Retired Uniform Numbers:
11 - Elvin Hayes
25 - Gus Johnson
41 - Wes Unseld
Chicago Packers 1961-62
Chicago Zephyrs 1962-63
Baltimore Bullets 1963-73
Capitol Bullets 1973-74
Washington Bullets 1974-97
Washington Wizards 1997-Present
The Washington Wizards began as the Chicago Packers in 1961, spent several seasons in Baltimore, and finally landed in Washington, as the Washington Bullets, in 1974.
After achieving only moderate success for a decade, the Bullets developed into a solid 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 Washinton Wizards, a decision made by owners Irene and Abe Pollin in conjunction with the team's anti-violence campaign. At the same time, the team prepared for a move from suburban Landover, Maryland, to the MCI Center in downtown Washington.
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.
1961-62: Bellamy Leads "Pack" Attack
1962-63: A New Nickname But Familiar Results
1963-67: Bellamy & Co. Head For Baltimore
1967-69: Earl "The Pearl"
1969: Unseld Cops MVP And Rookie Of The Year Awards
1969-71: The Highest-Scoring Team In Franchise History
1971-73: Bullets Lose Their "Pearl"
1973-74: Team Feels Effects Of Unseld's Absence
1974-76: Spectacular Season Falls Short
1976-77: Bullets Replace Jones With Motta
1977-78: The Glory Days
1978-81: Sonics Turn Tables On Bullets In Finals
1981-85: Unseld Retires, Hayes Traded
1985-87: Bullets Throw A "Block" Party
1987-90: The Bol & Bogues Show
1990-92: Washington's King Reigns Over NBA
1992-93: Gugliotta Gives Bullets Hope For The Future
1993-94: Bad Luck Continues To Bite Bullets
1994-95: Injuries, Player Moves Leave Bullets Low On Firepower
1995-96: So Close, Yet So Far
1996-97: Bullets Storm Back to Playoffs
1997-98: Wizards Edged at Wire
1998-99: Mr. Richmond Goes to Washington
1999-00: MJ Comes Aboard
2000-01: Rip Takes Over
2001-02: The Jordan Effect
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 on October 19, when the Packers lost to the New York Knicks, 120-103, in the franchise's first NBA game. On October 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.
For 1962-63 the Packers changed their name to the Zephyrs, but that didn't fool anyone-fans and opponents alike recognized that they were the same old team. Chicago evened its record at home at 17-17, but they continued to struggle on the road. The Zephyrs 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.
On March 25, 1963, the franchise moved to Baltimore and was renamed the Bullets. (The Syracuse Nationals also moved that year, becoming the Philadelphia 76ers.) 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.
A blockbuster trade before 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, mostly because Howell was a hustling, fundamentally sound player, 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 December 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). Behind him the Bullets made balanced contributions, with Howell, Johnson, Ohl, and Loughery all averaging double figures in scoring.
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 emulating the team-oriented approach that had made the Boston Celtics so successful during that era. Guard Don Ohl led the team in scoring (20.6 ppg), and six other players averaged in double figures. The team set franchise marks for free throws made and attempted, connecting on 2,267 of 3,186 during the season. Bailey Howell topped the Bullets in rebounding (9.9 rpg), the only time during the franchise's first two decades that it didn't produce a double-figure rebounder. The team-effort philosophy was less successful in Baltimore than in Boston, although the Bullets managed to finish 38-42, good enough for second place in the West behind the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bullets advanced to the playoffs but were swept by St. Louis in the division semifinals.
Through most of the 1960s the Bullets struggled to win as many games as they lost. They never had enough talent or depth to be truly competitive, but they had too much hustle and pride to roll over in the face of adversity. Better days were coming, but first, things changed for the worse.
The 1966-67 team finished in last place in the Eastern Division, its new home after the NBA added the expansion Chicago Bulls in the West. Baltimore's 20-61 record was the second worst in franchise history; only the team's first year in Chicago had been more futile. The darkest moments of a dreary campaign came when the Bullets lost a club-record 13 consecutive games from December 17 to January 8 and never recovered.
