The Washington Wizards began as the Chicago Packers in 1961, spent 10 seasons in Baltimore and finally landed in Washington as the Capital Bullets in 1973-74 and the Washington Bullets in 1974-75.
After achieving moderate success for a decade, the Bullets developed into a championship unit in the 1970s, built around rugged center Wes Unseld and talented scorer and rebounder Elvin Hayes. Washington made it to the NBA Finals four times during the 1970s and defeated the Seattle SuperSonics for the NBA championship in 1977-78.
The Bullets were a model of consistency through the '80s, establishing an NBA record by winning at least 35 games in each of 22 consecutive years (from 1967-68 through 1988-89). A seven-year postseason drought ended in 1996-97 when the Bullets advanced to the playoffs, losing a hard-fought series to the Chicago Bulls. The final game of that series, a 96-95 loss on April 30, 1997, marked the end of an era.
On May 15 the team officially became known as the Washington Wizards. At the same time, the team prepared for a move from suburban Landover, Md., to MCI Center in downtown Washington under the ownership of Abe and Irene Pollin. Today, the F Street block that Verizon Center sits on is named Abe Pollin Way in honor of his contributions to the franchise and the Washington D.C. area. His 46 years of ownership marked the longest tenure in NBA history.
Ted Leonsis took over as majority owner of the Wizards from the Pollins in June 2010 as part of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which also owns and operates the NHL's Washington Capitals, the WNBA's Washington Mystics and Verizon Center. Since then, the Wizards have returned to the playoffs and now stand as a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference with a strong young nucleus.
1961-62: Bellamy Leads 'Pack' Attack
At the beginning of the 1960s the NBA was an eight-team league coping with growing pains. The Boston Celtics were launching their dynasty, the Lakers had just moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles, and stars such as Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell were bringing a higher profile to the pro game.
NBA owners decided to initiate the first expansion since the league's inception in 1949, and after paying an entry fee of $500,000, the Packers were admitted in 1961.
The team's first roster featured the usual expansion mix of aging players, journeymen and college draft choices. The best of the lot was 6'11" Walt Bellamy, a center from Indiana who had been selected with the first pick in the draft.
The 1961-62 season began Oct. 19, when the Packers lost to the New York Knicks, 120-103, in the franchise's first NBA game. Oct. 27 they notched their first win by beating the St. Louis Hawks, 117-106. Victories proved hard to come by after that, and the Packers, coached by Jim Pollard, finished a distant last in the Western Division with an 18-62 record.
Bellamy averaged 31.6 points and 19.0 rebounds, both franchise records that would stand for more than three decades. The big center also set club season records for points (2,495), field goals (973) and rebounds (1,500). He was second in the league in scoring to Wilt Chamberlain (50.4 ppg), led the league in field goal percentage at .519, and was named NBA Rookie of the Year.
1962-63: A New Nickname but Familiar Results
Prior to the 1962-63 season the Packers changed their name to the Zephyrs, but they again finished in last place in the West with a 25-55 record.
The team boasted two terrific offensive players. Bellamy repeated as team leader in scoring (27.9 ppg) and rebounding (16.4 rpg). Terry Dischinger, a 6'7" forward, added 25.5 points per game and was named NBA Rookie of the Year, succeeding Bellamy as the second top newcomer for the franchise.
The 1963 NBA Draft yielded Rod Thorn of West Virginia. More important to the future of the franchise was the second-round pick, Gus Johnson of Idaho, who eventually became one of the best players in team history. In his nine seasons with the club, the 6'6", 235-pound Johnson pioneered the modern power forward position, specializing in ferocious, driving slam dunks that had been relatively uncommon in the league before he made them a regular part of his repertoire.
1963-67: Baltimore, Earl "The Pearl" & the Pollins
On March 25, 1963, the franchise moved to Baltimore and was renamed the Bullets. Baltimore's roster included Bellamy, Dischinger and Johnson, along with Gene Shue and Kevin Loughery, two players who later went on to coach the Bullets.
The club finished the 1963-64 season at 31-49, good enough for fourth place in the Western Division. Bellamy ranked fourth in the NBA with 27.0 points per game, backed by Dischinger (20.8 ppg, ninth in the league) and Johnson (17.3). Bellamy also set a club record by making 22 field goals against Philadelphia on January 21.
Also in 1964, the team's ownership changed hands as Abe & Irene Pollin led an investment group that purchased the Baltimore Bullets. Abe & Irene Pollin would own the team for the next 46 years, becoming the longest tenured owner of an NBA franchise.
