When Theismann said the Bullets were making D.C. a basketball town

October 8, 2013

(AP file photo from 1978)

I was looking for something else in the archives earlier in the week, when I randomly started reading a Dave Kindred story from May 1979, in which Joe Theismann argued that Abe Pollin and the Bullets were turning D.C. into a basketball town.

I post this not to ignite a debate about whether this was true at the time, or true in the 1980s, or true when the Terps and Hoyas were great, or true today. I write this only because it kind of demonstrates that the tendency to wonder whether a non-Redskins team could challenge the Redskins’ local dominance seems to have been going on for kind of a long time.

And also because Kindred is great.

Here’s a lengthy passage, starting at the top:

Joe Theismann was, of course, talking. At 30,000 feet en route from New York to Washington, on a $12 million private jet with a living room-like interior, the Redskin quarterback sat across a dining table from Abe Pollin, who owns the Bullets.

“This guy,” Theismann said, nodding toward Pollin, “is making Washington a basketball town.”

Somewhere, perhaps higher than 30,000 feet, George Preston Marshall said naughty words. And out there in Lotus Land, George Allen threw down two more dips of vanilla ice cream to placate his ulcer.

A Redskin quarterback saying Washington is a basketball town?

Pollin couldn’t believe it, either, but he was loving it, whether or not Theismann meant a word of it.

“Somebody came up to me,” Theismann said, “and said, “The Bullets are going to win two straight championships. What are you guys going to do?’”

Theismann led the laughter, but no one enjoyed it more than Pollin, and that was a week ago, long before the Bullets, by beating the Atlanta Hawks in Game 7, laid real claim to the town’s heart.

Wait a minute, you say. You say the Bullets won it all last year and beating the Hawks this time is only a second-round victory with two more series to go. So how, you ask, is this one different? How does this victory give the Bullets more credibility than ever?
Glad you asked.

Jimmy Carter may have been out in the wild, backpacking, or working on his cross-court forehand last June when the Bullets won the last game of the NBA championships. This time he was in Capital Centre alongside Abe Pollin, his presidential palms sweating….Cap Centre was sold out, filled with 19,035 screaming crazies, and the game was carried on national television.

It was no accident that Game 6, televised by WDCA-TV-20, drew that station’s highest ratings ever. A million viewers are said to have seen the game. Those are numbers previously available here only to the Redskins and aliens named Mork.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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