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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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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

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Dwight Howard opts into second year of contract with Wizards

The Wizards are set to have Dwight Howard back for a second year, as the veteran center informed the team of his plans to exercise the $5.6 million player option in his contract for the 2019-20 season, NBC Sports Washington has confirmed.

Howard, 33, indicated to Wizards brass in his exit meeting last week he was likely to opt in to the second and final year of his deal, but there was some thought he would wait until closer to the June 29 deadline. The reason why is Howard's continued recovery from the back surgery he had in November, a procedure that kept him sidelined for the final five months of the season.

But Howard has now made his intentions known, giving the Wizards a clearer picture of their offseason. With him in the mix, they essentially have five players under contract next season. They technically have six, though Jabari Parker's $20 million team option is essentially a lock to not be picked up.

Howard appeared in only nine games in his first season with the Wizards. He missed all of training camp and their preseason schedule with back issues, played for just over two weeks in November and then went down for the year. He had the surgery, a lumbar microdiscotemy, on Nov. 30. 

Though his time on the floor was brief, he put up solid numbers with averages of 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Wizards missed his rebounding in particular, as they finished 27th in the league in the category and 28th in rebounds against.

Howard will certainly hope for a better showing in Year 2 with the Wizards, though there may be no guarantee he actually comes back. The Wizards are currently searching for a new general manager, and that person could choose to go in a different direction if ownership permits them to.

Keep in mind last summer Howard was traded soon after Mitch Kupchak took over the Hornets' front office and the Nets bought him out immediately after acquiring him. Howard's $5.6 million salary is relatively inexpensive, as Brooklyn paid $18.9 million to part ways.

Time will tell if Howard's career continues in Washington, but for now he is slated to come back next season for a second year with the Wizards.

ESPN's Zach Lowe first reported the news of Howard opting in.

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How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

How John Wall's injury affects the Wizards' many decisions this summer

With the 2018-19 season in the rearview for the Washington Wizards, we at NBC Sports Washington are analyzing the five biggest questions of what should be the most consequential offseason they have had in years...

NO. 4: HOW WILL JOHN WALL'S CONTRACT AFFECT ROSTER CONSTRUCTION?

Though there are several events this summer that could ultimately define the Wizards' offseason, one storyline will hang over everything and factor into just about every decision made by the front office and whomever ends up leading it as the team's new general manager. That is the future of John Wall, who is set to miss at least most of next season due to a ruptured left Achilles, in what will be the first year of his supermax contract.

Wall had surgery on Feb. 12. Even if he returns one year after going under the knife, he will still miss roughly 50 games next season. When he does come back, there are no guarantees he will be the same player. He turns 29 in September and a ruptured Achilles is a very serious injury, especially for a guy whose game has traditionally been reliant on speed.

The Wizards, of course, hope Wall will regain his peak form, but even if that happens it is unlikely to be the case right away. It may not be until the 2020-21 season until the Wizards get a true read on Wall post-surgery and how much value he can provide while making the money he is due. 

Speaking of the money, Wall will still take up a considerable chunk of the salary cap despite not playing. He is set to earn 35 percent of the cap next season, which right now is projected at about $37.8 million. Though that could technically fluctuate based on the final cap number, the percentage is what matters. The Wizards will basically have to build a roster with only 65 percent of the cap at their disposal.

There is an argument that Wall's injury is one of the biggest roster-building obstacles in NBA history. Supermax contracts, ones that allow players to make a contract that begins at 35 percent of the salary cap, are a new concept. And no one else has suffered such a serious injury while getting paid that type of money. 

It may not be quite what the Brooklyn Nets overcame in the fallout of their infamous trade with the Boston Celtics, the one that resulted in a net loss of three first round picks. But it's a bad situation, one that will require some creativity from whomever is tasked with pulling the Wizards out of it.

The long-term ramifications will depend on how Wall plays when he returns, but the short-term effect will clearly be felt. First, the Wizards have to have an insurance policy at point guard and a good one if they hope to compete for the playoffs. Maybe that is as simple as re-signing Tomas Satoransky, but regardless they have to shore up that position, knowing Wall's status.

Second, the Wizards need to find bargains to fill out the rest of their roster. They will have to find some cheap players simply to reach the 13-player minimum with Bradley Beal's max deal also on the books. Beal will earn roughly $27.1 million next season.

The biggest question as it pertains to Wall may deal with the NBA Draft on June 20. What if the Wizards get some luck in the May 14 draft lottery, but not enough to get the No. 1 pick (i.e. Zion Williamson), and Ja Morant is the best player on the board? Morant, of course, is the Murray State superstar who lit up the NCAA Tournament in March.

Morant is dynamic and has serious star potential, and he plays point guard. Wall was already asked about the potential of the Wizards drafting a point guard with a high pick. He said he would be fine with it, but that when he returns that draft pick can "be a great back-up" to him.

If the Wizards picked Morant, or even Coby White of North Carolina, it would arguably be the smart move to make. They need to select the best player available, no matter the position. 

But if they do take a point guard, that will present a unique dynamic to their locker room, especially if that player turns into a star. What if Morant comes in and lights it up as a rookie? How will Wall deal with that? And could you then put Morant on the bench when Wall returns, as Wall suggests they would?

Those are hypothetical scenarios that can be addressed if they actually enter the equation this summer and beyond. But there is no question that, even as Wall is sidelined with an injury, his presence will loom over the Wizards in many ways.

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