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Why Abe Pollin went from Bullets to Wizards

Chatting at 11:30. Submit questions here.

Throughout the past few months, with the death of Abe Pollin and Gilbert's Great Gun Goof, there have been frequent references to the franchise's name change from Bullets to Wizards, why it happened and what it meant. But there have been lots of different ways of phrasing the "why" part.

Sports Illustrated wrote that Pollin "didn't want to contribute to Washington's reputation for violent crime." USA Today said it was because "gun violence is at epidemic level in far too many parts of this country." The New York Times said Pollin changed the name "after his friend Yitzhak Rabin, Israel's prime minister, was shot to death." The AP said it was "because of the violent connotation." The New York Post said it was "in reaction to violent crime in Washington." Mike Wise said it was "to honor the memory of his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated." Mike Lee said it was "after his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was gunned down." Christine Brennan said it was because Pollin "was so concerned about violence in the D.C. streets." The Dallas Morning News said it was "in deference to the high gun violence rate in Washington."

Charles Krauthammer discussed the issue at great length on This Week in Washington, saying this:

"In a sense, you're almost grateful that he died before he could see this. He's a man who changed the name of the team, the Bullets, which had a long and distinguished history, simply because it gave the wrong message. And he did it, and he probably lost a lot of money doing it, but it meant a lot to him. And to have a member of his team in a gun issue in the Verizon Center, which he built, would have broken his heart."

And the Wizards themselves referenced the name change in their press release about the Arenas suspension:

It is widely known that Mr. Pollin took the extraordinary step of changing the team name from "Bullets" to "Wizards" in 1997 precisely to express his abhorrence of gun violence in our community.

I didn't live here when the name was changed, and I didn't undertake a massive investigative project looking back on that process. But I did go back and read dozens and dozens of stories from before and during the name change, and I learned a few things I hadn't previously known. The results are long but fascinating; here's some of what I found.

The timeline

Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in November of 1995. And yet the reporting on a possible name change began in May, shortly after the Bullets ended another miserable season. Richard Justice wrote many of these stories for The Post, and he wrote this one as well, part of a larger story in which Pollin assessed the state of the franchise.

Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin said yesterday that he'll decide this summer whether to change the name of his team out of sensitivity to the number of gun-related deaths in the area. He indicated no final decision has been made, but his comments suggest he's leaning toward dropping the name the franchise has carried for the past 31 years, including the past 22 in Washington.

"We're considering that," Pollin said. "We haven't made a final decision. In the old days, our motto was Faster than a speeding Bullet.' That's how we were envisioned in Baltimore. Today the connotation is a little different. It's connected with so many horrible things that people do with guns and bullets. I don't know. We're considering it. We'll make a decision this summer."

So this pre-dated Rabin's death, and it wasn't a passionate, spur-of-the-moment decision. It began with uncertainty. Pollin told Justice he wasn't sure what the new name might be, and he wasn't sure when a change would take effect. But from the very beginning, the change was linked to a more general overhaul of the franchise's image, including the opening of a new downtown arena. More Justice:

Several team officials apparently favor such a change as the organization undergoes a widespread facelift that began with the acquisition of forwards Chris Webber and Juwan Howard last fall. That facelift will be culminated if Pollin is able to complete the arena by opening day 1997.

By the end of August--again, several months before Rabin's death--the decision had apparently been made. Justice wrote another story, in which the name change was portrayed as a done deal.

In addition to new uniforms, a new logo and new colors, [the Bullets] apparently will be getting a new name. Team owner Abe Pollin has decided that when the Bullets leave USAir Arena after the 1996-97 season for the proposed MCI Center downtown, they'll no longer be the Bullets, sources said yesterday. In addition, Pollin apparently will allow fans to select the new name later this year in a name-the-team contest.

Justice also reported, correctly, that the contest would be run through Boston Market. So the Rabin stuff, which I'll get to later, was touching and prompted an official announcement, but this name change was a done deal well before the prime minister's death.


No one ever suggested that gun violence in D.C. wasn't a problem, but there were skeptics who immediately pointed out that there might be more going on here than a mere aversion to guns and bullets. Again, these columns are all from well before Rabin's assassination.

In May, before the decision had been made, Tony Kornheiser was already landing a few playful jabs.

(Let me interject a word here about the Bullets, who are contemplating changing their name as well as their uniform. The concern is that "Bullets" is a symbol of violence. Of course I welcome changing the name to "Les Boulez," and giving me free tickets for life. But I fear this climate of political correctness. If "Pistol Pete" Maravich were playing today, would he have to be known as "Pesto Pete"? Should Chuck "The Rifleman" Person petition to change his nickname to "The Raffleman"? If Abe Pollin abandons "Bullets" and still wants a gritty aspect of local life, how about the Washington Not Getting Your Garbage Picked Up, or the Washington Rats In The Uptown Theater, or We're Washington, We Don't Have Those Stupid Pinwheels Like In Indiana.)

By August, Tom Knott chimed in via The Washington Times, and he wasn't being playful. He was calling the whole thing a farce.

In 1978, when the Bullets won their only NBA championship, 189 people were murdered in the District. One-hundred and eighty-nine murders, however frightening, were more acceptable than the 416 recorded in the city last year.

Fortunately, the 189 murders did not spoil the championship celebration. The 189 murders did not stop Abe Pollin and the Bullets from visiting Jimmy Carter's White House....

Team nicknames don't kill people; people kill people. I'm surprised I have to point this out. Yet now, 17 years later, Pollin is deeply troubled by the nickname's connotation. He apparently can't sleep at night thinking about all the carnage on the mean streets of Washington. He apparently cringes each morning when he reads about the latest casualties. He apparently can't help but be disturbed by his team's nickname amid the violence.

Or so goes the spin. It is, of course, an accommodating spin, particularly when cast against the Bullets' lackluster performance in merchandise sales. Most people wouldn't be caught dead - excuse the expression - in Bullets paraphernalia.

