WASHINGTON D.C. - Elvin Hayes couldn't help but get a subtle little dig in at the old Wizards' management during the team's new jersey unveiling at the Verizon Center on Tuesday. The Bullets great meant no harm, of course, but whenever you express your pleasure at something new, you inevitably include some unintended displeasure at something old. The new Wizards' jerseys are no different.
"When I looked at the Wizards when they played in the teal, I did not really recognize them as part of the Bullet organization," he said. "It was like another team had began to represent them because they changed their name and they changed their colors and I think it was so drastic. As a player who played here, when I watched it on television, I think you had a disconnect. I think that all of a sudden, it's a great reconnect."
Hayes was one of 27* former Wizards/Bullets present at the jersey unveiling, in what was a major sign of the success of the team's new alumni program. Spearheaded by Ted Leonsis and chaired by former Bullet great Bob Dandridge, the team has made a concerted effort reaching out to its former players, holding alumni events and inviting them to spend time with the team. Hayes reminded me that he traveled with the team on a road trip to San Antonio and Houston, attending practices and just generally being around. He couldn't be more thrilled with the new arrangement.
"When the players left, there wasn't a foundation. There wasn't a connection. The players played here, they left and they kind of went away," he said. "I think that when I retired, I might have returned like one time. And now, I think Ted has really reached out to the former players to reconnect. He's bringing the players back into an organization where they have many wonderful memories and wonderful thoughts here in Washington D.C."
I asked Hayes what about having a strong alumni connection is so important to the success of the franchise. He immediately referred to the Celtics, who have such a loyal alumni presence in so many ways.
"Whenever you go into Boston Garden, you see Bill Russell, [John] Havlicek and all of these other guys there. The foundation of an organization is in its past, and I think that in Boston, that's really truly alive. When you have a winning organization, it is very important for that organization to have that history and to keep that alive."
Hayes concluded our interview by saying, very simply, that he "really enjoys" being a part of the team. That's the kind of thing that goes beyond a jersey change. The new Wizards' colors certainly pay homage to the team's past, but the truth is the Wizards have been doing that ever since Leonsis took over. This is just the latest victory.
"These are great men and great players," Leonsis said. "They can serve as role models to our players."
*Those 27 players, via Wizards PR: Michael Adams, Mark Alarie, Dudley Bradley, Phil Chenier, Bob Dandridge, Bob Ferry, Kevin Grevey, Clem Haskins, Hayes, Tom Henderson, James Jones, Rick Mahorn, Stan McKenzie, Gheorghe Muresan, Doug Overton, Kevin Porter, Rich Rinaldi, Mike Riordan, Dan Roundfield, Jeff Ruland, Larry Stewart, Awvee Storey, David Vanterpool, Phil Walker, Ennis Whatley, Gary Witts, Larry Wright.