What is in a name? Today's Washington Wizards have played as the Chicago Packers, the Chicago Zephyrs, the Baltimore Bullets, the Capital Bullets, and the Washington Bullets. Interestingly, however, the team's name change did not include a change in the city that it represented. Today's Washington Wizards are the same team as the Washington Bullets.
In 1996, the owner of the Washington Bullets, Abe Polan, chose to change the name of the NBA's Washington team. That was due to the increasing number of homicides in the city, which began in the early 1990s. The Bullets feared that the name "Bullets" encouraged gun violence. Interestingly, the homicide rate peaked in 2006. Nevertheless, the franchise would ultimately choose "Wizards" over other finalists, including Dragons and Stallions.
The Washington Wizards played their first game with a new name, in new jerseys and shorts, and in a new arena (MCI Center) on December 2, 1997. It was a magical night for the Wizards, as they defeated the Seattle Supersonics 95- 78. While the Wizards completed the regular season with a 42-40 record, they missed qualifying for the playoffs, by a single game.
Albeit the Washington Wizards have made four consecutive playoff appearances from 2005-2008, the team achieved its greatest success in the 1970s, as the Washington Bullets. During that decade, the Bullets won six division crowns, and appeared in four NBA Finals. In fact, the Bullets earned a spot in the NBA Finals, in each year that they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals (1971, 1975, 1978, 1979).
Unquestionably, the Washington Bullets' 1977-1978 season was particularly memorable. The Bullets finished the season with a 44-38 record, and barely snuck into the NBA playoffs. They grounded the Atlanta Hawks (2-0), shocked the San Antonio Spurs (4-2), and then vanquished the Philadelphia 76ers (4-2). The Spurs series was particularly interesting. In Game 6, the Spurs' player Mike Gale had to wear an inside-out Bullets jersey, after he had misplaced his uniform.
The Bullets would face the Seattle Supersonics in the NBA Finals. Washington battled back three times to tie the series. In Game 7, the Supersonics was a huge favorite over the Bullets. However, the Bullets played solid team-basketball, and earned their first NBA Finals, with a 101-94 victory.
Throughout their history, the Washington Bullets / Wizards have retired four players' jersey numbers:
o Elvin Hayes – # 11 (Forward): 1972 / 1973-1980 / 1981
Twice NBA rebounding champion (1970, 1974); and 12 NBA All-Star games
o Gus Johnson – # 25 (Forward): 1963 / 1964-1971 / 1972
Five NBA All-Star games and four All-NBA Second Teams with Bullets
o Earl "The Pearl" Monroe – # 10 (Guard): 1967 / 1968-1971 / 1972
Famous for stylish dribbling and passing; NBA Rookie of the Year
o Wes Unseld – # 41 (Center): 1968 / 1969-1980 / 1981
NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP (1969); Basketball Hall of Fame (1988)
What is in a name? Although the Washington Bullets are now the Washington Wizards, the team shares a history and a tradition of excellence. Use Washington Wizards merchandise to cheer on the team as it tries to make magic in the NBA Finals again.