A blockbuster trade the next season sent Dischinger, Thorn and Don Kojis to the Detroit Pistons for Bailey Howell, Don Ohl, Bob Ferry, and Wally Jones. The trade worked out well for Baltimore, and the 1964-65 team improved slightly to 37-43. The Bullets excelled at home, compiling a 23-14 record, but they struggled on the road, winning only 12 contests. Bellamy was great anytime and anywhere, but especially on Dec. 4 when he set a club record by hauling down 37 rebounds against St. Louis.
Despite its losing record, Baltimore made it into the playoffs in 1965. The Bullets shredded St. Louis in the division semifinals before falling in six games to Los Angeles in the Western Division Finals. For the fourth consecutive season Bellamy led the team in scoring (24.8 ppg) and rebounding (14.6 rpg).
A few games into the 1965-66 season, Bellamy was sent to New York for Jim Barnes, Johnny Green and Johnny Egan. The team made up for the loss of its superstar by focusing on a team-oriented approach. The Bullets managed to finish 38-42, good enough for second place and a playoff spot in the West behind the Los Angeles Lakers, but they were swept by St. Louis in the division semifinals.
The team struck gold in the 1967 NBA Draft. Baltimore had the second pick and selected 6-3 guard Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, who had amassed a Division II-record 2,935 points at Winston-Salem State College.
Monroe helped the Bullets improve to 36-46 in 1967-68 after a dismal 1966-67 that saw Baltimore go 20-61. The Pearl was a flashy player, a deft ballhandler and a creative, unconventional shotmaker. He was the first player to make the reverse spin on the dribble a trademark move. Monroe led the squad in scoring (24.3 ppg, fourth in the league) and assists (4.3 apg) and was named NBA Rookie of the Year.
On Feb. 3 Monroe set the club single-game scoring mark by toasting the Los Angeles Lakers for 56 points. On Feb. 24 he set another record with 26 free throw attempts in a game against Detroit. On March 1 he led the team to a club-record 156-point effort against the San Diego Rockets. (Baltimore won the game, 156-114.)
Picking second in the NBA Draft for the second consecutive year, the Bullets hit the jackpot once again when they selected 6'7", 245-pound center Wes Unseld, a two-time All-American from Louisville. Unseld played 13 seasons with the Bullets, turning them into an Eastern Division power, and then served for seven years as their coach.
Baltimore showed dramatic improvement in 1968-69, with the rookie Unseld leading the way. The Bullets' 57-25 record was the best in the NBA, and they rocketed from the cellar to the top spot in the Eastern Division.
The team possessed multiple offensive threats. Monroe averaged 25.8 points, his career high and second in the league to San Diego rookie Elvin Hayes's 28.4 average. Loughery added 22.6 points per game and was joined in double figures by Gus Johnson (17.9 ppg), Jack Marin (15.9), Wes Unseld (13.8) and Ray Scott (11.8).
1968-1969: Unseld Earns MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards
Unseld averaged 18.2 rebounds as a rookie, his career best and the second-highest total in franchise history. His superior performance did not go unrewarded; he was named both Rookie of the Year and NBA Most Valuable Player at season's end. He and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players ever to receive both awards during the same season.
Gene Shue was honored for the team's 21-game improvement by being named 1968-69 NBA Coach of the Year. Although they were swept by the Knicks in the opening round of the playoffs, the Bullets were on the verge of becoming contenders. They saw postseason action in each of the next 11 seasons and reached the Finals four times.
Unseld defined the blue-collar ethic that characterized the successful Bullets teams of the 1970s. He was not a great scorer, but Bill Russell had already proven that a center could control a game in other ways. Unseld was short for a center, but he was bulky and quick and had a great sense of the game. His strengths were rebounding and passing; his knack for clearing the boards and then making a quick and accurate outlet pass turned the Bullets into a dangerous, fast-breaking team.
1969-71: The Highest-Scoring Team in Franchise History
The 1969-70 Bullets went 50-32 to finish in third place in the Eastern Division behind the Knicks and the Milwaukee Bucks. In November they matched their all-time-best winning streak by taking nine straight games (three of them from the Phoenix Suns). After the first of the year the Bullets never dropped more than two games in a row, and they finished the campaign by winning six of their final eight contests.
This was the highest-scoring Bullets team in franchise history, pouring in 120.7 points per game and setting a club record with 3,925 field goals. Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe made for a formidable inside-outside tandem, with Unseld grabbing 16.7 rebounds per contest and Monroe averaging 23.4 points. Kevin Loughery scored 21.9 points per game, while Jack Marin added another 19.7. Gus Johnson, Unseld and Mike Davis also averaged double figures.
