For Bullets, 'Wizards' Casts Magic Spell
By Richard Justice
Wizards was the easy winner in a telephone poll that allowed callers to pick one of five nicknames -- Wizards, Sea Dogs, Dragons, Express and Stallions -- according to Pollin, who declined to say how many votes had been cast or what the margin of victory had been. The new logo has not yet been designed.
Pollin announced after last season that he was leaning toward changing the nickname because he believed bullets were associated with violence. He made the decision final last fall after his close friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated with a handgun.
"Bullets has been a very important part of my life," he said. "In fact, it has been more important than most people know. The Bullets came at a time in my life when I'd just lost a daughter. I was really not in life. The opportunity to buy the Baltimore Bullets brought me back into life. I won a world championship with it. I have a ring that says `Bullets' and `Pollin' on it. I'm prepared to give that up. If I can maybe make a difference and save some lives, that's more important than the history that will be lost. I finally decided if there was the possibility of making a difference with this antiviolence campaign, it's more important than the nickname of a team."
Pollin admitted that "Wizards" had been one of his favorite choices ever since he and his wife, Irene, were given a list of 2,000 names to browse during a 10-hour flight to Israel several weeks ago. The Pollins selected 18 potential nicknames from the list, but said the NBA rejected most of them because there were trademark or copyright problems.
NBA Properties, the league's merchandising and creative arm, will design new logos, uniforms and colors, but Pollin and the Bullets will have veto power. It's likely that Washington Wizards merchandise will be available in area stores by next season.
Why Wizards? Pollin was asked.
"It's someone who can do things," Pollin said. "It's magic, flamboyant, smart and a winner. All those things connote a winner. Once we get the new logo and uniform and colors it'll be fantastic. The NBA has very creative people."
The final five were selected by a panel of sports and media celebrities from more than 500,000 suggestions submitted in a restaurant-sponsored contest. Fans then voted on the five finalists by calling 900 numbers. Proceeds from the calls will Pollin's newly formed antiviolence campaign. He would not say yesterday how much money had been raised by the contest.
The five finalists have been roundly criticized, with "none of the above" easily winning a Washington Post poll. Most fans interviewed yesterday said they believed the choice was a foregone conclusion.
"I have a feeling they set it up to be Wizards by picking four [other] names that were lousy," said Adam Smith, a Capitol Hill resident who works for the D.C. Council. But, Smith added, "if they win a world championship, no one will care what they are called."
Some fans were ready to accept the new name and move on.
"I think they are going to have a lot of fun with the logo," said Tricia Toms, a real estate office manager from Potomac. "It is pretty catchy and it is definitely unique. I think we will get over it."
Pollin said he was prepared for negative reaction.
"My colleagues all warned me this would happen," he said. "They'd been through it. The guy in Denver said he was told `Avalanche' [the NHL team] was a terrible name, but now everyone loves it. Same thing with Raptors in Toronto. All my colleagues told me to be prepared. Stand firm."
Some critics have mentioned that the name Wizards has a Ku Klux Klan connection, but Pollin brushed such suggestions aside, saying: "If you take any name and look hard enough, you can find some negative. I don't see anything negative. I see it as very positive."
"What really fills my heart is how the community is so involved with my team," he said. "They like the names. They don't like them. They were involved enough to be part of it. They wanted to put their two cents in. If they didn't care, I'd be sad."
The franchise has been called the Bullets for 33 seasons. During that time, they've called two cities home, won an NBA championship in 1978 and featured such future Hall of Famers as Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe.
Changing the name is one part of what the franchise hopes will be a fresh start when it moves into its state-of-the-art arena, now under construction, in 1997. Since Unseld and Elvin Hayes retired in the 1980s, the Bullets have been in a state of steady decline.
They entered this season with a string of eight consecutive losing seasons and have not made the playoffs since 1989. They've also been at the bottom of the league in virtually everything else, from ticket revenues to merchandise sales.
Team officials believe their luck began to change when Chris Webber and Juwan Howard arrived in fall 1994. Webber, who is sidelined for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, seemed to like the new name.
"I want a championship ring with Wizards on it," Webber said last night, "just like Mr. Pollin has one with Bullets on it. I want him to have a matching set."
Special correspondents Josh Barr and Tarik El-Bashir contributed to this report.