While the Nationals warmed up to play the Rockies, Pebble to Pearl warmed up the crowd with R&B/pop tunes for the pregame show on Budwesier Terrace. Photos: Mike Kim
Every Friday home game, the best place to pre-game is at the Budweiser Terrace inside the ballpark. As the Nationals warmed up to play the New York Mets for the home opener, Jeff From Accounting played a live pregame show of 90s rock music. Photos: Mark Raker
The “A” has always stood for Anthony. Now, it stands for his performance.
Michael A. Taylor, center fielder for the Washington Nationals, established himself last season as one of the young players to watch in Major League Baseball. He finished among the top three Gold Glove candidates at his position in the National League despite playing in a mere 118 contests. In his injury-abbreviated season – Taylor spent most of July and part of August on the disabled list with a strained right oblique – he swatted 19 home runs and stole 17 bases. Only five other National League players can say the same about their 2017 campaigns.
“I think [one] of the major changes I made [was] my view going into the game, and what I consider successful for me a lot of the time,” Taylor says. “I would get caught up in the result, and baseball is a game of failures day in and out – whether that’s just swinging at good pitches or moving a runner [and] making hard contact.”
Hard contact was something that drew Taylor into the spotlight late in 2017. In September and October of the regular season, he had one of the best stretches of his career in terms of power, notching seven home runs that included an inside-the-park grand slam against the Phillies. Taylor’s power took the national stage in the playoffs, when he hit yet another grand slam, this time to seal a win over the Cubs and force game five of the National League Division Series.
Then, in game five, he hit a three-run bomb into the Cubs bullpen in left, giving the Nationals the lead in what ended as a heartbreaking 9-8 loss. That’s nine home runs in 33 games among September, October and the postseason, for whoever is counting. Taylor isn’t one of them.
“I try not to make too much of statistics,” he says. “I go out there and try to do my best.”
Regarding his unexpected, late-season mash fest, Taylor says he thinks it’s a byproduct of a good approach in his game.
“Home runs will come. When I try to force home runs, I end up putting myself in a bad spot, swinging too hard or swinging at pitches out of the zone.”
Taylor’s approach will be much-scrutinized at the start of 2018. For the first time since 2015, he’s the favorite to start in center field at the beginning of the season. In 2016 and 2017, respectively, trade acquisitions Ben Revere and Adam Eaton filled that role. Thanks to Taylor’s breakout 2017 and his superb defense, Eaton is now moving to left field while Taylor hunkers down as the “field general” in center.
The potential scrutiny doesn’t seem to faze Taylor, who maintains a calm, composed demeanor in on-camera interviews. Part of his confidence stems from a positive relationship with Nationals fans. Even during his first two-plus seasons in the majors, during which Taylor hit a combined .228 and struck out more than once a game, he says fans had his back. In 2017, Taylor returned the favor, lifting his average to .271 with an OPS of .806.
“One thing I can say about fans in DC [is] they’ve been very supportive through my whole career. I’m very grateful for that. Even the years I felt like I didn’t perform as well as I’d like, they still were behind me and very supportive.”
Taylor is also lucky in some respects. In June, then-Nationals Manager Dusty Baker called him “one of the most fortunate dudes” he had ever managed, according to Patrick Reddington of SB Nation’s Federal Baseball blog. For example, although he didn’t start opening day in 2016 and 2017, he did see significant playing time both seasons because of injuries to Revere and Eaton. This year, he also has the benefit of two experienced, talented outfielders – Eaton and Bryce Harper – flanking him in left and right.
“They make it really easy on me,” Taylor says of Eaton and Harper. “Those guys have a lot of experience and are great outfielders. I think we work very well together. We’re all on the same page. They make it easy and encourage me to go out there and take the lead.”
Adding to the rocky beginnings of Taylor’s career is the fact that he’s had three different managers since the beginning of 2015. This season, Dave Martinez takes over, and based on Taylor’s attitude, it’s just another fortuitous turn.
“Davey has been great. [He] communicates with the guys every day. It’s been very laid-back and energetic. I’ve really enjoyed spring training with him, and I’m looking forward to a full season.”
