Washington, DC Sports Franchises: Washington Wizards
February 10, 2011 Leave a comment
NBA Championships: 1 (1978)
Retired Numbers: #10 Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, #11 Elvin Hayes, #25 Gus Johnson, #41 Wes Unseld
The Washington Wizards franchise first moved to DC from Chicago in 1973, and were known as the Capitol Bullets. The following year, their name changed to the Washington Bullets, which would be the organization’s name from 1974-1997. Early Bullets history is defined by the success of Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe. Both were draft picks in the late 1960’s, and the Bullets experienced success in the regular season. The Bullets would trade Monroe in the 1970’s, but replaced his scoring with that of Elvin Hayes. With Hayes, the Bullets went on to win all four of their conference titles in franchise history between 1971 and 1979.
The 1977-78 season saw the Bullets claim their only championship in their franchise history. That season, Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge lead the way, both posting point-per-game averages above 19. The Bullets finished that regular season at a middle-of-the-road 44-38 record, and were considered long shots to compete for the title. The Bullets adopted the phrase “The opera ain’t over til the fat lady sings” to help carry them through the playoffs, and would finish off the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games to capture the city’s first title in 36 years.
The next season, the Bullets put up another impressive run to the NBA Finals, but were unable to defend their title in a rematch with the SuperSonics, losing in five games. Unfortunately, that would be the last NBA Finals appearance, and the last high note for the franchise for a significant period of time.
After the 1980 -81 season, a season in which the Bullets didn’t advance to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the team lost Wes Unseld to retirement and traded away their star player Elvin Hayes to the Rockets. In the 80’s the Bullets posted only one season in which they made the playoffs, and had three winning seasons all together. When they finished 42-40 in 1985, they wouldn’t post another winning record until 1996-97.
For the Bullets, things began to turn with the 1994 Draft. The team selected forward Juwan Howard and completed another trade to bring in another highly touted rookie, Chris Webber. With the addition of point guard Rod Strickland, the team finally broke the .500 barrier with a winning season in 1996-97. At the same time, owner Abe Pollin became uneasy with the team name of Bullets due to the violent overtures it held. The organization held a public competition for the renaming of the franchise, and the name “Wizards” was chosen and officially implemented in 1997.
The newly named Wizards posted a second consecutive winning season in 1997-98, but the nucleus of the team began to disintegrate. Point guard Rod Stickland, who led the league in assists the previous year, suffered a serious knee injury. The worst, however, involved budding star Chris Webber. Webber, who was the team leader in points-per-game and rebounds the previous two seasons, forced his way out of town and was traded to the Sacramento Kings. In exchange, the Wizards received Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe. While Richmond would lead the team in scoring the next two seasons, the team wasn’t able to win more than 29 games. The Wizards experienced a franchise-worse 19 win season in 2000-01, and the team traded away their other star player, Juwan Howard, to the Dallas Mavericks.
2001 ushered in the Michael Jordan era for the Wizards. After retiring from the Bulls in 1999, Jordan was named the Wizards’ President of Basketball Operations. However, Jordan quickly got the itch to get back on the court after being away from the game for two years. At age 38, Jordan helped improve the team’s win total by 18 games from the previous season, but was unable to keep up with the grind for a full season. The following year, Jordan volunteered to come off the bench to try to keep him fresh. The following season, though Jordan played in all 82 games, the team did not improve from the previous season. Jordan retired again, but owner Abe Pollin fired him from his position as President of Basketball Operations, citing the #1 overall draft bust that was Kwame Brown, the Richard Hamilton trade and the mistreatment of Larry Hughes as key reasons.
The immediate post-Jordan years are when the Wizards came back to relevance in the NBA. The Wizards took off in 2004-05 behind the dominant scoring of Larry Hughes, newly acquired Antawn Jamison and budding NBA superstar Gilbert Arenas. The team would make the playoffs for the first time since 1996-97, and appear in the post-season for four consecutive seasons.
After the 2007-08 season, the Wizards inked Arenas to a team-record six-year, $111 million contract, and also handed Jamison a four-year, $50 million extension. Before the 2008-09 season, though, Arenas underwent knee surgery that kept him out of action until the end of March. And when Arenas came back, Jamison went down with a knee injury of his own. The following season, Arenas tarnished his legacy in DC with the firearm debacle and the fight with teammate Javaris Crittenton. Arenas was suspended for the remainder of the season, and the Wizards eventually traded Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers at the trade deadline.
Regardless of the lost seasons prior to 2010-11, the Wizards were determined to rebuild their image. The team was awarded the first overall pick in 2010, and selected Kentucky point guard John Wall. Gilbert Arenas was traded mid-season to the Orlando Magic for a package centered around Rashard Lewis, allowing the team to move past the incidents from the year prior. Though the team is struggling this season, which will be covered in detail later, all signs seem to be pointing upward.