The Wizards and Washington, An Ill-Fated Spell From The Beginning
At his grand opening press conference as Wizards owner, Ted Leonsis said he was “shocked” that so many fans were contacting him about a name change for Washington’s NBA franchise, especially with all he has to accomplish after officially becoming majority owner, i.e., turning a loser into a winner.
The next day, the issue was evidently so hot-button that Leonsis had to clarify his comments regarding the matter in two venues, on his blog, Ted’s Take, and in a meeting with editors and reporters from the Washington Post.
One can only assume that the shock has now worn off and that the realized issue might be serious enough to not be appeased by a simple changing of team colors that seems to pique Leonsis’ interest the most.
The Wizards as an NBA team nickname in D.C. has never been truly embraced by fans. Some of that surely has to do with winning, or lack thereof, but much of it is because the moniker is in no way a reflection of the Washington area and a city that stands as the capital of the free world.
That such an issue is near and dear to the hearts of many should never have come as a surprise.
From Leonsis’ initial comments, it became easy to deduce, at least to me, that the team nickname would likely never change, but one should expect the colors to incorporate red as soon as possible. Leonsis said last Thursday:
“We intend to listen very, very carefully, but we have so much more to do. There will be no name change, and even if we wanted to change the name, you couldn’t do that for years. It’s not secret that I am partial to red. We’re the nation’s capital. That won’t come overnight either.
But I remember coming to Bullets games when I was a kid and a student at Georgetown. I thought those colors looked handsome. I think we all saw the change in the Capitals uniform and how it was galvanizing. At some point, I don’t think it’s a secret that that will be a change that we would want to go back to more traditional colors. I think that will be the needle that we all have to thread, take the best of what was tradition and great in the past and reinterpret it and re-imagine in so that it’s relevant to today’s consumer.”
Leonsis softened his stance on a potential name change the next day. Via the DC Sports Bog:
* He said a future name change was not off the table, but was years away, and that he would ask season-ticket holders how important this issue was in them “falling back in love with this team.” He also said if that situation ever came up, he would talk to Irene Pollin before making any move whatsoever, and that he shares Abe Pollin’s feelings about gun violence.
* He said there could be ways to de-emphasize the word “Wizards” in the uniforms and emphasize another word like “D.C.” or “Washington,” which would subjugate the word “Wizards” without actually changing the name. He pointed to the Phoenix Suns’s new uniforms as an example.
And on his blog, Leonsis reiterated that any such decision takes time and does not rank as a current priority.
“With all of that going on understanding that to effectuate a name change could take two to three years. This simply isn’t a priority for us right now. We can’t change the name of the team for next season. It is June and the new season starts in October. There will be no name change. We can’t change the name. It is pretty simple.
We can change the colors more easily than the name. We will look into that as part of an overall brand uplift and updating project. That could happen as soon as the following season, but NOTHING new can happen next season. It is too late in the off season to have any changes at all. I am sorry but schedules and production of materials etc. are set years ahead of time.”
All understandable points.
It’s my impression that fans aren’t in a rush and don’t necessarily think a return to “Bullets” is a must. However, as Leonsis prepares to usher in a new era of NBA basketball in Washington, you can’t blame fans for being anxious to move past a Wizards era that they were never comfortable with in the first place.
Announcing a campaign to change the team name sometime within the next 6-12 months, even if it can’t happen for a while, would establish even more excitement and support for the newly named Monumental Sports & Entertainment organization run by Leonsis — if that’s even possible, people seem pretty excited as it is.
“Wizards” as a nickname came about under dubious circumstances — a slight of hand, if you will– and not because of the disassociation of bullets and violence with the team, but because of a “contest” (quotes indicate the loose nature of said contest to the actual meaning of the word) which was held, and run through Boston Market, to find the new name in the first place.
The “contest” involved thousands of submitted suggestions from fans, which were narrowed down to five ill-advised choices by a panel of Abe Pollin, Susan O’Malley, George Michael and Juwan Howard, among others, essentially making fan input moot. The Sea Dogs, Dragons, Express and Stallions were the other “winning” entries, all horrible in their own right and not even close to properly representing the District of Columbia.
At the time, the Washington Post ran a poll allowing fans to vote on one of the five choices, ‘Bullets’, or ‘none of the above’ — the latter two accounted for 85% of the results, according to the DC Sports Bog’s Dan Steinberg.
The Wizards officially became the least of all evils after fans were subsequently asked to call into an team-run 1-900 number (the call cost $1, which was given to non-violence efforts) to vote on their favorite … or so we must assume. The franchise never released the polling results, according to an article by Locke Peterseim on ESPN.com. It was simply announced that the team would be called the Wizards (someone did, however, win the so-called contest for their submission).
And that’s the short story of how a team nickname just never resonated with fans. Little true input and even less transparency, two concepts which are the antithesis of Leonsis’ stated philosophy.
Ted now has the option of a mulligan that he shouldn’t be too prideful to take … the option to handle the most upfront means by which people recognize his basketball franchise in the right way.
But that’s just me. I polled several members of the media/blog world who are close to the team to gauge their opinion on if “Wizards” as a team name has ever been truly adopted by Washingtonians. Their responses are below:
[Mike Wise - Washington Post]
I think the name is offensive to warlocks everywhere. And Harry Potter.
