As Hoya fans lick their wounds after another maddening Georgetown-less March Madness, the success of other schools in the DMV area has made it a bit difficult to forget it all.
The continuous success of the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland’s basketball programs currently towers over Georgetown basketball’s status, making Villanova’s championship title just salt in the wound. But historically, Georgetown and other schools like George Washington, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University, along with a few Cinderellas like Mount St. Mary’s and George Mason — one of the greatest ever — give the region a decisive presence in college basketball culture. The city of Washington, D.C. also boasts a long and dynamic cultural history with basketball.
The talent this culture produces, along with the aforementioned successful programs in the region, allows the DMV to emerge, surprisingly for many, as one of the basketball centers of the country.
College programs are DMV basketball’s most obvious claim to fame today. While some would argue that some of Virginia’s remarkable number of successful programs is its own entity, separated from the immediate D.C. metropolitan area that joins UMD, Georgetown, GW and George Mason, a quick visit to the streets and bars of Clarendon or Arlington makes clear that Virginia programs are very much present in the area. My definition of the DMV includes those teams because local graduates and fans make their influence clear.
Altogether, the region boasts, by my count, at least 130 tournament bids in the tournament’s history. 11 of those bids led to Final Four berths, a high number considering that the vast majority of those berths are usually absorbed by high-powered programs like UNC or Kansas. Tack on two championships, and the region boasts a concentrated resume, even though the region belies high expectations and the reality that talent is dispersed across the United States. No other metropolitan-based region in the U.S. can boast such success unless it is concentrated in the hands of one or two programs. The DMV’s Final Four berths are distributed among five teams: Georgetown, UVA, UMD, VCU and George Mason.
On top of successful programs, the region consistently produces a wealth of individual talent. SB Nation analyzed birthplace data and found the region as one of the major producers of NBA talent. While part of that can be explained by the area’s status as a major population center, the shocking number of players per capita in D.C. stands out. In SB Nation’s words, “with 68 current and former players born in Washington, the District’s rate per million of current resident is around 125. That’s five times higher than the nearest state. It’s so high that it’s eyebrow-raising, in fact.”
This tradition of basketball talent ties into the history of local black culture in D.C. The city’s basketball scene includes the famous Goodman League, a staple of the black community in southeastern D.C. that rivals other classic streetball leagues in New York and Chicago.
Georgetown itself is also a proud part of this tradition. John Thompson Jr.’s famous inclusion of local black players in what was the overwhelmingly white sport of college basketball in the ‘70s and ‘80s catalyzed critical change in the sport. Big John stands alongside players like Patrick Ewing and Eric “Sleepy” Floyd as icons of change and diversity in the face of social resistance brimming with racism. The Georgetown bulldog logo was popularized during his time as coach and can still stand proudly today on the merit of that change more than anything else.
This cultural and social history stands alongside long-term regional success as the foundations of basketball culture in the region. It points toward the larger significance of the sport for our country: the way its history has become inseparable from the currents around it.
The sprawling nature of the DMV and the lack of a consistent present-day powerhouse program make a dialogue on the concentrated significance of basketball in the region difficult. Discussions often get caught up in arguments on the nuances of defining the region, or whether its history can really stand up to bigger cities like New York. But the history and tradition are clearly present. Stepping back from the minutiae reveals a unique, dynamic and evolving relationship between the DMV and basketball that is worth any interested resident’s attention, sports fan or not.