Here’s a trivia question: Can anyone tell me why the Washington Bullets changed their name to the Washington Wizards in 1997? Since I see no hands raised I will tell you. In 1995, then owner, Abe Pollin believed that the nickname Bullets had a negative influence in the Washington D.C. area due to the rising crime and increasing murder rate. There were also rumors that when Pollin’s friend was assassinated it was a breaking point for the owner. By the way, his friend was the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, Yitzhak Rabin. Don’t ask me how they knew each other, I think it’s a strange connection as well. Many people believe the Wizards wasn’t the best choice of a nickname, but here were the rest of the choices from the grouping: Dragons, Express, Sea Dogs, and Stallions. Stallions would have been okay I guess, but it still has this romance-novel feel to it; Sea Dogs may have worked if they didn’t use Sea Dogs and rather settled for Seals and then claimed the choice had Naval connections, but still; the Express, I mean, come on, get real; and dragons are pretty cool, cooler than wizards at times, but there aren’t many flying around the District these days – sure, there aren’t any wizards either, but at least there are homeless people who pretend to have magical powers roaming the streets.
Anyway, enough of that historical jibber-jabber, now you have something to share with everyone at your next dinner party – if you’re in to that sort of thing. In all honesty, the Washington Bullets have a decent history. They used to be the Chicago Packers, then became the Chicago Zephyrs, then the Baltimore Bullets, then the Capital Bullets for some reason, and then the Washington Bullets until finally settling on the Washington Wizards. We’ll concentrate on the Washington Bullets era. What a bunch of weird names, seriously.
20. BEST: REX CHAPMAN
There’s one reason Rex Chapman is on this list: every team needs a Steve Kerr. Okay, he’s not Steve Kerr; he didn’t win any championships and he’s not coaching for any either. Would you like to know the real reason he’s on this list? He was lights out on my old NBA computer game. Sure, it didn’t say his name and just had a digital number on his pixelated jersey, but I knew it was Rex because he would bury almost every shot I took with that “player.” Of course, he joined the Washington Bullets during two of their worst seasons, 1993-1995, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t contribute. However, he contributed more for better teams, including becoming a fan-favorite in Phoenix during his time with the Suns – most people remember his amazing shot against the Seattle SuperSonics in the 1997 playoffs. He was doing that years before on my computer screen though, so, whatever.
19. WORST: RALPH SAMPSON
Ralph Sampson: All-Star, college basketball legend and Hall-of-Famer, and Washington Bullet. Why is he on the worst end of things? The same reason I would list Michael Jordan as a worst Washington Wizard: it wasn’t that great of a stint as fans would have hoped. Sampson played 10 games for the Bullets during the 1991-1992 season before being waived. Who would waive Ralph Sampson? Apparently a bad team, proving that beggars can be choosers. Unfortunately, the once highly-touted superstar suffered through various injuries making his NBA career not as great as the critics would have imagined. He was the three-time national player of the year in college and he was supposed to be the best to ever play the game, but when you’re waived by the Bullets late in your career, it kind of puts a damper on your success. Certain players should just call it quits when the time is right (Mr. Jordan, Mr. Favre).
18. BEST: CALBERT CHEANEY
Calbert Cheaney was an early first-round pick by the Washington Bullets in 1993, and he is one of the few players who stuck around for the name change. He had a decent career for Washington; especially his best season in 1994-1995 when he averaged over 16 points a game which is definitely respectable. Let’s get to Cheaney’s real success though: he was a movie star! I’m using the word “star” loosely here. Cheaney was from Indiana and he played his college ball as a Hoosier at the famed university, so he was perfectly cast in the 1994 basketball flick Blue Chips. He never did anything spectacular for the Bullets – which proves how sad this franchise has been for a while – but did contribute during their rebuilding years. Well, they’ve been rebuilding for a few decades now, but Cheaney certainly assisted in rerouting the franchise in an optimistic direction. Just like in the movie! I think. They should make a movie about the Bullets… straight to DVD.
17. WORST: JIM MCLLVAINE
We can’t blame Jim Mcllvaine for being one of the worst Washington Bullets in franchise history; it was just bad timing. Quite frankly, he wasn’t a bad player, he was just a young nobody on a team with a full roster – a full roster of underachievers. So what happened? He averaged around 2.0 points, 2.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks a game until being traded away… and that was his best year of the two spent in D.C.! He was given an opportunity with the Seattle SuperSonics (here we go with the connections again), being hurled from a rebuilding franchise to a championship contender. He was a solid contributor to the organization, increasing his production while serving as a defensive presence. Mcillvaine didn’t have the greatest NBA career, but at least he married a 6’7” woman with the hopes of making giant children. Gwendoyn Mcllvaine was also a basketball player so who knows, keep an eye out for their kids if they have any… you won’t miss them… they’re the tall ones.