A full season is actually one concern lingering around Taylor, even now that he has established himself as a serious player. In spring training, what the Nationals called “tightness” in his right side – the same side as his oblique strain last season – forced him out of the lineup on March 5. Luckily, he returned to the Nationals’ Grapefruit League lineup on March 17, going one for three with a pair of strikeouts.
So what’s Taylor’s goal for 2018? Play in 162 games? Reach the 20-home-run, 20-stolen-base plateau? Make up for that near miss at a Gold Glove?
“To win a World Series,” he says.
If Taylor, with all of his good fortune, helps the Nationals bring home the World Series trophy, he can go ahead and add “plus” to that “A” in the middle of his name.
The Washington Nationals’ home opener is on Thursday, April 5 at 1:05 p.m., when they will host the New York Mets at Nats Park. For more information on Taylor and the Nats’ 2018 season, visit www.mlb.com/nationals.
Nationals Park: 1500 South Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-675-6287; www.mlb.com/nationals
I was on time, but found no one else there. Waze led me to a row of desolate warehouses, and I had no idea behind which dark door I might find my point of contact, Slam Grier.
“I didn’t know I was this intense of a reporter,” I thought.
I was in an industrial park, literally on the far side of the tracks, hoping to talk with a few of the DC Rollergirls during a roller derby practice. I felt uneasy and near ready to turn around, but another car pulled up. A woman carrying a sports bag hopped out and went for one of the unmarked doors.
“Looks promising,” I thought. I steeled myself and followed her inside.
That was February 14, and my previous knowledge of derby had been limited to Drew Barrymore’s Whip It (2009) and word of mouth. I had been led to expect a WWE-like spectacle, but what I found felt like any other weeknight practice. There were no tutus or fishnets, only compression shorts. But that’s not what derby is about anyway, I realized. It has more to do with the Rollergirls’ motto: In derby we trust.
Inside, there were 15 or so women stretching and doing light calisthenics. I was directed to the far side of the gym, where I met Slam Grier, the woman I had been emailing with. Slam’s name is a reference to Pam Grier, known for her role in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown.
“I wanted a name that was really strong and confident, because I didn’t always feel that way,” Slam told me. “But when I was on skates I did, so I wanted to have this big name, and Pam Grier is what came to mind.”
Slam never gave off the feeling of a lack in confidence. She was warm and maintained Tony Robbins-like eye contact. It was easy to see why she was just re-elected president of the DC Rollergirls. Whatever unease I felt was put to rest.
The DC Rollergirls aren’t the only ones bouting (derby speak for playing) in the DMV though. There’s also the NOVA Roller Derby in Northern Virginia and the Free State Roller Derby (FSRD) in Montgomery County. Like NOVA and FSRD, they follow the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) rules.
The skaters I spoke with all reiterated that they do flat track derby, as if to immediately dispel any association with the banked-track spectacle of the 70s, or even the banked-track spectacle of Whip It. Flat track is the modern incarnation of derby, which got its start in the early 2000s in Austin, Texas. The scripted fights have been done away with, as have the banked tracks. The flat tracks allow anyone with tape and gym access a chance to play.
I was able to speak with some skaters who remember derby as it was in those early days, including Yankee Scandal of the DC Rollergirls and Futz from NOVA. Scandal started skating with DC in 2009, but had her first experience with derby in 2005.
“I was living in Arizona and there was an article in the newspaper about roller derby,” she said. “I went and it was amazing. But I didn’t follow up. I was just like, ‘That’s a really cool thing; those girls are really bad ass.’”
Before she skated over, Slam had pointed Scandal out to me. On skates, she’s intimidating. Her strides are long and mesmerizing, and you feel somehow wild watching her. I imagined camping in Wyoming and stumbling upon a moose or bighorn – you can’t help but look, though you would never take a step closer.
But she was more approachable with her helmet off and mouthguard out. Scandal is a fish biologist by day and before moving to DC, she had refed some derby in Massachusetts.
“At that time, [derby] was just so glitzy and glam – the fishnets and the style. It’s still a very rough sport, but it just seemed so much more dirty and grungy. And the hits – people used to get wiped out.”
Futz said much the same as Scandal.
