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Breaking down the etiquette, strategy and rules of the NBA jersey exchange

Breaking down the etiquette, strategy and rules of the NBA jersey exchange

WASHINGTON -- Turns out that NBA old guys Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter are trendsetters.

While jersey exchanges frequently happen in various sports leagues, the swapping of sweaty pullovers never really caught on with the NBA set before this season. 

“I’m not always big on that," Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal said.

The specific holdup varies. There are status factors, but for the too cool players, it's often the asking.   

“We need to do [exchanges] a little bit more, but I’m not really big fans of anybody like that,” now-Thunder forward Markieff Morris said earlier this season before the Wizards traded him in February.

The rules all changed when Wade - who comes to DC for a 7 PM tipoff on Saturday - announced his retirement before the season and most assumed 40-somethings Nowitzki and Carter would follow. Morris, Beal and others went from signing fan memorabilia by the truckload for fans to become obsessed with garnering some precious artifacts of their own. 

Nothing store bought. No manufactured moments. The opportunity they dreamed of as wide-eyed kids existed, but for a limited time only. The clock for them to shoot their shot with these future Hall of Famers was winding down.

Morris never felt the jersey exchange compulsion beyond his basketball-playing twin brother, Marcus, and former Kansas teammate Thomas Robinson. Then came the Nov. 6 meeting at Dallas, Washington’s first game of the season against Nowitzki’s Mavericks. 

“Of course, I like people’s game, but I’m not going to run and get their jersey right now,” Morris told NBC Sports Washington. “Somebody I grew watching and idolizing like Dirk, I need that, and it’s your last year.” 

Beal put aside ego by asking his basketball idol for the shirt off his back when Washington visited the Miami Heat in January.

“I did that with D-Wade because he’s a legend in my eyes and someone I try to mimic," Beal told NBC Sports Washington. "This is his last year, so I didn’t even know if I was going to have an opportunity to play him again. I was like, ‘I got to have it.’”

The mechanics of the jersey swap vary, but primarily the players handle the transaction. Mitchell, a second-year player and one of the league’s rising stars, texted Wade the night before their game to make sure they were set. Trae Young, the Hawks confident rookie, showed some nerves by texting Wade twice before gameday.

Others handle business face to face, no intermediaries.

"No, you do it, man to man,” Morris explained. “You got to go before the game or during the game and say, ‘Yo, jersey swap at the end of the game?’ I assume it works like that. It’s a brotherhood, so I wouldn’t think I have to send my person over there to ask. That doesn’t even sound right. If someone tried doing that to me, I’d say no.”

Beal’s on-court positioning helped facilitate his moment with Wade.

“I was standing right next to him at the end of the game. It was convenient for me because I usually don’t do that,” Beal said. “Not saying I don’t want, but guys that are like superstars, I try not to do it.”

The rush is twofold. Catch your idol before he hits retirement, but also beat your teammates to the punch. 

“Kind of a first come, first serve deal,” Beal said.

Load management for the Hawks’ equipment crew means bringing extra jerseys for each road game because of numerous requests for Carter’s gear even though the 42-year-old, like Nowitzki, has not announced a retirement plan. Yet in the era with specialized jerseys, there might be just a single backup available. 

“I made sure I was the first one to ask [Wade],” Mitchell said after Utah's Monday night win over the Wizards. “It means so much to my career…just to have that memorable moment. He wrote a message on it. It’s pretty special. Got it framed … He’s a legend. Always will be. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s done so much for guys my size. [Showed] we don’t have to be 6’7” to make it in this league if you’re tough and locked in.”

Morris recognized his Washington teammates were sleeping on the future Hall of Famer in Dallas. 

“Nobody was thinking about getting Dirk’s jersey. People don’t really be like I need a Dirk Nowitzki jersey, but I was like I really need a Dirk Nowitzki jersey,” Morris said.

Nowitzki didn’t play in the game, but was courtside when the players returned from the locker room for second half warm-ups. Morris eyed his prize. 