16. BEST: MANUTE BOL
Some may claim Manute Bol’s skill level was weak in aspects of his game. Some may be right. However, he was a shot-blocking specialist, one of the greatest to ever play in NBA history. He was also one of the tallest players to ever play the game professionally so you would expect him to be considered an extraordinary defender. At 7’7” he was a force around the rim. He spent the first three seasons of his career as a member of the Washington Bullets, and then played two random games for the organization during the 1993-1994 season. However, his real work came off the court as he was a dedicated activist, relaying most of his NBA earnings to help his home-nation of Sudan and other charities. Of course, Fox exploited his good nature, but if you want to look up his bout on celebrity boxing then feel free, and look up why he decided to compete. This world is so strange. Bol passed away at the young age of 47, survived by 10 children and hopefully they all grow up to be great human beings like their father.
15. WORST: BEN WALLACE
We all remember Ben Wallace as a defensive catalyst for the Detroit Pistons in the early part of the 21st Century. However, before that he was a Washington Wizard, and before that he was Washington Bullet – and an Orlando Magic (I don’t think that works in singular form) somewhere in between. This is kind of a gray area because he did play decently for the Wizards, but as a Bullet he was hardly a contributor. In 1996-1997, a season before the name change, he failed to get on the court consistently and only averaged a tad over 1 point a game. Like Jim Mcllvaine, Wallace was a defensive presence with upside that was never utilized until impatience settled in with ownership. Would the Wizards have been better if Wallace stayed? Possibly. Would they have won a championship? Maybe (just kidding, that’s pretty far-fetched). Wallace found his success, but it wasn’t with the Bullets.
14. BEST: GHEORGHE MURESAN
Gheorghe Muresan was 7’7” like Manute Bol. In fact, those random two games that Bol rejoined the Washington Bullets late in his career was simply to help Muresan develop as a player. I’m beginning to see a trend here: the Bullets like centers who are gifted defensively and then traded away, or who are massive in height, but lack a complete game. The Romanian big man was a fan favorite, and he had glimpses of stardom and productivity throughout his career, being named the NBA’s most improved player in 1996 and also leading the league twice in field goal percentage in 1996 and 1997. However, like all enormous people, Muresan suffered through many injuries. On the other hand, he’s made a decent life for himself as a marketing representative for the Washington Wizards, and also an actor, starring in the comedy My Giant alongside Billy Crystal. That’s two Washington players who have been actors now; D.C. is the new L.A.
13. WORST: DENNIS DUVALL
This is a stretch. Dennis Duvall, whom I’m sure many of you have never heard of, wasn’t a bad player. Frankly, no NBA player is a bad player. Think about what we’re doing with our life and then think about what the dude at the end of the bench is doing with his – or hers, we can’t forget about our WNBA superstars and role players. What would you rather be doing? Exactly. However, they’ve earned it in some way, shape, or form. Statistically, Duvall was the worst player on the Washington Bullets when they lost to the Golden State Warriors in four games during the 1974-1975 finals. He averaged under 1 for about every single category except for points (1.6). It’s safe to say that Duvall is the reason the Bullets lost the championship. I mean, how else can you explain it? Don’t answer that, I’m sure there are about a million more valid answers. Dennis Duvall, I apologize.
12. BEST: ROD STRICKLAND
Rod Strickland was a journeyman to say the least, playing for nine franchises throughout his NBA career. Some people just enjoy traveling. Traveling is a bad word choice for basketball. On the other hand, many players today still don’t understand the rule, and neither to the referees it seems. Strickland joined the Washington Bullets for one season before the name change so he was part of the end of an era and the start of an era which is kind of cool in a hippie sort of way. “It’s time for change, man. Peace. Love life, man. To new beginnings!” Anyway, Strickland’s career year occurred during the 1997-1998 season where he became the 25th NBA player to eclipse 10,000 points and 5,0000 assists which is quite impressive. Of course, that was with the Wizards so it’s a stretch to consider him a best Bullet, but he was given a new beginning by the latter so it’s valid.
