Former Wizards owner Irene Pollin created the opening for the franchise to possibly return to the nickname, Bullets, saying recently that if fans of Washington ‘s basketball team wanted the change, she wouldn’t have a problem with the decision.
When asked to respond last week, current Wizards owner Ted Leonsis initially declined to comment.
He later issued a statement that didn’t express his specific thoughts about the name Bullets and instead addressed the franchise’s re-brand, which will make its debut when the team takes the court for its home opener on Monday at 7 p.m. against the New Jersey Nets.
“The Wizards organization, our fans, our players and our alumni remain extremely excited about the return to red, white and blue and the introduction of our new team marks. Our focus is a commitment to celebrating that change with our fans,” Leonsis said.
Irene Pollin’s late husband, Abe, made the switch from Bullets to Wizards in 1997, partly because he didn’t want the team to be associated with gun violence. Irene Pollin said her husband’s desire to change was bolstered after their friend, former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
But she also understands the deep connection and nostalgia that some fans feel for the Bullets name, especially since the franchise won a championship with that nickname in 1978.
“I respect my husband’s wishes. I love him very much. I miss him terribly. If the fans want to change it back — hey, why not?” Irene Pollin said recently. “To me, it’s what do the fans want? What’s going to please them? To me, they’re the ones who support, care.”
The franchise hasn’t had much success since the name changed to the Wizards, with the team missing the playoffs in 10 of the past 14 seasons, including the past three. Leonsis has done everything short of changing the name back to the Bullets — from changing the colors to red, white and blue, to creating logos reminiscent of the Bullets motif, to establishing the Bullets-Wizards alumni association, to putting billboards of former Bullets legends along the hallways of Verizon Center, to embarking on a “New Traditions” theme.
Leonsis has consistently stated over the past year that he has no desire to change the name. Irene Pollin said she doubts Leonsis would go back to the Bullets — but she won’t stand in the way. “Look, he owns the team, he can do whatever he wants,” Pollin said of Leonsis.