For the second consecutive season, the Bullets encountered New York in the Eastern Division Semifinals. They put up a good fight before falling in seven games to the title-bound Knicks.
The team fell to 42-40 in 1970-71, but Baltimore's record was good enough to earn the club the first of five consecutive division titles. The season saw both the biggest margin of victory and the biggest margin of defeat in club history. On Nov. 24 the Bullets poured in 156 points against the Portland Trail Blazers to tie the club scoring record set in 1967-68. The 49-point margin of victory was also the largest in team history. Six weeks later, on Jan. 10, the Milwaukee Bucks wracked the Bullets, 151-99.
After a moderately successful regular season, the team hit its stride in the playoffs, advancing all the way to the NBA Finals. The Bullets survived two tough series along the way, beginning with a seven-game grind against Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals. In the next round Baltimore dropped the first two games to the defending-NBA-champion New York Knicks. But Unseld and Gus Johnson regained control of the boards, and the Bullets forced a seventh game, which they won, 93-91. Baltimore then faced the formidable Milwaukee Bucks with Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson in the 1971 NBA Finals, and the Bucks trounced the Bullets in four straight.
1971-73: Bullets Lose Their 'Pearl'
The Bullets slumped to 38-44 in 1971-72 but still won their division. Three games into the season, Earl Monroe was sent to New York for Dave Stallworth, Mike Riordan and cash. Although the team lost its focus without Monroe (who would help the Knicks win a championship in 1973), three players had outstanding individual years. Archie Clark led the team in scoring with 25.1 points per game and set a club record with 8.0 assists per contest, while Unseld's 17.6 rebounds per game ranked second in the NBA to Wilt Chamberlain's 19.2.
Baltimore's postseason run was brief in 1972. The Bullets drew the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and lost in six games.
The Bullets improved in 1972-73, posting a 52-30 record as a revamped lineup began to take shape. Baltimore had a new point guard in rookie Kevin Porter and a new star in 6'9" forward Elvin "The Big E" Hayes, who had been acquired from the Houston Rockets during the off-season. While the team members got acquainted, the Bullets broke out of the gate slowly, posting a 6-9 record over the first month of the season. Then the team picked up momentum, thanks to a 10-4 showing in December. Phil Chenier made 22 field goals in a game on Dec. 6 against Portland, tying Walt Bellamy's 1964 franchise mark, and scored 53 points, the second-highest total in Bullets history behind Earl Monroe's mark of 56, set in 1968.
The Bullets were well-balanced offensively. Hayes led in scoring with 21.2 points per game, and Chenier, Mike Riordan, and Archie Clark all averaged more than 18 points. The club's hot December was followed by an even more productive January, as the Bullets went 12-2, soaring to 15 games over .500. The team closed out the season by taking six of its final nine contests. That momentum carried them into, but not through the playoffs. For the second consecutive season Baltimore was knocked out by the New York Knicks, who won a five-game conference semifinal series en route to the NBA championship.
1973-74: Team Feels Effects of Unseld's Absence
The Bullets ebbed a bit in 1973-74 after K. C. Jones replaced Gene Shue as coach. The team had trouble keeping its focus because Unseld missed long stretches with injuries. As the Capital Bullets (a name they used only briefly), the team went 47-35 and met New York for the third consecutive year in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bullets fell again, although they provided tougher competition than they had in the previous two postseasons, extending the Knicks to seven games.
Unseld saw action in only 56 games. In his absence, Elvin Hayes set a franchise record by averaging 44.5 minutes per game. He also led the league in rebounding with 18.1 boards per game, the third-highest average in Bullets history. But the team that had scored more than 120 points per game four seasons earlier was now down to 101.9 points per contest. Phil Chenier topped the club in scoring with 21.9 points per game, with Hayes right behind at 21.4.
1974-77: Spectacular Season Falls Short
The Bullets improved dramatically in 1974-75. Their 60-22 record was the best in franchise history and tied the Boston Celtics for tops in the league. Now named the Washington Bullets, they took their sixth division title in seven years. The team held the top spot from wire to wire, with a 7-0 start, a seven-game winning streak at midseason and an eight-game string in late February and early March. The Bullets were nearly unbeatable at home, posting a 36-5 record.
