Bullets alumni come to town
"Bob and I got off the ark together," former Baltimore Bullets guard Fred Carter said Friday morning, nodding across a table at Bobby Dandridge. "Two by two."
"We weren't piloting it, either," said Dandridge, who helped the Washington Bullets win their world title.
"We go back to college," Dandridge continued. "We played each other in the NCAA consolation round. I think Freddy was supposed to be hurt, but he ended up with about 30-something."
"Shots, anyway," Carter said.
Dandridge and Carter were in D.C. for the first meeting of the Washington Bullets/Wizards Alumni Association, the new group formed at the urging of owner Ted Leonsis. Friday afternoon, about a dozen invited members -- also including Michael Adams, Kevin Grevey and Phil Chenier -- held a planning meeting with Leonsis and executive vice president of business operations Greg Bibb, talking about who should be eligible for the group, how members should keep in touch, and what its precise mission should be. Friday evening, the players are scheduled to appear at the Knicks game. In between, there was a lot of laughing, and a lot of "remember when..." stories.
Jack Marin, whom Dandridge called "Professor," told me about when Wes Unseld brought a fake rattlesnake on a trip to Arizona and hid it in teammate George Johnson's uniform.
"He looked like death when he saw it," Marin said. "Turned stone white."
Dandridge and Carter talked about the "threshold of pain" index they used to use, where "if you could walk, you played," as Carter put it, and how players now don't feel the same way. Dandridge said found out about the birth of his daughter after a game in Milwaukee. Carter remembered Kevin Loughery learning of the birth of a son during a Bullets road trip.
"That's the way it was," Carter said. "Now, a guy leaves the team for three days when his girlfriend is having a baby. That's mind-boggling to me."
"See," Dandridge said, laughing in the direction of a few Wizards employees. "This is the type of group you're gonna have."
The Wizards employees were there because this is a team-funded initiative, with Leonsis writing on his blog that the purpose is to learn "how to embrace and celebrate the past." The players said how important it was for them to keep in touch both with each other and with their former franchises, saying they still keep a special eye on all the teams they played for.
"It's in your heart," said Garry Witts, who played his only NBA season in Washington. "I'll always be a Bullet, I think."
And see, that's the tricky part with this particular franchise. In the past 40 years, the team has moved from Baltimore to Landover and then D.C., changing arena names and team names and color schemes along the way.
"That's somewhat unfortunate, because the history of the organization does get lost form the migration to Baltimore to Washington, then from the Cap Centre to here," said Carter, who now lives in Philadelphia. "When you mention Wizards and Bullets, now it becomes a separation of church and state almost. Because we're not Wizards. We're Bullets. And that's all we're ever gonna be. So now all of a sudden you come together, you change your name? We don't kind of hold that same identify, because everything we did was with the Bullets."
"A lot of fans really grew up going to Bullets games," agreed Dandridge, who is running the fledgling group. "Folks may be in their 30s but they reflect back to the Bullet days when their parents brought them to games, so I think the Bullets is still foremost synonymous with the team. I mean, people, if they aren't guarding their conversations, they will say Bullets just as quick as they'll say Wizards."
But it's not like the players were having existential crises about all this. Mostly, they were hugging and laughing and talking about old times.
"More than anything, it's fun," Marin said. "It's about great memories. It's a fraternity. It's all the obvious things. And it really does feel good."
It's also about being an old-timer, because when better to be an old-timer than when starting an alumni group. Not long after Dandridge and Carter had complained about modern players skipping games to see their children be born, Bibb noted that he was so sick last week he couldn't work out.
"That's what we're talking about," Dandridge scoffed. "These young guys."
"Suck it up," Carter agreed. "If you could walk, suck it up."
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