After cycling through five coaches in five seasons, Baltimore changed reins three times in 1966-67, finally settling on former Bullets player Gene Shue. Shue lasted seven seasons in his first stint as the team's coach, then returned in the early 1980s for another tour of duty. The team also 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. 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. After four seasons in Baltimore, Monroe would join the New York Knicks and team with Walt Frazier to form the most dominant backcourt duo of the era. For the time being, however, he was lighting it up for the Bullets. For the season, 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 February 3 Monroe set the club single-game scoring mark by toasting the Los Angeles Lakers for 56 points. On February 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 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. They played solid ball early in the campaign and went on a tear in December, winning a club-record nine straight games. The high-scoring team (116.4 ppg) built a 49-17 record by late February before splitting the final 16 contests. The Bullets were 29-9 at home and nearly as effective on the road, where they fashioned a 24-15 mark. The team lost only once in five games at neutral sites.
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).
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.
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). They also had two modest four-game winning streaks, in December and January. 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 finished in 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 the league's dilution by another round of expansion and the Bullets move to the newly created Central Division meant that 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 November 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 January 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 now faced the formidable Milwaukee Bucks of Lew Alcindor and Oscar Robertson in the 1971 NBA Finals, and the Bucks trounced the Bullets in four straight.
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 new club record with 8.0 assists per contest. Jack Marin averaged 22.3 points and led the league in free throw percentage at .894. 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 offseason. 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 December 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.
Chenier's big night aside, 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 cooled a bit as the year progressed, but 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 straight season Baltimore was knocked out by the New York Knicks, who won a five-game conference semifinal series en route to the NBA championship.
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, always a workhorse, set a franchise record by averaging 44.5 minutes. 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.
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.
K. C. Jones had won 63 percent of his games as the Bullets' head coach-the best success rate in franchise history. However, the team seemed to be losing its momentum, and Jones was replaced by Dick Motta after the season.
With Motta at the helm, the 1976-77 Bullets again came in at 48-34, boosted by an eight-game winning streak in January. Six players averaged double figures in scoring, paced by Hayes (23.7 ppg) and Chenier (20.2). The Big E finished sixth in the league in rebounding (12.5 rpg) and third in blocked shots (2.68 per game).
Although they seemed to have tailed off a bit after a few great seasons, the 1977-78 campaign would prove to be the Bullets' glory year. In the second of Motta's four seasons as coach, 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 9 of their next 11. Phil Chenier was lost to a back injury, and the Bullets replaced him with 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 76ers to reach the NBA Finals. Washington's opponents were 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.
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 Unseld, Hayes, and Bob Dandridge. Washington got off to a 4-0 start, lost five games, treaded water for a while, then gathered momentum with a nine-game winning streak. On November 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 over 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 team's scoring output dropped off by nearly 8 points per contest to 107.0 per game. One of the few positive notes came on March 23 when Kevin Porter set the club's single-game assists record by handing out 24 against Detroit. But the team was aging, and the future looked dim. After the season Dick Motta resigned and was replaced by Gene Shue, who was embarking on his second tour of duty with Washington.
The 1980-81 club finished at 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, Porter set new Bullets marks and led the league in assists, handing out 734 for an average of 9.1 per game.
Unseld retired after the 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. Unseld 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 hardworking 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. The Bullets stayed competitive by controlling the tempo and holding down scores. 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 Jeff 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 center 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 9 against Atlanta on October 30.
In the 1985 NBA Draft, Washington made a startling second-round draft selection, taking Bridgeport's 7-7 Manute Bol. Bol, a Dinka tribesman from Sudan, was one of the most unique players in NBA history. Pipe-cleaner thin at 225 pounds, he filled only one role-that of designated shotblocker. Bol blew every franchise blocked-shots record out of the water in 1985-86. On January 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. There were a few highlights during the year. 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 December 29. On February 26 Manute 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, Kevin 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.
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. They never got back on track and slumped again at the end of the campaign, going 4-10 over the last three weeks. The season's individual highlights were provided by Bernard King. On December 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. He'd missed the entire 1985-86 season and played just six games the next year. The Bullets had acquired him in 1987, and he contributed immediately while redeveloping his game. King recovered fully in 1990-91-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 team fell to 25-57 in 1991-92, and there were very few memorable moments. One came on December 18 when Michael Adams set a team record by nailing 6 three-pointers in a game at San Antonio. For the most part the Bullets experienced disappointment. They had prolonged losing skids in nearly every month: eight straight losses in December, eight in January, six in February, seven in March, and six in April.
