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A Wizard By Any Other Name

May 11, 2011

The one thing I remember about when it happened was a 5 o’ clock news story showing an ecstatic seven-year-old jumping around his family room. In retrospect, it’s probably the least enthusiastic I’ve been about something other than your standard Disney lineup or Shrek 3 that’s made a child so happy. Even though I, too, was a child at the time, I wasn’t alone. From my fragile recollection, I don’t recall a single person being happy with what had happened or where we ended up.

Anyone living in the DC area in 1995 can probably guess that the event I’m referring to is the controversial decision to change the name of the Washington Bullets to the Washington Wizards, a name, as the story goes, submitted to the contest by an area kid (which beat out the Sea Dogs, the Express, the Dragons, and the Stallions and 800 other names).

I haven’t thought about it much since the mid-90’s when then owner Abe Pollin made the decision to change the name, but for the most part, I’ve held onto the opinion formed 15 years ago by John, age 11.

  • The name doesn’t make sense
  • Alliteration is overrated
  • If an organization with an acronym says it’s a bad name (in this case the NAACP), it’s probably a bad name

For essentially all of my adult life, I’ve felt that they should scrap the Wizards and go back to the Bullets. However, with the unveiling of the new Wizards uniforms, colors and logo, which are a deliberate hat tip to the image we left behind, I found myself wondering if I still feel the same way.

After some 12 Angry Men style stubborn against the grain thinking, and one comment from Ted Leonsis, it’s official, I’m okay with the Wizards. (WHOA!) I know. I know. It just sounds crazy, but it’s true, and here’s why.

First and foremost, Ted is right. The issue here isn’t the name, it’s the team. While a rose by any other name would probably still smell as sweet, there’s nothing you can call crab grass to stop it from taking over your lawn. That is a fact. Changing the name may bring people back, but to what? The team is still rebuilding. I have trouble believing that DC sports fans who claim they’ll care more when the team changes back to the Bullets will stick around if they have to suffer through a fourth straight sub-30 win season.

Obviously, that leaves the people who are loyal to the team, but also hate the name. I am of the firm opinion that if the Wizards climb out of NBA limbo, and make a couple consistent deep runs in the playoffs, the name will become a non-issue. You can’t tell me that these people are going to care about the name on their replica jerseys if the Verizon Center is hosting an Eastern Conference Finals game.

Aside from the clear fact – these people are largely real NBA fans – there’s another under-appreciated fact folks gloss over. The Wizards have a nickname. You don’t give anything a nickname that you don’t feel a least a little strongly about. Of course, we give names to things we don’t like, but these almost always have negative connotations. Unless people who call this city’s basketball team “The Wiz” are using the name ironically – since the 90’s CD and Movie emporium of the same name was known for being unbeatable, a fact which could hardly be associated with this current incarnation – the team can feel good about their nickname, and, surprise, maybe this crappy name has some staying power after all.

Good name or bad name, the lesson here is to avoid cooking up a process for a major decision that doesn’t come down to having to choose between a few crappy options, but then again, that’s something we have to re-learn every four years in this town (ba-dum-chiiing).

So, that’s just one man’s opinion. Does the team name really matter that much, or am I way off here? Who’s got a great alternative name cooked up?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2011 12:18 pm

    While conceptually I agree with what Ted Leonsis has so artfully tricked you into believing, I am still not a fan of the name Wizards. The name shouldn’t matter, but in this case it does. Pollin arguably changed the name for a few different reasons (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/dcsportsbog/2010/02/why_abe_pollin_went_from_bulle.html). Ted Leonsis’ argument shines light on why Pollin made the change in ’95… because the team sucked and it was a good way to boost some revenue and attract fans to a ‘new’ image. Wouldn’t going back to the Wizards be righting a wrong? Bullets was one of the great franchise names in this country across all sports. There is history with the name dating back to 1963. The Bullets even won an NBA Championship! The Lakers did not change their name when they moved to LA in ’60 even though it made no sense in LA. They recognized the historical significance.

    The Wizards is one of the worst franchise names in the professional sports. Even the Kansas City soccer team realized this and changed their name. I understand what Leonsis is saying about grandstanding. I just feel that there is more to it than that where history is concerned. Plus I feel like a chach wearing anything that says Wizards on it.

    There is an online debate as to whether these new jerseys are lining up a name change… not back to the Bullets but to the Monuments. While that is a different debate all together, it begs the question of if the intent is to change the name, should it not go back to the Bullets. Ultimately, I think Leonsis is going to go back to Bullets, but is just trying to ease us into it as it will take a few years to get there.

  2. May 12, 2011 12:28 pm

    Additionally, as far as a nickname goes, my friends and I use the Zards rather than the Wiz.

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