Harrell enjoys his quick connection to D.C. fans


WASHINGTON -- After the Wizards beat the Hawks at Capital One Arena on Thursday night, Montrezl Harrell was in the middle of his on-court postgame interview with team broadcaster Glenn Consor when his voice got louder. 

"That's what the District is about, man! Grit and grind," Harrell said through the loudspeakers.

It was a variation of things Harrell has said in press conferences about the city of which he has been a citizen for just a few short months, but this time he was speaking directly to the fans. They roared back, just as they did each time he cut through the lane against Atlanta to throw down vicious dunks, one after another.

With starting center Daniel Gafford out due to injury, and backup center Thomas Bryant also still on the mend, Harrell was the last man standing at his position. He delivered with 25 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two steals and a block. He played 34 minutes one night after playing 38 minutes in Boston and he did so against a formidable Hawks frontcourt led by Clint Capela and John Collins.

Harrell made no excuses, even on a night he had to go through concussion protocol after a hard fall. He just went to work. And along the way, he brought his trademark effort and energy in front of a D.C. crowd with which he has formed an instant love story.

Washington fans love Harrell and 'Trez' loves them back.

"It's a blessing, man, honestly. I've played this game for a good amount of time. I've been places where the fans fell in love with the way I play and stuff like that. The way the energy is in the building night in and night out," Harrell said.


"Not even just the fans, my teammates feed off it as well. It's just a great feeling, man, just to be about to be out there on the floor, enjoying myself playing the game of basketball with no worries. Just being utilized for my talents and the things I do on the court and to get appreciation for it."

In a way, it's no surprise Harrell and Washington fans have connected so quickly. Wizards fans are starving for a winner, having not experienced a 50-win season or an Eastern Conference Finals since the 1970s. Harrell is well-aware of that and it fuels him.

Harrell also feels like he is home. He proclaimed that during his introductory press conference in August after getting traded to the Wizards from the Lakers. After playing for the Rockets, Clippers and Lakers, in Washington he is by far the closest he has ever been to where he grew up, in Tarboro, NC.

Though it still takes an hours-long drive down I-95 to get there, Harrell feels like he is walking around on the same soil he grew up on.

"I'm from North Carolina. It's only like three hours from here, so I feel like I'm kind of in my backyard. This is down south, homegrown people that love the hard work, the grittiness, the toughness, the coming in and putting on your hard hat every day just ready to work. You're not really coming in and thinking you're better than someone or just going off your name. You're coming in ready to work and they're gonna get behind that," Harrell said.

That may not fit the perception some have of Washington, D.C., but Harrell has seen it firsthand. The Wizards have their practice facility located in Southeast Washington, a far cry from the high fashion stores of Georgetown or the power lunches on K St. Harrell drives to work each day and sees blue-collar folks, people just trying to make it with the cards they were dealt.

Hard work is the only way Harrell knows and he's acutely focused on doing whatever he can to lift the Wizards to new heights. He seems to have a full grasp of how difficult it has been to be a Wizards fan over the years. They have had some playoff runs and some good memories with stars like Gilbert Arenas and John Wall. But it has been a long, long time since Wizards fans truly had a team they could believe in.

That time has not yet come. Though they just beat a Hawks team that was in the conference finals last season to move to 4-1, they have only played five games. Wizards fans know all too well how quickly promise and excitement can vanish.


Harrell understands that pain and hopes to keep giving Wizards fans something to cheer for.

"Everybody has come in since the beginning to work, looking to get better and change the dynamic, not only in the locker room and about this team, but this whole organization, throughout this city, man. Like I keep telling you all the time, man, this is Washington. It's tough to win here. We know it's tough to have the fans rally behind you and the city just because they've been through some tough times. But we're trying to change that," he said.