I confess to being a traditionalist. I like baseball and apple pie although I gave up hot dogs year ago. I think the Big Ten should have 10 teams. I’m not a huge fan of the NHL’s shootout concept. Give me “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” over “Sweet Caroline” at any park.
But basketball has always seemed a little different to me. The ABA’s gaudy red, white and blue ball was cool. The 45-second clock made college hoops a better game and the three-point shot made a beautiful skill more important and the 7-footers less critical.
The late Abe Pollin, who made his fortune in construction before buying the floundering Bullets and founding the Capitals, was a likely traditionalist and yet in the 1990s he changed the former’s name to the Wizards and switched both teams’ colors from red, white and blue to bronze, blue and black.
Ted Leonsis, who bought the Caps in 1999 and the Wizards last year, made his millions as an AOL executive and plays the role of cool uncle – always chatting online with fans and conspicuously cheering in the stands – to Pollin’s distant but benevolent grandfather.
And yet, with today’s unveiling of the Wizards’ new red, white and blue color scheme, Leonsis has now made that move with both teams during the past four years.
Good for Ted. I may abhor the haughty New York Yankees but revere their pinstripes. Red Yankees caps look ridiculous as do green Red Sox ones. And don’t even get me started on black Redskins gear (I make an exception for pink caps et al since they’re part of the fight against breast cancer). Team colors are team colors, especially those that have endured for generations like the uniforms of baseball’s Tigers, Dodgers and Cardinals.
The Redskins’ burgundy and gold dates to their 1930s beginnings while the Nats’ red and white is a tribute to the expansion Senators, their lamentable predecessors.
And now not only do the Caps wear uniforms that resemble those they wore during their first 31 seasons, the Wizards will now summon sweet memories for fans over 40 of the Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes-led Bullets, who reached three NBA finals and won the franchise’s lone title from 1975-79.
Leave it to the minor leagues to wear goofy apparel. The Alabama Crimson Tide wouldn’t be seen in navy nor would the Syracuse Orange appear in purple.
The Wizards and Caps don’t have the longstanding traditions of those colleges, but they do represent the nation’s capital so red, white and blue just makes sense and is a link to the franchises’ beginnings in DC.
David Elfin has covered sports since he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in 1975. He is the Washington representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is the former President of the Pro Football Writers of America. A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan during the 2010 Redskins season, he returned to the station as its blogger in March.