After each game at the Verizon Center, Wizards forward Markieff Morris takes his time getting dressed, often in clothes that read F.O.E., or 'Family Over Everything.' He brushes his short-trimmed hair and his bushy beard and turns from his locker to meet the media. Each time he makes that turn, a 75-year-old man in a suit with a big grey mustache steps forward to make the same announcement:
"No. 5 in your programs, but No. 1 in your hearts: Markieff Morris."
Win or loss, Morris often can't help but smile and the same goes for the reporters waiting with their questions. A 6-foot-10, 27-year-old man covered up to his neck in tattoos goes from NBA enforcer to willing media messenger with refreshing honesty and frequently a sense of humor his reputation wouldn't suggest.
"No. 1 in your hearts… I've heard that about 80 or 90 times," Morris said with a grin.
That humor is a big reason why Morris and Dolph Sand, an assistant to Washington's public relations department for 45 years, have learned to like each other. Sand has been a part of the Wizards since they were the Bullets and regular participants in the NBA Finals. He's seen all sorts of players come through the locker room doors from Wes Unseld to Chris Webber to Michael Jordan to Gilbert Arenas.
Sand was around when the Bullets won the NBA title in 1978. He was given a championship ring, one that he gifted to his son.
"It's a great feeling to talk to somebody who's been through it all," Morris said. "He's been through the ups and downs. He's seen the last time we won. For him to be here right now is special."
Along the way, Sand has encountered plenty of people, many of them good-natured, but also some who have made his job more difficult than it needs to be. Some players leave early after games or complain that they're tired when media requests are made. Not Morris. Sand has never heard 'no' from the Wizards' big man.
"It means a lot," Morris said of Sand's opinion. "He's seen so many players come through the organization. Whatever was said about me before I came here was completely false. Once people give me the chance, they see the real person that I am."
Over the last five decades Sand has worked with all sorts of personalities. What he appreciates about Morris is his positivity and willingness to have fun. The feeling is mutual.
"It's cool, man. I call him the 'King of D.C.' He's a great guy," Morris said. "He's been around a long time. He's a good dude, man. He's always positive. He's always talking about me. That's my guy."
Morris was close with VP of communications Julie Fie during his days with the Phoenix Suns. He has formed a similar reverence for Sand, a retired employment lawyer with still-active bar memberships in D.C., Virginia and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in the U.S. Supreme Court.
"He's just like a grandfather. He controls it all," Morris said. "He just sits in the same spot every time we come in. He get shown the most respect. All the players respect him to the utmost."
In his time with the Bullets and Wizards, Sand has accrued some interesting stories. He's done everything from PR to working the scorer's table and running the 24-second shot clock on game nights. That role he did not enjoy in part because coaches and players would yell at him for mistakes. Sand's claim to fame in that department is helping call in scores on Feb. 26, 1987 when 7-foot-7 Bullets center Manute Bol set an NBA record with 15 blocks.
Sand also remembers specifics from the 1970s run when the Bullets reached the NBA Finals four times in nine years. He still wonders what could have been in 1975 when the Bullets reached the Finals as a better seed than the Warriors, but had to play two of their first three games on the road.
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That was due to scheduling conflicts in both the Warriors' primary and backup arenas, the Oakland Coliseum and the Cow Palace in Daly City. One was hosting an ice skating event and the other a karate tournament. Neither were moved for the NBA Finals. The Bullets were swept.
This past season the Wizards won 49 games, their division and reached the seventh game of the second round of the NBA Playoffs, all things they hadn't done since the 1970s. Few have seen all the days in between, but Sand has.
Morris was a big part of the 2016-17 success as their starting power forward. It was his first full season in Washington, where he now feels at home after a turbulent time in Phoenix. He has his mother, Angel, who lives close by in Clinton, Md. and a lot of friends now with the Wizards, Sand included.
"Me and Dolph, it's special. I feel like I've known him for a while for some odd reason. I don't know why," Morris said.
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