Not too long ago, The Washington Wizards were a young team on the rise with an emerging back court tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Now they have a featured backcourt of Beal and Russell Westbrook that have helped carry the way for the franchise.
DC fans want nothing more than for their team to become relevant again. A playoff berth like this year helps ease the pain, but they want legitimate title contending teams. But until then, they’ll have to settle for reminiscing about the rivalries that they’ve had in years past.
Here’s a list of some of the Washington Wizards’ best rivalries ever.
#5 – The Atlanta Hawks
The Atlanta Hawks won 60 games during their franchise-best regular season in 2014 – 2015. They went undefeated for a whole month that season, winning 19 straight games to start the new calendar year.
The Washington Wizards didn’t care. They took it right to Atlanta when they faced off during the 2015 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. They won Games 1 and 3, which included Paul Pierce’s iconic “I called game” banker to beat the buzzer for the W.
The games were hotly contested and usually very physical, with both sides sporting imposing front lines. Washington had their big-man duo of Marcin Gortat and Nene, while Atlanta countered with Al Horford and Paul Millsap.
Although the Wizards would eventually fall in six games, the games were mostly tight affairs with five of the six games being decided by six points or fewer. The Wizards would eventually get their revenge two years later, beating the Hawks in six to return the favor.
Most insufferable player on their team: Al Horford
Horford scored the game-winning put back in a pivotal Game 5. Just for that, he already deserves to be singled out as the Hawks player Wizards fans despise the most. But beyond that, he actually spurned the Wizards in free agency a year later for a team higher up on this list.
David Aldridge on Horford: "I think if he had decided last night, I think he would have picked the Wizards. It was that close"
— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) July 3, 2016
#4 – The Toronto Raptors
There’s always been an unspoken rivalry between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards and it’s easy to understand why. Both sides were Eastern Conference contenders featuring a pair of all-star back-court players which broods a natural rivalry.
But things culminated to borderline hatred during their 2015 First Round match-up. The Wizards were the lower seed for the series and certainly played with the motivation of an underdog. They took the first two contests in Toronto, led by Paul Pierce’s 20 points in Game 1 and Bradley Beal’s 28 points in Game 2.
Pierce only added fuel to the fire after taking the first two games. He shouted something that definitely got the Raptors faithful heated afterwards. He wanted a sweep.
As players headed to the locker room after the game, Pierce shouted, “I don’t want to go through customs no more!”
But the Wizards certainly backed up The Truth’s talk, winning the next two games to complete the sweep of the higher-seeded Raptors.
Most insufferable person from their team: Drake
I think I speak for every fan base whose team has ever had to face the Toronto Raptors in a playoff series. You just can’t stand Drake acting a fool on the sidelines. This series against the Raptors was no exception. Drake clowned DC even on social media. But of course, Pierce and the Wiz got the final say.
— Post Sports (@PostSports) April 23, 2015
#3 – The Boston Celtics
The animosity that brewed between the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics during the 2017 NBA playoffs was clearly palpable. The two sides just did not like each other.
But the dislike was there even during the regular season. The Wizards once wore all-black when they arrived for a home game against the Celtics in January of that year, to which Isaiah Thomas gave his comments.
“That’s cute that they’re wearing all black. It’s not a Game 7. It’s not the playoffs,” Thomas said. “I saw the the funeral and all black thing last night and I just laughed about it.”
— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) January 24, 2017
But the two sides eventually did meet in the playoffs, up until Game 7 in fact. While John Wall sank a go-ahead game-winning three in Game 6, Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics had the last laugh to win it in seven.
Most insufferable player from their team: Kelly Olynyk
There were so many players from this Celtics squad to choose from. Isaiah Thomas was insufferable just by virtue of playing so well, especially during Game 2 when he dropped 53 points. There’s also Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and a second mention for Al Horford.
But Kelly Olynyk takes the cake. Not only did he get into a physical confrontation with Wizards fan-favorite Kelly Oubre Jr., he was the hot hand that sank the Wizards during the fourth quarter of Game 7. DC fans certainly have no love lost for Kelly Olynyk.
Kelly Oubre > every Kelly ever > Kelly Olynyk.
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) May 5, 2017
#2 – The Seattle SuperSonics
Just the fact that we’re listing the Sonics here just shows how dated this rivalry has been. But Washington’s rivalry against Seattle during the late seventies was undoubtedly the most impactful for the franchise historically.
The two battled each other for the NBA championship in back-to-back seasons. Still known as the Bullets back then, DC’s team was led by Hall-of-Famers Elvin Hayes and Finals MVP Wes Unseld.
The two teams both won one championship apiece, marking the only time either side has ever won a title.
Most insufferable player from their team: Dennis Johnson
Before Dennis Johnson was draining clutch buckets as a member of the Boston Celtics, he was a thorn on the side of the DC franchise.
He tortured the Washington Bullets during both championship series’. He averaged 22.6 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists as he led the Sonics to a 4-1 gentleman’s sweep during the ’79 Finals.
#1 – The Cleveland Cavaliers
Wizards fans clearly have fond memories of the Gilbert Arenas era when things were going well.
The big three of Arenas, Antawn Jamison, and Caron Butler breathed life to a despondent Wizards fan base that didn’t know what winning basketball felt like.
But after advancing to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in 2005, they never got past the first round again. That’s because they ran into LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Every. Single. Year.
Most insufferable player from their team: LeBron James
Despite all the efforts of a prime Gilbert Arenas, the Wiz couldn’t get past a young LeBron for three consecutive postseasons.
Although the rivalry was mostly one-sided, there were just so many painful moments that Wizards fans will never erase from their memory – especially during their 2006 series. There’s LeBron’s “crab dribble” that was clearly a travel in Game 3. There’s of course Damon Jones’ game-winner to end the series in Game 6.
And who could forget what happened right before that, when LeBron whispered sweet nothings in Gilbert Arenas’ ear, which might have rattled Gilbert enough to miss his final two free throws.
King James may have gone on to fight bigger battles, but him and his Cavs are still Washington’s greatest rival ever.