Maybe you'd expect a cynical take from Tom Knott, but it's an interesting point. D.C. Gun violence didn't start in1994, and in fact, the peak of the D.C. murder spree came in 1990-1991. By the mid-90s, the numbers were still horrific, but they were declining. And Knott wasn't the only prominent columnist to bring up the merchandise potential, which is the exact opposite of what Charles Krauthammer now claims: that the switch cost Pollin money. Here's Mike Wilbon from that August:

Personally, I think the association between the name of the local basketball team and horrible things that people do with guns is a reach. Me? I'd keep the name Bullets. But I can understand Pollin's growing uneasiness. And if there's ever a time to change it, now would be that time, what with Chris Webber and Juwan Howard aboard and new uniforms and a new downtown arena in the works.

Being competitive now doesn't stop on the court. You can't be one of the major players if your merchandise is dead last, as has been the case with the Bullets, or if it isn't even on the shelves in America's major retail sports stores....

Competition in marketing is as hard-fought as the competition under the boards. Come up with a great jersey and logo and you can sell San Jose Sharks stuff to kids in Southeast D.C. who have never in their lives seen a puck. Toronto's NBA expansion franchise conducted a national poll to name the team and came up with "Raptors," which reportedly already is in the top five in NBA gross retail sales, even though the team hasn't played a game.

This is the chance for the Washington basketball franchise to elbow its way into national conversation (and sales).

Did it work? No. But was it one goal? Seems persuasive.

Rabin's Death

In the first week of November, Rabin was assassinated. A few days later, Pollin issued a statement saying the team's name would change. Here's part of it:

I realized this some time ago when I picked up the newspaper and saw the word 'bullets' in a headline and thought for an instant that the article was about my basketball team. Unfortunately, far too often these days, 'bullets' in the news does not have anything to do with basketball. It was then I realized we should change our name.

I can't imagine the first use of "bullets" in a D.C. headline came in the mid '90s, but that was the statement. When Pollin talked to reporters about the name change, he linked the change to both the death of Rabin and the gun violence in D.C. I'll quote extensively here from Richard Justice's story:

"I just came back from Israel, where I attended the funeral of my good friend, Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin," Pollin said. "My friend was shot in the back by bullets. The name Bullets for a sports team is no longer appropriate.....

Still, Pollin said he was compelled to make the change for a couple of reasons. Originally, they were the Baltimore Bullets -- a team that wanted to be "faster than a speeding bullet." Now, because of the high number of gun-related deaths in the Washington area, the term Bullets has taken on another, more negative connotation. Pollin said the name change will be made in conjunction with another campaign.

"I have asked our staff to implement an entirely new community relations program, an anti-violence initiative that will begin this season," Pollin said. "All that we do in the community will be focused on an anti-violence message with a conflict resolution theme. Our name change will go hand-in-hand with the Bullets' anti-violence campaign."....

"If I save one life, make a change in one life, it'll be worth it," Pollin said. "The Bible says that if you save one life, you save the world. Hopefully, we'll save many more than that."

The switch is also a matter of image, and perhaps profits. The Bullets have been at the bottom of the NBA in the sales of T-shirts and other merchandise for several years, and team officials hope that a new nickname, complete with a new logo and colors and a snappy new uniform, will become more popular.

The Bullets also want a complete break from the past -- specifically, a recent past in which they've had eight straight losing seasons. Since the acquisition of Chris Webber and Juwan Howard last fall, team officials have talked of wanting a completely new image, and their proposed new arena, along with their new players, provides them with that opportunity.

That's a mouthful of reasons, many of which have been washed out over the past 15 years. I had no idea that the franchise launched this anti-violence campaign, nor did I realize how coordinated the total changes were. The other big story on the topic at the time was written by the New York Times's George Vecsey, who talked extensively to Pollin about the name change. Here are some highlights.

"I've thought about it for 31 years....Bullets connote killing, violence, death," Pollin said. "Our slogan used to be, 'Faster than a speeding bullet.' That is no longer appropriate."

The nickname has a glorious history in professional basketball. The original Baltimore Bullets (1947-54) echoed, alliteratively, the tradition of the Old Shot Tower, still standing in Baltimore, a 234-foot brick shaft built in 1828, where molten lead was cooled in tanks of water, producing bullets for war and peace.

But the American love of guns has long since got out of hand. Children have guns. Children are being killed by bullets. The current basketball team was named on June 4, 1963, after the Packers/Zephyrs moved from Chicago to Baltimore. I can remember going to games in downtown Baltimore and hearing the sound effects of a rifle being fired when Earl (the Pearl) Monroe performed the dipsey-doo.

"I've had people say I was changing the name just to make money from a new nickname, new colors, a new logo," Pollin said. "I find that distasteful. It's not a question of money."...

"It was a peace gathering. He was about to leave, but he walked back again. They were rejoicing for peace. I walked those steps. I realized it was time to get this done."

But as with most things, it's hard to say that was the final word. A few days later, Pollin was on NPR with Noah Adams. Pollin had told Vecsey he'd been thinking about the name's baggage for 31 years, but when Adams asked if he had early misgivings about the name, the owner said "Absolutely not....I thought that was very appropriate at that time." And while he told the Times that Rabin's death made him realize it was time, he told NPR that he had made the decision before Rabin was killed.

"I've been thinking about it for over a year that with this increased violence and shooting and killing that bullets connote death and violence and shooting and I just felt that a sports team should not be involved with that kind of a name....I'd already made up my mind [before Rabin died], but that sure put an exclamation point on the fact that I made a right decision."

Adams also asked a key question: if this was such an imperative, why not make the change for the '96-'97 season? Why wait two years, for a new arena to open? Pollin's response:

"Well we can't do that because the league has certain rules about name change that have to do with merchandising stuff all around the world and stuff like that. So it's actually dictated by the NBA as to when we could do it and that's as soon as we can do it."