After an outstanding regular season, the Bullets had a tougher road in the playoffs. Washington defeated Buffalo in seven games in the conference semifinals, then beat Boston in a rugged six-game conference finals. The Bullets advanced to the NBA Finals for the second time in five years. Washington was favored over a young Golden State Warriors squad led by Rick Barry, but the Bullets lost their shooting touch in the Finals, and the Warriors prevailed in four straight games.
Unseld led the NBA in rebounding (14.8 rpg), and Kevin Porter topped the league in assists (8.0 apg). Phil Chenier set a club steals mark, averaging 2.29 thefts. Hayes led the squad in scoring (23.0 ppg) with ample support from Chenier (21.8). The Bullets held opponents to only 97.5 points per game, the stingiest defense in club history, while averaging 104.7 points themselves.
The 1975-76 Bullets went 48-34 but failed to win the Central Division for the first time in six seasons. They also made an early exit from the playoffs, bowing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Unseld led the NBA in field goal percentage at .561, breaking Walt Bellamy's 1961-62 franchise mark. Chenier led Washington in scoring with 19.9 points per game, just a hair better than Hayes's 19.8 average. Dave Bing, who had come over from Detroit, poured in another 16.2 points per game.
The 1976-77 squad had both Hayes and Chenier average more than 20 points per game and finished 48-34, good for second in the Central. They snuck by the Cavs in the first round but fell in six games to the Houston Rockets in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
1977-78: The Glory Days
Although they seemed to have tailed off a bit after a few great seasons (they had gone 48-34 in 1976-77), the 1977-78 campaign would prove to be the Bullets' glory year. Led by new head coach Dick Motta, the Bullets finally won the NBA championship after posting a modest 44-38 record during the regular season.
The Bullets began 1977-78 looking like champions, winning 24 of their first 39 games. Then they hit a skid and dropped nine of their next 11. Phil Chenier was lost to a back injury, but the Bullets were able to acquire free agent Bob Dandridge. They righted themselves somewhat in February and March with two modest four-game winning streaks, then stumbled down the stretch. The club posted a respectable 29-12 home record, but they were a dismal 15-26 on the road. Washington finished second to the San Antonio Spurs in the Central Division.
In the playoffs the Bullets regained their early-season form, sweeping the Atlanta Hawks and then eliminating the Spurs and the Philadelphia 76ers to reach the NBA Finals. Washington's opponent was the Seattle SuperSonics, an unsung team that had been energized by the midseason arrival of coach Lenny Wilkens. The Bullets had been swept out of the NBA Finals in their previous two appearances (1971 and 1975), but the third time would prove to be a charm.
The 1978 NBA Finals was a thrilling, seesaw confrontation. After falling behind three games to two, in five close contests (four of the games were decided by four points or less), the Bullets clobbered the Sonics, 117-82, in Game 6. Then on June 7, behind series MVP Wes Unseld, Washington outlasted Seattle, 105-99, to take Game 7 and claim the NBA championship.
1978-81 Sonics Turn Tables on Bullets in Finals
The following season the Bullets topped the league with a 54-28 record, the third-best mark in franchise history. The key to the team's success lay in its strong front line of Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge. Washington got off to a 4-0 start, lost five games, were average for a while, then gathered momentum with a nine-game winning streak. On Nov. 17 the Bullets tied the club record for margin of victory, defeating the New Jersey Nets by a whopping 49 points, 143-94, to match the earlier mark set in 1970-71.
The squad struggled at the end of the year, going 3-8 during the season's final few weeks. In the playoffs the Bullets survived a pair of seven-game series against Atlanta and San Antonio (fighting back from a three-games-to-one deficit against the Spurs) before meeting Seattle again in the 1979 NBA Finals. The Bullets won the opening game but then dropped four straight to the Sonics, losing Game 5 at home, 97-93.
Just two years after the Bullets had won the NBA title, the 1979-80 Washington team plummeted to 39-43, beginning a decade of struggle. The 1980-81 club finished 39-43 for the second straight year. After 12 consecutive playoff appearances, the Bullets failed to qualify for postseason action. The team was showing its age with Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes visibly declining. Hayes led Washington in scoring with 17.8 points per game, the lowest team-leading average in Bullets history. On the brighter side, Kevin Porter set Bullets marks and led the league in assists, handing out 734 for an average of 9.1 per game.
1981-85: Unseld Retires, Hayes Traded
Wes Unseld retired after the 1980-81 season. He ranked No. 1 on the all-time Bullets list in games played (984), minutes played (35,832), rebounds (13,769) and, surprisingly for a center, assists (3,822). He scored 10,624 points overall and was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.
