By Bill Oram
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 27, 2009
The last time Washington's NBA franchise journeyed to China, it was a trail-blazing trip. The Bullets were fresh off their appearance in the 1979 Finals and the whole team visited the nation after President Jimmy Carter normalized relations with the communist giant.
The Wizards, who haven't had much to celebrate in recent history, will honor the 30-year anniversary of the trip next month by sending several team representatives, including two current players and Hall of Fame center Wes Unseld, to conduct clinics and visit hospitals. The group also will visit the site of the 2008 earthquake near the city of Chengdu.
Unseld, who was a member of the team that made the trip in 1979 and said he has vivid memories of that trip, will join forward Caron Butler, newly acquired guard Randy Foye and former Bullet Gheorghe Muresan as the marquee representatives on the Sept. 5-15 trip.
"It's a pretty rare opportunity for me," Unseld said. "As I remember, 30 years ago there weren't too many teams or individuals or people going there to China."
Washington was the first NBA team to visit China. Since then, the NBA has exploded in China and a handful of Chinese players, including Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, have found their way to the league.
In all, 17 people will visit the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Yingxiu, including team executives. Many were on hand Wednesday at Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown to promote the tour of China. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who was in China during last year's Olympics, presented a proclamation wishing the team well.
"I know the team is going to have a great time," he said. "I know they're doing some clinics. It's very exciting for the city that we're sending representatives over."
Butler said he was looking forward to seeing the Great Wall and learning about a new culture.
"The impact on the western world in China was apparent," Fenty said of his 2008 visit. "But what was also so apparent was how much we could learn from how fast it was growing."
Unseld, whose son, assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr., also will be part of the entourage, said he has photo albums of the 1979 trip.
"I'm looking forward to it, to see what's changed, what's going on, what's the difference," Unseld said.
While last season's Wizards were far removed from the conference champions of 1979 -- despite the continuous team ownership by Abe Pollin -- Butler said reliving that trip to China is a good first step in getting people to remember that the Wizards have won before.
"[We can] take that experience and come back and talk about the old championship days and their legacy and what we're trying to build," he said. "We're trying to do something special. I think it should be safe and people shouldn't be scared to mention championship. I feel like we got a lot of pieces in place. Management did a great job this summer now we gotta put it together."
The Wizards won 19 games last season, but have a new coach in Flip Saunders and added guards Foye and Mike Miller in a June 24 trade with Minnesota.