The Washington Wizards could’ve been the Washington Ravens


In 2010, Dan wrote a detailed history in this space about how and why Abe Pollin switched the name of his NBA franchise from the Bullets to the Wizards. You’ve likely read, and perhaps forgotten, that the other finalists for the team’s new name included Sea Dogs, Express, Stallions and Dragons. Actually, you probably haven’t forgotten Sea Dogs.

Fans submitted suggestions through a contest run by Boston Market, and the finalists were selected in 1996 by a panel that included Pollin, Susan O’Malley, Juwan Howard, George Michael and others. Among the names that didn’t make the cut, as mentioned in various news accounts at the time: Accelerators, Antelopes, Astronauts, Cobras, Funkadelics, Geckos, Generals, Litigators, Monuments, Power Cats, Presidents, River Dawgs, Stars, Wolverines and Zulus.

There was another nickname that I hadn’t read about as a suggested replacement for Bullets until a reader tweeted a link to a Sun Sentinel article last week:

Via the article, from December 1995:

Fans had until today to turn in their ideas for a new name. Bullets spokesman Matt Williams said the team expects to receive more than 300,000 ballots. The Washington Monuments is a popular choice, he said.

Other ideas: The Glory. The Power. The Ravens, “believe it or not,” he said.

The Washington Ravens, huh? It’s easy to believe when you consider that the reported 500,000 submissions included roughly 3,000 different names. Art Modell didn’t announce the nickname for his new NFL franchise until March 1996, so Ravens was still a fresh possibility. Had the Ravens emerged as a serious contender to replace Bullets, Baltimore’s football team may have adopted Americans or Marauders instead.

After being swept in the first round of the '97 playoffs by the Bulls, the Bullets became the Wizards. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
After being swept in the first round of the 1997 playoffs by the Bulls, the Bullets became the Wizards. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

It’s somewhat more difficult to believe that the 13-year-old Bullets fan quoted in the second paragraph of the Sun Sentinel article is Missy Khamvongsa (née Rosenberg), now an editor in the Post sports department.

LANDOVER, Md. – — Missy Rosenberg’s father has taken her to Washington Bullets basketball games since she was a baby. She’s a big fan. Only one thing bothers her: the team’s name.

“There’s a lot of violence in D.C. and other areas,” the 13-year-old girl from Vienna, Va., said recently as her team beat the Atlanta Hawks. “And the name, even though it doesn’t support violence, it’s a symbol. Bullets hurt people.”

The Washington Monuments. That’s what the team should be called, Missy said. Monuments are big and strong, and they don’t hurt people.

Missy, who is overcome with embarrassment about her comments on the matter, requested the opportunity to write a rebuttal in the form of a letter to her 13-year-old self. I happily obliged.

Dear 13-year-old Missy,

You were wrong, let me make that clear. Well, not about the fact that bullets hurt people (because, obviously, they do). But you were wrong about the Washington basketball team’s nickname having anything to do with perpetuating violence. Having a basketball team named the Bullets won’t incite people to physical violence any more than calling a team the Raptors could incite an outbreak of Jurassic carnivores. Almost two more decades of life experience has taught me that.

In 1995, Abe Pollin did a very good job of convincing members of the media and, in turn, the Washington area, that the name change was the right thing to do. You took in what the owner said and saw it re-enforced in the pages of The Washington Post and on the local news. It’s only natural that you would believe changing the name would make a real difference when it came to the violence here and beyond.

It might surprise you to know that the current you is now in favor of changing the name back. Changing the colors back was a start, but it wasn’t enough. Restoring the name of the team would restore the link to the team’s history and allow fans to cringe less when their team name is mentioned on national TV.

Bottom line 13-year-old Missy: Bullets do hurt people, but the Wizards name hurts worse.

Signed,

31-year-old Missy (who’s on Twitter)

Thanks to @dcuniverse for sharing the Sun Sentinel’s story.

Scott Allen writes about all things DC sports. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSAllen or e-mail him if you’ve got a tip to share.
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