On June 8, 1981, Elvin Hayes was traded to Houston, the city where he had played college ball and was a local hero. He played three more years before retiring. He left the Bullets as the franchise leader in total points (15,551), field goals (6,251), free throws (3,046) and blocked shots (1,558). His Bullets career averages were 21.3 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. Hayes was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
The rebuilt 1981-82 Bullets improved to 43-39. They replaced Unseld with bruising overachievers such as 6'7", 215-pound Greg Ballard, who led the club in scoring with 18.8 points per game, and 6'11", 275-pound Jeff Ruland, who topped the Bullets with 9.3 rebounds per contest. Seven players averaged double figures in scoring.
The team had no superstars, relying instead on a collection of hard-working role players. The Bullets endured a rough start and were carrying a 9-15 record at Christmas. They continued to scrap, however, forging a seven-game winning skein in January, hanging tough through the second half of the campaign and posting winning streaks of four and five games during the final month to jump over the .500 mark for the year.
For his efforts, Gene Shue was named NBA Coach of the Year, the second time he had won that honor with the franchise. (In his first stint with the team Shue had been Coach of the Year in 1968-69.)
The Bullets still didn't have enough talent to dominate in 1982-83. They ended the year with a respectable 42-40 record that nonetheless landed them in the cellar of the highly competitive Atlantic Division. They averaged an all-time franchise-low 99.2 points and allowed only 99.3 points per game, the second-lowest total in club history. Hoping to improve its lackluster offense, Washington drafted 6'4" scoring machine Jeff Malone from Mississippi State. Malone eventually amassed 11,083 points for the Bullets, second only to Elvin Hayes on the franchise scoring list.
The 1983-84 Bullets slipped to 35-47, just good enough to make the playoffs, in which they were eliminated by Boston in four games. The year's bright spot was Ruland, who achieved career bests in every offensive category. He set a Bullets field goal percentage record at .579, breaking Wes Unseld's 1978-79 mark. Ruland also led the team in scoring (22.2 ppg) and rebounding (12.3 rpg).
The 1984-85 season was more of the same. The team fashioned a 40-42 record, lost Ruland to injuries for half the year and was immediately ushered out of the playoffs by Philadelphia. Gus Williams led Washington in scoring (20.0 ppg) and set club records for steals in a season, with 178, and steals in a game, with nine against Atlanta on Oct. 30.
1985-90: Bol, Blocks and Bogues
In the 1985 NBA Draft, Washington made a startling second-round draft selection, taking Bridgeport's 7'7" Manute Bol. The Sudanese Bol was one of the most unique players in NBA history. Pipe-cleaner thin at 225 pounds, he filled only one role — designated shotblocker. Bol blew every franchise blocked-shots record out of the water in 1985-86. On Jan. 25 he set an all-time club mark by blocking 15 shots in a game against Atlanta. That season Bol led the league with 397 blocks (4.96 per game), easily setting a Bullets record. Bol averaged more blocks than points (3.7 ppg). The rest of the team also chipped in to set a franchise record for blocks, snuffing 716 attempts on the year.
Bol was a diversion, but the Bullets were disappointing with a 39-43 record. Coach Gene Shue gave way to Kevin Loughery near the end of the season. The team made the playoffs for the third straight year but fell to Philadelphia in a five-game first-round series.
The 1986-87 Bullets showed little improvement, finishing 42-40, just good enough to make the playoffs, in which they lost in three straight games to Detroit. Moses Malone, picked up in a trade with Philadelphia involving Jeff Ruland, set a franchise record when he made 21 free throws against Golden State on Dec. 29. On Feb. 26 Bol matched his own club record by swatting 15 Indiana Pacers shots. And on April 8 Moses Malone scored 50 points against New Jersey, the fourth-highest total in Bullets history. He led the team in scoring with 24.1 points per game, followed by Jeff Malone at 22.0 points.
The team went 38-44 in 1987-88. The Bullets still had Bol, and their roster now also included rookie Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, the smallest player in NBA history at 5'3". Just 27 games into the season, with the team's record at 8-19, Loughery was relieved of his duties, and Wes Unseld became head coach. Under Unseld the Bullets went 30-25 and made the playoffs. For the fifth consecutive year they departed in the first round, but they did it with some style by forcing the eventual Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons to five games.
The 1988-89 Bullets improved to 40-42 but missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. The next five years would see a steep decline. Although they had endured stretches of mediocrity, the Bullets had put together 22 consecutive seasons with at least 35 victories per year. That mark for consistency was snapped in 1989-90 when the team's record fell to 31-51. Any hopes kindled by a 5-1 start disappeared with a 2-16 slide from mid-December to mid-January. Jeff Malone and Bernard King averaged 24.3 and 22.4 points, respectively, to lead the team.
