Wizards

Wizards

For a team that will ultimately settle into the unglamorous grind of minor league basketball, there was nothing minor league about the Capital City Go-Go's inaugural game at the newly-minted St. Elizabeths Sports and Entertainment Arena in Ward 8 on Saturday night.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance, catching up with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal was sitting courtside. So was his teammate Jordan McRae and Mystics forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt.

Bullets legend Phil Chenier caught up with his former teammate, Kevin Grevey, at center court, the two both members of the 1977-78 championship roster.

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks and members of his staff were there. Same with team president Ernie Grunfeld and other front office executives.

All were on hand to watch the first ever game for a Wizards' minor league affiliate.

The game itself was not short on entertainment. It went to overtime and, unlike minor league baseball or hockey, the G-League has rosters full of recognizable names due to college basketball's popularity.

The Go-Go boast Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson, recent stars at the University of Florida. They have Lavoy Allen, a six-year NBA veteran, and Chasson Randle, who currently holds a spot on the Wizards' roster.

There are familiar names like Pe'Shon Howard, Tiwian Kendley and Isaiah Armwood, who starred at local schools Maryland, Morgan St. and George Washington.

The Go-Go's first opponent, the Greensboro Swarm, have Devonte' Graham, a second round pick this past summer who was a first team All-American at Kansas. 

 

They have J.P. Macura, who this past March was a star for Xavier, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Also on the Charlotte Hornets' affiliate are former UVa. star and ACC defensive player of the year Isaiah Wilkins, plus Chinanu Onuaku, who grew up in Maryland and played two years for the Rockets.

"The G-League is the second-best basketball league in the world," Leonsis said.

"As Ted said, it's definitely the next-best league," Silver added.

Some G-League players have legitimate NBA experience and most were stars at major college programs. Now they are all battling each and every play to make their case for a shot on an NBA roster.

That urgency is shown particularly on the defensive end, where the effort level is refreshingly high. The players understand everything they do in games will be evaluated on tape. On Saturday, they had an entire NBA front office in attendance.

On offense, things can appear a bit out of sorts. The rosters are newly assembled, and everyone ultimately has their own interests in mind, knowing their scoring numbers could help earn them notice by NBA teams.

On Saturday night, there were also periodic reminders that this is not quite the NBA. For instance, Graham's turnover in the final minute of overtime, a backcourt violation. On the next play, Devin Robinson of the Go-Go turned it over again on an inbound pass. It was a game of 'who makes the fewest mistakes wins.'

But it was fun. And there were dunks. Robinson, in particular, lit up the room several times with his 41-inch vertical leap.

The intimacy of the 4,200-seat arena allows for some of the same elements you might see at a minor league baseball game, like heckling that the players and referees can easily hear. And though it was the Go-Go's first game, their trash-talking diehards were in midseason form.

Several of the more vocal fans stood behind the Swarm bench and let them hear it play after play all night. They mocked Graham's big hair and Onuaku's granny-style free throws.

It was all in good fun. But by overtime, Macura, Onuaku and others were pointing at them and talking back to rub in the final result, a 107-105 victory for the Swarm.

The Capital City Go-Go's first night was much more than an extension of the Wizards NBA franchise. It was a reflection of the community surrounding their arena in Ward 8. 

The team name, the Go-Go, is an ode to the music genre which D.C. is famous for. And the team did an impressive job threading the culture of go-go throughout the in-game production.

The player intros played on the jumbotron were spliced with a go-go band playing their instruments. The national anthem was performed with a go-go drum beat. And at halftime, the team honored about 20 go-go musicians from the area.

"The community has embraced [go-go music]. The players embraced it. We want to be the local, hometown team," Leonsis said.

 

Through one game, they are off to a good start.

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