Washington Bullets

('88 Record: 38-44)

My mom likes to tell the story about how she got my brother and I interested in collecting baseball cards. According to her, my brother and I used to ask for bubble gum every time she took us to the store. Once, instead of getting us Bazooka Bubble Gum with the little comic strip inside, she got us a pack of baseball cards that had a stick of bubble gum inside. After a couple trips to the store, the baseball cards became more interesting to us than the gum. We bought the cards and threw out the gum, at least that's what mom thought.

It wasn't too long that we were saving up our allowance so that we could buy three or four packs of cards on each trip to the store. Stacks of cards were everywhere in our room and we still hadn't figured out how to store them. Finally, we discovered that rubber bands worked for organization; then, we discovered that rubber bands also destroyed the cards. Shoe boxes filled with cards bound with loose rubber bands became the normal method of storage. With that problem solved, we went out and bought a whole box of cards. We had several stacks of cards three inches high and a couple stacks of bubble gum about two inches high. I think we found that four sticks of gum was ideal for blowing big bubbles; any more than four and our jaws got too tired and sore from chewing that the bubbles weren't so great. We looked through the cards for Rod Carew's, Nolan Ryan's, and Steve Garvey's and laughed at some of the players' signatures, especially 'Randy Niemannnnnnnnn'. That's when I got hooked on cards - and sick of bubble gum.

From then on, we went out and bought any cards we could get. We bought Star Wars cards (red, blue, green, and yellow sets), Jaws 2 cards, Close Encounters of the Third Kind cards, Rocky cards, football cards, and basketball cards.

I didn't read very much as a kid. I never read Time magazine and didn't read much more of the newspaper than the comics. I did read the back of cards, though. I spent hours reading them. That's where I learned my english. The movie cards got boring after a while, so we used them for rubber band shooting target practice. The sports cards, though, always kept our interest. With baseball and football cards, both my brother and I had favorite players playing regularly on national television. Basketball wasn't on television much and my brother was never a basketball fan, so the basketball cards got ignored a little.

The basketball cards held some interest for me, though. The set of cards we had was for the '78-79 season, meaning it came out in late 1979 or early 1980. That happened to be the time when I was getting more interested in basketball, playing during recess in school and really enjoying watching Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar play on Sunday. I went back and read all the basketball cards I had, taking special interest in Abdul-Jabaar, George Gervin, Elvin Hayes, and Bobby Dandridge - my favorite players at the time. I also liked Dr. J, but I didn't have his card - at least that's what I thought. It took me a while to figure out that Dr. J's real name was Julius Erving and I did have his card. Actually, it was my brother's card. I wanted it, but I made the mistake of letting my brother know how good Dr. J was. He'd give me five Steve Hawes's, three Tom Henderson's, and all the Jan Van Breda Kolff's I wanted, but no Julius Erving.

As I got more interested, I noticed things about the cards. Things like having seen seven Bullets cards and no more than five cards from any other team. Things like all the pictures of players being taken in a dark arena. Things like Washington Bullets in the background of most every picture. All the pictures for the cards must have been taken by some guy in Washington. Basketball cards must have been a very small business to have had only one photographer in one city for all the cards.

I was a Bullet fan at the time, though a very unsophisticated and uninformed one. Elvin Hayes and Bobby Dandridge were 'great players', but I don't remember seeing them play as Bullets. I saw Kevin Grevey, the Bullet off guard, play once and I distinctly remember the announcers talking about how Grevey shot 'on the way down from his jump'. I went outside to try shooting the way he did, but it didn't work. Wes Unseld was another hero that I only saw play once or twice. He was a big strong guy who was pudgy enough to sort of remind you of a teddy bear. Looking at pictures of him from that time, I can see where the term 'wide body' comes from.

I must have become interested in this team by watching the '78 Finals when they beat the Sonics. Though I don't remember watching that series, I remember someone rooting for the Bullets. When I was nine years old, I guess I didn't understand all that was happening around me, but I knew that someone was cheering for a favorite team and I must have gotten caught up with it.

When wives are taken to sporting events by their husbands even when they don't understand the sport, they act strangely. At first, the wives will cheer when their husbands cheer and boo when their husbands boo. After a while, if they're not bored, the wives may just get caught up in all the excitement and cheer even when something bad happens. The husbands will cover their faces in shame and disown their wives to those around them.

Like the confused wives, I sure enjoyed basketball even before I understood it.

I still enjoy things I don't understand - like the Bullets' choice of Mugsy Bogues as their first round draft pick last year. Why did they do it? It was a funny, absolutely hilarious choice. I was laughing at the same time I was telling myself that he could be good.

