The Washington Wizards are a basketball team and the Baltimore Orioles are a baseball team, so how could they possibly be similar? Well, for starters, they share a fanbase in the Mid-Atlantic, but more importantly their respective 2014 and 2012 seasons accomplished the same thing.
The Orioles had no respect entering the 2012 season, despite having a young talented team with an excellent manager in Buck Showalter. Baltimore was coming off a dismal 2011 season where they saw their record fall to an embarrassing 69-93. Excitement about the Orioles was nonexistent in and around Baltimore.
The same could be said nationally as baseball experts everywhere pointed to a glaring hole in starting pitching, along with other things that would keep the Orioles in the cellar of the AL East where they had spent most of the last decade.
As the season went on, the Orioles continued to prove the experts wrong. They stayed competitive. But, when things began to unravel in June and July when the team went 26-27, the experts began chiming in as to how the Orioles would continue to fall due to a bad run differential. Then, the unexpected happened: defying all logic, ‘Orioles Magic’ returned and Baltimore caught fire, going 38-20 to finish the season with a stellar 93-69 record.
The Orioles would then knock the defending AL champion Texas Rangers out of the playoffs before falling to the New York Yankees in a hard-fought ALDS. Despite not winning the World Series, Showalter and the 2012 Orioles brought baseball back in Baltimore. Once again, the Orioles were a relevant part of Baltimore culture.
The 2014 Wizards began their season in very much the same way. Washington was coming off a 2013 season where they had expectations to improve but instead of improving, they embarrassed themselves, falling flat on their faces. The Wizards started the year 4-28 before eventually finishing 2013 with a 29-53 record.
Randy Wittman’s job was on the line as was Ernie Grunfeld‘s job, but Grunfeld made no excuses. He did his best to retool the roster following a disappointing 2013 season by making great trades like the one that brought Marcin Gortat to the nation’s capital, and Andre Miller later in the season.
The Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis dubbed the season a bust unless the Wizards made the playoffs. Expectations inside the club were high, but not so much elsewhere. The lack of excitement was most telling in attendance, which was among the lowest in the NBA.
Coached by Wittman and led by John Wall on the court, the Wizards shocked most everyone besides maybe Bill Simmons, who was one of the few national basketball writers to give the Wizards real respect prior to the season and even predicted that they would upset the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
A 2-7 start to the season brought panic, but after that, Wittman did a great job coaching his Wizards to success. The team showed how talented they really were by eventually finishing the regular season 44-38 and clinching the fifth seed in the NBA playoffs. The Wizards had to face the red-hot Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Many believed this was a death sentence, but once again the Wizards proved people wrong by convincing eliminating the Bulls in five games.
Washington outhustled Chicago and played solid defense throughout the series. Those are Chicago’s trademarks, but that just goes to show how good of a coach Wittman really is.
Regardless of how much deeper John Wall and the Wizards go in the 2014 playoffs, they have accomplished the same thing the Orioles did in 2012. The Wizards have once again made basketball relevant in Washington D.C., and the importance of that cannot be understated.
Just ask Orioles fans.