Prior to the 1964-65 NBA season the Bullets pulled off a blockbuster trade, sending Terry Dischinger, Rod Thorn and Don Kojis to the Detroit Pistons for Bailey Howell, Don Ohl, Bob Ferry and Wali Jones. The trade worked out well; Howell proved to be a hustling, fundamentally sound player who helped the Bullets get into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. In the 1965 NBA Playoffs, the Bullets stunned the St. Louis Hawks 3–1, and advanced to the Western Conference Finals. In the finals, Baltimore managed to split the first four games with the Los Angeles Lakers before losing the series 4–2.
In the late 1960s, the Bullets drafted two future Hall of Famers,: Earl Monroe, 1967 draft, #2 overall and Wes Unseld, 1968 draft, #2 overall. The team improved dramatically, from 36 wins the previous season to 57 in the 1968-69 season, and Unseld received both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. The Bullets reached the playoffs with high expectations to go further, but they were eliminated by the New York Knicks in the first round. The next season the two teams met again in the first round, and although this one went to 7 games, the Knicks emerged victorious again.
In the 1970-71 season, the 42–40 Bullets again met the Knicks, this time though in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the Knicks team captain Willis Reed injured in the finals, the injury-free Bullets took advantage of his absence, and in Game 7 at New York's Madison Square Garden, the Bullets' Gus Johnson made a critical basket late in the game to lift the Bullets over the Knicks 93–91 and advance to their first NBA Finals in franchise history. They were swept in four games by the powerful Milwaukee Bucks.
Even after Monroe was traded (to the Knicks), the Bullets remained a playoff contender throughout the 1970s. Following a less than spectacular 1971-72 NBA season, the Bullets improved dramatically by acquiring Elvin Hayes from the Houston Rockets and drafting Kevin Porter. After a slow start the Bullets began to make their charge in December, posting a 10–4 record on the way to capturing the Central Division title for the 3rd straight year. The Bullets would again face the Knicks in the 1973 NBA Playoffs, losing for the fourth time in five series against New York.
During November 1973, while waiting for the completion of their new arena in Landover, the Bullets played their home games at Cole Field House on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park. The Capital Centre (later known as the USAir/US Airways Arena) opened on December 2, 1973, with the Bullets defeating the SuperSonics. Through the mid-1990s, the Bullets still played a few games per season in Baltimore.
The 60–22 Bullets made it back to the 1975 NBA Playoffs. That year Washington posted a 36–5 home record at the Capital Centre. In the first round of the playoffs, they survived a 7–game series against the Buffalo Braves as both teams won all of their games at home. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they beat the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics in 6 games to advance to the NBA Finals. The Bullets were favorites to win the NBA Championship, but were shockingly swept by the Rick Barry-led Golden State Warriors in 4 games. They lost game 4 at the Capital Centre.
The loss at the NBA Finals lingered into the 1975-76 NBA season as they won 12 fewer games than last year, and in the playoffs they were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 7 games. After the season the Bullets fired head coach K.C. Jones, despite having a career 62% winning percentage as the Bullets head coach.
In the 1976-77 NBA season under new head coach Dick Motta, the Bullets would again fall short of the Central Division title for the second straight year. Elvin Hayes finished 6th in the league in rebounds with 12.5 rebounds per game. After opening the 1977 NBA Playoffs with a 3–game series victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bullets took a 2–1 series lead in the second round of against the Houston Rockets. With a chance to take a 3–1 series lead at home, the Bullets would lose 107–103 as the Rockets went on take the series in 6 games.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, they trailed the San Antonio Spurs 3–1, but they mounted a comeback by winning 2 straight games to force a Game 7 at the Cap Center. The Bullets would rally again, overcoming a 4th–quarter deficit to beat George Gervin and the Spurs 107-105 in one of the NBA's all-time greatest games and advance to the NBA Finals and a rematch with the Seattle SuperSonics. In Game 1, the Bullets defeated the SuperSonics 99-97 on two game winning free throws but lost the series to the Sonics in five games.
