By Timothy Cox,
Special to the AFRO
On April 4 close to 20,000 people filled the seats at the Capital One Arena in downtown Washington, D.C. to near capacity, as the Milwaukee Bucks soundly defeated the hometown Washington Wizards by a score of 140 to 128.
While a significant number of the fans inside the arena came to see NBA favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo record his sixth triple-double of the season, it’s also a strong bet that many of those fans never realized that not so many years ago, their hometown team was based in Baltimore – just up the road off Interstate 95 North.
A group of fellas who proudly identified themselves as native Washingtonians said they weren’t totally positive, but had heard that their Wizards team was once based in Charm City.
Maurice Thomas, 48, of Northwest D.C., said he’d heard that current Wizards’ head coach, Wes Unseld Jr., was the son of the man arguably considered the greatest hooper in D.C. history: Wes Unseld Sr.
The latter is written in D.C. history as a pivotal member of the Washington Capital Bullets team that copped the city’s only NBA title back in 1978. Tyrone “T-Money” Johnson, also of northwest D.C., said he never realized the Wizards were based in Baltimore at one time.
Bernie and Freda Levin of Westminster have been married for 57 years and are widely aware of the team’s original history.
At 74-years-old, Bernie Levin vividly recalls when Wes Unseld Sr. and his family lived in Carroll County, a suburb north of Baltimore.
“I’m sure he and his wife chose to raise their children in the suburbs vs. the inner city,” said Bernie, a retired manager for the Maryland Department of Transportation. “I used to see Wes shopping at the local Lowes store all the time. And, just the nicest guy. Nothing arrogant about him or his wife. She had her own business.They were very humble people,” said Bernie Levin.
Freda Levin, also 74, is a retiree of the Social Security Administration.
Prior to relocating to D.C., the Baltimore Bullets were the winningest NBA franchise in the 1970s. The ’78 title helped cement their legacy.
In addition to Unseld Sr., the Bullets featured center Elvin “Big E” Hayes on their team. Both players were the team’s most popular all-stars, along with Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Kevin Grevey, Phil Chenier and Jack Marin. The ’78 team was honored by the Wizards franchise in 2013. Unseld Sr. died in June 2020.
According to information released by the NBA, “in 1946, the Baltimore franchise was nicknamed Bullets after a nearby ammunition foundry.”
By the early 1960s the team was no longer in operation, but “the Chicago Packers — who later became the Chicago Zephyrs — relocated to Baltimore, and in 1963, the Bullets nickname returned.”
Worried about the violence implied by naming the team after gun ammunition, according to the NBA, “In 1996, team owner Abe Pollin decided to adopt a nickname that portrayed a non-violent image, and selected Wizards. The name depicts energy and an omnipresent power, and brings to light what is hoped to be the wise and magical nature of the team.”