by the G.O.A.T convo, I’m just upset with how shallow it usually is. The people making lazy arguments for Jordan make it easy for the Bryant stans to piggyback off the same lazy arguments, when Jordan was far and beyond a better player than Bryant. Bryant’s game looked similar to Jordan’s, only it wasn’t as good. The thing working in Bryant’s favor was a similar mental fortitude. But as previously referenced, that sometimes worked to his team’s detriment in a way it didn’t for Jordan. Statistically, Kobe doesn’t stack up to M.J. or LeBron.

Now, if we want to make the argument about better NBA careers or resumes, then we can throw around Finals records and MVPs, and overall titles, and Jordan and Bryant rank more unquestionably ahead of James. And while we’re at it, let’s throw Tim Duncan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and hell, even Robert Horry, in there. But if we’re talking about the best player to ever dribble a ball – keep your eyes on the games (not just the highlights), go look at the numbers, form an opinion and realize it’s incredibly subjective.

Jurassic Mistake: Casey out after 59 wins


The Toronto Raptors have fired coach Dwane Casey after 7 seasons, including a franchise-record 59-win season this year. There were rumors that the franchise could make a move in the days leading up to this moment, but it seemed improbable Toronto would split with the winningest coach in its history after such a highly acclaimed season. His only mistake was losing in the playoffs to one of the greatest players in NBA history three years in a row, without a single superstar on his own team. But alas, here we are.

Four days after being swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Casey is out of a job in a move that only makes sense if the front office plans to blow up the entire roster. A coach that has been this successful doesn’t get fired when it’s clear the roster has overachieved under him. And such a move is actually unprecedented in recent NBA history.

The numbers

Since the 1999-2000 season, 18 coaches have achieved regular seasons of at least 59 wins. Of those 18 coaches, only three were fired prior to the next season – Casey, Mike Brown (Cavaliers) and Flip Saunders (Pistons). Casey is the only of the 18 coaches to be fired after his first season of at least 59 wins. Brown and Saunders had previous 59+ win seasons with their respective teams before eventually being let go. Brown and Saunders also inherited better situations with legit reasons for higher expectations. Brown took over a team with James on it during his ascension to becoming the game’s best player. Saunders inherited a team that won the NBA championship two years prior.

Casey, on the other hand, had expectations only created by the product he put on the floor. The team he took over as coach prior to the shortened 2011-12 season had won just 22 games the previous year. He went on to increase the team’s win total every year but one since then, including five straight winning seasons and three straight 50-win seasons.

Casey has the most wins in franchise history (320), best win percentage (.573), most playoff appearances (5) and wins (21), five most winningest seasons, and he’s the only coach in franchise history with a winning record overall. He deserved a chance to see this thing through.

It’s easy to assert that if Casey were white, he would’ve been given more leniency, as black people often aren’t afforded the same slack. Excluding the five coaches since the 1999-2000 season that won championships either the season of their 59 wins, or prior to winning that many games (Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Erik Spoelstra), 10 coaches were retained after 59+ win seasons – 9 were white. The only non-white coach retained was Avery Johnson, who had two 59+ win seasons with the Mavericks.

The others

Rick Adelman lasted 3 more seasons with the Kings after consecutive 59+ win seasons. Mike Budenholzer lasted 3 more seasons with the Hawks after a 60-win season. Scott Brooks got an extra year after winning 59+ games in consecutive seasons with the Thunder. Rick Carlisle got 3 more seasons with the Pacers after peaking with 61 wins. Mike D’Antoni won 60+ with the Suns twice and was kept for another season after the second instance. D’Antoni also led this year’s Rockets to 65 wins, and even if they lose to the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, he’ll likely be retained. Mike Dunleavy got another year with the Trail Blazers after his 59-win season. Don Nelson got two more years after winning 60 with the Mavericks. Tom Thibodeau won 62 games his first year with the Bulls and stuck around for 4 more seasons before being fired. Stan Van Gundy was kept by the Heat for another year after winning 59 games, and two years by the Magic after consecutive 59-win seasons.

None of those coaches won championships in those respective situations, but their franchises gave them a chance to either show improvement or regression before making a change. Casey wasn’t given that opportunity.

What’s next?

The only next logical step for the Raptors is to try to trade star players Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and begin a full rebuild. Toronto’s talent isn’t good enough to get past, or grow with, the powers in the Eastern Conference, and no coach is coming in to change that. This isn’t a Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr situation, where the Warriors had budding superstars. The Raptors have fringe stars either in or past their primes. If the team tries to trot out a new coach with the same team, the reasons behind firing Casey have to be questioned.