The Wizards

The ensuing contest was indeed run through Boston Market, and the restaurant reportedly received 500,000 name suggestions involving around 3,000 separate names. Some of them were classic.

They "ranged from what you'd expect, like the Washington Generals or Washington Stars or Washington Monuments, to some strange ones," team spokesman Matt Williams said at the time. "Antelopes, Astronauts, Geckos--that's a lizard, I believe--and the Funkadelics. You wouldn't believe it."

Other choices included Accelerators, Zulus, Wolverines, Litigators, River Dawgs, Power Cats, Glory, Fury, Cobras and Monuments.

The finalists--chosen by a panel that included Pollin, Susan O'Malley, George Michael, Juwan Howard and others--were Sea Dogs, Express, Stallions, Dragons and Wizards. Fans had three weeks to vote among the five finalists via a 1-900 line; the $1 cost was given to anti-violence efforts. And the choices were roundly skewered.

Norman Chad:

Hey, who slipped something in Susan O'Malley's mineral water? his is the lamest group of choices since Chevy introduced its luxury Geo line....

Let me tell you something, my good friends: You don't go through 500,000 submissions and come up with "Washington Sea Dogs" unless the other 499,999 suggestions were all "Washington Gerrymanderers." Who was on this panel, the folks who signed off on New Coke?

I would take the Washington Wildebeests, the Washington Wallaroos, the Washington Whippoorwills, the Washington Whirligigs, the Washington Whammos or the Washington Whoosh before I'd take the Washington Wizards. And those are just names I made up while showering 15 minutes ago!

Post editorial:

Except for Sea Dogs, which is simply inexplicable, they look like the output of the same computer programs that create names for new car models and laundry detergents.

One other thing they have in common: None of these names has a thing to do with the city, its climate, flora, fauna, landmarks, geographical features, history or primary activity, which is the government.

Tony Kornheiser:

They're kidding, right? They've got to be kidding.

These proposed nicknames all stink. And when I say "stink," I mean like a dead skunk in the middle of the road. Or should I say a Sea Skunk?

How could people come up with such bad names? And I say that as someone named Anthony Irwin Kornheiser, one of the silliest names imaginable. If I was given the chance to choose a totally new name for myself, do you think it would be LaPhonso Steinberg?

And so on. O'Malley said that copyright restrictions had kept the franchise from considering many more traditional sounding D.C. nicknames. Fans and writers unleash a torrent of other possibilities. The Post ran a poll with the team's five choices, "None of the Above" and "Bullets;" the latter two combined for 85 percent of the votes. (Sea Dogs led of the other choices with about 5 percent.) Chris Webber suggested River Dogs; "The Potomac River is right here," he explained, making the choice more logical than Sea Dogs.

When Wizards was chosen, the president of the D.C. chapter of the NAACP said it invoked images of the KKK and should not be used. A New Jersey-based barnstorming basketball team known as the Harlem Wizards filed a trademark infringement suit. Many fans said the deck had been stacked for Wizards, and Pollin said it had been one of his early favorites.

It's someone who can do things," Pollin said. "It's magic, flamboyant, smart and a winner. All those things connote a winner. Once we get the new logo and uniform and colors it'll be fantastic. The NBA has very creative people."

And he talked again about why he was making a change.

"Bullets has been a very important part of my life," he said. "In fact, it has been more important than most people know. The Bullets came at a time in my life when I'd just lost a daughter. I was really not in life. The opportunity to buy the Baltimore Bullets brought me back into life. I won a world championship with it. I have a ring that says Bullets' and Pollin' on it. I'm prepared to give that up. If I can maybe make a difference and save some lives, that's more important than the history that will be lost. I finally decided if there was the possibility of making a difference with this anti-violence campaign, it's more important than the nickname of a team."

The skeptics remained. Like Kornheiser:

I appreciate how sincere Pollin is in his desire to stop violence. But not all of us connect the nickname "Bullets" with some drive-by sniper. Some of us hear the name "Bullets" and think of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes. I hope that doesn't make us insensitive louts.

Regardless, after the 1996-'97 season, the franchise officially became the Washington Wizards.

The Throwbacks

To me, one of the most puzzling features of the name change and its purported anti-violence origins was Pollin's willingness to have his team wear (and sell) Bullets jerseys less than a decade later. This was part of the NBA's throwback program; fans could (and did) buy Bullets jerseys, and the players wore the familiar threads.

Three times in the 2002-03 season the team trotted out red white and blue throwbacks. Nine times in 2004-05, and six times in 2005-06, they wore the throwback orange unis. During one game in Miami, the PA announcer referred to the team as "the Bullets" throughout. And the Michael Jordan red-white-and-blue top became a huge seller.

In 2005, Eric Fisher of the Washington Times explored this seeming contradiction.

The issue of Pollin, his feelings about the Bullets name and the Wizards name change, were discussed when the NBA approached the club last year to return to the Hardwood Classics program, league officials say. In the end, Pollin signed off on the move, in part because the move does not resurrect old Bullets uniforms that actually showed a bullet on the jersey....

Said Matt Williams, Wizards vice president: "It's a balance. [Pollin] does feel Bullets is the wrong name, but at the same time there is a history and he has fond memories for our history."

The Wizards and NBA, no doubt, also have a fondness for the orange Gilbert Arenas Bullets jersey now on sale at MCI Center, the league's online store and other spots on the Internet. The new Bullets throwbacks, much like the red, white and blue uniforms that replaced them, are sold out in some retail channels

And even now, if you go to the online team store linked off the Wizards' Web site, the model in the center of the page is wearing a Bullets t-shirt. Still, when Gilbert Arenas wrote that op-ed for The Post this week, one of the themes sounded straight out of 1995:

"If I help steer even just one young person away from violence and trouble," he wrote, "then I'll once again feel that I'm living up to Abe Pollin's legacy and to the responsibility I owe the kids of the District."