“I’ve been skating since 2010, and the game is nothing like it used to be. Derby was skate fast, turn left. There was very little strategy and a lot of big hits.”
Scandal said she misses some of the kitschiness and will still skate in a skirt for home bouts, but I never got the sense she thinks that derby’s lost something. Same with Futz. And I think that’s because regardless of the reason a skater may get into derby – whether it’s to “wear glitter and hit people,” as Scandal told me about one of her teammates, or just for the exercise – the derby community is what they stay for.
Scandal told me that in moving to DC for work, she didn’t know anyone and derby became her family. In fact, the girls she met in Fresh Meat Camp – an aptly named bootcamp for beginners held by many leagues – remain her best friends.
“I had literally nothing and I found a family,” Scandal said. “When my father passed away, one of the first calls I made was to my captain to let them know I was going away, and they sent flowers to his funeral.”
Futz described a similar level of support from her teammates.
“I’ve had people help with childcare, cook my family meals when I was sick, help me put air in my tires – you name it, NOVA probably provides it.”
In derby we trust.
The positive impact of the derby community extends to its officials. I was able to speak with the head referee for FSRD, Wagnarok, and he had a number of stories to share. It’s common practice for skaters to skate with local derbies when they travel, and because Wagnarok is in the military, he’s had the chance to participate in derbies around the world.
“The leagues have different cultures and traditions, but it’s not hard to break into it because we all have that roller derby family in common,” he told me. “Honestly, roller derby gives me friends and family all over the world. I’m still friends with people I met in Australia.”
Roller derby also helped Wagnarok get through a time when he was suffering from PTSD.
“Free State supported me through those times where I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be – as an official and a person. I’ve tried to return the favor as much as I can. They stuck with me through the good and the bad.”
Flat track has done away with the scripts and now it’s just bad ass women – and bad ass people in general – still skating, still hitting and still saving some glam for home bouts, but mainly supporting each other in whatever they want or need.
Come for a bout and see why derby is still picking up fresh meat. The DC Rollergirls had their season opener February 24, NOVA has their first bout March 17 and FSRD has theirs March 25.
For more info on upcoming bouts and local teams, visit:
The excitement and rollercoaster of emotions gearing up for March Madness will take over the DC area as the Capital One Arena hosts the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Tournament on March 7-11.
Local teams George Washington University (GWU), George Mason University (GMU) and nearby Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and Richmond are sure to have their fair share of fans come cheer them on, but it’s #18 nationally ranked Rhode Island that is favored to come in and win it all.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see St. Bonaventure or VCU emerge from the weekend, but the body of work Rhode Island has put out there has been impressive,” says WTOP sports reporter Dave Preston. “They’re a team built for March, and they should win the A-10 tournament.”
Don’t count out Davidson though, who is tied for second and could surprise people with their performance, Preston adds.
“Coach [McKillop] has been there forever and seemingly growing these shooting guards, and because they are not the team that anyone is really chasing, they are the classic team that can sneak in and get to some finals and win.”
Other teams to keep a watch for are VCU and Richmond, says Ted Jeffries, former University of Virginia (UVA) basketball announcer, who was a four-year starter for the team before going on to a professional career and coaching Division 1 basketball.
“Looking at VCU, they are always a team that can be dangerous as you look at this tournament,” Jeffries says. “And Richmond is a team that always surprises me; their style of play can be challenging for certain teams, depending on the matchup.”
The VCU Rams have gotten to the finals every year they’ve been in the Atlantic 10 Conference so they are not a team to be discounted, Preston says.
“When you look to playing back-to-back days potentially, they have Justin Tillman, who is a beast inside and a guy you can’t ignore in a tournament situation.”
But Preston says not to count out hometown teams GMU or GWU, who could get some extra help from the local crowd.
“You talk about the unique nature of being here in the DC area,” Preston says. “George Mason [and] George Washington benefit from a short commute for their fanbase, and it’s always good to have a good crowd.”
Jeffries says he’s played at Capital One, as well as broadcast there.
