It's been so long, the Fat Lady's probably on a low-carb diet.
The Washington (horrible nickname I refuse to mention) won their first playoff series in 23 years Friday night, and we Bullet fans (all six of us) are still wondering if it's really over.
Gilbert Arenas grabbed the game-clinching rebound with 1.1 seconds left and, for old time's sake, he tried committing one last turnover. He hurled the ball into the stands -- with time on the clock! I half expected Jack Nies to stroll in and put 0.9 on the board, enough for Jannero Pargo to toss in another no-look 30-footer.
But, no, it's over, done. I guess Dookies always lose now with Gary Williams in the house. Former Duke guard Chris Duhon turned his back on Kirk Hinrich's inbounds pass in the final minute, leading to Jared Jeffries' game-winning dunk, and, all I can say is: This one's for Ledell Eackles.
For all you neophytes who don't know the storied history of the Washington Bullets, we're the franchise that won our lone title in 1978 (unless you count the title we won last year for Detroit) and has been wandering aimlessly ever since. We've had players past their prime (Moses Malone, Bernard King, Mark Price, a certain MJ) and we've had players before their prime (Rasheed Wallace, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton; essentially the core of the world champion Pistons), but never a team that played during prime-time in May.
So, if you thought it was going to be simple tonight, just because Gilbert Arenas made an unconscious shot to win Game 5 and the Bulls had lost 10 straight in D.C., forget it. We are the Bullets. We take fourth quarters off. Charles Barkley coaches us from a TV studio. We play the passing lanes, but we don't play defense. We shoot free throws like there's a moving target. We play nervous, even though we used to have "Never Nervous Pervis.'' What, me worry?
You've got to understand what we Bullet fans have been through, all six of us. In another place and time, we were a juggernaut. You're talking Earl the Pearl. You're talking Black Jesus, in his prime. You ever see Archie Clark shake and bake? Or Wes Unseld throw an outlet? Or Phil Chenier rise up for a jumper? Or Kevin Porter high step a fastbreak? Ever heard of a dog named Tiny? Back in those days, we were the ones fleecing other teams in trades. We got the Big E, Elvin Hayes, from Houston for Jack Marin. If it weren't for those goody-two-shoe New York Knicks we would've been in the Finals a bunch, but at least we were in the playoffs every year, and at the very least, you didn't want to play us, or run into an Unseld screen.
In '78, it all came together, because of a free agent named Bobby Dandridge. It's true, free agency actually used to go well for us. We played San Antonio in an early playoff series, and the Ice Man (George Gervin) was torching us, but our coach, Dick Motta, calmed everyone down by saying, "The Opera ain't over 'til the Fat Lady sings.'' And it stuck. When we were about to defeat Seattle for the title, as Bobby D. raced free for a final dunk in the waning seconds, our radio announcer, Frank Herzog, shouted, "Warm up the Fat Lady! Warm up the Fat Lady!''
Of course, she's been sitting on her big butt ever since.
You don't know why these things happen, but, over the next 20-odd years, we essentially became Clippers East. We had fat guys (John "Hot Plate" Williams and Mel "Dinner Bell" Turpin) and we had skinny guys (Manute Bol). We had "My Giant'' (7-foot-7 Gheorghe Muresan) and "My Midget" (5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues). We had players who peaked at Duke (Mark Alarie and Christian Laettner) and players who should've gone to Duke (Kwame Brown). We drafted Kenny Green over Karl Malone. We drafted Harvey Grant instead of Horace Grant. We even tried drafting a God (Shammgod).
And don't get me started on the trades. Big for small. Young for old. Rasheed for Rod Strickland. C-Webb for Mitch Richmond. Ben Wallace for Ike Austin. Rip for Jerry Stackhouse. Every youngster we jettisoned, every single one of them, flourished. That's why I'm probably the only Bullet fan who wants to keep Kwame. When he's a Knick next year, he's liable to go off on the league. In fact, his best game of the season came three weeks ago at the Garden. Isiah was salivating, and I bet he's dying to do a sign and trade with us for Kurt Thomas. Kurt will give us the toughness we need, but Kwame is 7-foot and has been playing on a bad foot all year. Last year, he torched Webber and Jermaine O'Neal, just abused them. I'd keep him, but that's just because I've seen too much. I've seen all the ex-Bullets play.
And how about the trades we didn't make? We could've had Elton Brand for the rights to Kwame, on the day he was drafted, but Jordan wanted Jamal Crawford, too. That's what you hear all the time. That M.J. didn't want to just fleece Jerry Krause, he wanted to humiliate him. What a damn shame. If Brand was a Bullet, we'd have a chance to come out of the East right now. But we are what we are -- the Bullets.
Or should I say: we were what we were.
Is it a new day? That Ernie Grunfeld seems to know what he's doing. He threw a wad of cash at a flake named Gilbert Arenas, and came up big. He found a sucker in Mark Cuban to take Stackhouse and Laettner off his hands. He matched Milwaukee's gigantic offer sheet to Etan Thomas, and also signed the toughest rebounder he could locate, Michael Ruffin. He got lucky, in the expansion draft, when Charlotte passed on Juan Dixon. Got lucky that Larry Hughes' annual broken bone came early, got lucky that Brendan Haywood's broken thumb in late March was healed by mid-April.
In the past, these injuries would be season-enders, like C-Webb blowing out a shoulder or Muresan coming back from a movie set in a walking boot. We used to have a curse, but now we just blow 10-point leads in the final 41 seconds of a playoff game, shrug it off and drain 15-footers with 0.1 on the clock.
People were calling Wednesday's game 5 a "great win," but I called it absolute misery. That wasn't exhilaration when Arenas' shot went down, that was indigestion. That was me cursing, saying, "How the $@^#%^ did we let that happen?'' Jamison kept coughing up his free throws, and Pargo kept nailing 29-footers, and I kept thinking: I've seen this somewhere before. My Maryland Terrapins did the same thing against Duke in 2001 -- a 10-point lead gone in 60 seconds -- and these Bullets even had ex-Terps Juan Dixon and Steve Blake sitting on their bench, re-living it. Being a Bullet fan means watching the fourth quarter with your hands over your eyes. No lead is safe, no free throw is free, no series is "over with.''
So, of course we were going to find a way to lose Game 6 tonight. Hinrich was banking in 3's, and Pargo was draining his 25-foot layups and Brendan Haywood was hitting all backboard on his free throws. But a funny thing happened on our way to a Game 7 loss in Chicago ...
1) Down 4, with 2:30 left, Hughes gets stripped, but Arenas blocks Hinrich's layup with his sore left hand. Play of the year.
2) After a Hughes bucket, Jamison actually D's up, deflects a pass and then hits a jumper to tie it.
3) Still tied with 36.5 seconds left, Duhon somehow thinks Hinrich has 10 seconds to inbound and runs away from the ball. Jeffries dunk. Two-point lead.
4) Pargo's right hand finally goes limp, due to excessive use, and he shoots an airball.
5) Juan Dixon hits only one of 2 free throws, failing to seal it, and Gary Williams -- his former college coach sitting in the front row -- starts yelling at the fans sitting next to him (not really, but you know he was tempted).
6) Andres Nocioni misses a game-tying 3 with 5 seconds left, and Tyson Chandler showed why you need to go to college. Took a 2 when he needed a 3. Arenas rebounded, and showed he needed another year of school, too. Tossed the ball out of bounds with time on the clock.
Oh well. The refs let us have it, and I danced around my house, with visions of a 325-pound woman, singing.
A second later, something else set in. Sunday, we get to see a 325-pound man: Shaq. Music to my ears, man. Music to my ears.