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The Washington Wizards are a professional basketball team that joined the National Basketball Association back in 1961. During that time, however, the Wizards were known as the Chicago Packers – serving as the first modern expansion team in NBA history. The following year the Packers changed their name to the Zephyrs. After just two years in Chicago, the team moved east to Baltimore, Maryland – reverting back to their BAA name of the Baltimore Bullets.
For the first ten years of their existence, the Baltimore Bullets played their home games at the Baltimore Civic Center. In 1965 (the team’s third year in Baltimore), the team pulled off a blockbuster trade and acquired Bailey Howell and Bob Ferry. The new team helped the Bullets reach the playoffs for the first time, losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Final.
The franchise really took off, however, during the Wes Unseld era. This era lasted from 1967 to 1981 and brought great basketball to the city. The Bullets had consecutive drafts with the second overall pick; they would spend those picks on Earl Monroe and Wes Unseld. Unseld went on to win the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player awards.
In 1971 the Bullets made their first appearance in the NBA Finals. After beating the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Final, the Bullets met up with the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee had heralded big man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and hall-of-famer Oscar Robertson; unfortunately, Baltimore was swept by the Bucks.
Championship Season and Name Change
Soon after, Baltimore traded away Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson – their team, however, still shined. After acquiring Elvin Hayes, the Bullets finished the 1978 season at a mediocre 44-38. They caught fire in the playoffs, though, and went on to beat the Seattle SuperSonics in the NBA Finals to bring Washington D.C. it’s first professional sports championship.
After that championship season, however, the Bullets went downhill; from 1979 to 1988, the team experienced significant playoff disappointments. In the ten years that followed, they also experienced many injuries that were devastating to the success of the team. By 1995, they needed a change.
Owner Abe Pollin, who expressed that the name “Bullets” had violent overtones, said that he was uncomfortable and wanted to change the name. After a contest was held, the name was officially changed to the Washington Wizards – it has remained the same ever since.