The Wizards, the Bullets and the past
Here's how long it's been since the Wizards/Bullets won their NBA title: for the first time in the modern era, the team enters the preseason without a player under guaranteed contract who was even alive in 1978. (Veteran Sean Marks has a non-guaranteed deal; I believe he's the only training camp player who was born in the '70s.)
And here's how long it's been since the Bullets even existed: when the franchise switched to the Wizards name in 1997, one of the team's current rookies -- second-round pick Hamady N'Diaye -- hadn't even started playing basketball. Another rookie -- John Wall -- had just turned 7.
And here's how much the franchise's history resonates with the almost completely remade roster.
"Not too much," rookie Trevor Booker said.
"I know a little bit about...no, I don't," Cartier Martin joked.
"Hmmm, wow, wow," Al Thornton said, when I asked what he remembered of the Bullets. "You're gonna have to come back to me on that."
It's an unfair question to them, or to virtually any other member of the team. As much as Redskins fans bemoan the fact that 20-something supporters have never seen football success in this market, it's even worse for 20-something Wizards fans, or 20-something Wizards players.
Now I'm a complete stooge for nostalgia. I still like the smell of smashed rotting apples because it reminds me of my youth soccer fields. While some people think the Redskins alumni push is gimmicky, I think it's tremendous. Adults like sports because of childhood memories, and we're all chasing after our Rosebud, even when it's called Rosenfels.
Which brings me to Ted Leonsis and his push for the franchise to re-embrace its past, as reported by Michael Lee:
One of the big selling points for the franchise is that this is a fresh start, but Leonsis does not want to move forward without reaching back and connecting with the successes of the past. The late Abe Pollin and Irene Pollin represented the history of the franchise, having owned the team since 1964.
As a newcomer, Leonsis felt the need to reach out to past greats, such as Earl Monroe and members of the 1978 championship team Wes Unseld, Bobby Dandridge, Elvin Hayes and Kevin Grevey.
In addition to establishing a Wizards/Bullets alumni association - which will include past players appearing at Wizards games, practices and special events - Leonsis has also created what he calls the "over-the-shoulder campaign" to link the past with the present. The campaign will feature pictures of Wall dribbling, with a faded image of Monroe over his shoulder; and Andray Blatche shooting, with Hayes in the background.
I love it. Flip Saunders, who installed banners honoring the past a year ago and plans on bringing alumni to practice, loves it too. But he acknowledged that the names won't always resonate with his current roster.
"That's part of educating them," he told me. "So many young players in the game, they don't understand that. Being able to respect the game is knowing what the history of the game is. It's not uncommon for me to have a group of players come in. Maybe they don't know [them], because they haven't been educated at all, and so that's partly what you try to do. I mean, there's some players that might not even know that Earl Monroe played [for the Bullets], they might think he played in New York and that was it. That's one of the things you go through."
And so, bearing in mind that this was unfair trivia, I figured I would ask some of the players about the franchise's world championship run.
"Um, 1973?" Nick Young guessed.
"Was it '72?" Josh Howard asked.
"I can't tell you that," Martin said, before he saw the championship banner hanging directly to his right. "Yeah, I do, 1977-1978, yeah, I can tell you that," he cracked.
"I don't know that much about the Bullets," Thornton apologized.
"I just remember their uniforms, mainly, just the stripes," Kirk Hinrich said. "I thought it was a good look then, for sure."
"I know they started to put red around the arena for basketball," Howard said. "It's gonna make you realize that red's back, I guess. I hope nobody mistakes us for the hockey team."
Some of the players were very familiar with the team's former stars. Adam Morrison rattled off three legendary Bullets, including his former boss, Mitch Kupchak. Howard grew up near Winston-Salem State and said Monroe has always been one of his idols.
For others, though, Bullets history means Chris Webber and Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard. One player asked me if Chris Mullin used to play here. Another failed to come up with Howard's first name. A third didn't know that they had ever won a title.
And so, history lessons from the bosses? Sure, why not.
"It will kind of be good, for them to bring us together and enlighten us," Martin said. "They can give us some inspiration, some helpful hints to help us bring back the glory days."
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