It was not a season to remember for any Bullets player except Pervis Ellison, a 6-10 center who had been acquired from the Sacramento Kings. Ellison led the team in scoring (20.0 ppg) and rebounding (11.2 rpg) and was named the league's Most Improved Player. Another minor bright spot was that the Bullets were the best free throw shooting team in franchise history, hitting at a .778 clip from the line.
The Bullets selected Tom Gugliotta of North Carolina State with the sixth overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft. The 1992-93 Bullets went 22-60, marking their fourth straight season of decline. Ironically, the Bullets' attendance increased for the fourth consecutive year, to an all-time franchise high of 13,641 fans per game. Gugliotta had an outstanding year and gave Washington hope for the future. A multitalented forward at 6-10, he averaged 14.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists and was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team.
Picking sixth again in the 1993 NBA Draft, the Bullets took Calbert Cheaney of Indiana. In the second round (perhaps thinking of their successful experiment a decade earlier with Manute Bol), they selected 7-7 Gheorghe Muresan of Romania as they once again began rebuilding for the future.
The Bullets' run of bad luck continued in 1993-94. Injuries to key players sapped what little offensive strength the team had. Rex Chapman began the season as one of the NBA's top scorers but was lost for 22 games with a dislocated ankle. Calbert Cheaney, the team's No. 1 draft pick, missed 17 games, and Pervis Ellison was out for almost half the year.
The team set a franchise record for attendance and was often exciting to watch; however, Washington finished 24-58 and in last place in the Atlantic Division. Only the forward positions were ably manned all season. Don MacLean, a reserve the year before, tied Chapman for the team scoring lead (18.2 ppg) and was named the NBA Most Improved Player. Tom Gugliotta led the team in minutes played and rebounding (9.3 rpg) and scored 17.1 points per game.
Kevin Duckworth, obtained from the Portland Trail Blazers before the season in exchange for Harvey Grant, didn't quite fill the need at the center position, averaging 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds. Gheorghe Muresan developed more quickly than expected and added 5.6 points per contest. At season's end, Wes Unseld stepped down as head coach and was replaced by Jim Lynam.
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The 1994-95 season was one of change, injuries, and more disappointment for Washington. The Bullets obtained point guard Scott Skiles in the offseason 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 November 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 the Bullets 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.
Gheorghe Muresan also stepped up his game. The 7-7 center 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 is not 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.
Finally! 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 (center Gheorghe 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 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 clogged 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).
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.
It wasn't until the last day of the regular season that the Wizards (42-40) were denied a playoff berth, but the determination that Washington showed during the last week of the season bodes well for the future of the team. Despite many off-the-court distractions, the Wizards 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. They came up just short -- despite the fact center Gheorghe Muresan spent the entire season on the injured list with a stretched tendon in his ankle -- but it was an exciting finish.
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 a new attendance record along the way.
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 ten 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. This season, 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 ranks 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.
Other Wizards making important contributions this season included forward Tracy Murray, who came off the bench to average 15.1 ppg and who poured in 50 points against Golden State on Feb. 10, and guard Calbert Cheaney, who scored a season-high 30 points and grabbed 7 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls on Feb. 21.
In their up-and-down season, Washington beat many of the best teams in the league at least once, with victories over Chicago, San Antonio, Seattle, the Lakers, Phoenix and Miami, as well as a sweep of the team with the best record in the league, the Utah Jazz. Coach Bernie Bickerstaff notched his 300th NBA victory when the Wizards defeated Phoenix on Jan. 4, 109-99.
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 offseason 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. 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 3-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 February 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 the Dallas in exchange for five Mavericks and $3 million. The Wizards received Hubert Davis, Alexander, Christian Laettner, Loy Vaught and Etan Thomas.
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 important, 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.
Richard Hamilton averaged 20.0 ppg and finished second in the NBA in free-throw percentage (.890).
Chris Whitney led the Wizards in assists (314) and 3-pointers made (131). He also finished seventh in the NBA in free-throw percentage (.880).
Propelled by Jordan's comeback, the Wizards led the NBA in regular season attendance. The team 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 December 6 through December 26.
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 percent from the field and 82 percent from the free throw line.
Even at 40, Jordan still amazed the fans that 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 grabbed 10 or more rebounds 12 times, recorded 13 double-doubles, led the Wizards in scoring 36 times, rebounding 16 times, assists 25 times, steals 32 times and blocks 13 times and 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 percent from the field and 88 percent from the free throw line.
Stackhouse scored a season-high 38 points versus his former team, Philadelphia, on November 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 November 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.