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The Bullet That Changed the Washington Bullets’ Name to the Washington Wizards

The Bullet That Changed the Washington Bullets Name to the Washington Wizards

A Year of Personal Tragedy for the Pollin Family

In 1964 Abe Pollin and his wife Irene Pollin experienced a year of personal tragedy. Their daughter Linda Pollin had passed away at the ripe age of sixteen due to a congenital heart defect.

Three months later her father would pass away from a heart attack a day before his grandsons bar mitzvah. Her sister would soon after go on to become diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Eights months later her mother would pass away from a heart attack as well.

Mr. Pollin purchased the Washington Bullets in 1964, in order to help cope with the losses. According to a 2016 Washington Post Profile Mrs. Pollin once stated “the team was a great distraction”.

A Merchandise Sales Tactic for a Struggling Team

Heading into the year 1995, the Washington Wizards had had eight consecutive losing seasons. According to reports front office executives said the Bullets were considering switching to a new logo and uniform in order to help boost lagging merchandise sales.

Pollin was even contemplating changing the name of the team, due to the rising gun violence within the nation’s capital.

However many didn’t view the change as necessary. This was due to the fact that the team’s slogan “faster than a speeding bullet” was supposed to be representative of how fast the team moved the ball.

Michael Wilbon said “Personally, I think the association between the name of the local basketball team and horrible things that people do with guns is a reach. Me? I’d keep the name Bullets. But I can understand Pollin’s growing uneasiness, and if there’s ever a time to change it, now would be that time, what with Chris Webber and Juwan Howard aboard and new uniforms and a new downtown arena in the works.”

However, something drastic would happen in Mr. Pollin’s personal life and this time it would change the direction of which the team was headed.

The Untimely Demise of Yitzhak Rabin

The Bullet That Changed the Washington Bullets Name to the Washington Wizards

Yitzhak Rabin (Left) walking with U.S. President Bill Clinton (Right) Image Courtesy of U.S. National Archives

On November 4, 1995, Mr. Pollins’ friend Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would be shot at three times at a Tel Aviv Peace Rally by a Jewish Ultranationalist. Two of the bullets would pierce his arm/back. He would go on to die later that evening.

As a result, Mr. Pollin flew to Jerusalem for the funeral. Upon his arrival back home he announced that the team would drop the Bullets nickname. He stated, “If I save one life, make a change in one life it’ll be worth it.”
However, Tom Knott and Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Times both argued that there was no relationship between a team’s nickname and the actions of its citizens. As evidence, Knott argued that there were only 189 murders within Washington D.C. during the 1978 season (the year the Bullets won the championship) in comparison to 419 in 1994.

The Boston Market Team Naming Contest

The Washington Bullets ended up working out an agreement with Boston Market, to which the fast-food chain would sponsor a team re-naming contest. Over 500,000 submissions were received including over 3,000 different names!

Fans then got to vote on a selection of five team names that Mr. Pollin had chosen. Those team names were the Sea Dogs, Express, Stallions, Dragons and Wizards. A one-dollar donation to anti-violence efforts was made for each vote that was received.

A Team Name Is Decided

The Bullet That Changed the Washington Bullets Name to the Washington Wizards
Ted Leonsis Owner of the Washington Wizards
Image courtesy of Joanne S Lawton
The Washington Bullets would go on to become the Washington Wizards. The name received heavy criticism from fans and figures. The D.C. NAACP President even felt the logo invoked KKK imagery and condemned it and the Harlem Wizards filed a trademark infringement suit to get rid of the new team name.
The Harlem Wizards argued that “reverse confusion” had taken place. To summarize what this means is that a more famous brand came and made normal people assume that your less famous brand was associated with the famous brand.
In February of 2013, Ted Leonsis answered a question on WMAL radio about changing the team name back to the Washington Bullets. He stated that he is “open” to the possibility of doing so. Since said date Leonsis has also mentioned that gun violence is a sensitive subject for many citizens within the district, so he feels it wouldn’t be worth changing the team name back to the Bullets if it’s going to offend a large sum of the population.

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