It’s a basketball shootout, but this time not in the locker room of the Washington Wizards, where scorned NBA star Gilbert Arenas once threatened a teammate with his handgun.
This time, the battle is over whether the team should change its name back to the Washington Bullets from its current name, the awkward and goofy Washington Wizards.
Discontent among fans still simmers since Abe Pollin, the former Wizards owner who passed away last year, changed the team’s name in 1997.
The team’s new owner, millionaire tech entrepreneur and owner of the Washington Capitals Ted Leonsis, heard from quite a few of them via e-mail when he took over the team.
As part of a list of 101 suggestions raised by fans that Leonsis was addressing (how awesome is that?), Leonsis included that changing the name back to “Bullets” was “under consideration.”
“It is ‘under consideration’ because of the volume of e-mails that argue both sides of the debate,” Leonsis explained as debate over the issue started up.
The issue? Gun control advocates warn that naming the team after ammunition will encourage violence.
Is ‘Bullets’ the ‘wrong message’ or is that ‘more anti-gun bed wetting’?
Three days after Leonsis hit “publish” on his blog with the news he was considering the change, an angry Washington Post denounced the would-be, not-yet-decided-upon change.
“We don’t care how much fan clamor there is for it — it’s a bad idea to even think about changing the team’s name back to the Bullets,” thundered the Post, explaining that the former owner Pollin “understood the importance of symbols to educate and to inspire, and we would like to think that his leadership in calling attention to the scourge of gun violence might have helped in quelling some of the killing.”
In an interview, Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence explained why gun control advocates would view “Bullets” with such disdain.
While noting he didn’t want to “overemphasize it,” Everitt said the name change could encourage violence because fans – especially kids – look up to basketball stars as role models.
“We have a lot of young kids in this community who really do look up to musicians and athletes,” Everitt said, adding that “a lot of them don’t have a father in their life every day – I think that’s something Leonsis should consider. I think young people need the exact opposite message.”
There’s also the Arenas incident, which makes the whole thing kind of embarrassing.
Last season, after a debate over rookie Jarvaris Crittenton’s gambling debt to Arenas started on the team’s jet, Arenas and Crittenton both brandished their handguns in the Wizards’ locker room when their spat later escalated.
No shots were fired; no children were harmed. But both players were suspended for the rest of the season, and after initially laughing the whole thing off, Arenas took to – where else? – the Washington Post where he professed his deep, deep sorrow for being a bad role model.
“Why would Leonsis [change the name back to Bullets] in the wake of what happened to Arenas,” Everitt said, “it’s kind of puzzling.”
Wait a second, though, isn’t this just political correctness run amok, proponents of the name change say.
“That’s just more anti-gun bed wetting,” said Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt. “They would probably be safer if they told people they couldn’t come into the stadium without a gun.”
“That’s about the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” said the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s Philip Van Cleave. “‘Bullets implies speed and accuracy…I think it’s a great name.”
Outward, if un-scientific, signs point to the old name remaining popular among fans. An internet poll on the Washington Post’s website showed readers weren’t really listening to the paper’s editorial – 83% want “Bullets” back out of over 8,000 votes.
Whatever Leonsis decides, though, almost everyone agrees he’s a terrific owner. As the Post put it in their anti-gun editorial, “Thank you, Ted Leonsis. It was a welcome and unusual gesture from a team owner to seek fans’ ideas on how to improve the Washington basketball team and the experience of attending games. A lot of owners give lip service to their fans, but it’s rare to find one who actually compiles a list of 101 ideas and then proceeds to check them off, one by one, as accomplished.”