In '81, Washington played strong under the coaching of Gene Shue and Don Moran, finishing the regular season with a 43–39 record, and although they advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals in the playoffs, they had clearly lost their form of the late 70's. The Bullets continued to play with the same talent they had in the previous year. They finished with a winning record, but in a highly competitive Atlantic Division they finished last and missed the playoffs.
The next two years saw the Bullets continue to play mediocre basketball as they finished with losing records but they made the playoffs in the new expanded NBA Playoffs format that involved the 16 best teams to make the playoffs; the Bullets were eliminated in both years in the first round.
In 1985, the Bullets acquired Manute Bol, whose specialty was blocking shots. That year, he blocked 397 shots (a Bullets record), part of a team that blocked 716 shots (a Bullets team record). But the Bullets finished with a disappointing 39–43 record, and were eliminated by the 76ers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The Bullets acquired center Moses Malone from the Philadelphia 76ers for center Jeff Ruland the following season for hope of improvement. Moses would lead the team in scoring with a 24.1 points per game as he would be joined by Jeff Malone who averaged 22.0 points per game. The Bullets' 42–40 record would be their last winning season until the 1996-97 NBA season. Washington was eliminated by the Detroit Pistons in 3 games in the playoffs.
The Bullets selected Muggsy Bogues twelfth overall in the '87 Draft, who at 5'3" is the smallest player in NBA history. The Bullets would get off to a slow start as coach Kevin Loughery was fired 27 games into the season with the Bullets holding an 8–19 record. To replace Loughery, the Bullets hired former MVP Wes Unseld. Under Unseld the Bullets improved as they were able to reach the playoffs again with a record of 38–44. After losing the first 2 games on the road in the first round of the 1988 NBA Playoffs to the Detroit Pistons, the Bullets fought back and forced a 5th game with 2 home wins. They would lose game 5 by 21 points. It would be 9 years before Washington would return to the NBA Playoffs.
The lone highlight of the Bullets 30 win 1990–91 season was the successful comeback effort by Bernard King as he recovered from knee surgery he suffered while playing for the Knicks in the 1984-85 NBA season to finish 3rd in the NBA in scoring with a 28.4 points per game. In 1991, the team would name Susan O'Malley as its president, the first female president of a franchise in the history of the NBA. She is the sister of former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley and the daughter of former Dodger owner Walter O'Malley.
Injuries continue to bite the Bullets as key players Rex Chapman and Calbert Cheaney (the club's 1st round draft pick) miss significant stretches, and Pervis Ellison misses almost the entire season. The result was a miserable 24–58 record for the 1993-94 season, but help from the Michigan Wolverines was on the way.
The Bullets selected Juwan Howard in the 1994 NBA Draft and traded Tom Gugliotta along with three first round draft picks to the Golden State Warriors for the rights to Chris Webber. While the season started out with promise, a shoulder injury to Chris Webber (ironically against the Warriors) caused him to miss 19 games and the Bullets struggled through the rest of the season finishing a then franchise worst (percentage wise) 21–61. Webber averaged 20.1 ppg and 9.6 rpg but declined surgery for his dislocated shoulder. This would prove costly for the next season.
The Bullets 95–96 season seemed over before it started as Webber suffered a dislocated left shoulder in a preseason game against Indiana on October 21 and opened the season on the injured list. He was activated on Nov. 27, but strained his shoulder against New York on Dec. 29. After hoping the injury would get better with rest, Webber finally underwent surgery on Feb. 1 which sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The Bullets were 9–6 with Webber in the lineup as he averaged a team-high 23.7 points plus 7.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.80 steals in 37.2 minutes per game when he was able to play. Other players injured included Mark Price (who only played in 7 games) and Robert Pack (31 games played out of 82). Bright spots of the season included the selection of Rasheed Wallace in the 1995 NBA Draft and the All-Star play of Howard. Juwan averaged a career best 22.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg and kept the Bullets slim playoff hopes alive until the end of the season. The Bullets improved to 39–43 but just missed the playoffs.
