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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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Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas returns to practice days before season opener

Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas returns to practice days before season opener

Five weeks after undergoing surgery on his left thumb, Wizards point guard Isaiah Thomas returned to practice Sunday and was a full participant.

Originally expected to miss 6-8 weeks in recovery, Thomas is on track to play much sooner than anticipated. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks wouldn’t go as far to say Thomas would be ready for Washington’s season opener against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, but he did seem optimistic that he’d be playing in the near future.

Thomas signed a one-year minimum deal with the Wizards in July. Once healthy, he’s expected to be the team’s starting point guard with Ish Smith and Justin Robinson coming off the bench.

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Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason


The Wizards closed their 2019-20 preseason schedule with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, which means up next is the regular season opener on Wednesday night in Dallas. Now that the exhibition schedule is (finally) over, here are five takeaways from what we saw...

Injuries have added up

The Wizards entered this preseason with a lot of things to sort out in their rotation due to the significant roster overhaul they went through in the summer. But injuries complicated things further for head coach Scott Brooks, who wasn't offered anything close to a full cupboard to work with.

The most notable injuries were to Isaiah Thomas (thumb) and Troy Brown Jr. (calf). Both players will be key members of the rotation when they recover, but are each on track to miss the start of the regular season. The same goes for C.J. Miles, who has a foot injury. There is also Ian Mahinmi, who has an Achilles issue, though he is not likely to play a big role on the team this season.

Hachimura looks the part

The early returns on rookie Rui Hachimura have been good. The 2019 ninth overall pick has not looked timid or out of place on an NBA floor. He has shown he can attack the rim assertively and has even made a few threes. Those two areas will be key to watch for him this season; how he can adapt to NBA interior defenders and shooting threes from a longer distance.

Hachimura is a likely starter for the Wizards this season and should get ample shot opportunities. He is going to have a chance to be a focal point of the Wizards' offense and probably a long enough leash to play through his mistakes. As a young player, you can't ask for much more than that.

Also impressive this preseason were Moe Wagner, who was much better than he showed in the Las Vegas Summer League, and Thomas Bryant, who looks like he is going to take another step from his breakout season last year. Bryant is more confident knocking down threes and has been a force on the glass. Don't be surprised if he averages a double-double this season.

Small forward is a question

The Wizards had Brown penciled in to be their full-time starting small forward, according to a person familiar with their plans, but his injury is expected to keep him out to start the season. He did a post-practice workout the other day and wasn't moving very quickly, either due to discomfort in his calf or to be extra cautious in fear of a setback.

Either way, he is still rehabbing and so is Miles. The Wizards also released Justin Anderson, leaving them with no obvious choice to start at the three. At this point, it looks likely they will have to either put someone there that is probably best suited for another position like Hachimura, Davis Bertans or Jordan McRae, or roll with someone who is very inexperienced like Bonga or Admiral Schofield. The odds seem better they choose the former.

Final roster spot?

The Wizards now have to decide who gets their final roster spot. The safe money at this point is probably for point guard Justin Robinson and wing Jordan McRae to be the 14th and 15th players on the roster and for Chris Chiozza to have his contract converted to a two-way deal.

The Chiozza part has been speculated for weeks and it is the direction the team is leaning, NBC Sports Washington was told. If Chiozza did get the two-way contract, he could remain with the team to start the season and help fill the void at point guard while Thomas recovers from his left thumb surgery. Chiozza would have 45 days allotted at the NBA level, but that clock would not begin until Oct. 28 when G-League training camps open.

Beal's commitment

This season took on an entirely different tone with Thursday's news Bradley Beal would sign a contract extension with the Wizards. This year had the potential to be overshadowed by Beal's uncertain future, but now that has been put to rest. The trade rumors can be set aside as Beal has made it official his commitment to the Wizards' plan.

Now, that could get interesting late in the year if losses are piling up. He ultimately wants to win and it will bear watching how he shows his frustration if the team isn't playing up to his standards.

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