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The Washington Wizards reached the Eastern Conference semifinals a season ago, and this year, at 27-12, they are exceeding expectations. It's a refreshing change for a fanbase that had no expectations for close to 40 years.
If you have YouTube open on another tab, stop watching adorable cat videos for a second and look up the 1978 NBA finals.
Watch the final minutes of the Washington Bullets' Game 7 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1978 NBA Finals.
That right there is the best moment in the history of Washington, D.C., professional basketball.
Washington Post columnist Dan Steinberg sums up the following 37 years:
"Hapless, irrelevant, sad, you know, disastrous," he said. "Every bad word that you can think of."
Since 1979 the Washington franchise has made it to the conference finals exactly zero times and only won three playoff series.
Otherwise, it's been year after year of quick, forgettable basketball.
And, predictably, the fans stayed away. It's not that people hated the team; they just didn't seem to care.
In 1997, the team's former owner, the late Abe Pollin, changed the team's name from the Bullets, the one thing everyone liked, to the Wizards, which nobody seems to like.
Even in the best of times the team had a hard time selling tickets. And in the worst of times, the team had to get creative says Steinberg.
"For years the Wizards were famous — back when they were the Bullets — for marketing opposing team's stars," he said. "Blatantly saying, 'Come to our arena and see Patrick Ewing.' 'Come see Michael Jordan.' 'Come see Dominique Wilkins.'"
[sidebar title="The Struggling New York Knicks" width="630" align="right"] The Knicks are so bad this season that the New York Times has assigned a beat writer to cover "better basketball." [/sidebar]
The Wizards' fortunes changed in 2010.
John Wall was drafted No. 1 overall out of Kentucky.
It took a little patience, but in four years he's become one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference.
Two years after Wall arrived, the Wizards drafted Bradley Beal out of Florida. Beal was only 19 when he joined the team but he quickly established himself as one of the best shooters in the NBA.
The Wizards have more recently added veterans Marcin Gortat, Nene and future hall-of-famer Paul Pierce.
Last year, the Wizards overcame a 2-7 start to make a trip to the playoffs — their first in five years. They even beat the Bulls in the first round.
So this year, for the first time in what seems like forever, there's an actual buzz surrounding the Wizards.
Washington Vs. San Antonio
Tuesday night the Wizards hosted the defending champion San Antonio Spurs.
[sidebar title="Hawks At No. 1" width="630" align="right"] Atlanta has the East's best record — and no real superstar. How did they do it? TNT analyst David Aldridge weighs in. [/sidebar]Before the game, Kyle Weidie, who runs the Wizards' blog truthaboutit.net, said it was a chance for the Wizards to see how they stack up.
It would also be really nice to end a really ugly streak.
"You know, I'm sure John Wall — he's never beaten the Spurs," he said, "These are the reigning champions. A lot of these players, they're definitely thinking about how this franchise has lost 17 games in a row now to San Antonio."
Wizards fan Rashim Rook was at the game just trying to keep his expectations in check.
"If they could keep a lead and hold a lead, then I would say to myself, 'OK, maybe they can go into postseason and be consistent,'" he said. "But right now for regular season play, if they can hang with the Spurs then I feel like they can hang with anyone in the league."
The Wizards did a lot more than hang with the Spurs. They won 101-93 in a game they led most of the way.
Afterward, in the Wizards locker room, 20-year-old Bradley Beal, trying to act like a craggy, old vet, said it's no big deal.
"Not really," Beal said. "It's another win in my opinion. But at the same time it does mean a lot because that is a great team and when they've had your number for so long, especially for people who have been here previously before you, it means a lot."
So, just how far can the Wizards go?
It seems almost kind of insane to think they could make it to the Finals, considering where they were just a couple of years ago.
But with the Eastern Conference so wide open, the next great moment in Washington basketball history might be on something other than a grainy YouTube video.
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This segment aired on January 17, 2015.
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