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May 7, 2005

Sights, sounds and thoughts from Game Six

by Michael Bushnell, Page Editor
I had the privilege to watch the best NBA game I've see in person last night. The atmosphere at Game Six between the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls at MCI Center was incredible, the game was amazing and the night was outstanding. I still don't really know how the Wizards managed to win last night, but I sure had a good time watching.

My dad, a.k.a. the only guy I knew willing to pony up NBA ticket money, took me last night. We got there at around 6:45 for the eight o'clock start, and the area around 7th and F streets NW was absolutely electric. I've never seen that many people in and out of the arena 80 minutes before tip-off. Every restaurant was filled to the brim, and the entire area just had this aura of giddiness around it.

I think the way Game Five ended, with Arenas' shot, made everyone just that much more excited. The shot was on the cover of the game program, and was played on the Jumbo Tron about 25 times before the game. Every time the clip was shown, the crowd erupted.

So what if we've seen it 100 times now? The Wizards are good for once!

All that the team had to do this year was win one lousy playoff series. I know to those in San Antonio, Detroit, L.A., Sacramento or any city that has had consistent winning teams for years that sounds nuts. But if the Wizards could be one of the best eight teams in the NBA this season that's all this city needed to be happy. After all, unlike those other teams, the Wizards have been so bad for so long.

And I'm sure the Kings fans were happy with just making the playoffs the first year they were good in forever, back in 1999.

The media people had been writing/saying that the MCI Center was amazingly loud for Games Three and Four. If it was half as loud as the place was during warm-ups Friday, they weren't lying. Add that to the 20,000 people waving rally towels, and I was in sensory heaven.

Our seats were great; center court, and right in front of a wall that allowed me to stand the entire game without blocking someone's view. Which came in handy, because the game gave all fans a lot to stand up about.

What was so nice about the game was that no team ever busted the game open and had a large lead. In fact, the largest lead was just 10, which the Bulls led by in the third quarter. The crowd was loud from the start, jeering every Chicago foul shot and call that went their way. When Tyson Chandler was called for a flagrant foul, the place was filled with 20,173 people screaming. It was awesome.

The first half was a seesaw battle, and Jannero Pargo's three pointer in the final seconds of the half gave the Bulls a two-point lead at intermission. They continued their strong play in the third, opening up that double-digit lead, but the Wizards refused to be buried.

At the half, I ran into former Wizard/Bullet Gheorghe Muresan. Well, not ran into; he's impossible not to see. He smiled, shook my hand and said, "Sup, bro?" and his giant hand engulfed mine as I made some crack like, "you look taller on TV." He laughed, patted me on the back and walked off somewhere, taking a trail of a dozen fans wanting his autograph. Whatever it is he does for the Wiz now in P.R., he must do well.

In the second half, the Wizards struggled to run any semblance of an offense. Gilbert Arenas shot 6-for-24 for the game, but somehow, Washington stayed in the game. Maybe the crowd did will them on, as they erupted any time the Wizards made a defensive play, and after Juan Dixon hit a three in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 78, the place nearly exploded. I leaped out of my seat and never sat down in it again.

Washington appeared dead, down 91-87 with 2:36 left, especially after Kirk Hinrich of the Bulls stole the ball from Larry Hughes. But Arenas blocked him from behind, and Brendan Haywood tipped in a missed Michael Ruffin shot that sent the gym into a frenzy.

On the next play, Antawn Jamison robbed Hinrich blind in the backcourt and tied the game at 91 with 2:08 left, the place started to rumble. It didn't seem possible that that was the same arena I'd heard pins drop in dozens of times over the last eight year.

Barely able to hear myself, I asked my Dad where that ranked on his level of NBA arenas in terms of noise. "The loudest," he said. Pretty remarkable for a guy who's been to Madison Square Garden, the Boston Garden and Memorial Coliseum in Portland, which used to be three of the loudest places to play in the league.

MCI Center's generally ranked 110th all time on loudest NBA arenas, behind the Charlotte Bobcats' practice gym and Kwame Brown's car.

Then, with 34 seconds left, Jared Jeffries stripped Chicago's Chris Duhon at half court and dunked the ball for the game winning score. It almost became a riot scene; I hugged a complete stranger next to me, and even though it must have looked ridiculous at best, everyone else was doing it too.

When the clock ran out, confetti and fireworks went everywhere and the arena got so loud I couldn't hear myself yell at the top of my lungs. Fans ran on the court, and everyone was nuts. You would have thought the Wizards won the championship.

"I can't believe it! The Wizards won! Holy [cannoli] the Wizards won!" I yelled over and over to no one in particular. Five minutes later, the noise in the arena was still deafening.

Outside on 7th and F, people were passing out buttons that said "One Team. One Goal. Beat the Heat," who the Wizards play tomorrow in Miami (3:30 p.m./ABC). The band that was playing right outside the entrance before the game had now moved into the street, and 1,000 people were singing along to "We Want The Funk."

This was certainly the first time I'd heard a throng of people singing along to Parliament outside the MCI Center.

I have to take a moment to give credit to the lower bowl at MCI. Generally the most corporate part of the arena by far, last night I saw more Wizards jerseys than suits. The whole bowl was standing for essentially the entire fourth quarter.

Half an hour later, there were still people celebrating outside the arena, and throughout the MCI Center area. The band was playing, cars were honking and everyone was having a great time. Pretty amazing for a team that was drawing flies a season ago.

Now just imagine what it will be like if the Wizards upset the Heat and win that series. If that happens, if you own anything within the D.C. city limits, make sure it's insured.

Because the team seems to have this city enamored. I can't say it any better, so I'll use the words of WTEM's Bram Weinstein, who summed up why this city has Wizards Fever and why they're enjoying the ride as long as it lasts.

"After being the worst team in the NBA over the course of the last 20 years," he said last night, "Washington, you finally have a winner on the basketball court."

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  • sam on May 8, 2005 at 5:58 PM
    "This was certainly the first time I'd heard a throng of people singing along to Parliament outside the MCI Center."

    you must not get out much
  • Anonymous on May 8, 2005 at 8:48 PM
    Little mistake there. Jared Jeffries didn't actually strip the ball from Duhon. Rather, right when Hinrich was going to pass the ball to Duhon, Duhon turned his back and the ball hit Duhon's back. Jeffries simply picked up the ball and ran for an easy dunk.

    Beat the Heat! Go all the way Wizards!
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