Thirteen years ago, former Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin's dreams were realized. Pollin desperately wanted to build a downtown arena that would revitalize the surrounding neighborhood and become a hub for local sports in Washington, D.C. proper. On Dec. 2, 1997, the Verizon Center held its first sporting event ever, and 13 years later, it has certainly become everything Abe Pollin hoped it would.
So, to commemorate the birthday of the arena, let's take a look back at some of the most memorable sporting events to take place in it over the past 13 years. Obviously, we will leave some off, so feel free to fill in anything we miss.
- Obviously, we have to mention the first game. On Dec. 2, 1997, the Wizards took on the Seattle Supersonics. Seattle was a juggernaut that year, racing to a 61-21 record behind Gary Payton and Vin Baker. The Wizards were an inconsistent mess, finishing 41-41 and failing to build on the promise of the previous season. But on one night, the energy of the new arena did its job. Six players scored in double figures, as the Wizards blew out the Sonics 95-78.
- We can't mention the Verizon Center without mentioning Michael Jordan, who brought so many fans into those seats. It's tough to pick one game, since Jordan's debut and finale happened on the road, but the one that stands out is on Dec. 29, 2001. In a turn-back-the-clock performance, Jordan dropped 51 points in a blowout Wizards win over the Charlotte Hornets.
- It had been over 25 years since the Wizards/Bullets advanced to the second round of the playoffs, so we have to mention May 6, 2005. That was the day the Wizards clinched a berth in the second round playoffs, defeating the Chicago Bulls 94-91 to win their first-round series 4-2. The Bulls were shorthanded and put up a tough fight, but the Wizards were able to hold on.
- In their first season playing at the Verizon Center, the Capitals went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. There were so many moments in that run, but my favorite was on May 25, 1998. That was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Buffalo Sabres. After Bill Clinton left early, the Capitals won in overtime on an unlikely goal from Todd Krygier. The goal knotted the series at 1, and the Capitals would win three of the next four to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
- The current edition of the Capitals is short on home playoff memories, since the last two seasons have ended at home in Game 7s. But we do have to mention April 28, 2009. Behind a gutty effort and a third-period goal by Sergei Federov, the Capitals held off the New York Rangers 2-1 to advance to the second round for the first time since the Stanley Cup run.
- We can't mention the Hoyas without mentioning Jan. 21, 2006. That was the game where Georgetown signaled they were back on the national stage. Led by 23 points from Brandon Bowman, the Hoyas stunned No. 1 Duke 87-84. Georgetown has been a top contender ever since.
- How can we forget March 26, 2006? We can't. That was the day George Mason changed college basketball forever. In front of a decidedly pro-Mason crowd at the Verizon Center, the Patriots stunned No. 1 Connecticut 86-84 to reach the final four as an 11 seed.