“Everybody kind of knows each other a little bit. You call guys by their first name. Been playing against Dirk for eight years now,” Morris said. “Kind of know him a little bit, so I’m not scared to be like, ‘Yo, Dirk.’ I’m just like, ‘Big fella. I know this is your last year. I’ve always been a big fan of you.’”

Nowitzki, the ninth overall selection the 2008 NBA Draft, learned this year he has many fans among his playing peers. The NBA's sixth all-time leading scorer exchanged jerseys with Wade, a foe in two NBA Finals, and other players during the season.

“It’s humbling,” Nowitzki said when the Mavericks stopped in Washington this month. “It shows you that some guys accept and respect what you have done for this league for two decades.”

Protocol remains unclear for some just entering the league. 

Warriors center Jordan Bell put in a friend request before Golden State visited Washington in January that stumped Wizards rookie Troy Brown Jr.

“I was like ‘I don’t know how it works yet. Bro, I just got here,’” Brown said. “’You’re asking me to give away a jersey.’”

They never did make the handoff, but the self-aware 19-year-old Brown later sounded like a veteran on the topic.

“Of course, there are people that you idolize growing up, but I haven’t really thought about that,” Brown said of asking another player for a jersey. “They usually give them to [established] guys that have been in the league for a couple of years. I’m still trying to get myself together.”

It’s doubtful Brown’s figured it out already, but another shot at Wade comes Saturday in his final game at Washington. 

The clock hasn’t indeed begun ticking on the jersey Brown desires most.

“LeBron’s for sure,” Brown said. “I think he’s got a couple of more years to go before he gets [everyone asking].”

Hopefully by then, Brown learns the rules. Maybe at that point, jersey exchanges among NBA players become rather common even when not including legends of the game. That's assuming they admit they're in fact big fans like that.

Seeing as Nowitzki and Carter have yet to announce they’re retiring, every player might have another shot.

“If I come back,” Nowitzki said, “we’ll do it all over again.”

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With nine games left, where do the Wizards stand in the East and NBA Draft Lottery?

With nine games left, where do the Wizards stand in the East and NBA Draft Lottery?

At the beginning of the week, the Washington Wizards had 12 games left on the schedule and needed to win a minimum of eight or nine of those games if they hoped to make the playoffs.

It’s Thursday night and Washington’s loss to the Jazz makes three in a row.

With nine games left on the schedule, where do they stand in the East postseason race and the draft lottery order?

Eastern Conference Standings

Losing three-straight games hasn’t actually dropped the Wizards from the 11th spot in the East, where they’ve hovered the last couple weeks. For that they can thank the tanking Atlanta Hawks.

Don’t think those L’s aren’t costing Washington, though. In the same span of time, the 8-seed Heat have won three in a row.

Now Bradley Beal and Co. are a full six games out of the final playoff spot with nine games to go. They also trail Orlando (34-38) in ninth and Charlotte (32-39) in 10th.

They’re not absolutely, certainly, 100-percent eliminated from playoff contention, but they must win every game left.

Even that might not be enough.

NBA Draft Lottery

Back-to-back-to-back losses took a major toll on whatever playoff hopes Washington had left. For a silver lining, look no further than the team’s draft lottery position.

The Wizards started the week ninth in the draft lottery order, which gave them 20.3 percent odds of scoring a top-four pick (preferably in the form of a Duke freshman or Ja Morant). That ninth spot also carries a 4.5 percent chance at the top-overall pick.

While the Wiz kids were busy dropping 3 games, the two teams immediately ahead of them in the lottery order had better luck.

The Grizzlies won their only game so far this week, while the Pelicans won one of two.

Those results dropped New Orleans to number nine, boosted Washington to number eight and left them tied with Memphis at 15.5 games out of number one in the lottery order (though Memphis’s win percentage is fractionally lower and keeps them in seventh).

If the Wizards can pass the Grizzlies and climb into seventh, that’s a big deal in terms of lottery odds. Simulating the drawing, the ninth-place team gets a top-four pick once in every five simulations. The seventh-place team gets a top-four pick once in every three simulations.