By Dan Steinberg  |  February 2, 2010; 11:29 AM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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Next: Portis: "I'm far from washed up"


Barno's notes:

-It's not often that Tom Knott, Mike Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, AND Barno all agree on something

-It's not often that Krauthammer is wrong about something, but he is. The name change didn't hurt Abe's pockets.

-Greatest line: "They're kidding, right? They've got to be kidding." TK

-Line I agree with the most: "But I fear this climate of political correctness." also TK

-I definitely remember it being because of Rabin's death, but interesting to find out Pollin had already decided to change it before then.

-George Michael wasn't just in the Redskins inner circle, he was in with the Wiz brass too? Nice

-How bout Kornheiser sarcastically proposing to change his last name to Steinberg??

-What is a sea dog?

-Whenever I think of this issue, I think of one of my favorite classic rock songs of all time:

Posted by: Barno1 | February 2, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

That's a kick ass Bog posting right there. I remember those terrible options from when the name change was proposed, and how clear it was that the fix was in; we were going to be the Washington Wizards whether we liked it or not.

I know it is unlikely to happen given Gilbert's gun charge, but I really, really, really hope Leonsis brings back the Bullets name after he gets ownership of the team. I know we'll be rockin' the red unis a year after he takes control; I hope those new unis have a new/old name on the front.

Posted by: Ootek | February 2, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

The finalists--chosen by a panel that included Pollin, Susan O'Malley, George Michael...

Well, there's your problem.

Posted by: tha_prophet | February 2, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I lost interest after the name change.

Posted by: capsfansince74 | February 2, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

The word count and substance make this dangerously close to a piece of legitimate journalism, Dan. There's a place for that: the newspaper. Please get back to transcribing radio broadcasts and making snarky/amusing/brief observations ASAP, lest you confuse those in the bogosphere.

Posted by: offbeatdude | February 2, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I voted for "Sea Dogs" based on humor value. Juwan Howard was actively campaigning for "Wizards". heeyyyy - maybe they can throw HIM in with the McGrady trade - someone who the fans would dislike more in the Wiz uniform than LeBron.

Bullets was from the days that the team was in Baltimore and there was a Bullet factory nearby is the story that was given in the past. I miss the Cap Center though. The phone booth has no soul.

And the color choice was horrible as well. They should gone for Burgundy and Gold which is what the fans wanted (I recall some poll on that) but they probably thought that they would lose jersey sales as fans could walk in with their Joe Jacoby jerseys and blend in.

Regards -


Posted by: HughGRection | February 2, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

More tragically than what barno pointed out re: Lynyrd Skynyrd, it rendered the Nils Lofgren classic (and main claim to fame prior to joining the E street band) "Bullets Fever" antiquated.

By the way, I recall submitting names such as "Sex Machines," "Groupie Magnets," "Noxious Fumes" and such.

And as a final note on fandom and team members...I did not stop rooting for them when CHRISTIAN LAETTNER was on the team, wouldn't do it if they took LeBron. Seriously.

Regards -


Posted by: HughGRection | February 2, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

A great name would have been the Washington Justice! Red, white and blue jerseys. With a giant gavel/hammer logo that would rock. The Supreme Court is in DC, plus with all the lawyers in town that name would rock.

They could nickname the floor "Supreme Court" and the press announcer yelling all rise!! They could have sound effects of slamming gavels when they make a defensive play. They could even have a judge for a mascot. Or they could just go back to Bullets lol

Posted by: MrWillie | February 2, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The whole name change thing proved what a lightweight owner Pollin really was. As did his team's record over the years.

Posted by: poguesmahone | February 2, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

What a dumb name -- Everything Susan O'Malley touched was a disaster. And why was George Michael involved? I mean, wasn't he a member of the media. Why would they consault him on the name of the team? Sooo weird.

Posted by: dbunkr | February 2, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

OMG, I am soooooo bored! Are the Packers/Zephyrs/Bullets/Wizards good yet? That is what I am more interested in!

Posted by: JohnWWW | February 2, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Not gonna lie, LaPhonso Steinberg would be a splendiferous name for your progeny.

Posted by: jgperras | February 2, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

That brings back memories. I moved here a couple years before the name change and found the whole thing kind of silly and transparent. While I don't doubt that Abe's feelings about the issue of gun violence were genuine, there's no question that there was an obvious marketing and profit imperative linked to the name change being timed to the opening of the new areana. And I recall the feeling at the time being that the whole "contest" was rigged from the get go. Seriously, who the hell suggested "Sea Dogs"?

Posted by: kalo_rama | February 2, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

"Hey, who slipped something in Susan O'Malley's mineral water?"

I never liked her...period.

I think she was one of the reasons that the Bullets suffered all of those years. She used to promote the "other" teams stars and NEVER the Wizards. My friend and I always talked about how he hired her becaue she was just a "pretty face."

I remember very clearly when this all happend and several ex-Bullets were aghast that the name was going to be changed and thought the people around Mr.Polin at the time were giving him bad advice.

Personally, I think the name "Wizards" came about because the Orlando Magic just came into the league (Shaq and Penny Hardaway were in the finals) and that franchise was a success in marketing so good ole Susan O'Malley wanted to get a piece of that. I was SO happy when she quit a few years back.

It was a bad decision. I liked Abe Polin, but his biggest flaw is that he always trusted the wrong people with his "business." It's great to trust your friends (Wes was a HORRID GM by the way) but if they don't know what they were/are doing.....

Anyway, I never once believed they did it because of the violence connotations. I always thought it was another bad business decision by inept advisors.

It's not like they were called the Washington "Porn Stars" or "Pediphiles."

I still say bring back "Bullets."

And while you're at it bring back our old mascot "Hoops!"

- Ray

Posted by: rmcazz | February 2, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I know it is unlikely to happen given Gilbert's gun charge, but I really, really, really hope Leonsis brings back the Bullets name after he gets ownership of the team.