“It’s a great venue,” he tells On Tap. “No bad seats in the house – with even the nose bleeds getting a good view – so this is a great place to have this tournament. You’re in the fourth quarter of your season, literally and figuratively, and you look at it and say, ‘Man, this is an opportunity for us; we lose we go home, so let’s give it our best.’ And when you have that type of dynamic, that’s what makes March the greatest month in sports.”
Aside from what’s expected to be a great weekend of basketball, those in town for the tournament are also near some of DC’s top places for catching a pregame bite and beverage.
Just steps away from Capital One stands Penn Commons, celebrating A-10 with “Wear Your Team Gear” specials. Fans donning their favored team’s apparel can enjoy a $5 happy hour drink all day on game day. Over at Maryland-themed bar Free State, enjoy $2 off draft beers, wine by the glass and local spirits Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m., and be sure to check out their bottle list with some rare beer finds from the Mid-Atlantic states.
At nearby burger and bourbon mecca b DC Penn Quarter, happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 3-7 p.m. with half-price appetizers, mix and match mini-burgers, $4 retro drafts, $5 house wine, and $6 cocktails and bourbon nip of the week. And on Sundays, be sure to hit up their brunch before you head off to the finals, running from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. with $15 bottomless mimosas and bourbon sours.
Over at Fado Irish Pub, enjoy $5 draft beers Monday through Friday from 4-7 p.m. and snack, wine and cocktail specials including a “beer of the month” offered for $5 all day, every day throughout March.
Just south of Capital One, Texas BBQ hotspot Hill Country has a daily happy hour from 4-7 p.m. that includes beer and wine specials, and $20 margarita and beer pitchers, along with food specials including their heavenly chili-rub wings with buttermilk ranch sauce.
At Bar Louie, take full advantage of happy hour specials from 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with $7.50 signature martinis, half-priced appetizers and beer and wine specials, and a late-night menu that will refuel you after the games.
Just across the street from Capital One, 10 Tavern will be running specials starting March 7, including $14 Bud Light bottle buckets, mouthwatering 16-oz. double bacon cheese burger, pulled pork and loaded up downtown hot dogs. They’ll also be hosting a wing-eating contest sponsored by Bud Light and Captain Morgan, with more details to come on their website soon.
Learn more about this year’s A-10 Tournament at www.atlantic10.com and find info for our pregame bar picks below.
Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; 202-628-3200; www.capitalonearena.com
10 Tavern: 707 G St. NW, DC; www.10tavern.com
b DC Penn Quarter: 801 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.burgersbeerbourbon.com
Bar Louie DC: 701 7th St. NW, DC; www.barlouie.com
Fado Irish Pub: 808 7th St. NW, DC; www.fadoirishpub.com
Free State: 501B G St. NW, DC; www.freestatebar.com
Hill Country: 410 7th St. NW, DC; www.hillcountrywdc.com
Penn Commons: 700 6th St. NW, DC; www.penncommonsdc.com
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and while you may not have a SO in your life at the moment, you can always put on a Caps game and pretend you’re dating Braden Holtby. Or maybe you do that even if you are in a relationship… Either way, you are not alone in admiring some of today’s most talented – and attractive – professional athletes. Five fierce females in the world of local TV and radio gushed to On Tap about their favorite sports stars, and what makes each of them so crushworthy.
Ashley Iaconetti, Reporter/podcast host
Access Hollywood, Almost Famous and I Don’t Get It
Crushing on: 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
Best traits: Strong leader and hard-working
Why she’s crushing: He’s so commanding and encouraging with teammates. He can carry a team. Also, that face…
Perfect date with Jimmy: I’m pretty classic: good food, wine and conversation, ideally somewhere warm and by the water.
Best Valentine’s Day spot in the DMV: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to go ice skating at Reston Town Center with a crush and stroll around with hot chocolate.
Where she’d shop for him: Odds are I’d be hitting up some of the athletic wear stores at Tysons Mall.
Find Iaconetti dating and competing on The Bachelor Winter Games this February on ABC, reporting every Tuesday on Access Hollywood on NBC, hosting the Almost Famous and the I Don’t Get It podcasts, and writing for www.cosmopolitan.com. Learn more at www.byashleyi.com.