Look Ahead

Washington can’t lose another game if they want to make the playoffs. This is literally must-win territory.

Even winning out is no guarantee they’ll advance to the postseason.

Up next, Washington hosts Miami at home on Saturday, followed by a West Coast road trip the following week.

Games to Watch

Heat at Wizards, Saturday 7 PM

Timberwolves at Grizzlies, Saturday 8 PM

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Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

The Washington Wizards selected John Wall first overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Other lottery picks followed in subsequent years. None were point guards. Nobody bothered contemplating such a scenario.

That’s no longer the case.

There is Wall’s uncertain physical status for next season and beyond because of a ruptured Achilles.

Thursday’s mind-blowing performance from Murray State point guard Ja Morant put such contemplation into overdrive.

For many NBA-only fans, the 12th seeded Racers' 83-64 thrashing over no. 5 Marquette in its West Region first-round game marked the initial opportunity to watch the buzz-worthy Morant. He did not disappoint.

Morant, who only trailed Duke phenom Zion Williamson for jaw-dropping highlights this season, dazzled with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists for the first triple-double in the NCAA Tournament since 2012. His next chance to wow comes Saturday against fourth-seeded Florida State.

Imagine the Wizards receive some lottery luck ahead of June’s NBA Draft. Not the overflowing pot of gold kind that means grabbing Williamson first overall, but jumping up above the average options to the second or third selection. Washington (30-43) has a 26.3 percent chance of landing a top 4 selection, according to the draft website Tankathon.

Williamson might be the only player selected ahead of Morant in June in what one NBA executive deems a two-player draft. “Zion makes it feel better than it is. After Zion and Ja, just an average draft,” the executive said.

You’re on the clock. Duke’s RJ Barrett is another top 3 candidate, but Morant gained ground on the wing guard and others all season by averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 assists and multiple viral video moments a game. By June, Morant might be the clear-cut second-best player.

Wall’s recovery timeline keeps the five-time All-Star sideline for the majority if not all of the 2019-20 season. He will eventually return, however. That factor cannot be ignored especially with his 4-year, $170 million supermax contract starting next season. Ideally, the selection compliments Bradley Beal and Wall in the starting lineup.

Wall also turns 29 in July and recovery from such a devastating injury presents significant unknowns.

Tomas Satoransky, Wall's primary backup and the current starter, is a restricted free agent this summer. The Wizards would like him back, but the marketplace might have other ideas.

Time’s up. Turn the selection card in. Take Morant or not?

“Hell, yes!” multiple college basketball sources responded via text.

Others went with a standard roster-building approach.

“I take the best player available and figure it out,” an NBA scout texted.

In other words, hell yeah on Morant.

Another NBA scout received his first extended look at wispy yet athletically super-charged Morant last summer at Chris Paul’s basketball camp. “I thought he was ordinary because he played more off the ball,” the scout said of the 6-foot-3, 174-pound Morant. “But now he’s really, really good. Can pass with either hand.”

The scout offered an NBA comparison: John Wall. “Not as fast as John, but he’s got the same explosive athleticism at the rim.”

The counter-argument, a mild one at that, looks beyond next season.

Playing time ranked high among the reasons why the Wizards sought low-cost backup point guards over the years for Wall. Combo guards aside, if Wall goes 35-38 minutes nightly, why invest significant assets into a 10-13 minute-a-game player.

There’s some debate over whether Morant could play off the ball next to Wall. The sophomore is shooting 33.6 percent on 4.8 three-point attempts per game this season.

Based on the initial reaction from the various sources, nobody cares. Take the talent and figure out the rest. It's unclear what the Wizards have in Wall going forward. Maybe trade one of them down the line. The Wizards only have three healthy players under contract for next season. The 2019 first-round pick could immediately become a high-rotation player.

Such expectations rise if the Wizards jump up in the lottery. Historically there’s no chance they consider a point guard in the lottery with Wall on the roster. Times are different especially if there’s a chance to grab a hell yeah talent like Morant.

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