Washington Wizards Usher in New Era at Midnight Madness
FAIRFAX, Va. -- The basketball was a bit ragged, but everything else about the Washington Wizards Midnight Madness was a success.
New owner Ted Leonsis and the Wizards brought the college classic to the NBA for the first time on Monday, an idea he thought up when he "saw that YouTube video of John Wall doing his dance" at Kentucky's midnight madness last season. And for what was mostly just a glorified marketing grab, the event turned into a really good time.
Close to 3,500 fans were on hand at the Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., to ring in a new year of Wizards basketball in an event covered by NBA TV. It was celebration of a fresh start for a team that finished with just 26 wins last season.
"It all starts right now," Leonsis told FanHouse. "12:01, camp is open and my bet is that the guys are really excited to play in front of a big crowd the first night of practice."
"This is a restart," he continued. "The team really struggled the last two years both on the court and with attendance, so we want to try and build a team that fans can fall in love with."
Especially considering where the team was at the end of last year, there's a lot to love.
The Wizards are a young, athletic team and appear to have a smart, patient rebuilding plan. And well, it doesn't hurt that the franchise landed Wall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft.
"Having the number one pick, you can definitely see how one player in basketball can change the momentum of the team," said Peter Yang, a 24-year-old fan from Virginia (pictured right in a Gilbert Arenas jersey). "I'm real excited about this year. Real excited about John Wall. After last year's disappointment, I think this year's going to be something special with the team."
The fans weren't the only ones excited. There was plenty of random awesomeness going around, perhaps best exemplified by the presence of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. There was a live performance from local go-go band Mambo Sauce, and a lot of giveaways.
Combine all that with the unprecedented nature of the event, and one former Wizard said it was unlike anything he'd seen since he was drafted into the organization in 1993.
"It's huge," Gheorghe Muresan told FanHouse, whom I regrettably did not see showing off any dance moves. "There's a lot of change in the organization from the new owners. It's a new idea, and it's the right time to get a new idea and make the fans excited."
Whether the Wizards keep the fans excited this season remains to be seen. But on Monday things were as good as they've been for the Wizards in a while.
John Wall wasn't totally impressed -- "In college, all this would have been filled, probably more so," he said, referring to the half-empty Patriot Center -- but fourth-year forward Al Thornton admitted the event exceeded his expectations. The team was into it from the player introductions until to the end, when they stayed to autograph the giveaway T-shirts.
It's all part of the message that Leonsis, who flew from New York to be at the event, is trying to give the fans.
"Let's have some fun, right?" he said. "It's basketball, it's entertainment. And just to see so many young kids with so much energy is exactly what we want to inject into the franchise."