Julie Wright, Anchor
Good Morning Washington and NewsChannel8’s Let’s Talk Live
Crushing on: Washington Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie
Why she’s crushing: I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing T.J. a couple of times, and he’s always so easy to talk to. To say that he’s friendly is an understatement. He’s a humble guy, and he really lights up when talking about his family.
On his “it” factor: The thing that makes T.J. so dreamy is that he’s tough on the ice but so smooth in person, [and I] love that about him. He handles his business on the ice but during interviews, he really is just a guy who’s psyched about playing hockey!
What she’s dying to ask him: If I could ask T.J. a personal question, I would ask, “Do you wish for your girls to play hockey?”
Watch Wright on ABC7/WJLA-TV’s Good Morning Washington and NewsChannel8’s Let’s Talk Live, and follow her on Twitter at @thejuliewright.
Crushing on: Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger
Best traits: My crush is totally on his personality. He’s fun to watch on the field. He always seems amped up, and the energy spreads to the fans and teammates. [It] doesn’t hurt that he makes some big plays.
What she’s dying to ask him: My first very important question would be: Team NSYNC or Team BSB? If I’m only getting one question, we’ve got to figure out the real deal breaker issues.
DC date night spot: I’d want to go to whatever his favorite spot is so that I can get to know him, and so I don’t have to make the decision. Then we can finish up the night with alcoholic milkshakes at Ted’s Bulletin because I’m not sure there’s anything else I need on any given night.
What she’d buy him for Valentine’s Day: It’d be fun to do one of the Smithsonian’s scavenger hunts together or get tickets to zipline, kayak, paddle board or any other outdoor activities to do once it’s warm again.
Why they’re a good match: We’d make a good match on the days he brings home the “W.” My heart is already so affected by Redskins games; it might be dangerous to get that much closer to it all. What if he breaks my heart in all of the ways?!
Catch Elizabethany on HOT 99.5 from 2-7 p.m. every day, and on Mondays with the station’s new “Monday Motivation Mix.” Follow Elizabethany online at @luvelizabethany.
Media personality & former radio host
98.7 WMZQ and Mix107.3
Athlete crush: Washington Wizards point guard John Wall
Why she’s crushing: He’s got swag and confidence. Oh, and he’s not bad to look at either.
Best traits: He’s fearless on the court and has a lot of heart. It’s admirable to see all [of his] charitable work – from his Light the Night Walk to the John Wall Foundation, he’s always giving back to the community.
Why he’s a star athlete: His speed and his vision on the court
Perfect date night: Well, it would have to be a date that my husband is invited to since he is just as much of a fan as I am. Bowling with John Wall would be pretty awesome.
Where she’d shop for him: I know he’s a fashion guy, so I would say Tysons for a custom suit.
Co-host on 94.7 Fresh FM’s The Tommy Show
Athlete crush: Washington Nationals
Why the team love: I have an interesting love affair with the team. I have raised my kids since they were in diapers to love baseball and now that they are teenagers, it is one of our favorite activities to do as a family. There is nothing better than a Saturday night game in the middle of the summer!
Best traits: Their ability to have games that make you proud to be a fan. I was there for Zimmermann’s no-hitter and Scherzer’s 20 strikeouts. I was there when they clinched the playoffs in 2017. Those memories are the best.
On who stands out the most on the team: Ryan Zimmerman, the heart and the unofficial captain of the team. He has been with the team since the beginning, he had an incredible season in 2017 and [he’s] one of the few players to really put his roots into the DC community.
What she’d give the team for Valentine’s Day: An extension in Bryce Harper’s contract
Find Collis every weekday morning with Tommy McFly and Jen Richer on The Tommy Show from 5-10 a.m. on 94.7 Fresh FM, and follow her on
Twitter at @cityshopgirl.
The Washington Wizards haven’t quite enjoyed the storybook season some fans saw just around the corner after last season’s furiously exhilarating finish. Despite bowing out of the 2017 NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics in a climactic seven-game series, there was plenty to be optimistic about looking toward the future.
For fans and players alike, the future is still very much just that: a promise for a better tomorrow. The current iteration of the Wizards still seems to be stuck in the mud, as yet another promising season has started slow, including puzzling losses, injuries and plain old bad luck. The team with aspirations of reaching the third round (or even the NBA Finals for those true optimists) are sitting at a remarkably unspectacular 11-10.