Washington, boasting the league's tallest player (center Gheorghe Mureşan 7'7"), two very athletic forwards (Juwan and Webber) and one of the league's top point guards (Rod Strickland), struggled out of the gate to a 22–24 start. That led to the dismissal of Head Coach Jim Lynam. Bernie Bickerstaff, an assistant coach with the Bullets when they won their only NBA Championship in 1978, was called upon to resurrect his former team. The Bullets responded, winning 16 of their final 21 games to finish 44–38, their best record since 1978-79. The late surge enabled the Bullets to climb within reach of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the final playoff spot. In a winner-take-the-eighth-playoff-spot game with the Cavaliers on the season's final day, the Bullets squeezed past Cleveland 85–81 to end the franchise's longest playoff drought. And while the Bullets were swept by the Bulls in the first round, they lost the three games by a total of just 18 points, a sign that the team is one to be reckoned with.
Webber led the way in scoring (20.1 ppg), rebounding (10.3) and blocks (1.9) and shot 51.8 percent from the floor to make his first All-Star team. Howard averaged 19.1 ppg and 8.0 rpg, while Strickland averaged 17.2 ppg and 1.74 spg and finished fifth in the league in assists with 8.9 per game. Muresan dominated the middle and led the NBA in field goal percentage (.599). Washington also received valuable contributions from Calbert Cheaney (10.6 ppg) and Tracy Murray (10.0 ppg).
In 1995, owner Abe Pollin announced that the franchise was to be renamed because Bullets carried violent overtones, which he wanted to repudiate, especially since Washington was experiencing some of the highest homicide rates in the country at the time. A contest was held to choose a new name and the choices were narrowed to the Dragons, Express, Stallions, Sea Dogs, or Wizards. On May 15, 1997, the Bullets officially became the Washington Wizards. The change generated some controversy because Wizard is a rank in the Ku Klux Klan. A new logo was unveiled and the team colors were changed from the traditional red, white and blue to blue, black and bronze, the same colors as the Washington Capitals, a hockey team also owned by Pollin (the Capitals were traditionally red, white, and blue and would return to that scheme in 2007). That same year the Wizards moved to the then MCI Center, now called Verizon Center. The Verizon Center is also home to the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League, the Washington Mystics of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and the Georgetown Hoyas men's college basketball team.
In 1998, they became the brother team to the WNBA's Washington Mystics.
The Wizards finished the lockout shortened season of 1998-99 with a record of 18-32. Mitch Richmond led the team in scoring with a 19.7 ppg average. In the 1999-00 season, the Wizards finished with a 29-53 record. Mitch Richmond led the team with 17.4 ppg. 1999 NBA Draft pick Richard Hamilton led the team in scoring the following season with 18.1 ppg on a team that finished with a 19-63 record (a franchise low).
On February 23, 2001, the Wizards were involved in a blockbuster trade days before the trading deadline. The team sent Juwan, Obinna Ekezie and Calvin Booth to the Dallas Mavericks. In return, Washington received Hubert Davis, Courtney Alexander, Christian Laettner, Loy Vaught and Etan Thomas along with $3 million.
Jordan's stint with the Washington Wizards was closely watched by both fans and the media.
The Wizards replaced Jordan's managerial role with coach Eddie Jordan and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld. The team's current roster only has two holdovers from the Michael Jordan era: Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood.
With a 93-82 win over the Chicago Bulls on April 13 2005, the Wizards clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 1996-97. Long suffering fans celebrated by buying over 16,000 playoff tickets in two and a half hours the day tickets went on sale. In game 3 of the first round against the Bulls, the Wizards won their first playoff game since 1988. Adding to the "long-overdue" feeling was the fact that game 3 was also the first NBA playoff game to be held within Washington, D.C. city limits. In the Wizards' game 5 victory in Chicago, Arenas hit a buzzer-beater to win the game and the Wizards took their first lead in a playoff series since 1986. In Game 6 at the MCI Center, Jared Jeffries picked up a loose ball and went in for an uncontested tiebreaking dunk with 32 seconds left, thus giving the Washington Wizards a 94-91 win and the team's their first playoff series win in 23 years. They were only the 12th team in NBA history to win a playoff series after being down 0-2.
