In a moment that should make all of us glad that she no longer covers sports, "Good Morning America" co-host Robin Roberts (then with ESPN), said that the 1999 debut of Chamique Holdsclaw was, "The most anticipated debut in the history of sports." Way to get caught up in the moment Robin.
Holdsclaw was considered to be the best player in the history of womens basketball when she left the University of Tennessee and was drafted number one overall by the Mystics. There was even some idiotic discussion that she was good enough to play in the NBA which was fueled by her appearance on the cover of "Slam" magazine wearing a Knicks jersey. As it turned out, she had a mostly-disappointing five-year stay in D.C. before being traded to the Los Angeles Sparks. Clinical depression kept Holdsclaw from even taking the court for a few games during her last season in Washington.
I don't think its the most anticipated debut in the history of sports, but we do now have a date for what may be the most anticpated debut in the history of Washington, D.C. sports. The Nationals have announced that Stephen Strasburg will make his major league debut against Pittsburgh on June 8th.
Unlike football, which doesn't have a minor league and basketball, which barely has a minor league, the nature of baseball has created a season-long guessing game on the exact date of the Strasburg debut. That in itself has created a huge level of anticipation.
With the Strasburg debut about to take its place at the top of the all-time list, here are the clubhouse leaders from the last 41 years. Walter Johnson and Sammy Baugh are the best athletes in the history of the Nation's Capital, but nothing more than newspapers to hype their debuts (Johnson in 1909 and Baugh in 1937), its hard to imagine those debuts topping the following in hype:
5. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown 1981 - This may be the only case in D.C. sports history where the hype-ee outran the hype. No question that Ewing was the one of the mostly highly-coveted recruits in history when John Thompson convinced him to come to Georgetown. But it would have been absurd to suggest that he would put together one of the greatest careers in NCAA history. Ewing led the Hoyas to the final game three times over his four-year career, winning the National Title in 1984 and nearly winning it in '82 and '85.
4. Michael Jordan, Wizards 2001 - Yes he was closer to 40 than 30 when he decided to come out of retirement to, "scratch an itch", but we had come to understand never to count out the greatest player ever. Even at 70 percent, Jordan was far better than anybody on the roster. The Wizards had won only 19 games the year before, so things could hardly get worse. He played two 37-win seasons, failing to get the team in to the playoffs, but he did fill the house every night. However, Jordan made so many enemies in the process that 78-year-old Abe Pollin felt he had no other choice than to posterize the living legend. His "Airness" left town his bitterness when Abe told him his services would no longer be required.
3. Desmond Howard, Redskins 1992 - Fresh off winning his third Super Bowl championship, coach Joe Gibbs declared that Howard was, "the only player we've ever scouted with no weaknesses." Wow! An offensive genius like Gibbs making a statement like that carried some weight. Unfortunately, the genius didn't see that Heisman trophy winner did have a weakness. He couldn't play! Couldn't play wide receiver at least. After two disappointing seasons, Howard was left unprotected in the expansion draft and claimed by Jacksonville. I know he won a Super Bowl MVP with Green Bay, but he won it returning kicks. Remember Gibbs and the Redskins gave up two first-round picks to move up to number four to take Howard. No kick returner, no matter how good, is worthy of that price.
2. Joe Gibbs, Redskins 2004 - The unthinkable had actually happened. Eleven seasons after his Camelot-like run had ended, the greatest coach in D.C. history was returning to restore the glory. His arrival for an introductory news conference at Redskins Park brought out hundreds who braved the January chill just to get a glimpse of his limo arriving. Even if the game he left wasn't quite the same as the one he was coming back to, we figured it wouldn't take long for the living legend to get back to speed. Season two brought hope with a playoff appearance and a playoff win, but after a slide back to 5-11 in 2006 it was becomming clear that Gibbs 2.0 was never going to match Gibbs 1.0. After one more December sprint to the playoffs in 2007, Gibbs left for good with most Redskin fans realizing it was probably time.
1. Vince Lombardi, Redskins 1969 - Owner Edward Bennett Williams didn't just bring an experienced coach. Lombardi was the most successful coach in the history of the NFL, winning five titles over a seven-year period, including the first two Super Bowls. It had been 23 seasons since the Skins had last been in the playoffs. And of those 23 seasons, only three produced winning records. So impressive was Lombardi's performance at his introductory news conference, one Washington Post columnist wondered whether St. Vincent would drive home or simply walk across the Potomac river. ABC news produced a one-hour special hosted by Howard Cosell, who chronicled Lombardi opening training camp in Carlisle. There was great hope for the future when Lombardi's Skins went 7-5-2 in 1969. That hope died when Lombardi passed away from colon cancer days before the start of the 1970 season.
Moses Malone, Maryland 1974 - Moses may have been the most coveted recruit ever. Lefty Driesell went all out to bring him in from Petersburg, Virginia. With backcourt stars John Lucas and Mo Howard returning for their junior years, Maryland seemed likely to make a run at a couple of national titles with Moses. He enrolled in school, attended one day of classes and became the first basketball player to go directly from high school to the pros, signing with the ABA's Utah Stars.
Albert King, Maryland 1977 - Thanks to older brother Bernard and an incredible high school career in Brooklyn, Albert King was a household name when Lefty landed him. King was considered to be better than Philadelphia star Gene Banks and a Michigan player by the name of Ervin Johnson who went by the nickname, "Magic." King did have a great individual career, highlighted by his junior year when he made first-team All America. But while Banks led Duke to the National Championship game in 1978 and Magic made magic with Michigan State a year later, King never got Maryland to the Final Four despite teaming up with an even better college player in Buck Williams.
Heath Shuler, Redskins 1994 - New coach Norv Turner was certain Shuler was worthy of the third pick of the draft coming out of Tennessee, where he had finished runner-up for the Heisman trophy as a junior. Norv envisioned Shuler becomming to the Redskins what Troy Aikman was to the Cowboys. It started badly and got worse. Shuler was a training-camp holdout, which proved to be disastrous for the slow learner. After two seasons of being force fed in to the lineup as a starter, Shuler was beaten out by 7th round pick Gus Frerotte in 1996. Shuler played only one play that season - a fumbled handoff on an end around to Michael Westbrook, another draft bust. In the offseason, Shuler was dealt to New Orleans where his career was ended by a foot injury.