Some of this can be chalked up to uncontrollable factors, such as starting power forward Markieff Morris being injured in training camp or John Wall hurting his shoulder, which caused him to miss an elongated period of time. However, not all of it can be attributed to poor health.
“Sometimes the issues are self-inflicted,” Wizards Color Analyst Kara Lawson says. “I think [where] they can improve the most is on the defensive side of the ball. They’re better than where they were a season ago. They’re still giving up too many points in the paint and in the defensive rebounds; those are areas that statistically stick out the most.”
Bullets Forever Editor Jake Whitacre also pointed out problems the team has in the clutch. According to a recent article, the team has routinely struggled with close games since the inception of the team’s current core of John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.
“It looked like the team finally turned the corner last season, when they outscored their opponents in the fourth quarter after three years of being on the other end,” Whitacre writes. “So far this season, they’ve gone to old habits in a bad way. Their net rating so far this season is -6.6. The only teams who have posted worse fourth quarter numbers this season are the Heat, Bucks, Bulls and Timberwolves.”
Unlike fans, skeptics and the media, players on the Wizards are still confident. And for good reason, as much of the unit is unchanged from last season’s team, which shook off a near cataclysmic record of 3-9 to eventually win 49 games.
“I’m always confident in my team,” Beal says. “I feel like we’re the best team in the East, but we still have to prove it. I think we have all the pieces, and we’re an experienced team. We’ve been there before, so we know what it takes to get over the hump now. Hopefully, we can put it together.”
Despite their slow start, the Wizards have flashed basketball brilliance, dropping two close games to the NBA Finals contestants last season, falling 120-117 to the defending champion Golden State Warriors and nearly overcoming a tremendous performance by basketball savant – and likely half machine/half alien – LeBron James in a scintillating 130-122 contest against defending Eastern Conference champion the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Though the team has given fans glimpses of what they can do against the league’s best, they’ve also struggled against the cellar dwellers of the NBA as well, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns. If any team personified the term “feast or famine,” it’s the Wizards.
Seemingly the only obstacle standing in Washington’s way is itself, as the team has clearly risen, and dropped, to the level of its competition. Consistency against bad and good alike is what’s required to help the team raise the bar.
“I still think they’re the second best team when whole,” Lawson says. “You have to start with Cleveland in the East; it’s just so difficult to guard LeBron James. I still think that’s the team the conference goes through.”
The Wizards are still arguably the first, second or third best team in the league, and offer three all-star caliber players in Wall, Beal and Porter Jr. when healthy. But in the standings, they sit at a disappointing seventh. There’s obviously still a tremendous amount of basketball left to be played, and it’s safe to assume the panic button has yet to be pressed in the nation’s capital. But at some point, the team will have to rebound from this start, and hopefully the players, coaches and fans can rally once more.
Learn more about the Washington Wizards and the team’s 2017-2018 season at www.nba.com/wizards.
If you’ve tuned into a Wizards game this season on NBC Sports Washington, then you’ve already become acquainted with the voice of the team’s new color analyst, Kara Lawson. In the offseason, Lawson became the second woman to assume the role of primary television game analyst when she replaced the legendary Phil Chenier.
Before stepping behind the microphone, or wearing one, Lawson was a little girl hurling a kickball toward a rim in Alexandria, Virginia. In her teens, she became a worthy opponent of the men at her local rec center, and eventually traveled south to play college ball at the University of Tennessee for the late all-time great coach Pat Summitt.
During her days in the WNBA, Lawson moonlighted as a part time, in-studio analyst and sideline reporter for ESPN. Eventually the side gig turned into her primary career, making history along the way. At the quarter mark of the NBA season, we had a chance to chat with Lawson about the game of basketball and her life as a full-time hoop head.
On Tap: What motivated you to start broadcasting during your playing career?
