The Washington Wizards are a special and baffling kind of bad basketball team, which is sort of perversely to their credit in certain ways. It's not necessarily a good thing if you are the sort of person who gets really sad when the Wizards lose, and it's clearly not ideal for Randy Wittman or John Wall or the other people paid varying amounts of money in hopes that their efforts can make the Wizards less terrible. But for those safely be-couched at a reasonable distance from the Verizon Center and safe from the fumes blowing up off the Wizards' molten core of ridiculousness, the team is kind of fascinating. The play below, at the very least, is not the sort of thing one sees every day, although I have admittedly watched it at least once more or less every day since it happened.
But that's mostly fun for those of us who can approach the Wiz as tourists or dilettantes, dropping in whenever we want to slum it with some avant-garde basketball and then hopping the first flight home when we start being overcome by Whooping Blatche or Vesely Fever or whatever. For the people who care about the Wiz, or in the case of Ted Leonsis both care about the Wizards and own the Wizards, there is no flight home. Other people, of course, are paid to spend time with the Wizards, with the Washington Post's estimable basketball writers being among those. The bloggers who cover the Wizards for sites like Truth About It and Bullets Forever, too, spend a lot of time inside the goof-volcano that is this organization; they do so either for free or a small amount of money, but mostly because they care about the team. It is that second group, the unpaid/underpaid superfan-journalist types, that Ted Leonsis decided to address on Wednesday morning:
So today I woke up early – 530 am, and looked to the scores of the Wizards vs. Trail Blazer game last night. As noted – I only could stay up til half time.
NBC local news had a running scroll with the score; that was a nice way to wake up and have a cup of coffee.
I then went online and read the Washington Post. It covered the game well as the writer was at the game.
I then went to several of my favorite Wizards blogs; and what did I see?
Previews of the game. A story about Portland and their plans.
One had an article about the Miami Heat game from Friday.
It appears no local Wizards blogger stayed up late and wrote about the game in real time? I am sure they will do a good job later today; but without NBC local and the Post–I wouldn’t have the data that I wanted and needed.
Thank goodness for professional media in this regard.
They made me happy.
(Siiiiic, of course) That's a cool ending, for sure, because Ted Leonsis is happy at the end of it, although the real endpoint should probably be Leonsis sort of apologizing for ignoring the fact that Sean Fagan of Bullets Forever actually did write a (very good) game recap after the Wizards got done defeating the Blazers in Portland, well after midnight D.C. time.
So that is maybe a cooler ending, but it's also joining this story somewhat in media res, since Leonsis has been poking at D.C. media, paid and unpaid, for some time now, primarily because they keep writing negative things about his pathbreakingly shitty basketball team. In going after the Washington Post—Leonsis's position on print media tends to shift, although he can always be trusted to share it on his blog in handy, extremely short and (sic)-filled paragraphs—Leonsis had earlier detected a conspiracy of sorts, in which Wizards writers wrote negative things about the (pathbreakingly shitty) basketball team they're covering after every loss, and sometimes even did so before those losses. Dan Steinberg, editor/proprietor of the Post's DC Sports Bog, managed an effective if obvious rebuttal to Leonsis's complaint that the mainstream media doesn't want to talk about the 37 percent of shots that did go in. It's the only kind of rebuttal that really works, in this case.
While no one has ever gone broke being repeatedly and publicly wrong about Negative Bloggers, though, Leonsis's decision to antagonize—in total error, nonetheless!—the team's fan media side was... well, Kelly Dwyer blows it apart pretty admirably at Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie:
[These bloggers] have jobs, and they're essentially working double shifts to cover your team. And we don't know if this was some sort of misguided attempt to get us to remember what a great job "professional media" does when they're acting all "professional" (that is to say, getting paid to do something, and doing it), but it came off pretty crummy. It came off as Ted Leonsis, who couldn't make it past halftime of his own team's west coast game, ripping on his team's bloggers (who more often than not work for free or a small stipend) for not staying up to watch and report on the same game.
...To vent like this while presiding over a 7-22 team? To take the team's biggest win of the season, a tough road win over a very good Portland Trail Blazer team, and make this about bloggers vs. newspapers? Big miss, Ted. Big miss.
It is, although it's also stranger than that. Leonsis is a big investor in SB Nation, the bloggy powerhouse that employs some of your/our favorite writer-types, and of which Bullets Forever is a part. Which sort of muddles why he would ignore their (very good) game recap in making his ill-advised point, and also seems to complicate his sudden thank-goodness-for-print view of things. It is curious. Even Nick Young thinks it's curious.
"Basically Ted's deal is that he's ultra-sensitive to the negative coverage the Wizards have gotten," one Wizards blogger told me. "I sometimes think he's trying to turn fans against the media because he knows the media coverage will be negative. He's kind of so wrapped up in winning fans, etc. that he... aw hell, I can't pretend to even get it."
The blogger asked not to be named for reasons made clear above in re: Leonsis' tendencies towards the arbitrary where unpaid bloggers are concerned. As another Wiz blogger who asked not to be named for the same reason told me, Leonsis can be arbitrary and punitive, too. "When we piss him off," that blogger said, "he moves us up to the hockey seats."
That Leonsis has a blog at all, and goes out of his way to interact with fans, makes him a fairly forward-thinking NBA owner, at least relative to the plutocrats in his cohort; that he was part of the hard-ass/hard-line owner faction during the lockout, though, reveals that he's really just sort of an owner, period, with all the prickly billionaire childishness that seemingly comes with that territory these days. Dan Gilbert is on Twitter, after all, and that doesn't do anything to make him any less Dan Gilbert.
"I think [Leonsis] is just a marketer and an internet bully at this point," one of the Wiz bloggers said. If Leonsis wants fans to think that he's anything but that—and he certainly seems to want that—he could start by acting like something other than either. Or he could do what needs to be done to improve his (pathbreakingly shitty) team, and everyone would just talk about something else.