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Ted Leonsis officially takes over ownership of the Washington Wizards

By Mike Wise
Friday, June 11, 2010; D06

Most of us will never be members of the Dot.Com Millionaires Club. We will never be able to afford a McLean mansion and leave our loved ones more than they will ever need to eat or live.

Unless our surnames are Gates or Buffett (Warren, not Jimmy), if we ever ask our business partners to stand and be acknowledged, it probably won't look like what Monumental Sports & Entertainment looked like Thursday -- BET co-founder Sheila Johnson and a Brooks Brothers showroom come to life.

But in Washington recently, we can identify with a person -- irrespective of their financial station -- who says, "When the team isn't good, people are in pain."

Ted Leonsis mentioned many more newsy things at Verizon Center on Thursday on his first full day as owner of the Wizards.

He said Gilbert Arenas should be hugged, not mugged.

He paid homage to the late Abe Pollin, the only owner the Wizards franchise has known in Washington, while simultaneously saying real change is coming. He said the "Wizards are a sleeping giant" in the "basketball-mad" District.

He used terms like "connective tissue" and "personal bandwidth" and words like "proxy" and "deliverables," all these catchphrases that sounded as if he was charged with turning around a struggling Internet company rather than a reeling pro basketball team.

But this is the one that grabbed me: "When the team isn't good, people are in pain." Leonsis enunciated that last word with so much emphasis he actually appeared pained saying it.

Why do we get Ted like no other sports owner in town? Because he appears to get what Washington has been through with its pro teams lately and because he very possibly suffered along with their fans.

Suffered through 4-12 with the Redskins, a franchise Leonsis curiously never mentioned during an hour-long spiel on the dais.

Suffered through 205 Nationals losses in two seasons. Suffered through a 19-63 Wizards season in 2008-09, and Arenas playing Tombstone in the Wizards' locker room last season.

Nothing quite hurt like the one bright spot going down so hard in the first round, his top-seeded Capitals caving against a muck-it-up Montreal team in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I'm frustrated, I'm angry," Leonsis began, speaking of watching the last game of the NHL season Wednesday night on television, which was won by the Blackhawks. "But I know what Chicago is going to be like today."

We get Ted because he doesn't ask you to call him "Theodore" or "Mr. Leonsis." Because he opens up a new e-mail account on Wednesday for Wizards fans and actually responds to the person who said the ketchup dispenser needs to be kept filled on the arena concourse during Wizards games.

Oh, and would he mind also drafting John Wall later this month, trading for LeBron James, changing the Wizards name back to Bullets and lowering ticket prices? (Yes on Wall, no on LeBron, no for now on the name and no on lower ticket prices.)

Leonsis now owns two of Washington's four largest major-sport franchises.

Tanned, relaxed, self-assured with his words and mannerisms, you half-expected Wes Unseld, Ernie Grunfeld and all his business partners to kiss the ring of the new godfather of D.C. sports.

The entire news conference had this "All family business will be settled today," feeling, as if now that Ted's in charge things will get better.

And there really isn't a more apropos time for him to take the helm of another team that needs refurbishing.

His official appointment as owner comes the same week Washington became the most important town on the national sports map, the week Stephen Strasburg served notice that he is that young and that good.

It comes a month after Irene Pollin's jaw hit the floor when it was learned the hard-luck Wizards somehow beat the odds and won the NBA draft lottery.

And it comes three months before Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan try to resuscitate the Redskins on a Sunday night against the Cowboys.

Did we mention Alex Ovechkin is not yet 25 years old?

"I think it's the greatest time in my memory," Leonsis said. "I came to Washington, D.C., in 1975, and I don't think we've had as much hope and promise and excitement in the air as we do right now. I just think that what the Nationals will accomplish, what the Caps hopefully will break through and win a Cup and still be competitive, what we can do with the Wizards. I just think it's the greatest time.

"And again, my outlook is a rising tide raises all boats, that the better every team does, the better our city will be viewed as a sports town."

Hope. Promise. Excitement. What does Leonsis call them, "deliverables?" These last few years, it's hard to knock his hockey product.

Bottom line, when it comes to sports franchises in this town -- with all due respect to his peers -- "Ted officially takes over" is not a bad headline at all.

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