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The Wizards, the Bullets and the past


(By Jonathan Newton - TWP)


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."

By Dan Steinberg  | September 27, 2010; 5:28 PM ET
Categories:  Wizards  
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Comments

Wizards will never win another championship until the curse of Lez Boulez is lifted. Ted needs to set up a meeting with the Big E. Big E's grandmother put the curse on the Bullets and only one her female family members can remove it.

If Big E goes to the big gumbo restaurant in the sky before Ted makes amends the curse can never be removed.

This is a real curse and not a fig newton of Mr Tony's manic brain.

Posted by: sheepherder | September 27, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"[A]nd we're all chasing after our Rosebud, even when it's called Rosenfels."

Classic.

Posted by: disgruntledfan | September 27, 2010 6:35 PM | Report abuse

Steinberg (and so many other media shmucks) love to bang the drum and shout that it's been "soooo long" since the Bullets/Wizards won a championship. Everyone seems to forget that exactly EIGHT teams have won an NBA title since the Bullets. Eight out of 30 teams.
Eight different champs in 30 years. It's not exactly easy to do.

Posted by: swinging4thefence | September 27, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

*************************************************
Eight out of 30 teams.
Eight different champs in 30 years. It's not exactly easy to do.

Posted by: swinging4thefence | September 27, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse
****************************************************

Apparently aiming for the sky is anti communistic to you.
Chairman Mao.

Posted by: Rocc00 | September 27, 2010 11:40 PM | Report abuse

Even though his best years were in New York, how can the history of the Washington Bullets be discussed without mentioning the prolific scorer Bernard King?

Posted by: dprestwich19 | September 28, 2010 12:33 AM | Report abuse

The Bullets had a good run (roughly 1968-1979) as one of the very best franchises in the NBA, making three Finals appearances and winning it all that one strange and wondrous season of 1977-78.

Throughout the 80s they were a middling playoff team with some interesting players brought in to hold fan support, particularly Moses Malone and Bernard King.

Since then it has been a LONG time in the wilderness broken only by the one playoff team in the 90s (Webber, Howard, Sheed, Legler...) and moderately successful Arenas, Jamison, Hughes/Butler playoff Wizards of 2005-08.

I wish Ted Leonsis great good luck in bringing DC back to Hoops glory, and Midnight Madness was without doubt an auspicious beginning.

Posted by: khrabb | September 28, 2010 6:12 AM | Report abuse

The cures was lifted when Mrs. Pollin drew the chance at the first round pick and Mr. Leonsis took over the team. New beginnings!

Posted by: ivyleague | September 28, 2010 8:26 AM | Report abuse

Rocc00--I couldnt agree more with you. No chance will the Wizards or any other team in the NBA not named Miami, Boston, LA, Orlando or Chicago will win a championship as long as David Stern in the commish.

When will everyone learn? The NBA is rigged and will always be. I hate this league.

Posted by: dank32 | September 28, 2010 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Needs more Lofgren.

Posted by: fitzfacts | September 28, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

"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."

Why does everyone always forget Tom Henderson? Henderson made the play that won us Game 7 in Seattle, diving onto the floor for a rebound and grabbing it amid all the beating arms and getting it crisply up to Mitch Kupchak, who made the basket that won the game.

Henderson didn't score much but he was our field general out there all year long. I know we all missed Kevin Porter, but Henderson was the glue that held it all together throughout that whole year.

For a guy like me who remembers Walt Bellamy and Bailey Howell, that year was really special. And going into that season -- and even going into the playoffs -- we had no more hope of winning the whole thing than we have right now.

Posted by: FergusonFoont | September 28, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Don't forget JEFF MALONE!!! Though he didn't win a championship, dude perfected his jump shot.

Posted by: clifton3 | September 28, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I'm not surprised that many of the younger players are not familiar with the history of the franchise. I recall two summers ago when the Celtics won the NBA Title, a student intern at work asked me if I saw the final game. He then asked who was the old guy with the white beard. I told him that was Bill Russell. His next question was did he ever play for the Celtics. I told him that the Celtics have 16 titles and Russell was responsible for the first 11. For some young people, if its not on ESPN, it didn't happen

Posted by: twillia1 | September 28, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I'm not surprised that many of the younger players are not familiar with the history of the franchise. I recall two summers ago when the Celtics won the NBA Title, a student intern at work asked me if I saw the final game. He then asked who was the old guy with the white beard. I told him that was Bill Russell. His next question was did he ever play for the Celtics. I told him that the Celtics have 16 titles and Russell was responsible for the first 11. For some young people, if its not on ESPN, it didn't happen

Posted by: twillia1 | September 28, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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