Posted by: Ootek | February 2, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Unlikely? Try "not going to happen." I actually thought the team should have chosen "Dragons" as its name, in keeping with the Chinatown location of the arena they were moving to. Also, it would have made for a really great logo, much better than the one they came up with. "Wizards?" Feh. All I could think of was potential headlines like "Celtics take Wiz in Washington." Not an image that I wanted keep in my memory bank.

Posted by: rbpalmer | February 2, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

So Arenas issues an apology. Unlike his blogs in this apology there are no "bcuz's" and is more coherent. Is this a "Wise" (yes as in Mike) move/idea?

Posted by: KarK | February 2, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

If I remember correctly, the "poll" that was taken seemed deliberately slanted to produce "Wizards" because it was an ill-kept secret that Abe's wife Irene favored it. Hence a bogus choice like Sea Dogs was part of the options.
I did and still do like the ring of "the DC Jam." It was even better at the time because there was no DC United yet. Yes, the predictable traffic jokes.
You want something DC-specific in the name? Try go-go. "The Washington Junkyard" "The Washington Lock-its" "Chuck Brown and the Macks?"

Posted by: minorthread | February 2, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I recently came to the realization that no team named "Wizards" will ever win a championship. It just sounds like a loser name. Sea Dogs is hilarious. I remember that and it was by far the best nickname available. I had proposed the Washington Law back in the day, but apparently that sounded too cool. Anything, anything, is better than the Wizards!

Posted by: aviscardo | February 2, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I still strongly believe that merchandising was the primary motivation, whatever Abe said for public consumption.

The funny thing is that the Bullets in their latter years had the WORST uniforms in the NBA--they were completely plain and looked like something I would have worn on my 8th Grade Rec League team. Had the Bullets simply adopted cooler uniforms, their merchandise sales would have gone up. They should have just gone back to the classic red/white/blue striped jerseys.

Ironically, the sucky uniform design carried over to the Wizards. Nothing really changed except the name on the front and the shade of blue.

Having a winning team probably would help, too...

Posted by: acoberst1 | February 2, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm shocked that no one else has brought this up; the bullets-to-wizards name change period was also when the BULLS where THE sports team. The golden MJ years. With the bullets having a name so similar, it basically magnified how bad they were. I remember announcers calling the "bulls/bullets" game and it was always so odd sounding. So i think something that's been missed is that the bullets also made the name change to differentiate themselves. It might not have been reported that way back then, but there was an underlying feeling of that.

Posted by: alexuni | February 2, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I was living out of town at the time, but I remembered it being about the violence.

I think we should have been the Funkadelics. The team could have come in to 'One Nation Under a Groove' or any number of great funk.

Even River Dawgs would have been better than Wizards.

Posted by: theBIGC_1982 | February 2, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Should have named them "Sea Dogs."

Posted by: DannyMSnyder | February 2, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

The choice then and the choice now: "Washington Beauro-Cats" Believe it!

Posted by: monkeyconor | February 2, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Dan, nice work. Tom Knott will always be the man.

By the way, how many lives has the name change saved? The Bullets (yes, Bullets) should just start making up numbers of lives saved since the name change. Kind of like what the Obama Administration does with the number of jobs "created or saved" from the "stimulus plan". In fact, they could place a running tab of the number of lives saved on the area of Verizon Center where a huge image of Arenas used to be. However, one recommendation: have one uniform number that is constantly stated by all Bullets employees, unlike the Administration. In one weekend, Obama said 2 million, Axelrod said over one million and Biden said thousands of jobs had been "created or saved".

Posted by: c_e_daniel | February 2, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

This article just goes to show what a CRAZY OLD MAN Abe Pollin was.

My name is Bill and everyday when I go online I see the headline Health Care Bill so I change my name because I'm against it.


Posted by: whatyoutalkinboutman | February 2, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

bring back the bullets and more importantly bring back the RED, White and Blue...

return to the classic the classic theme...a more modern version of the classic...just like the caps did...

not that i wasnt half checked out already (because they were so bad since '78-'79) but when they changed the name and the colors i completely checked out of pro bball...

took enough of me to stay tuned into the caps with those hideous colors...just changed the whole feel for the experience and atmosphere...and why i am so thrilled now with the caps...not just cause they rock...but they rock and updated version of the old style theme...feels like the great '80s again...

and well said barno!!!
give me back...give me back my bullets!!!

ROCK THE RED (and white and blue)!!!

Posted by: deadskin | February 2, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Since the Bullets changed their name to the Wizards, I have not watched an entire NBA game of any kind since. Don't really need to considering that college basketball is far superior to the NBA anyways...

Posted by: rademaar | February 2, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

It's a hypocritical load of crap. They have no problem selling and profiting from selling shirts etc; with both Washington and Baltimore Bullets logo's a Verizon. It's a crock.

Posted by: ridgely1 | February 2, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I remember watching "Full Court Press," the George Michael basketball show, during the name change stuff. They were discussing the potential new names. Juwan Howard, a guest on the show that day, said "I love the [name] Wizards!"

At that moment, I knew "Wizards" would win the contest. They wanted to keep Juwan happy and in town. I firmly believed then, and do to this day, that the name was picked solely to keep this up-and-coming star happy and in town.

Posted by: keithward64 | February 2, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

The Baltimore Bullets were named after the Bata Bullets athletic shoes, which were made in Harford County. Had nothing to do with guns. Even Pollin forgot that.

Posted by: bal503 | February 2, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I forget where I heard the suggestion, but I always liked the Washington Justice (sort of like the Orlando Magic). You could say they played on the Supreme Court and they could wear black, robe-like warmups. The colors would be black and... uh... black?

Posted by: daddy00 | February 2, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

-It's not often that Krauthammer is wrong about something.............

Posted by: Barno1 | February 2, 2010 12:03 PM


Funniest post of the year.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | February 2, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

It was all about the merchandising and the money.