1990-96: Bullets Rebuild
The following season the Bullets struggled to a 30-52 record. They were only four games under .500 at the beginning of February but then hit a nine-game losing streak in the middle of the month and were never able to get back on track. The season's individual highlights were provided by Bernard King. On Dec. 29, while the team was breaking the club scoring mark by beating Denver, 161-133, King poured in 52 points, the third-highest total in franchise history. On March 6 he scored 50 points against the Utah Jazz.
The reemergence of King was good news for the Bullets and one of the most inspirational stories in the league. He had successfully recovered from a career-threatening knee injury sustained while he was with the Knicks. King recovered fully in 1990-91, as he was named to the All-Star team and led Washington in scoring with 28.4 points per game, second in franchise history to Walt Bellamy's 31.6, tallied in 1961-62.
The 1994-95 season was one of change, injuries and more disappointment for Washington after six straight seasons without a playoff berth. The Bullets obtained point guard Scott Skiles in the off-season to run the club, drafted Michigan center-forward Juwan Howard and seemed to have their lineup set for the year: Tom Gugliotta and Don MacLean at forwards, Kevin Duckworth at center and Rex Chapman and Skiles at guards. By the last day of the season, however, none of those players was in the starting five.
The biggest change occurred early in the campaign. In a high-profile deal on Nov. 17, the Bullets traded Gugliotta and three future first-round draft picks to the Golden State Warriors for 1994 NBA Rookie of the Year Chris Webber, who had been disgruntled with the Warriors and was seeking a trade. Although Gugliotta was popular in Washington, Bullets fans viewed Webber as the kind of player who would be able to lead the team to postseason glory. The trade also reunited Webber and Howard, who had been front-line teammates on the University of Michigan's "Fab Five" squad that made two trips to the NCAA title game.
Despite stellar play from Webber and Howard, as well as the emergence of 7'7" Gheorghe Muresan as a solid NBA center and fan favorite, injuries wrecked the Bullets' chances for a winning season. Webber, who scored in double figures in every game after his debut, separated his shoulder a month after joining the team and was sidelined for 19 games. Chapman, Skiles, MacLean and Duckworth also missed significant portions of the season with injuries. In total, 14 players missed 317 player-games. Only one other NBA team had more players injured, and only three others lost more player-games. For the Bullets the result was a 21-61 record and a last-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
Washington's future brightened in the 1995 NBA Draft after they selected Rasheed Wallace with the fourth overall pick.
The Bullets in 1995-96 posted their highest win total in seven years, and an 18-game improvement over the prior year, but their 39-43 finish just wasn't good enough to get them back into the postseason.
Injuries again stifled the Bullets attack. Chris Webber, two years removed from being the NBA's Rookie of the Year, was limited to only 15 games by an injured shoulder. Point guard Mark Price played in only seven games; backup Robert Pack, only 31. Several other players also missed significant time.
The team rode the broad shoulders of Juwan Howard, who averaged 22.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 4.4 apg and emerged as the leader and as a star on the team, on and off the court. Howard led the Bullets on a seven-game winning streak in April, the Bullets longest since 1987-88. Even as the team's playoff hopes were devastated in an April 17 loss to Boston, Howard poured in a career-high 40 points. He was also named the national spokesperson for the Reading is Fundamental program.
Muresan also stepped up his game and was named the league's Most Improved Player after a season in which he averaged 14.5 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 2.26 bpg. Solid performances from Calbert Cheaney (15.1 ppg), Rasheed Wallace (all-rookie second team) and former CBA player Tim Legler (led the league with a .522 three-point field goal percentage and won the three-point shootout during All-Star weekend) gave the Bullets reason to believe that a trip to the playoffs wasn't far away. A summer trade brought Rod Strickland and Harvey Grant over from Portland, and a new-look Washington team was looking forward to the 1996-97 season.
1996-97: Bullets Storm Back to Playoffs
After going home empty-handed for the last eight seasons, the Bullets finally got a taste of the postseason. To get there, they had to ride a torrid six-week stretch and hold off Cleveland on the final day of the regular season - all for the right to play the world champion Chicago Bulls in the first round.
Washington, blessed with the league's tallest player (Muresan), two of the game's most athletic forwards (Juwan Howard and Chris Webber) and one of the league's top point guards (Rod Strickland), nonetheless 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 was one to be reckoned with in the future.