11. WORST: KENNY WALKER
Kenny Walker is on this list for his performance in a certain game. However, if you’re on the worst part of a list for your performance then it probably isn’t something to brag about. Walker was a member of the Washington Bullets for two seasons (1993-1995). Enough of this filler, let’s get to the point. You want to know what he actually did that landed him on this list. Walker set the record for most minutes played in a game without registering a statistic. He was invisible on the court for 12 minutes during the 12/11/93 matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. He had zero assists, blocks, points, rebounds, steals, and didn’t even attempt a field goal. At least he didn’t commit a turnover either so that’s pretty cool. This was so out of character because he was averaging over 4 points a game! Okay, I guess it wasn’t that out of character. Long story short, they lost to the Hawks that night by eight points so his contribution wouldn’t have matter anyway.
10. BEST: JUWAN HOWARD
Juwan Howard is most famously known as a member of the University of Michigan’s “Fab Five.” Then in Miami he was not a member of the “Big Three” for the Heat, but reaped in the rewards by just having a slot on the roster. Before South Beach and after Ann Arbor, Howard was a Washington Bullet for three seasons, and a Wizard for an additional four. He made the All-Star game in 1996, and was a solid contributor for the Bullets during their rebuilding years. The crazy thing is that he never shaved his goatee. Seriously, I know we’re going a little off topic here, but what do you think he looks like without facial hair? It’s almost as if the thing was tattooed on. Just kidding, I’m sure there are times he didn’t look like Jafar from Aladdin. Lastly, the most impressive thing about Howard is that though he left school early, he still graduated with his class as scheduled while competing in the NBA. Smart.
9. WORST: DOUG OVERTON
From 1992-1995, Doug Overton was with the Washington Bullets and was consistently an average player which doesn’t really deserve praise, but also doesn’t necessarily deserve judgment. Well, someone has to bite the Bullet. See what I did there: bullet, as in Washington Bullets. It will come to you. Overton just couldn’t really get it to work anywhere. He played for 8 different NBA teams, played in Australia and Spain, and also spent some time in the developmental league. If I bounced (another basketball pun – kind of) around like that in any aspect of my life I would probably have a breakdown – unless it was something like really attractive women who adored me, but that’s unrealistic. I’m married, ladies, too bad. This is about Doug, however, and his unproductivity. He was your classic role player, so in a sense he did what he was supposed to do, but when the team isn’t good, then maybe it’s time for different role players.
8. BEST: CHRIS WEBBER
Can we just forget about that one time Chris Webber called that timeout in college? I don’t think he needs to be reminded of the fact even though I just kind of did exactly that. Whatever, he’s not reading this. We can talk about his years as a Washington Bullet, however. Of course, he was another player who was part of the transition from Bullets to Wizards, but in 1997 – while still a Bullet – Webber led Washington to their first playoff appearance in nine years. Fantastic! It’s probably because the coach took away timeout privileges. See, there I go again. A timeout for taking a timeout. Though his career in Washington was full of injuries at the start, he certainly established himself as a star. Guess what the franchise did then? They traded him, of course. Who needs consistent trips to the postseason anyway? Losing is the new winning. Webber flourished in Sacramento, but never could obtain a championship. I guess we’re all losers in the end.
7. WORST: CHARLES DAVIS
The Washington Bullets once had a player named Elvin Hayes who most basketball fans know – most sports fan have heard of Hayes actually. Charles Davis is not Elvin Hayes, but he was the product of a trade that sent Hayes to the Houston Rockets in exchange for two second-round draft choices. Now, you will hear more about Mr. Hayes later in this article (don’t skip ahead!), but Davis was the player selected with one of the picks the Bullets had acquired. He never averaged over 5 points a game and the most minutes he played during his career was in his second year when he averaged only over 15 per match. Let’s just say this was a pretty big drop off from the production Elvin gave the Bullets. In fact, Hayes still averaged double-digit points in Houston the entire time Davis was a Bullet. I guess the future wasn’t bright, and it remained that way for almost two decades.
6. BEST: BERNARD KING
Bernard King (Pictured Far Right) used the Washington Bullets, but it benefited both parties. After the New York Knicks released the Hall-of-Famer in 1987, King wanted to prove himself once more, show the league that he wasn’t washed up, and he did exactly that. He played phenomenally for the Bullets during his four-season tenure with the franchise, averaging over 20 points a game each season. He reached the All-Star Game in 1991 at 34-years-old and essentially retired on top… until he made some lame comeback with the New Jersey Nets that turned out to be a pretty bad decision like most “coming-out-of-retirement” choices are, whether or not you’re an athlete or an office drone. He didn’t win a championship with the Bullets like he did with the Knicks, but he certainly brought some excitement to the fan base because the rest of the decade wasn’t all that great. Things are turning around, I can feel it; it’s only taken a little (a lot, actually) longer than projected.