At the time, no one believed Pollin's lame explanation about gun violence.

Pollin was a dishonest a-hole.

Posted by: Offshore | February 2, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The fact that Juwan Howard was given a part of the decision making is really amazing. Boy, that guy really worked out well for us.

Posted by: Offshore | February 2, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

All this does not matter. Once the team is sold, the chances are that the team will change the name again, get rid of the stick figure garbage of a logo, and get new jerseys with red, white, and blue. I 2nd changing the team name to Justice or go back to the "Bullets"

Posted by: RedskinAddict | February 2, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I forgot who mentioned this at the time, but I thought a great name was the Washington Humidity. It was representative of the area, and made for some potentially cool headlines. Imagine beating Miami and reading "It's not the Heat, it's the Humidity."

When suggestions were being thrown around for the Nats, I had suggested the Washington Cicadas on WTOP, because the team would make the playoffs only once every 17 years and be dormant the rest of the time. Perhaps it was also apropo for the Bullets?

Posted by: paperboy76 | February 2, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Save us Ted Leonsis!

I'd go back to Bullets, but if that's not considered a viable option for whatever reason, my vote is for Federals.

Posted by: Tank2 | February 2, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

cops and soldiers use bullets to save people as well. just throwing it out there but i see both sides to the debate

Posted by: jefferu | February 2, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

change the freakin name back to the bullets. wizards is ridiculous.

Posted by: slim4 | February 2, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

juwan howard was on the panel to choose the name? He was probably like Sea dogs hmmm how bout the Washington Honda Accord... that sounds good!

Posted by: jefferu | February 2, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Wizards even won the public poll, I was a kid back when it ran but I remember Dragons actually winning and the team ownership decided they liked Wizards better

the whole name change was a mess

Posted by: graywolf323 | February 2, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Long live the Sea Dogs!

Posted by: wbbradb | February 2, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

What was so infuriating and insulting was that they ran that poll, charging $1 per vote, and then clearly didn't respect the results.

They never released the results, but I would bet my life that Wizards was not the winner. Express and Stallions were both clearly superior, albeit still lame in their own right.

Posted by: Tank2 | February 2, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

They should have named them the "Washington Possums" -- they play dead at home and get killed on the road.

(Other than that, I think the whole name change was a marketing come on to promote the new arena. Lots of good anti-gun messages around it, but it was all BS.)

Posted by: Kalnel | February 2, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

I miss Tiny, the little daschund who used to pull a toy cannon as he roamed the hardwood. Now THAT'S violence!

Posted by: buster_c | February 2, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Two suggestions:

1) Change the name to Packers or Zephyrs. The team was founded in 1961 as the Chicago Packers and then was the Chicago Zephyrs from 62-63. Personally I like the Washington Zephyrs. Sounds cool.

2) While we are discussing name changes, how about changing the name of the Redskins to Warriors and the logo to an arrow. Washington Warriors sounds good too.

Posted by: jmarks09 | February 2, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

This is a great piece. I'm 42 and a life long Wizards fan. I'm one of those persons who believe the Wiz have thrown Gil under the bus. Therefore, I have grown very tried of hearing people evoke Abe's feeling about guns while they blast Gil for a very stupid act. Reading this I thinks shows how much people questioned why Abe was changing the name. The financial aspect was raised a lot during that time. So much so Abe had to address that issue in the New York Times piece.

At least now I do believe that Abe believed it was the right time thing to do, however, if there was not a financial motive the name change might not have happened.

Posted by: 33dgriffin | February 2, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Posted by Posted by: whatyoutalkinboutman

"This article just goes to show what a CRAZY OLD MAN Abe Pollin was.

My name is Bill and everyday when I go online I see the headline Health Care Bill so I change my name because I'm against it.



Posted by: | February 2, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Wow, fantastic piece. Really well researched and fun to read. Thanks for that, Dan.

I'd welcome a change back to "Bullets." I'd also be okay with Zephyrs. Anything would be better than keeping it the Wizards.

Anything other than Sea Dogs, that is.

Posted by: drischord | February 2, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the posts that say that the whole name change thing puts the lie to a bunch of the over the top stuff that we heard when Pollin dies. Yeah, he could do real estate. But he sucked as an owner. Absolutely the worst.

Posted by: poguesmahone | February 2, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

I remember reading articles about the name change in the post when I was high school. And i remember that it looked rigged for the Wizards to win.

Washington Justice. The Supreme Court. All rise. Genius. O'malley is an idiot. The posters on here have better ideas.

Posted by: cal1 | February 2, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

"Wizards?" Feh. All I could think of was potential headlines like "Celtics take Wiz in Washington." Not an image that I wanted keep in my memory bank.

Posted by: rbpalmer

Awesome!! I don't mind the Justice but I'd rather they go back to the Bullets.

Posted by: capsfan772 | February 2, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I would much rather have Tiny back than Hoops. Steinz please research what happened to Hoops - the last I remember he was hitchhiking up to NY to influence the Bullets draft lottery pick with CWebb of course the Bullets got screwed over and didn't get the first pick AGAIN - when I saw CWebb at the last lottery I knew the Wiz were doomed AGAIN

Posted by: sumplmg | February 2, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Washington Power, anyone?

Posted by: keithward64 | February 2, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Some of the better name choices, like "Monuments", couldn't be trademarked. I'm sure that would be the case with the "Washington Justice", too.

Just change it back to Bullets. No one from the PC Police will give a rip.

Posted by: acoberst1 | February 2, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Dan, great post! One follow up question: around the time of the switch, was there ANY pressure AT ALL from anti-violence, anti-gun groups or the like for this name change? Did anyone outside the organization show serious after-the-fact support? This information would be useful in determining whether the change was as cynical a "solution in search of a problem" (for a team in dire need of a PR makeover) as it seemed.