Kara Lawson: I started broadcasting right after my rookie season in the WNBA, so this is my fifteenth year. It’s rare that I’m so young in life, but have so much experience. I was sort of ready-made because I started while I was playing. A lot of current players, they can’t do that because the calendar doesn’t work. When I first started, I just did a few games here and there, and once ESPN got more serious and the money went up, I knew it was becoming more of a focus for me. I initially looked at it as a side gig, but I realized this was something I could do as a standalone career. Midway through my WNBA career, ESPN gave me more security, and that pushed me toward full-time.
OT: Who are some of the people in the industry that gave you memorable advice?
KL: One of the first people who helped me was Annie Meyers. She was the lead analyst in women’s basketball, and she reached out to see if I had any questions. We’ve maintained correspondence through the years, and not even necessarily about basketball. I had dinner with Robin Roberts, and she had moved from Bristol to New York City for Good Morning America. Her presence was powerful, and for me being a female and a minority, especially 15 years ago, she gave me advice that was unique to me about what I would face in the industry.
OT: In 2007, you became the first woman to be a color analyst on a nationally televised NBA game. What’s it like looking back on that?
KL: A lot of times as a woman, it kind of takes something just happening before you get an opportunity. I was supposed to do a game as a sideline reporter, and the analyst couldn’t get into the city because of an ice storm. They called me during game day and told me I had to call the game. I wasn’t thinking about anything – I just knew I needed to start preparing. Maybe that helped me because I didn’t have time to process it and get nervous. Looking back, it’s really cool, and it’s awesome to be the first at something. Back then, it didn’t even really get brought up. Now, you look at all these women who do it nationally, and it’s very cool.
OT: Do you think the stigma of women doing broadcast work for professional sports has been lifted?
KL: Well, it’s certainly more open than in the past, but [is it] as open as it should be? Probably not yet. I’m fortunate to work for ESPN, who is the most open to putting women in positions like that. I hope other networks will continue – or start – to give women more opportunities in those places where it’s traditionally men, because if you look up and down [at] rosters for play by play and analysts, it’s predominantly men. I think local and conference networks are getting better and better. Look at NBC Washington giving me the opportunity; I think local television is starting to catch on even quicker.
OT: Have you received any negative feedback from Wizards fans because you’re a woman in your position?
KL: There’s a subjectivity that we all carry; you might prefer one news anchor to another. I don’t think I’ve had many ignorant interactions or messages, but there are definitely people who say, “It’s not my cup of tea,” and that’s okay. That’s never bothered me. That’s not knocking my credibility. I’m from DC, people know me here, and know my story and background. I haven’t had people say much, because they know I’ve been around the hoops scene here for more than 20 years.
OT: Have you accomplished all of your goals in broadcasting?
KL: I was able to check off [becoming] an analyst for an NBA team and [being] immersed in the league. I had two big ones: to call the women’s Final Four, and I did that last spring, [and] in a matter of four or five months, I accomplished the other goal, which was to be an analyst for a team. It’s pretty interesting and I think it’s a good lesson, because it took me 14 years to achieve it. It’s a good lesson of being patient and continuing to work. At some point, you have to be able to take advantage of your opportunity.
OT: When were you first introduced to the game of basketball?
KL: My dad introduced me to sports in general. I can remember [being] as young as three or four years old. I was allowed to dribble the ball in the house, downstairs in our basement. We had a park in our neighborhood, and I’d go over and play by myself. I used a Wonder Woman kickball, because I wasn’t strong enough to shoot a regular basketball.
OT: When did you first realize you wanted to play professional basketball?
KL: In fifth grade, I got my first recruiting letter from the University of Virginia. That was my state school. It had a bunch of really good players, and they had been to the Final Four a bunch of times. I thought that would be something really cool – to go to college and play basketball on a scholarship. That’s when I set the goal that that was what I wanted to do. I wanted to play in the NBA; I figured I was better than all the boys now, so why not be better than all of them down the road?
OT: Do you have a favorite moment on your basketball journey?
KL: It’s hard to pick one because I’ve really enjoyed all of it – from playing in the DC rec centers to all the great friends I’ve kept up with from high school. Those were great times. Getting a chance to play for the legendary Pat Summitt at the University of Tennessee was the best of the best; my relationship with her was so valuable. I don’t think I could have gone anywhere else to get [those] lessons from anyone. She was really the person who jump-started my career in television, and she thought it was important for me to be comfortable as a communicator. I [wouldn’t be] doing what I’m doing now if she [hadn’t] had me work on my communication skills when I was 18 years old.
