For Ted Leonsis, celebrity profile continues to grow as ownership role expands

By Dan Steinberg
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Now that Ted Leonsis has reached a deal to purchase the Pollin family's share of the Wizards and Verizon Center, there's little doubt that he's the second-most important player in D.C. sports. Wilbon, I guess, is third. Sorry Wise.

Along the way, Leonsis has become very much a local celebrity, more than many of his players. And so, when I recently sat down with him to ask about the changing life of Alex Ovechkin, Leonsis began to compare that life to his.

"In a small, small version, I live that," he said. "And I forget."

Then he told me how his wife had been away on a recent weekend, and he decided to visit the Grooming Lounge to get a hot towel/cold towel shave. Pre-playoff beard, of course.

"You're laying back, and you kind of float away," he explained. "It feels great. Really relaxing."

A few hours later, he came home and got a message from a friend, asking about the shave. Leonsis hadn't told anyone he was going.

"Oh, it's all over Twitter," the friend replied. "So someone in the mall thought they saw me walking in, got hot towels, and they're Twittering. It's like, wow. I can't even go get a shave without it being tweeted and retweeted everywhere."

Now, he wasn't complaining about this. That's just what happens when you're the owner.

"I went to a game with my son and we were eating cracker jacks," he continued. "You know, go to a game, you're eating cracker jacks, and someone has a picture of me eating the cracker jacks, and it's all over the place. I go, 'Oh, I can't eat at games.' It's not a big deal, but no one looks good licking their fingers after eating a peanut. And so you just learn."

Later, I asked Leonsis about Ovechkin's time at the Vancouver Olympics, when he had those two unpleasant incidents with video cameras. Again, Leonsis had a personal story, this time about his most famous interaction with a fan.

"You know, I relate," Leonsis said. "I understand. A kid said something he shouldn't have said to me, and I grabbed him. I'll live to regret it forever. But some people say, well, [Leonsis] is out of control. You go, well no, how about the kids with brain tumors that I host every game and you don't see?"

Ovechkin used to call him Mr. Leonsis, but the owner put a stop to that, saying his father is Mr. Leonsis. He meets with his star player only occasionally, and they don't talk about hockey, but about life. "It's not like we go out and eat dinner together, just me and Alex," he said. "I wouldn't do that, and I'm too respectful of the hierarchy."

But he did recall one of the first conversations he had with Ovechkin after bringing him to Washington and preparing for the coming years.

"I'm gonna lay it all out for you, I'm gonna always tell you the truth," Leonsis said. "It's gonna be really ugly the first couple of years. There's not gonna be a lot of fans, we're not gonna have a very good team, but here are my commitments to you. You'll wake up one day with a fabulous team, and you'll win a Stanley Cup. We'll be sold out every game, and it'll be fantastic, and you'll have the greatest time, and you'll love D.C. You just have to trust me."

Now he has to ask a whole additional fan base to do the same.

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