The 2005-06 NBA season was one filled with ups and downs. During the offseason, Washington acquired Caron Butler and Antonio Daniels. During the regular season, the Wizards again had the best scoring trio in the NBA, this time consisting of Arenas, Jamison and Butler as the "Big Three." The Wizards started the 2005–06 season at 5–1, but went on an 8–17 funk to go to 13–18 through 31 games. Then, they went 13–5 in the next 18 games. On April 5, 2006, the team was 39–35 and looking to close in on the 45 win mark achieved the previous year, until Caron suffered a thumb sprain and the Wizards lost all five games without him. Butler returned and the team pulled out their final three games, against the Pistons, Cavs and Bucks, all playoff bound teams, to finish the year at 42–40 and clinch the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference. They averaged 101.7 points a game, 3rd in the NBA and tops in the East and clinched a playoff berth for the second year in a row for the first time since 1987.
Their first round match up with Cleveland was widely seen as the most evenly matched series in the 2006 NBA Playoffs. The teams exchanged wins during the first two games in Cleveland, with Game 2 highlighted by the Wizards holding LeBron James to 7-25 shooting from the floor while Brendan Haywood gave James a hard foul in the first quarter that many cited as the key to shaking up the rest of LeBron's game. In Game 3 at the Verizon Center, James hit a 4-footer on the way down with 5.7 seconds left to take the game and the series lead for the Cavs with a 97–96 win. Arenas missed a potential game winning 3-pointer on the other end to seal the win for the Cavs. Game 4 saw the Wizards heat up again, as Gilbert scored 20 in the fourth quarter after claiming he changed his jersey, shorts, shoes and tights in the locker room and the Wizards won 106–96. Yet in Games 5 and 6, the Cavs would take control of the series, both games decided by one point in overtime.
In Game 5, despite the Wizards being down 107-100 with 1:18 to play, the team drove back and eventually tied the game on Caron Butler's layup with 7.5 seconds remaining to send the game to OT, where James would score with 0.9 seconds left in overtime to send the Cavs to a 121-120 win. The series came back to the newly-named Verizon Center for Game 6, where the game went back and forth all night. The Wizards blew a 14-point first-quarter lead, then for 24 minutes, from early in the second quarter to early in the fourth, neither team led by more than five points at any time. The Wizards blew a seven point lead with just under 5 to play and needed Arenas to hit a 31-footer at the end of regulation to take the game to overtime. In OT, Gilbert missed two key free throws after James taunted Arenas at the line. Cleveland rebounded the ball, went downcourt and Damon Jones hit a 17-foot baseline jumper with 4.8 seconds remaining to give the Cavs the lead for good. Butler would miss a 3-pointer on the other end to seal the game, and the series, for the Cavaliers.
The 2006-07 season started out very promising for the Wizards. In the offseason they signed free agents DeShawn Stevenson and Darius Songaila. Etan Thomas beat out Haywood for the starting center job. After starting the season 0-8 on the road, Washington rebounded to win 6 of 7 away from Verizon Center. After a 4–9 November, Washington went 22–9 through December and January. Arenas scored a franchise-record 60 points against the Lakers on December 17. Both he and Eddie Jordan were named player of the month and coach of the month for December, respectively. On January 3 and again on January 15, Gilbert hit buzzer-beating three-pointers to beat Milwaukee and Utah.
On January 30, Antawn Jamison went down with a sprained left knee in a win against Detroit. Washington went 4–8 in the 12 games without him. On February 3, Songaila made his Wizards debut against the Lakers. On February 18th, Eddie Jordan became the first Wizards/Bullets coach to coach the NBA All-Star Game since Dick Motta in 1978-1979. Arenas played in his 3rd straight All-Star game and Caron Butler made his All-Star Game debut.
On March 14, Butler went out with a knee injury that kept him out of the lineup for six games. He returned for only three games until he fractured his right hand on April 1 against Milwaukee. On April 4, Gilbert suffered a season-ending knee injury, of the meniscus. An April 15th article in The Washington Post pointed out that with Arenas and Caron gone, the team had lost 42.3% of their offensive production, quite possibly "the most costly" loss for any team in the midst of a playoff hunt in NBA history.