Webber led the way in scoring (20.1 ppg), rebounding (10.3) and blocks (1.9) and shot 51.8 % 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 clogged the middle and led the NBA in field goal percentage (.599).
The solid nucleus meant that most of Washington's changes for 1997-98 would be cosmetic. After the season the team unveiled a new logo, new uniforms and a new name — the Washington Wizards — and prepared for a move to the MCI Center in downtown Washington, D.C.
1997-98: Wizards Edged at Wire
It wasn't until the last day of the regular season that the Wizards (42-40) were denied a playoff berth. Washington finished with four straight victories, beating the Knicks, Cavaliers, Heat and Celtics to come back from four games out of the final playoff spot with only four games to play, all without point guard and NBA assist leader Rod Strickland.
The season began with five home games at US Airways Arena before the Wizards began playing in MCI Center on Dec. 2. The team compiled an impressive 24-12 record in the new arena, establishing an attendance record along the way.
Chris Webber led the Wizards in scoring (21.9 ppg), rebounding (9.5 rpg) and blocked shots (1.75 bpg) in 1997-98. Second to Webber on the team in scoring and rebounding was his Michigan teammate Juwan Howard, who finished the season at 18.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg. Howard, who missed 16 games in February and March with a sprained ankle, ranked in the league's top 10 in minutes with an average of 40.0 mpg.
Strickland, whose season ended on April 7 after he tore his left quadricep versus Chicago, won the NBA's assists title with 10.5 apg. He also averaged 17.8 ppg and led the Wizards in steals with 1.66 spg. Strickland became the 25th player in NBA history to score more than 10,000 points and hand out more than 5,000 assists. In less than two seasons in Washington, he already ranked eighth all-time in assists with 1,528, and his assists average of 9.7 wearing a Washington uniform is the best in the history of the franchise.
1998-2001: Richmond and Rip
Mitch Richmond, Rod Strickland and Juwan Howard gave Washington one of the NBA's terrific trios, but the Wizards' season was derailed by an aggravating April.
Richmond and forward/center Otis Thorpe joined Washington in an off-season trade that sent Chris Webber to Sacramento. Richmond, a six-time All-Star shooting guard, led the Wizards in scoring with 19.7 points per game and Thorpe averaged 11.3 points.
Strickland continued to be one of the NBA's top playmakers, averaging 15.7 points and finishing second in the league in assists (9.9 apg). Howard had another solid season at power forward, posting 18.9 and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Washington had a 13-17 record at the end of March and was still in the hunt for a playoff berth. But the team went 5-15 the rest of the lockout-shortened season and had losing streaks of five and seven games in April. Head coach Bernie Bickerstaff was replaced by assistant Jim Brovelli for the final 18 games.
Richard Hamilton led the Wizards in scoring at 18.1 ppg during the 2000-01 season. He also led the team in field goals made, free throws made and minutes played. Hamilton finished 12th in the NBA in free throw percentage (.868).
Chris Whitney led the team in assists (248) and three-pointers made (93).
Courtney Alexander finished the season fourth among NBA rookies in scoring (9.5 ppg) and first in free throws percentage (.820). Alexander averaged 17.0 ppg in 27 games with Washington. He also was named Schick Rookie of the Month in April.
The Wizards' 19 wins in the 2000-01 season were the second-fewest in a full season in franchise history. The team won 18 games in its inaugural 1961-62 season.
On Feb. 23 the Wizards were involved in a blockbuster trade days before the trading deadline. The team sent Juwan Howard, Obinna Ekezie and Calvin Booth to Dallas in exchange for five Mavericks and $3 million. The Wizards received Hubert Davis, Alexander, Christian Laettner, Loy Vaught and Etan Thomas.
2001-02: The Jordan Effect
Michael Jordan led the Wizards in scoring (22.9 ppg), assists (5.2 apg) and steals (1.42) in his first season in a Washington uniform. More importantly, he led the team to an 18-game improvement in the standings (19-63 to 37-45) from the year before. He also set a MCI Center scoring record with a 51-point effort vs. Charlotte on December 29.
Propelled by Jordan's comeback, the Wizards led the NBA in regular-season attendance and had a team-record 41 home sellouts and 38 road sellouts.
Doug Collins was named NBA Coach of the Month in December, while rookie Brendan Haywood was named "Got Milk?" Rookie of the Month for December.
The Wizards tied a franchise record by winning nine consecutive games from Dec. 6-26.
