“We haven’t had one of those organizations where we can say, ‘This is the year,’ ” Wale, 27, said in a recent interview. “Not in my lifetime. It’s just highs and lows.”
The lows have taken over again of late, creating an aura about the franchise that was captured in a recent Washington Post poll that reveals less than half of D.C.-area sports fans — 44 percent — have a favorable view of the team. It’s the lowest standing for the major D.C. professional franchises with the exception of D.C. United, which is judged favorably by 43 percent of area fans.
The Wizards’ standing underscores the challenge for Ted Leonsis, who took over as the franchise’s principal owner in June 2010. Leonsis has been moving aggressively to turn around the team’s fortunes but admitted to losing money in his first season as owner, when the Wizards won just 23 games and ranked 17th in the NBA in attendance. He remains confident all the same that the team will win over fans in a fashion similar to the Capitals, the city’s NHL team that he also owns. The Capitals have sold out 111 consecutive home games at Verizon Center.
“In many ways I believe D.C. is a sleeping basketball giant; the Wizards need to capture the imagination of area fans. That already has started to take place, and we have on-the-court and off-the-court plans in place to continue that growth,” Leonsis wrote in an e-mail. “The Wizards have a tremendous amount of potential. There is hope, and our fans see it.”
After years of disappointment, though, the Wizards have their work cut out for them. Just 29 percent of NBA fans in the region named the Wizards as their favorite team in the Post survey, which was taken in August shortly after the NBA locked out its players. A surprising 14 percent of the region’s NBA fans list the Los Angeles Lakers as their No. 1 team, while 9 percent name the Boston Celtics and 7 percent the Miami Heat.
“You’ve got several teams that are superior every year, almost always Celtics, Spurs or Lakers, and there is generally not the same kind of balance in the NBA as the NFL, at least at present,” said John Helble, 70, a retired State Department employee. “That discourages a lot of fans who aren’t Spurs fans or Lakers fans or Celtics fans.”
By contrast, 72 percent of the region’s NHL fans name the Capitals as their favorite team, 48 percent of the NFL fans list the Redskins and 42 percent of the soccer fans say D.C. United is their No. 1 pro team. None is even closely rivaled in popularity by a team from another city. The only exception is the Nationals, who just completed their seventh season in the District. Thirty-six percent of baseball fans say the Nationals are their top team, with 15 percent listing the Baltimore Orioles — who for more than three decades were the only MLB team in the region. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox each are backed by 8 percent of D.C.’s baseball fans.