Despite their late season struggles without Arenas and Butler, the Wizards still managed to make the Eastern Conference playoffs, taking the 7th seed at 41-41. They were swept 4 games to none in a rematch of last year's first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite a depleted roster, the Wizards still managed to keep things close in every game in the series and only lost the final three games by a combined 20 points. Business-wise, the team enjoyed their best attendance figures in the post-Michael Jordan era with a season attendance of 753,283 (18,372 per game) .
The team began the season starting 0–5, but rebounded to win six straight. After 8 games, Gilbert Arenas underwent surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in his left knee, as well as a microfracture surgery. This was the same knee he had injured the previous year. The injury forced Arenas out for a total of 68 games. Midway through the season, Caron Butler was forced to the sidelines for a total of 20 games with what initially was a strained hip flexor, but turned out to be a labral tear. Despite all of the injuries, the Wizards managed to go 43-39 on the regular season, good for 5th place in the Eastern Conference and a first-round playoff matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third straight season.
The Washington Wizards will be having minor modifications on their team jerseys and logos. To accommodate the gold/black alternate jerseys they introduced last season along with the design change on the Verizon Center floor, they changed their secondary team colors from bronze to metallic gold, and the player's name on the back of the jersey is changed from white/blue with bronze trim to gold (blue on home uniforms) with a change in lettering.
In September, Gilbert Arenas underwent a third operation on his surgically repaired left knee to clean out fluid and debris, and is expected to miss at least the first month of the season. In the first game of the preseason, Antawn Jamison suffered a right knee contusion, and is expected to miss the rest of the preseason. Center Brendan Haywood also announced that he will undergo surgery on his right wrist and is expected to miss four to six months. The preseason also marked the return of Etan Thomas who had missed all of the 2007-2008 season while recovering from open heart surgery.
The Wizards and Cavaliers met again in the 2007 NBA Playoffs, this time as a 2-7 matchup. The injury-riddled Wizards (they were missing Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler) were swept 4-0 by Cleveland. Antawn Jamison averaged a team-high 32 points per game in the series.
In April 2008, Arenas made comments saying Cleveland was only a .500 team since a midseason blockbuster trade. After the conclusion of the 2007-08 regular season, the Wizards and Cavaliers were pitted against each other yet again in a 4-5 first-round matchup. Following a regular-season win on March 13th, guard DeShawn Stevenson made comments saying LeBron James was "overrated." James responded to the comment by saying that he wouldn't return the insult, as that would be "almost like Jay-Z [responding to a negative comment] made by Soulja Boy. Soulja Boy made an appearance at Game 3 of the series (played in Washington) in support of the Wizards; his music was played over the PA system. Jay-Z, a close friend of James, got involved in the rivalry as well, making a song that trashed Stevenson. The day after Game 3, James reserved a private room at a D.C. area nightclub called "Love" for himself and his teammates. Jay-Z's new song was played while Cavs guard Damon Jones made negative gestures about the Wizards. Unbeknownst to the Cavaliers, Wizards star Caron Butler and his wife were also present, and they stormed out of the nightclub. According to the ABC broadcast of Game 4, Butler and the Wizards have sworn never to visit that particular club again, despite often frequenting it in the past. After suffering a late-game loss in Game 4 at the hands of a Delonte West three-pointer, Washington won a nail-biting Game 5 in Cleveland to bring the series back to Washington for Game 6 of the series. Prior to Game 6, Darius Songaila, a reserve forward, was suspended for hitting LeBron James in the face in the first quarter of Game 5, and without Songaila, the Wizards suffered a season-ending defeat to Cleveland, and lost the series 4-2.
Dating back to the start of the 2005-06 season, the Wizards and Cavaliers have played each other a combined 30 times (including preseason), far more than they have played any other team in the league.
The Hall also honors Arnold "Red" Auerbach, who played collegiately at D.C.'s George Washington University, and Horace "Bones" McKinney, who played for the Washington Capitols in the early days of the NBA. Both men also coached the Capitols, who played from the NBA's founding in 1946 until the team folded in 1951.
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