The one thing Leonsis has thus far refrained from doing is changing the name back to the Bullets, however, despite pleas from many fans to do just that. Those calls may get a bit louder after Abe Pollin’s widow and former Wizards’ co-owner said recently she wouldn’t object to such a change.
“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. “To me, it’s what do the fans want? What’s going to please them? To me, they’re the ones who support, care.”
Abe Pollin changed the name from Bullets to Wizards in 1997, partly because he didn’t want the team to be associated with gun violence. Leonsis has consistently made public comments that he has no plans of going back to the Bullets.
Leonsis declined comment when asked to respond last week, but when the Wizards unveiled their new look last May, he told WJFK (106.7 FM) that a name change is “almost like a grandstanding thing. I mean, it’s a cheap way to get people to support you.”
He was asked again in October and told WTOP (103.5 FM), “there’s no name change that’s being contemplated.”
The Bullets made four trips to the NBA Finals in the 1970s, winning the championship in 1978, then went through a period of mediocrity during the 1980s and 1990s. The team has missed the playoffs in 10 of their 14 seasons as the Wizards, advancing to the second round just once.
The possibility of the name going back perhaps became more remote when Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton were suspended during the 2009-10 season for bringing guns to the locker room. But Leonsis, who started attending Bullets games as a student at Georgetown University, has mostly been reluctant for fear of insulting his predecessors — especially since Abe Pollin died just two years ago — and a desire to stay politically correct. Leonsis has written on his blog and said in interviews that many fans have also expressed that sentiment to him when arguing for a need to avoid calling the team the Bullets.
“I don’t agree with that,” Pollin said. “It wasn’t up to me to change it. It was really my husband. He was very uncomfortable. I think he got really upset when our friend, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered. And I think it bothered him that the team he was involved with had a name like Bullets.”
Rabin, the prime minister of Israel, was assassinated in Nov. 1995, a few months after Abe Pollin announced that he was considering a name change for the franchise he bought for $1 million in 1964. The Baltimore Bullets were named after a 234-foot brick factory, the Phoenix Shot Tower, where bullets and cannons were produced from 1828 to 1892.