Visit www.nba.com/wizards for more information on the Washington Wizards, and follow Kara Lawson on Twitter at @karalawson20.
Washington Redskins Corner Back Josh Norman hosted his Inaugural Night with the Starz at The Watergate hotel to benefit his charitable foundation, Starz24. Guests enjoyed dinner and drinks, a special interview session with Josh and the chance to win fabulous items in the silent and live auctions.
The mission of Josh Norman’s Starz24 Foundation is to provide enrichment to children through community events and youth programs. With an emphasis on fitness and teamwork, Starz24 challenges youth to participate and excel in areas that help develop strong interpersonal skills and awareness of the world around them. Photos: Mark Van Bergh
The former Florida State standout struggled to find his footing in the team’s offense during his first four years in Washington. While Thompson occasionally gave fans and coaches glimpses of the dangerous triple-threat offensive weapon he would become, injuries and inexperience kept him relegated mostly to the sidelines.
Until this season, that is. During the Redskins’ first six games of 2017, the Greenville, Florida native emerged as a breakout offensive star, leading the team in rushing and receiving. Sounding relieved, enlightened and newly confident in his career, Thompson told On Tap Magazine during a half-hour telephone conversation that a revamped approach to the game, including a healthier diet and mindset, has helped carry him to a higher level of play.
“This is probably the most confidence I’ve had in myself since college,” Thompson said. “I really didn’t know if I was good enough to play in this league for a long time,” the veteran back added, explaining how he developed a bad habit of measuring himself against other NFL rushers with similar styles but different team circumstances or physical attributes. “I would compare myself to them, but that was the wrong way of going about it. I am who I am and I need to be the best self that I can.”
The average career of an NFL player is less than three years, so Thompson’s five seasons in the league is extraordinary – especially considering he is just 5 feet 7 inches tall and less than 190 pounds. The suddenly pivotal Redskins playmaker said he’s comfortable as the team’s second back, and happy in his role as a playmaker who can help the team convert big third downs while avoiding the punishing load of repetitive carries between tackles.
It’s not that Thompson doesn’t want the ball more – he insisted he does – but he said he trusts head coach Jay Gruden’s plan for him. The quick-shifting running back also credited a long line of coaches who taught him to compensate for his lack of size with a well-rounded game.
“My coaches really worked hard to make sure I was a good, all-around back,” Thompson said. “Being a smaller guy, my skill set had to be very diverse. I needed to be a pass catcher; obviously a good runner and have good pass blocking, and even be a possible kick or punt return man. I’ve worked on all that my whole life.”
Thompson said he’s worked hard to adjust to the speed of the game since arriving in the NFL. He’s no slouch in the speed department himself, clocking 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash. But he said in the pros, even the bigger guys seem to move in a flash.
“The slower guys play quicker than they do in college because they see things before they develop,” Thompson explained. “That comes with time and experience. With this being my fifth year, I’ve been able to get a really good feel for the mental side of the game, too. I’ve been able to slow the game down a little bit.”
He also said curbing a serious sugar jones – no easy feat for a self-described candy addict – helped him trim seven pounds off of his already compact frame in the last off-season. Thompson now plays at 188 pounds compared to the 195 he played at in 2016.
“I cut my body fat down a lot and that’s helped me with quickness, and I’ve been able to turn that fat into muscle,” he said. “I’ve lost some weight, but I feel more explosive.”
While experience and hard work have helped Thompson establish himself in the NFL even despite his own misgivings, his head coach never doubted him.
“He’s a great pass protector, a great route runner,” Gruden said of Thompson before this season began.
“He has great value in the National Football League.”
The confidence has been contagious.
“Jay told me from the jump, ‘You’re my guy,’” Thompson said. “To have a coach who believes in you, and has no doubt about your game and your skill set, brings an added confidence. You just feel like you can conquer whatever you want to do.”
Learn more about the Redskins’ 2017-2018 season at www.redskins.com.