This may be hard to believe, but at one time everyone was excited about Ted Leonsis owning the Washington Wizards.
The feeling was that the years of frustrating mediocrity under the ownership of the late Abe Pollin were over. Leonsis was seen as the forward-thinking owner who had transformed the Washington Capitals, taking them into the “Rock the Red” era. Surely he would do the same for the basketball team.
After all, this was 2010. We were just three years into the Alex Ovechkin playoff era. We had no idea then that the Capitals’ inevitable Stanley Cup was not to arrive for another eight years.
In a manifesto of promises published Oct. 7, 2010, Leonsis wrote about how he and his organization had reached out to so many fans in their first 100 days of ownership — claiming more than 10,000 interactions. So he revisited the list of 101 things in 101 days he pledged to change after the news conference and came up with another list — this one of 101 signs of visible change for the Wizards so far under his ownership.
“Bottom line,” Leonsis wrote. “You want us to do well but you also want us to be good citizens. You want us to build playoff contending teams. You want us to compete for and win championships. You want us to do it in a way that makes you proud. We hear you!”
Well, here we are, almost a decade after Leonsis’ list of 101 pats on his back, and the latest Wizards debacle was their league-wide embarrassment of general manager Ernie Grunfeld’s handling of the Trevor Ariza trade — initially a three-way deal involving the Phoenix Suns and the Memphis Grizzlies, but then scuttled when there was confusion about which Brooks the Grizzlies were trading.
The trade by Washington with Phoenix for Ariza — dealing them Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers — was eventually made, but Memphis GM Chris Wallace ripped those involved in the discussions. Grunfeld was reportedly the one orchestrating those talks.
“What happened last night was unfathomable,” Wallace said Saturday. “I’ve never experienced this before. We were very clear with who was in this deal. Dillon Brooks never was intended to be part of this. From our standpoint, we made it very clear it was not Dillon Brooks.”
Feeling proud yet?
There are many things on this list that Leonsis has accomplished, in terms of the arena experience, re-engage with alumni and other points. But the first thing on the list stands out for its sheer hypocrisy: “More transparency concerning strategy and plans via more connection with fans.”
Those fans are still waiting for the transparency from Leonsis on his reported decision to extend Grunfeld’s contract last fall.
Connection with the fans? Leonsis and the franchise have failed to acknowledge the decision publicly.
It’s not hard to figure out why — it is an indefensible decision, one that insults the fanbase that Leonsis pledged to “hear” in his 101 signs of visible change. It is a decision that has left those Wizards fans who care enough about the franchise angry, so much so that some claim they have been blocked by Transparent Ted on Twitter.
This was Leonsis’ response to what he had done so far in his first 100 days of ownership to meet that pledge of transparency: “Frequent updates on TedsTake.com; provide insight in team development strategy; 10,000 touch points in first 100 days.”
There is just one “touch point” right now that most Wizards fans want to feel — the departure of Grunfeld. It was the “touch point” that fans wanted, in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas disaster that nearly destroyed the organization, the moment Leonsis took over the team. It is the “touch point” that Leonsis will inevitably have to do.
When he does, will he face Wizards fans and take the heat for wasting eight years or more of their time, passion and commitment to his basketball team?
Speaking of Arenas, know what Leonsis’ second item was on his 101 list? “Reconnect with Gilbert Arenas.”
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast every Tuesday and Thursday.