Perspective | Washington is again dreaming of a homegrown star. Fingers crossed.


When James Wood of Rockville was asked two years ago, at 19, what it felt like to be traded to his hometown Washington Nationals, he called it a blessing.

But I’m haunted still by Derrick Rose being drafted No. 1 by his hometown Chicago Bulls. After being rookie of the year in 2009 and leading the Bulls to a 62-win season in his third season — when, at 22, he became the youngest player in NBA history to win the MVP award — he later crumpled to the court with a knee injury and missed what should have been his fifth NBA campaign. He never recovered fully in Chicago and wound up shipped out of town in 2016. He never recaptured his all-star ability, either.

Closer to home, there is the recency bias against building around homegrown stars such as Chase Young, from Prince George’s County and DeMatha High, drafted second by the Commanders in 2020 out of Ohio State, where his talent was so undeniable he was the rare defensive player named a Heisman Trophy finalist. He was named the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year, too. But then he was sidelined and slowed by injury, through no fault of his own, and last season he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers. And, of course, there’s the tragedy of Dwayne Haskins, another Washington first-round pick.

Truth is that coming home for sports stars has often been more of a curse than a blessing, though not always. LeBron James had two stints in Cleveland, about 30 miles from his hometown of Akron, after the Cavaliers drafted him out of high school No. 1 overall in 2003. In his first run there, he led the team to the NBA Finals. In his second run, he won Cleveland an NBA championship. And the Baltimore Orioles found fortune with Cal Ripken Jr.

But here we are around the nation’s capital, staring at the potential of hometown kid Wood, now a 6-foot-6, 240-pound slugger who is clobbering the baseball in spring training like the superstar, franchise-changing talent scouts have projected. I mean, if he keeps hitting like this, maybe the Nationals should consider bringing back the generational talent, Juan Soto, they traded for Wood just to protect him in the lineup!

And the Commanders’ fingers are crossed that somehow, someway, the hapless Chicago Bears don’t nab Southern California’s Caleb Williams, considered the best quarterback prospect in several years, with the top pick in next month’s NFL draft and instead allow Williams — from Bowie and Gonzaga College High in the shadow of the Capitol — to be brought here with the second pick.

“It’s familiar,” Williams said last week at the NFL combine of playing professionally where he’s from. “It’s hometown, as everybody knows. It’d be really cool to be back there and experience that.”

For us, it would pretty much be a first.

We’ve never really had the hometown star work out for one of our pro teams. Despite all the great basketball talent produced in and around Washington, almost none of the Hall of Famers played here. Not Elgin Baylor. Not Adrian Dantley. And not Kevin Durant, a future Hall of Fame inductee, who spurned arrangements from the Wizards to return them to prominence.

“I really just didn’t want to play at home,” Durant told The Washington Post in 2017. “I was like, I’m trying to build a second part of my life as a man living in a different part of the country, just trying to do different things. I did everything I was supposed to do in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, I felt. Now it’s time to do something new. I didn’t want to come back. That’s just my thought process behind it. It had nothing to do with basketball, the fans, the city.”

Commanders two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jonathan Allen did play at Stone Bridge High in Ashburn. But he was born in Alabama, and Loudoun County was his last stop as a kid after many.

The Washington Mystics in 2022 used the third pick in the WNBA draft to select center Shakira Austin from Maryland and Riverdale Baptist High. And in her second season, she suffered a torn labrum in her hip that required surgical repair and will sideline her for four to six months, long enough to leave her availability at the start of this coming season in doubt.

But I’m talking about superstars here. The players who can change a narrative like James and Durant — like Wood and Williams are said to have the potential to do.

Playing at home is a lot of pressure, of course. A different sort of pressure than what almost every player faces anywhere except home.

Maybe the greatest to ever do it, James, said to be successful hometown sports stars, athletes must focus on the reason they are there over simply being there. At least that’s what his short-time teammate Patrick Beverley said. “I talked to LeBron, who’s my big brother,” Beverley said after joining his hometown Bulls. “I asked him a lot of questions — ‘How was it playing at home?’ The biggest thing he told me was to prioritize the job, which is playing basketball, and have everything else come after that.”

Players who come home talk about the stress of satisfying family and friends with tickets to see them play and rarely having the downtime or private time they get playing and living elsewhere. Point guard Chris Paul, another future Hall of Fame inductee, recently told several local high school classes that read his book, “Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court,” through the Povich Center Book Club at Maryland that he has a new solitude in a condo in the San Francisco area, where he is playing this season for the Golden State Warriors. His family is still in the Los Angeles area, where they relocated during his Clippers years. But he has never played for the Charlotte Hornets, near his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C.

Given the bad luck or no luck that has befallen so many superstars who have played where they’re from, I guess he has been better off.

Trying to be the hometown star isn’t something I wish for star athletes. But selfishly, here in D.C., I wish it for us. At least this once.


A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Dave Bing never played for the Washington NBA franchise. He spent two seasons with the Washington Bullets. The article has been corrected.



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