Mugsy Bogues looks funny on the court with players a foot and a half taller than he. Mugsy dribbles the ball funny; he bounces the ball to his shoulders and often has his head stuck way out in front of him. He's usually bent over and has a strange smirk on his face. He's like a cheerful old man with arthritis in his back and a cane a foot too long. Maybe I laughed when I saw Bogues' name that day because of his funny style of play. I doubt it, though.

Why did the Bullets draft Bogues? The Bullets kept insisting that he was the best point guard in the draft. Would they have drafted Kenny Smith if he had been available? Kevin Loughery should answer that one. The Bullets probably weren't so confident in Bogues' ability that they weren't worried that Bogues would flop. They must have known that he wasn't going to shoot well. They were likely hoping for 45% shooting; they got 39%. Though hindsight is a stupid practice, it is hard to believe that anyone would think that Bogues would be a better pro than Smith, Mark Jackson, or Kevin Johnson.

Was Bogues then a wasted draft pick? If the Bullets lose him in the expansion draft (see next section), which it looks like they will, then he was a wasted pick.

Outside of his shooting, Bogues didn't have a bad year for a rookie. Per minute, Bogues was only slightly worse than Jackson in assists and rebounds and was ahead in steals. Unfortunately, shooting is a big part of basketball and Bogues was a rookie taken in the first round of the draft with high expectations. Bogues seemingly disappointed the Bullets, but that was because they had expectations too high.

Bogues can help a ball club. He has the ability to lead a team as point guard; he showed that in college and on some United States national teams. His defense is pretty good as long as he can stay far away from the basket. As a matter of fact, "based on the ratio of his assists and steals to turnovers," Bogues may even deserve an Allstate Good Hands Award. Bogues has most of the skills required to stay in the NBA. His height unfortunately ruins his scoring potential. Bogues should be taken in the expansion draft and will probably start on one of the expansion teams. They sure could do a whole lot worse.

The above comments were written on June 10. It's now June 25 and the expansion draft is over. Mugsy Bogues was in fact taken - by Charlotte as the #6 pick. The job of point guard is obviously not going to be given to him as he must beat out Rickey Green, the former Jazz starting playmaker, Clinton Wheeler, Michael Holton, and any point guard Charlotte takes in the college draft. It doesn't look, however, that Charlotte is going to take a guard in the college draft. Of their eleven expansion picks, seven were listed as guards. (Note: It's now post-college draft time and the Hornets took another guard - Rex Chapman - with their first pick in the draft.)

The Bullets, by the way, gave away the player with the second most trade value on their team. The trade value formula only takes into account a player's age and AV from the last season, so it has some inaccuracies, but how did the Bullets not see Bogues as one of their best eight? Steve Colter over Bogues? Incredible.

"Honestly, is there a more boring NBA franchise? The Bullets have averaged 40 wins a year in the Eighties, never winning more than 43 nor less than 35...They are the NBA's colorless monument to mediocrity."

That's what Jerry Sullivan wrote about the Bullets for the '85-86 SPORT NBA preview. Three years later, there's no reason next season's preview should be any different. If you plot this teams' wins on a graph, then view it as an electrocardiograph reading, you'd swear this team was dead. The Bullets are the Houston Astros of basketball - an acquired taste, like foreign films, Bob Newhart, and jazz music. Before they got rid of Manute Bol and Mugsy Bogues, the Bullets were more likely to get a headline in People magazine than in Sports Illustrated. Now they might get written up in Vanity Fair for nice uniforms. Maybe Jeff Malone should try to get on the cover of GQ.

The stats don't say much about the Bullets chances next year. Neither do the press reports. I actually wonder if the Bullets themselves know much about the current Washington Bullets. When I wrote to them for stats on their team, they said I should ask the Seattle SuperSonics for them. Uh...sure, if you say so. I don't get it.

What to like about the '88-89 Bullets: Coach Wes Unseld and their playoff performance. (They lost 2-3 in the first round of the playoffs to the Eastern Champion Detroit Pistons.)

What not to like about the '88-89 Bullets: Nothing really. Does anyone know enough about the team to actually dislike them?

What I think the '88-89 Bullets' record will be: I cut out slips of paper with the numbers from 1 to 82 (I forgot zero) on them and put them in a hat. I said, "Oh, God of Basketball, tell me how many games the Bullets will win next year." Then I pulled the number 43 out of the hat. This method never worked particularly well in my Physics 1 class, but that class was pass/fail, so I didn't care too much. I don't care too much about the Bullets, so I'll just pass on making any scientific prediction.