Seriously? The idea that the team name stinks always makes me laugh. If they had been to the playoff 18 of 20 years, won a title and played in three NBA Finals as the Wizards — and then the name was changed to Bullets — everyone would be hankering for their Wiz Kids of yore.
The Washington Justice. Now that’s a name. You just got served.
Something tells me it’s going to be Monuments in three years — hence the company name change.
[Dan Steinberg - DC Sports Bog, Washington Post]
Obviously not. I didn’t follow the team at the time of the change, but it seems clear it was never popular to begin with. Then all the losing made it seem even worse.
Wizards has no geographic or regional meaning, and no associated tradition of winning. But people complained about it a lot less when the team was in the playoffs every spring. Now fans are powerless about the team’s suck, so they take it out by lobbying for a name change.
[Rashad Mobley - Hoops Addict]
The area has not taken a shine to the Wizards at all. It’s a joke. Fans loved Abe and the title he brought to the area, and they admired his attempt to deflect attention away from the DC’s crime rate by changing the name from the Bullets. But the cold reality is, no one equated the Bullets to murders. And it can be favorably argued that rap music had more of an affect on DC area crime than 12 players playing in the then MCI/Verizon Center.
When you talk to area people, whether they are basketball fanatics or casual observers, they treat the Wizards nickname with disdain. They’ll say Wizards and then hit you with a “wink wink” and then say Bullets. Perhaps if something beyond disappointment and near misses could be associated with the Wizards name, it would be different. But that’s simply not the case.
In fact, the only impressive thing about the team name is the alliteration..but that’s the English major in me talking.
[Jake Whitacre - Bullets Forever, SB Nation DC]
The only thing that makes the Wizards nickname somewhat redeemable is the alliteration with Washington. Whenever you look for this team in a list, you know that they’ll be the team on the bottom, whether the teams are sorted by their city or their nickname. As petty as that sounds, every little bit helps.
In and of itself, the nickname isn’t awful, but it’s impossible to think of it without thinking of the way things used to be. No matter how you slice it, Wizards just can’t conjure up enough magic to be cooler than the Bullets. I’ll still take it over the Stallions, though.
[Jarrett Carter - HBCU Digest, formerly of Stet Sports]
I think that the area has not embraced the team name because it was contrived for other purposes aside from winning. Not that Abe Pollin trying to turn the course of violence in the city was a dishonorable thing, it was great. It just wasn’t done expressly to give the Wizards a new era of preparation and excellence towards winning.
Given that the Wizards have mastered sporadic output, fans have not had a chance to rally around something that the Wizards name could carry alone. Aside from animosity towards LeBron James and the Cavaliers, marketing of the brand hasn’t extended beyond the fitted cap civic pride. A sad commentary for such a notable initiative from Pollin years ago, but until the Wiz reach the Eastern Conference finals or better, it will likely stay that way.
[Jamie Mottram -Yahoo!, Mr. Irrelevant]
The name’s not the problem; the team is. When the Wizards are winning, the fanbase will adopt it. When they aren’t, they won’t. Just as they did with Bullets.
[Jeris Jones - DC Sports fan, Truth About It.net reader]
Personally I never really had a large issue with the Wizards name as a brand. I felt the name flows well with Washington and the logo itself was pretty slick. That being said, I never took to the design of the jerseys or the colorway, I feel they are both uninspiring and unintimidating. We could do much better in the overall feel of the team simply by changing to a bold, eye catching color and jersey fonts that are less “jazzy” and more standard in design.
Even though I don’t mind the Wizards name, I would still prefer to go back to the Bullets name and design if put in a position to choose. That red, white and blue design, to me, truly represented the team playing for the nation’s capital, and seeing we are entering a new era for DC basketball it’s time we gave the brand a face-lift as well.
[Rook6980 - Bullets Forever]
For a lot of folks, Wizards is the only name they’ve got. The only name they’ve known. Washington being a transient city, 13 years is a long time….
I think the only ones that decry the Wizards name are us old-timers… the long-time fans. And I don’t think there are as many of us, as there are of the other type ….
[BJ Pierson - Deuce of Davenport, SB Nation DC]
I don’t think it ever really caught on with people. Of my family and friends that are D.C. natives, they still slip and call them the Bullets as I do as well. When the new name is used, they call them the ‘Zards because the Wizards just sounds so cheesy. It just has no connection to the community, there’s no history behind the name and it means nothing to the area unless there is a large collective of warlocks in the region. I dunno anyone that isn’t for changing the name, not even changing it back to the Bullets, but just changing the name in general.
[Thomas Threlkeld - DC Pro Sports Report]
I don’t think many people ever warmed to the Wizards name. I’ve always detested it [Bullets was a very cool name] and I’ve never encountered anyone who truly liked it. The most enthusiasm I’ve ever encountered for the Wizards name is acceptance. The reason, I think, is that the name has nothing to do with the franchise or the D.C. area. I’m old enough to recall when the team changed the name and most people seemed incredulous or ambivalent even then. The only people who seemed to be really keen on the name were Abe Pollin and Juwan Howard. Maybe the name Wizards really did win the most votes in that contest [and maybe it didn't], but if it did it was only because the other names were worse or made no sense either. [Go, Sea Dogs!] The name was chosen because it is alliterative and, I suspect, some lame-brained marketing committee decided it had the most public appeal.
I’d bring back the Bullets as soon as possible.