Monday, May 28, 2018

Streaks in the City (3): Washington, DC

The Washington Capitals begin play in the Stanley Cup finals tonight, seeking to end a 26-year title drought in the nation's capital within the four major North American sports (football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey). If the Capitals hoist the Cup, it will be their first time in their 44-year history. The Caps made the finals once before, 20 years ago in 1998, losing to Detroit.

The city's NFL team, which arrived in Washington in 1937 after a brief history in Boston, had a nice run in the 1980s and early 90s, winning the Super Bowl after the 1982, 1987, and 1991 seasons. The 1991 football championship (claimed in the 1992 Super Bowl) is the last major sports title won by a team from the nation's capital. Beyond 1991, Washington has made the NFL playoffs only six times, never winning more than one game in any postseason. Going way, way back, Washington captured pre-Super Bowl NFL titles in 1937 and 1942. These moments of triumph were followed a few years later by a 25-year string of playoff absences (1946-1970).

On the hardwood, the city's NBA team -- known as the Capital Bullets in 1973-74 after making a short move from Baltimore, the Washington Bullets (1974-1997)* and then Wizards (1997-on) -- has captured only one title, 40 years ago.

On the baseball diamond, Washington has been home to three franchises: the current team known as the Nationals (moved to DC in 2005, after playing from 1969-2004 as the Montreal Expos), the organization known since 1972 as the Texas Rangers (who had been the Washington Senators from 1961-1971), and the organization known since 1961 as the Minnesota Twins (previously another incarnation of the Washington Senators, from 1901-1960). So with three franchises, collectively playing roughly 85 seasons in the nation's capital, how many World Series titles does Washington have to show for it? That would be one. Led by legendary pitcher Walter Johnson, the 1924 Senators won it all. There is a famous quote long attached to Washington, DC, inspired by poor play early in the Senators' history: "First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League."

A Sports Illustrated article from last October summarizes the city's sports frustrations succinctly: "The sheer number of distressing losses is staggering, especially in recent years, when the Nationals, Wizards and Capitals have all been contenders, at least within their conferences. The Caps and Nats in particular have a penchant for heartbreak, especially in deciding games..."

To summarize, Washington, DC's baseball, basketball, football, and hockey teams have played a collective 250 seasons (roughly). During that time, these teams have combined for seven championships.**

As the SI article notes, Washington's professional sports futility is not quite as bad, if one includes soccer in the mix: "For some reason, D.C. United is immune to the curse. The MLS side has won four MLS Cups, though not since 2004..."

Also, at the college level, Georgetown University's men's basketball program under Coach John Thompson and star center (and current Georgetown coach) Patrick Ewing made three Final Fours in the four years from 1981-82 to 1984-85, with a national title in 1983-84.

Thus, although Washington sports fans have not seen major championships in recent decades, their teams are generally competitive.


*The renaming from Bullets to Wizards was prompted by two developments. One was the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a friend of Bullets' owner Abe Pollin, and the other was DC's high rate of gun-related violence at the time.

**Worth mentioning, at least as an historical footnote, are the barnstorming Washington Generals, variously described as the "perennial opponents" and "stooges" for the Harlem Globetrotters. As noted on the Generals' Wikipedia page, "While the Globetrotters play tricks and spectacular displays of skill for the crowd, the Generals appear to attempt to play a 'normal' game of basketball... not interfering in the Globetrotters' tricks." The Generals are estimated to have lost over 16,000 times to the Globetrotters and beaten them somewhere between three and six times.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Warriors' Explosiveness

ESPN The Magazine has an online article today on the Golden State Warriors' offensive explosiveness. Specifically, the article provides statistics on the Warriors' frequency of going on 10-0 and 15-0 runs, and examines whether there are distinguishing circumstances that seem to presage such runs and any effective strategies for opponents to short-circuit them (spoiler alert: time-outs don't seem to work).

Back in 2015-16, I examined the explosiveness of the Warriors (which I defined as scoring 18 or more points in six-minute intervals) and of the eight college teams seeded No. 1 or No. 2 in March Madness (defined as scoring 15 or more points in five-minute intervals).

One pattern I found for the Warriors in the final 6:00 of regulation play is that the further they were behind, the greater the offensive bursts they exhibited.

The college teams' explosiveness did not seem to predict NCAA-tourney success. Xavier was the most explosive team among the eight I studied by a good margin (13 explosions in its last 10 regular-season games, with no other team higher than nine). The Musketeers also had the fastest tempo (possessions per game) among the eight teams. Despite these seeming advantages, however, Xavier was eliminated in the second round.