2002-03: A Final Farewell
The 2002-03 season would be the final goodbye for one of the NBA's greatest players as Michael Jordan finished out his historic 15 year career as a Wizard.
In his final season in the NBA, Jordan was the only Washington player to play in all 82 games, starting in 67 of them. He averaged 20 points, 6.1 rebounds 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game in his final year while shooting 45 % from the field and 82 % from the free throw line.
Even at 40, Jordan still amazed the fans who he had entertained for the last decade and a half. Throughout the season, Jordan scored 20 or more points 42 times, scored 30 or more points nine times and tallied 40 or more points three times. He clinched his position as the NBA's all-time points per game leader (30.12) at Miami on March 11, 2003.
Jerry Stackhouse, who was acquired in a trade with Detroit that sent Richard Hamilton to the Pistons, led the team in points and assists for the 2002-03 season. He averaged 21.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while shooting 40 % from the field and 88 % from the free throw line.
Stackhouse scored a season-high 38 points versus his former team, Philadelphia, on Nov. 30. He was named NBA Player of the Week for the week of November 4-10 after scoring 29 points, including the game-winning dunk as time expired, versus the three-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers on Nov. 8.
The Wizards were once again the most watched team in the league as they led the league in attendance for the second-straight year. The team averaged 20,173 for the 41 home games and 19,311 for 41 road games.
For the second consecutive year the Wizards finished with a 37-45 record. During one 10-game stretch the Wizards won seven games that included defeating the San Antonio Spurs 105-103 on New Year's Eve, a nail-biting, double-overtime 107-104 victory against the Indiana Pacers and road wins against the Boston Celtics, 100-95, and New York Knicks, 89-84.
2004-08: Big Three Take Wizards to Playoffs
Point guard Gilbert Arenas signed with the Wizards before the 2003-04 season, and his arrival in Washington would prove to help change the fortunes of the franchise in the post-Jordan era. While the team struggled in his first season in the nation’s capital (posting a 25-57 record), it didn’t take long for a new All-Star core to rebound.
The following season (2004-05) the Wizards posted a 45-37 record on the shoulders of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes. Both Arenas and Jamison represented Washington at the 2005 All-Star Game. The trio of Arenas, Jamison and Hughes combined to average just more than 67 points per game on the year. Arenas’ 25.5 points per game led the team and was good for seventh in the NBA. The franchise earned its first playoff berth as the Wizards and its first since the 1996-97 season. Washington’s playoff run came to an end in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Caron Butler joined the fold for the 2005-06 season, and with a new big three leading the way, the Wizards made three straight playoff appearances from 2005-08. During that stretch Arenas, Jamison and Butler made a combined seven All-Star appearances (Arenas 2005-07, Jamison in 2005 and 2008 and Butler 2006-08).
2010-Present: The John Wall Era
Like the Big Three's tenure in D.C., the Wall era had humble beginnings. A changing of the guard had just occurred in Washington prior to Wall’s arrival. Ted Leonsis completed his purchase of the Wizards from Abe & Irene Pollin the June before Wall was drafted, and a new beginning was underway with Flip Saunders as head coach.
When the Wizards selected the All-American from Kentucky with the top pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the franchise had won a combined 45 games the prior two seasons (2008-09, 2009-10). In Wall’s first three seasons in Washington, the team’s winning percentage was better than 45 %. Despite the early struggles, savvy draft decisions would begin to pay off as Wall blossomed into an NBA star.
The 2013-14 season marked a turning of the corner for a young team with a bright future. Under the guidance of head coach Randy Wittman, the Wizards’ “House of Guards” (Wall and then NBA sophomore Bradley Beal) took flight and led the Wizards to a 44-38 record and their first playoff appearance since the 2007-08 season. Wall averaged a career-high 19.3 points as well as 8.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game, earning his first All-Star appearance. Beal also posted a career best in points (17.1 per game). The Wizards reached the Eastern Conference semifinals before losing to the Pacers in six games.
Washington returned to the playoffs in the 2014-15 season with the core of Wall, Beal, Marcin Gortat and Nene. Wall earned his first All-Star start at the 2015 All-Star Game after compiling more than 886,000 votes. But this season was a little different from years past. 10-time All-Star Paul Pierce joined the Wizards for one season, adding invaluable locker room leadership. The team finished with a 46-36 record, but again fell in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Atlanta Hawks in six games. Despite the clutch shooting of Pierce throughout the playoffs, a hand/wrist injury for Wall kept him out of three games in the series. Wall's absence hurt Washington, as it lost Games 2 and 4 without him in the lineup.