Ted Leonsis' 1978 championship trophy story wasn't true

Bruce Bennett

The Wizards' owner said he had to recover the 1978 championship trophy from a closet in a former employee's house, but as it turns out, that story wasn't true.

Remember last week's story in the Washington Post where Ted Leonsis suggested he had to find the franchise's 1978 championship trophy in the closet of late former employee Everett "Smoke" Bowie's house? Here's a reminder.

But then, finally, there was a breakthrough. Someone recalled someone else saying sometime awhile back that Smokey Bowie, the late building manager/head engineer/jack-of-all-trades who had been with the franchise since the old Capital Centre days until passing away a few years ago, had at some point taken it home with him for safekeeping. And sure enough, a carload of team employees dispatched to Bowie's old house found the trophy - scuffed up, tarnished and dented - at the bottom of a closet.

"They bring it in," Leonsis recalled this week, "and it's got dings in it, it's matted, not shiny. My wife [Lynn] is best friends with the woman who runs Tiffany's in Tysons Corner, so I asked her to look at it, and I said, ‘Look at this - this is what we spend a billion dollars over our lifetime to try to win, and it's been sitting in someone's closet. Can you fix it?' It took about three months, but it came back perfect."

The idea of a franchise's championship trophy laying around in a random guy's closet seemed crazy at the time. As it turned out, it was too good to be true.

The Post has issued a new story with several people quoted that dispute Leonsis' account, including Irene Pollin herself. As it turns out, the trophy never left the building at all. It was maintained in a different trophy case at the Verizon Center and had simply been moved by Leonsis elsewhere.

However, according to the family of the late Bowie - as well as Irene Pollin, Abe's widow and a part-owner of the Bullets and Capitals - none of that is true. They say the trophy was never at Bowie's house and in fact was displayed - in a different case, built by a construction crew overseen by Bowie's son, Mike - for most of the 2000s at Verizon Center.

"It never left the Verizon Center," Irene Pollin said.

Even worse: according to Mike Bowie, the franchise was already in the process of building a new trophy case before Leonsis even took over.

Leonsis, through a spokesman, issued a statement acknowledging the mistake, sort of.

"The Bullets' 1978 championship trophy wasn't off-site when Monumental Sports & Entertainment purchased the team," Leonsis's statement said. "Rather, it was in a Verizon Center closet in a location that had limited access. Previously the trophy had been on display, but we initially had a difficult time locating it. Once we found it, we had it repaired and spruced up at Tiffany & Co. and placed it in a new display case on the arena's main concourse."

This is a really bad look for Leonsis. Why make up details about something like this, especially considering how much Abe Pollin cherished that 1978 title team?

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