Strange how in an era of over-zealous political correctness, nobody thought to be offended by "Bullets" until the owner told us we should. If you're Abe, drawing that kind of negative attention to your own organization makes no business sense ... unless it's a pretext for something else.

Hated this then and hate it now. Love that you are using your platform to provoke a discussion. Just love it. Thanks and please keep up the great work.

Posted by: AndJuan | February 2, 2010 4:36 PM | Report abuse

I was hoping the Leonsis would bring back the Bullets. But arenas f'd that up now. So the only hope is that Leonsis decides to break with the past and goes with Washington Justice. Its been 13 miserable years with the Wizards. Hopefully no one mentions how changing the name again might break poor Abe's heart. I mean come one, does Abe get to haunt us from the grave too?

Posted by: cal1 | February 2, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

What's honestly amazing is that Pollin owned a basketball team, in the heart of the gangster rap era, named the BULLETS, and he still couldn't figure out how to market the merchandise to young kids.

How many millions of dollars did he miss out on by not changing the colors to black and silver (a la the Oakland Raiders and LA Kings) and changing the logo to a smoking gun? Do you think a single rap video would have been made in the 90's without at least someone wearing that jersey or Starter jacket? Talk about a missed opportunity. He could have afforded to swallow Gilbert's contract and then some.

Bring back the Bullets, make the focus of the name change specifically about preventing gun violence and restoring tradition. Don't run away from the negative connotation, but instead use it as a means to make anti-violence the center of attention. Make Gilbert star in a thousand public service announcements decrying all the illegal guns. Sponsor gun turn-ins. Celebrate anti-violence activists. Why is this so hard to figure out?

Sometimes it makes you wonder if a single person in the organization has a clue about marketing.

Posted by: bryc3 | February 2, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

what's the point of this blog? some of you are truly pathetic.

Posted by: Adamp | February 2, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

I grew up the DC area and I remember the media saying that DC was the murder capital of the U.S. But I don't ever recall anyone linking the Bullets name violent crime nor anyone proposing that the name be changed. I remember it was a shock to hear that Pollin was thinking about changing the name because of its "connotation". The connotation was more in Abe's head than anywhere else. As if he could "save a life" by changing a team name. Thats the delusional part. Abe was from a different era. He wanted to "do what was right" even if it made no sense at all.

Posted by: cal1 | February 2, 2010 4:42 PM | Report abuse

does anyone still care about this team?

Posted by: lylewimbledon | February 2, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

2) While we are discussing name changes, how about changing the name of the Redskins to Warriors and the logo to an arrow. Washington Warriors sounds good too.

Posted by: jmarks09 | February 2, 2010 4:03 PM

You know, the only reason a Redskins name change is even being discussed is that Native Americans feel the name is offensive. I'll bet they would feel "Warriors" with an arrowhead logo is kinda in the same ballpark...

Great article, Dan.



Posted by: jayrockers | February 2, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

"The choice then and the choice now: "Washington Beauro-Cats" Believe it!"

That made me laugh out loud! Please bring back the Bullets. My Bernard King 90-91 jersey is my most prized possession. My fiancee is a close second.

Posted by: tischmid | February 2, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Fantastic post, Dan. It's icing on the cake for all of us long-suffering fans who have had to witness this joke of a franchise for the last 30 years. Abe's (God rest his soul) greatest fault was his inability to choose the right people to run this organization and his loyalty to them (Susan O'Malley, Wes Unseld, Michael Jordan...ok, he wasn't loyal to him). As if the endless list of terrible draft picks (Manute Bol, Muggsy Bogues, Hot Plate Williams, Cal Cheaney, Gheorghe Muresan, Kwame Brown) weren't enough. The name change was just another indicator of how incompetent this organization was (and continues to be). Let's hope Ted Leonsis brings order back to another DC franchise by establishing a professional atmosphere and culture, hiring the right people, and hopefully, bringing back the Bullets name!

Posted by: dtc1 | February 2, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I, too, suggested "washington justice", wearing black uniforms, playing on the "supreme court", in front of fans wielding foam rubber gavels. I'm glad to read I wasn't alone in thinking that would be a kick@$$ name. maybe its not too late?

Posted by: didnik | February 2, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Great suggestion by MrWillie; Washington Justice.

Posted by: Theone9 | February 2, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Oh didn't read all of the post, so great idea didnik and anyone else that thougt of the Washington Justice. Hopefully, they will just change that childish Wizards name.

Posted by: Theone9 | February 2, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Great bog post, LaPhonso.

Posted by: TheBoreaucrat | February 2, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

I thought they originally wanted to change the name when he built the Cap Centre and the team left Baltimore. That was probably before some people's time. The Bullets went to the finals against the Bucks in '71, and two years later they're in Landover. It just didn't sound right after the team came to DC. Washington Bullets - what is that? Baltimore Bullets. The murder rate doesn't really enter the equation for me. It's just a jazzy name. Hell, he could have named both teams the Capitals/Capitols and it would have forced every announcer to reiterate 'the basketball Caps'.

Posted by: Brue | February 2, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Excellent article, Dan.

I find it ironic that bullets have saved more lives than that senile old fool Abe Pollin ever did. To be sure, he had his heart in the right place, but also the deluded feel-good mindset typical of PC idealists. FFS, Abe, your stupid sports team's name was not responsible for people getting murdered during (and after) the crack wars...

And anything associated with lawyers or government is anathema. There is a reason the baseball team didn't revive Senators... Bring back Bullets and at worse it would revive merchandise sales (which was the transparent reason for the name change in the first place).

Posted by: jrchris | February 2, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

Come to think of it, if Leonsis gets the team, maybe he can go with Capitols.

I mean, it worked so well the first time...

Posted by: Brue | February 2, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

>I find it ironic that bullets have saved more lives than that senile old fool Abe Pollin ever did.