5. WORST: SIDNEY LOWE
The other half of the Elvin Hayes trade involved Sidney Lowe who was selected in the second round of the 1983 NBA draft. So we already discussed Charles Davis’ pathetic contribution to this trade, but Lowe’s was worse because he didn’t even play for the Washington Bullets. He was born in D.C., now coaches on the Wizards’ staff, but he was merely just a pick because the Bullets traded away their selection to the Chicago Bulls. They drafted Lowe and then gave him away to the Indiana Pacers. Technically he didn’t play for the Bullets, but technically he was part of the franchise if you reexamine the chain of events leading to his four-year NBA career. If you dive back a little further, you will realize that Lowe was part of the amazing NC State Wolfpack team that won the 1983 National Championship so let’s give the guy some credit here – plus his coaching career has been respectable, just not his non-play as a Bullet.
4. BEST: ELVIN HAYES
Now we’re talking. It only took us 17 other Washington Bullets to finally find a superstar. Elvin Hayes (Pictured with Basketball) was one of the best basketball players to ever play the game. Why isn’t he number one then? Just be patient, geez. Hayes was a part of three NBA Finals appearances for the Bullets, claiming the championship in 1978. He was a 12-time All-Star, and NBA scoring champion and has both his numbers from the University of Houston and Washington retired, 44 and 11 respectively. Isn’t that cool? Leaving your mark in multiple arenas – and we’re not talking about how a dog leaves his mark. The guy was born to play basketball, a force to be reckoned with, and he proved it time and time again on the court. He was part of the Bullets’ glory years and will always be remembered in the D.C. area because – and this is kind of sad – he helped bring the District one of only five championships their professional teams have combined to earn throughout history. If it wasn’t for the Washington Redskins, it would be two. The Senators have the other one in case you cared.
3. WORST: DUDLEY BRADLEY
Dudley Bradley (Pictured Center) is another DMV native, and he finally received a chance to play for his home crowd in 1984 when he joined the Washington Bullets, staying with the team for two seasons. Bradley competed in a lot of games for reputable minutes, but didn’t accomplish really anything. Statistically, he was one of the worst Bullets during the two losing seasons he was part of the roster. Out of the seven NBA franchises he played for, his stint in Washington was one of the worst of his career. It’s probably part of the reason he played for the Saskatchewan Storm in whatever league they’re a part of. Maybe he wanted to see the world? I’m not sure many are lining up to travel to Saskatchewan, but to each their own. One cool stat is that Bradley recorded nine steals in a game twice – it wasn’t with the Bullets, but I may as well mention something positive.
2. BEST: WES UNSELD
Wes Unseld is the only reason Elvin Hayes isn’t number one on this list. The Hall-of-Famer spent his entire career with the Bullets’ franchise from Baltimore to “Capital” to Washington. He was the MVP of the 1978 Finals and of course has his number 41 retired in the rafters in Washington. Not only did he play for the Bullets, he also worked in the front office for the franchise after his retirement, coached the team from 1987-1994, and became the general manager after leaving the bench. That’s dedication! He turned the team around when he was drafted. Case and point: he won Rookie of the Year and MVP his first season, and only some guy named Wilt Chamberlain has also accomplished that feat. He was strong, precise, and had some damn cool hair. The center will go down in Washington sports history as one of the great athletes who has ever graced the District.
1. WORST: MATT FISH
There isn’t much to say about Matt Fish. Literally. Okay, I will find something for you other than the fact that his last name is Fish. These are the team nicknames – NBA and other leagues – that he has worn across his multiple jerseys: Spirit, Racers (not the Pacers), Hoops (yeah, that’s right, classic basketball name), Sun Kings (not Sacramento), Graveliners (scary), Thunder (not Oklahoma City), Clippers, Pernarol de Mar del Plata (whatever), Knicks, Nuggets, Bullets, Fury, Heat, Bobcats (not old Charlotte), Stingrays, Porto, Polonia Warsaw (okay), Eclipse, and Belgrand de San Nicolas (wherever). Actually, it seems there’s a lot to Matt Fish; he’s well-traveled. In 1996-1997 he was a Washington Bullet and he was the worst player on the team statistically, and that was the last year they were the Bullets. Sure, they made the playoffs, but was 0.4 points a game really his contribution to the nickname’s send off? It sure was. He played in five games for Washington for a total of something around the seven-minute range. Thanks for everything, Matt.
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