By Zach Rosen
On Tuesday, September 12, Phil Chenier made a trip to Capital One Arena, the same arena he traveled to for the past two decades as the Wizards’ television color analyst. But on this day, he went there to film an episode of “Level With Me,” a series beginning its second season on Monumental Sports Network. Chenier would be going back and forth asking questions and talking about a wide range of topics with Wizards star shooting guard, Bradley Beal.
Before arriving at the arena, Chenier called his long-time broadcast partner Steve Buckhantz, the television play-by-play man of the Wizards. They had discussed that Chenier would be doing on the show with Beal, and how much he was looking forward to it.
Chenier was there to record the series, but there was much more to the story for why he came in on that Tuesday.
And Beal was completely in on it.
As the past and current Washington 2-guards exchanged questions and answers in the show’s usual format, suspense in the room was building. The conversation was flowing beautifully, as the two have known each other for five-plus seasons. Chenier and Beal have shared on a bond over Beal’s five-plus seasons with the Wizards, with Chenier in the booth as the team’s TV color commentator.
Beal had been briefed before the episode that his final question on the show would be: “How would it feel if you would have your number be retired?”
“I’m not thinking of it at the moment,” Chenier explained after.
That’s when Beal dropped the hammer.
“Well, it’s now official. No. 45 will go up in the rafters.”
Chenier detailed on the show what it meant to him to have his number retired, but soon after told the crew that he needed to wrap up filming as he felt his emotions building up. Chenier and Beal shook hands and embraced after filming concluded, and ‘Legend,’ as the Wizards players call him, was still trying to make sense of the incredible news.
Chenier will be the fifth player in franchise history to have his number retired, joining Earl Monroe (No. 10), Elvin Hayes (No. 11), Gus Johnson (No. 25), and Wes Unseld (No. 41). Of note, Chenier played with all four of those Bullets legends, making it even more appropriate that he will join them up in the rafters.
“It was really kind of a numbing kind of effect,” Chenier said of the way Beal revealed the news to him. “I think I did ask him [Beal] at one point, ‘Are you serious?’”
“I almost started crying because I can only imagine how he feels, and how much hard work he put into the game,” Beal said about the experience. “A lot of people don’t understand how much he meant to us as a team.”
Legend was in absolute shock. All of his memories on the court, in the booth, and in the D.C. community went through his head after Beal delivered the news.
“I had flashbacks of being out there on there on the floor, I had flashbacks of seeing some of the other numbers being retired, I had flashbacks of Buck [Wizards TV play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz] talking about the number being retired,” Chenier explained on Off The Bench immediately following the reveal. “It seemed like it lasted a long time, and there were moments where I just felt the emotions within me coming up to a certain level. Like I said, I can’t say enough about Bradley and the way he set it up. That was probably the best way to be told that information.”
Chenier was the Bullets and Wizards’ TV color commentator for 33 seasons, with the 2016-17 season being his final as the full-time color man. While he’ll still serve a role for select games, this will be the first season in 20 years that Chenier will not be alongside Buckhantz in the booth for every game on CSN Mid-Atlantic. The two have become the closest of friends over the years, and have plenty of stories to share with whomever is willing to listen. Whether it’s all of the time they spent together on the road, in the booth, or in production meetings, there are few broadcast partners out there as close as these two.
“At some point, I knew it would happen,” Buckhantz said of the announcement. “I’m glad that it’s happening because if you look at the four guys that are up there, they’re all faces of the franchise, including Wes [Unseld], who is the face of the franchise. They’re all players who contributed mightily; they’re all legends; they’re all Hall of Famers; they’re all great guys. When you think about this franchise, you think about those players and naturally you think about Phil. It’s only right that he should be up there with those other guys.”
“My initial feeling when I heard was just elation. I feel like I just had another child. I’m sort of beaming.”
Chenier will have his number retired in March, and it will obviously be an emotional and incredible night for Chenier, his family and friends, and his former teammates.
“I know my emotions are going to be very, very strong,” Chenier said. “But I’ll be very excited to see and share the moment with my family, friends, and particularly a lot of those people that helped bring me to that position to where I am because as we know, everything is a stepping stone, no man’s an island. As you make those steps forward, there’s always somebody to pull you forward or push you up. And I’ve certainly had that in my life.”
“It’s an incredible, incredible feeling.”