- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Bullets are back. Well, sort of.

Nine years after Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin declared “Bullets” an inappropriate name for a basketball team in a city crippled by drugs and gun violence, the old name lives on this season through the NBA’s Hardwood Classics jersey program.

For nine games this season, including last night’s contest at Indiana and Saturday’s home matchup against Orlando, the Wizards will wear the bright orange togs of the 1970-71 Baltimore Bullets. The Wizards are one of 14 teams participating this year in the Hardwood Classics program, a growing league initiative designed to celebrate team milestones, tap into the throwback jersey craze and of course, rack up some extra merchandise sales.

Fans will remember the Wizards participated in the Hardwood Classics program at the end of the 2002-03 season. The team pulled out the well-known red, white and blue striped jerseys for three home games and celebrated the 25th anniversary of the 1978 Bullets title team. The move was entirely logical and predictable considering how often Pollin talks about the glory days of that squad.

This return venture into yesteryear, however, is far more extensive and a bit more curious. Three games have grown into nine, including six on the road, as the NBA worked harder to have games in which both teams wear the throwbacks.

And the Earl Monroe-led 1971 Bullets, as basketball historians know, reached the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. But once there, the Milwaukee Bucks steamrolled the Bullets in four games, marking only the second Finals sweep in league history.

So what about consistency, continuity and sticking by one’s ideals? Even as Pollin’s motives for changing from Bullets to Wizards were questioned in some corners, it remains an anomaly in which a sports team changes names for reasons other than pure marketing.

The issue of Pollin, his feelings about the Bullets name and the Wizards name change, were discussed when the NBA approached the club last year to return to the Hardwood Classics program, league officials say. In the end, Pollin signed off on the move, in part because the move does not resurrect old Bullets uniforms that actually showed a bullet on the jersey.

“We definitely talked about it. But history is history, and this was a high moment for the franchise,” said Christopher Arena, NBA senior director of apparel. “We go to great lengths to make sure these uniforms are historically accurate in every way.”

Said Matt Williams, Wizards vice president: “It’s a balance. [Pollin] does feel Bullets is the wrong name, but at the same time there is a history and he has fond memories for our history.”

The Wizards and NBA, no doubt, also have a fondness for the orange Gilbert Arenas Bullets jersey now on sale at MCI Center, the league’s online store and other spots on the Internet. The new Bullets throwbacks, much like the red, white and blue uniforms that replaced them, are sold out in some retail channels, and plenty of fans and Wizards personnel prefer them to the bland blue Wizards uniforms of today.

“People are excited about it,” Williams said. “Anytime you do something different, it’s bound to get a lot of attention.”

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