Disclosure: In the following rant, I speak for myself. I have no clue what the rest of the WLDC team has to say on this matter and if they agree with me.
In case you missed it yesterday (it was nearly impossible), the Wizards unveiled new jerseys for the 2011-2012 season, and as we’ve known since, like, September, the color scheme reverted to the thematic-DC red, white and blue.
You may recall that there used to be a basketball team in the DMV region that was called the Bullets, and they wore these new colors and that DC/hands logo with the basketball in the new system is very familiar. The inevitable follow up is the muted chatter that the new jerseys should be followed by one more change – bringing back the Bullets all the way.
In the early 60s, an NBA team from Chicago moved to Baltimore, and they took on the nickname the Bullets. This carries some connection to previous Baltimore basketball history. There was a 1940s Charm City club that played in the ABL and then the BAA before joining the NBA and folding in 1954 (no other franchise in the league has closed up since, for the record); their nickname was based on a popular shoe – the Bullet – made by the Harford County manufacturing location of an Austro-Hungarian athletic company, Bata.
The second version of the Bullets – while no official affiliation with the original club and the sneaker-based nickname – lasted in Baltimore for about a decade, moved to DC and won a championship in 1978. The club lost in the finals in the following year, and in the 20 years or so that followed before the team became the Wizards, made seven first round exits and only once made it past the preliminary round in eight playoff appearances.
Even though I haven’t lived here every year since the 1997 change, I know that there has always been a buzz to reinstate the Bullets nickname for the District’s basketball franchise. There’s a lot of nostalgia for that team, and I’ll be straightforward and admit that as a non-native, I’ve never understood it.
Ok, I get some of it. Sports history in DC is a little bit twisted. Baseball clubs come and go and come and go and get moved in and all of that. The hockey team is still relatively young, and doesn’t have that many banners in its history or a ton of signature moments – its stars are relatively new. The Redskins had its string of success and trophies in what feels like far too long ago, and recent history for the Burgundy and Gold is easy to block out.
The way it gets talked about, the Bullets have earned some kind of “legacy” among all of that and the name always comes back around when things like “nickname change” get mentioned.
If we stop for a minute, is it the offense of the name change or the color change that causes the desire of the return of the Bullets? Maybe, just maybe, the backlash on those late 90s teal and gold Wizards jerseys is what drives some fondness of a name that is associated with guns and shooting. There was a reason it was changed in the first place, let’s remember, and that’s because the negative imagery of violence.
Yes, people have issues with the nickname for the football team and its origins, too – but at least it doesn’t have the imagery of modern day armed weapons in a town that still faces some of those stigma. Writing about this topic last fall – this is me quoting me, and I apologize - I said, “It’s not that the nickname condones violence – this is a professional sports franchise after all - but it doesn’t do anything to pretend to forget that there is still very much a chapter of history in this city related to gun violence.”
With the announced redesign, I am glad to see the dunking Wizard logo fade into the background along with a pretty hideous color scheme. I really like some of the new wordmarks and way that nickname has been modified to both give some credit to the old feel while still being new. I don’t see a need to grab onto the rest of the past when enough of the history is coming through.
You can ask all you want, too (and 175 petition signers have, which is 75 more since I first wrote about this in October) – this is something that really won’t happen. This question has been brought up repeatedly to Leonsis in the last year since he took control of the team. Some quotes (all via the catalog of Dan Steinberg):
- June 10, 2010: ‘”In regards to name changes and the like, you know, I’m shocked that with all that we have to do, that that’s been like the No. 1 question, e-mail, message board conversation. And so I intend to listen very, very carefully. But we have so much more to do. And so there will be no name change, and even if we wanted to change the name, you couldn’t do that for years. It’s not a secret that I ampartial to red.”
- October 27, 2010: “…you’re not just changing a name or creating a new name in your own building for your own team, it ripples through national television, all the local networks, all the local teams. I mean, it’s a big effort, and it honestly takes no less than 25 months, and it’s millions and millions and millions of dollars. And so I have so much to do, and there’s so much work immediately in front of us, and there are so many investments that we need to make, I’ve honestly decided to just punt on the decision. I don’t think it’s a decision that heeds to be reached right now. I think the most important thing is rebuild the team and get through this list of 101 things to do.”
- May 10, 2011: “Well, I’d like to focus on building a good team,” the owner said. “I think that the most important thing for us is to be really really serious about making the team very competitive and having the rebuild work. And I think changing the name, sometimes it’s almost like a grandstanding thing.”
One man’s opinion, and I hope the culture of Washington basketball isn’t going to be massively offended that I don’t see this as a top priority either. To pull a Leonsis-like answer: Can we focus on the draft and the team instead of the name on the front of the home jerseys? Or at least on the fact that John Wall is going to honor Irene Pollin by showing up to the lottery selection in her gold jacket? That’s kind of fun, too.