Leonsis, Ovechkin and D.C. sports celebrity
Now that Ted Leonsis has reached a deal to purchase the Pollin family's share of the Wizards and Verizon Center, there's little doubt that he's the second-most important player in D.C. sports. Wilbon, I guess, is third.
With this rise, of course, Leonsis has become very much a local celebrity, more than many of his players. Which is why, when I recently sat down with Leonsis to talk with him about the changing life of Alex Ovechkin, Leonsis began to compare that life to his. For example, I asked the owner how Ovechkin deals with his local fame.
"In a small, small version, I live that," he said. "And I forget."
Then he told me how his wife had been away on a recent weekend, and he decided to visit the Grooming Lounge to get a hot towel/cold towel shave. Pre-playoff beard, of course.
"You're laying back, and you kind of float away," he explained. "It feels great. Really relaxing."
A few hours later, he came home and got a message from a friend, asking about the shave. Leonsis hadn't told anyone he was going.
"Oh, it's all over Twitter," the friend replied. "So someone in the mall thought they saw me walking in, got hot towels, and they're twittering. It's like wow. I can't even go get a shave without it being tweeted and retweeted everywhere."
Now, he wasn't complaining about this. That's just what happens when you're the owner.
"I went to a game with my son and we were eating cracker jacks," he continued. "You know, go to a game, you're eating cracker jacks, and someone has a picture of me eating the cracker jacks, and it's all over the place. I go 'Oh, I can't eat at games.' It's not a big deal, but no one looks good licking their fingers after eating a peanut. And so you just learn."
Later in our conversation, I asked Leonsis about Ovechkin's' time in Vancouver, when he had the two unpleasant incidents with video cameras. Again, Leonsis had a personal story, this time about his most famous interaction with a fan.
"You know, I relate," Leonsis said. "I understand. A kid said something he shouldn't have said to me, and I grabbed him. I'll live to regret it forever. But some people say, well, [Leonsis] is out of control. You go, well no, how about the kids with brain tumors that I host every game and you don't see?"
Leonsis also told me about a post-Olympics conversation he had in his office with Ovechkin, in which he told his superstar that he wasn't smiling as much lately. Ovechkin admitted he was tired. Leonsis told Ovechkin that he needed to carve out more time for himself, needed to say no to more of the increasing demands on his time.
"You just have to be a little bit more selfish," Leonsis told his star. "I've been out every single night for the last 50, and tonight, I'm tired. I said, 'I don't know what [my assistant] had me scheduled for tonight, I'm going home at 5 o'clock, I'm having dinner with my daughter at 6, and I'm gonna watch a movie or something. I'm not doing anything. I can't. Because no one's gonna get the best of me if I'm burned out.' So I gave him that as an example. You need to recharge."
Ovechkin used to call him Mr. Leonsis, but the owner put a stop to that, saying his father is Mr. Leonsis. He meets with his star player only occasionally, and they don't talk about hockey.
"It's not like we go out and eat dinner together, just me and Alex;" he said. "I wouldn't do that, and I'm too respectful of the hierarchy."
But he did recall one of the first conversations he had with Ovechkin after bringing him to Washington and preparing for the coming years.
"I'm gonna lay it all out for you, I'm gonna always tell you the truth," Leonsis said. "It's gonna be really ugly the first couple of years. There's not gonna be a lot of fans, we're not gonna have a very good team, but here are my commitments to you. You'll wake up one day with a fabulous team, and you'll win a Stanley Cup. We'll be sold out every game, and it'll be fantastic, and you'll have the greatest time, and you'll love D.C. You just have to trust me."
April 27, 2010; 4:31 PM ET
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