You should wash your mouth out, punk. He used to pull off deals like Jack Marin for Elvin Hayes. Bobby Dandridge. They drafted Chenier when he was barely 20. Drafted Mitch Kupchak. He ended up with the #1 and #2 picks in the '68 draft and won a championship with them. Gus Johnson (god bless his soul) - the first guy to shatter a backboard in the NBA. Earl the Pearl. Get real

Posted by: Brue | February 2, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

I've always been a huge fan. When the Bullets won the championship I wrote in that I loved the Bullets and had named my cat after them (was I promoting gun culture at the age of 12?). Later that summer, they called and said that had set up a photo op for me and my cat to meet Wes Unseld (I am not making this up) in two days time. Unfortunately, they had forgotten to check with me or my family and I had left for a week long canoe trip and couldn't be contacted. I never met Wes Unseld (who was my all-time favorite player).

Over the years I've come to realize that as much as I love the team, that organization is not their strong point. I, and a lot of other people, seemed to have written in Washington Justice as a team name and I couldn't believe Sea Dogs made the final list and Justice hadn't.

The entire renaming process was almost as shambolic as drafting Mugsy Bogues only because we already had Manute Bol and could market having the tallest and shortest players in the league.

Bring back the name Bullets, failing that call them the Justice.

ps. My cat Bullet would have eaten Tiny for breakfast.

Posted by: RexJacobus | February 2, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: derrickdornan | February 2, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

I understand the reasoning behind the desire to change the name...but to rename the team the WIZARDS??? Why did't they just name them the Kleagles or the Grand Dragons???

Posted by: Yas5000 | February 2, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Krauthammer playing fast and loose with facts? You don't say.

Great work Stein. The Norman Chad and Tony K quotes made me laugh out loud and at the same time brought back some memories.

Posted by: keino83 | February 2, 2010 11:04 PM | Report abuse

Can we start some sort of petition to bring back the Bullets? Let's start a Bullets Revolution. Everyone should start wearing all of their Bullets memorabilia to Wizards games, and chant "Lets Go Bullets" for now. Get rid of the god awful jerseys, and change the home court. Let's go Bullets Revolution!!! Vamos Bullets!!!

Posted by: RedskinAddict | February 2, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

Great post, Dan. Does anybody remember the commercials/PSAs that ran in conjunction with the name change? I think there was one with Webber and one with Howard. At the end of the commercial they would look at the camera and say, "NO MORE BULLETS!" Classic...

Posted by: jcbjr1 | February 3, 2010 6:22 AM | Report abuse

The word count and substance make this dangerously close to a piece of legitimate journalism, Dan. There's a place for that: the newspaper. Please get back to transcribing radio broadcasts and making snarky/amusing/brief observations ASAP, lest you confuse those in the bogosphere.

Posted by: offbeatdude | February 2, 2010 12:35 PM
LMAO!!!! Anyway, I also remember "Pullits" being an option (so the uniforms would not have to change because those arms were trying to pull down the rebound.) It was clear it was going to be "Wizards." Of all the ones I heard, "Monuments" was my favorite and as it turns out would be the most appropriate since the team moves about as well on defense as the Jefferson Memorial.

Posted by: largetony86 | February 3, 2010 8:52 AM | Report abuse

I too submitted Justice for the Boston Market contest. Black uniforms and the slogan - "Court is in session!" Crazy. How can we get some momentum for a name change?

Posted by: tylerdurden1 | February 3, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse



Poll from washingtontimes:

Posted by: iamse7en | February 3, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Bring back the Bullets! Wizards name is an embarrassment, everything about the Wizards sucks, the logo, the uniform, just awful. Hate that name. That's why I dont go to games. Maybe we should start a campaign that the Wizards is derogatory in that implies Grand Wizard of the KKK, maybe then they will change the name.

Posted by: tony28 | February 3, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

From Wikipedia, this name must be changed immediately.

Grand Wizard was the title given to the leader of the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan which existed from 1866-1871.[1]

In 1915, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was created, initially as a fraternal organization. The highest-ranking leader of the latter Klan was the Imperial Wizard. (National officers were "Imperial" officers. State, or "Realm" officers were "Grand" officers. A "Grand Dragon", for example, was the highest ranking Klansman in a given state.)

Following World War II, dozens of people have assumed the "Wizard" title as leaders of the numerous, independent, Klan-oriented organizations that have existed since then.

Posted by: tony28 | February 3, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

I would truely love to see the team return to the Bullets! I hope Ted will do this.. it has long been rumored that's what he wanted to do once taking over, but now all this Arenas stuff has probably ruined that.

I actually submitted the name the Washington Glory in the original contest. I was very disapointed it wasn't one of the final 5 finalists at least. I loved the movie Glory which was my inspiration. I thought it would go well with all that Washington stands for. Would go well with the old civil war colors blue and gray, or red white and blue, a circle of stars at center court, the stars and stripes... the rockets red glare and all of that type of imagery. It also means winning, reaching the glory of championship, being victorious.

Anyway... I really dislike Wizards. I think Harry Potter was really popular at the time also which helped that choice. I like Justice better I suppose. Really I'd most like to see a return to the Bullets! And more importantly the red white and blue team colors!!

Posted by: Darnell1 | February 3, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

What about the Washington Commanders????

Posted by: RedskinAddict | February 3, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

I actually remember that time ver vividly. Most fans thought they should be the Capitols, like the hockey team, except with an "O." Of the choices, most people preferred Express. No one liked Wizards, and I mean no one. Gilbert brought up a point a few years back, and I'm surprised I haven't heard any ore on it. The colors should be changed back to red, white, and blue. We are in the Nation's Capital.

Posted by: lchittams | February 3, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

This article just goes to show what a CRAZY OLD MAN Abe Pollin was.

My name is Bill and everyday when I go online I see the headline Health Care Bill so I change my name because I'm against it.


Posted by: whatyoutalkinboutman

This is the FUNNIEST thing I have ever read in reader responses. Take the rest of the week off, my friend.

Posted by: caps1974 | February 9, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

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