The Washington Bullets — er, Wizards — unveiled their new jerseys on Tuesday in one of Ted Leonsis’ first big moves as majority owner. The color scheme is more than reminiscent of the threads the Bullets wore prior to becoming the Wizards before the 1997-98 season, even if another name change would be at least three years away.
I remember the controversy surrounding the change 14 years ago well. I was 11 years old at the time, and my fandom in hometown teams hadn’t quite been firmly rooted yet. In fact, I liked the idea of change. I liked the idea of new things. I had immediately taken to both the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars when they were added as NFL expansion teams in 1995, even though I had never been to either North Carolina of Florida, simply because they were something different. What’s even more laughable about my thought process is that the first football game I can actively remember watching was the San Francisco 49ers winning Super Bowl XXIX on January 29, 1995, just 216 days before the Panthers and Jags kicked off their inaugural regular seasons, meaning that really, every team was new to me.
As far as I can tell, there have been only five other teams in the history of professional sports whose mascot changes have not been the result of relocation. For the most part, those changes were at least lateral on the scale of awesomeness, with perhaps the exception of the Cleveland Indians’ incredibly offensive grinning native American, who reminds me of the picture on the wrapper of the Chief Crunchie ice cream bars I used to buy at lunch in elementary school.
More importantly, all those name changes came in the infancy stage of the respective franchise, the most recent coming in 1965 when the then Houston Colt .45’s, who had been in existence for all of two years, became the Houston Astros to coincide with their move to the Astrodome. The Wizards, however, had existed in some form for 36 years — first in Chicago as the Packers and Zephyrs, and then in Baltimore as the Bullets before moving to Washington in 1973.
But the name Bullets was eventually deemed to be too violent, a criticism matched in ridiculousness only by that of “Wizards” being a not-so-subliminal reference to the Ku Klux Klan’s highest ranking position, and a contest was held to choose a new name. What you may not remember though, is that Wizards was hardly the worst option presented to fans to vote on. While Stallions, Express and Dragons were all viable (although Dragon is also a rank in the KKK), nothing could compare to the Sea Dogs. (Side note: If anyone can find pictures of the other proposed logos, let me know. I have a vague recollection of the Express logo looking like a Metro train, but that’s about it.)
According to legend, the Don and Mike show on 106.7 WJFK was so influential in encouraging listeners to vote for Sea Dogs that the name actually won, only to be shot down by then Wiz owner Abe Pollin, raising the question of why Pollin even OK'd it to be a candidate in the first place. Wizards came in second place, and here we are.
Or more like there we were, since beginning next season, the Wizards will join the Capitals in reverting to the red, white and blue scheme that should define all Washington teams besides the Redskins. Now, if Leonsis’ leadership for the Wizards is anything like the Capitals, we can all prepare to watch one of the most exciting, talent-laden teams in the league fail miserably in the playoffs.
In the end, I couldn't care less about how fashionable a team's jersey is. I still don't really know what the term "piping" refers to. I think it's slightly different than the regular trim of a uniform, but equally irrelevant. This change, however, does more than just try to make the Wizards look sharp. Even if the Bullets didn't have much success after their lone title in 1978, there's something uplifting about being able to forget about the era of a legacy-tarnishing Michael Jordan (here's a picture of MJ pretending to be a good front office exec), Kwame Brown (here's a picture of Kwame Brown making the only basket of his career) and Gilbert Arenas (here's a picture of what Agent Zero keeps in his locker in case he needs to settle a gambling dispute), and remember the legends that I wasn't even alive to watch, like Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe and Elvin Hayes, and even the ones I was, like um ... Calbert Cheaney?