You probably saw Ted Leonsis' blog post about the team trying to build a practice facility in the near future. In case you haven't, click over there. The gist: much of what's been reported isn't true. The plans are in the very early stages for a project that'll be "an asset for our team and also the community," a location hasn't been decided, reports of a 5,000-seat arena are false and the timeline is a good 18-24 months after a location is determined.
Afterwards, Leonsis provided even more details in an exclusive phone interview with Bullets Forever. We'll present a slightly edited transcript of this interview over two parts. Here is part 1:
BULLETS FOREVER: This of course started with the NBC report that the Wizards were in talks for a new practice facility in the Shaw neighborhood. Future reports downplayed this and noted two locations in Virginia that could be possibilities. You clarified on your blog that this is actually in the early stages, it won't be as big as reported and no site has been finalized. How close do you think we are to breaking ground and/or finishing a proposal for its financing?
LEONSIS: As I noted, we're a million miles from that. We don't even know where it will be, and until we know where it will be and how much land will be available, only then we can decide on what kind of facility we will build. Then you'll need a budget, and then you'll need financing. So I think we're at least six months away from knowing where we would be.
BF: You've said there is an "arms race" with teams and their practice facilities, I know the Bulls, Pelicans, Nets and others either built or are building new practice facilities. NBA teams clearly find this valuable, and it's said to have an impact on free agents. In what areas do you think having this practice facility would help the team?
LEONSIS: Well, first I think, as I noted in my blog today, sports teams play such a central role and the buildings of sports teams play such a central role in the community they serve. I am talking to you as I'm looking out my window here at Verizon Center. There's a new bank, there's Legal Sea Foods, Regal Cinema, there's a new candy store, Sugar, there's Radio Shack, there's a new sign that just went up on Gallery Place. It's raining out, and there are literally hundreds of people that are outside. This building helped to turn around this part of the city. And we saw Kettler Capitals Iceplex has become one of the defining communities and businesses in Arlington and in that part of town.
And so it's not just about the team. It's about the community. A million people come to Kettler to ice skate, to shop, to watch the team play do blood drives and the like. It becomes a big convener in town.
When I reacted to -- a little bit negatively -- when you wrote "Everything you need to know about the Wizards practice facility." After I read it, I sent emails internally and said, 'Are we talking to someone about a 5,000 seat arena?' And nobody could find any conversation, any request, of anyone on a 5,000 seat arena.
And, it speaks volumes about the internet at large if you will. Not only did Swish Appeal write an article about a 5,000 seat arena for the Mystics, it was [laughs] starting a petition against 'Don't move the Mystics.' And I'm like, 'Wow, how did we get there from 'Do you think it's a good idea to build a Kettler Capitals Iceplex in your community for the Mystics and the Wizards and maybe a D-League team.' That's the process.
While everyone says Chicago is the model: Chicago is great, although it's right across the street from the arena. We don't have that opportunity here because of all the development that happened around the Verizon Center. You've been to the Verizon Center practice facility right?
BF: Yes I have.
LEONSIS: OK, you've been here. There's no room on either side. You can't touch the wall and not be on the floor. So you know there's bikes for the players to ride just haphazardly laying around. It's a suboptimal space compared to this arms race.
We're paying these athletes lots of money. We want them to perform and almost 20 teams now have built stand-alone, world class practice facilities. So it's an arms race in that if you don't have the same, you are sub-optimized against your competition and we're sub-optimized against our community. We couldn't even have an open practice. There's not a seat. You know, we were concerned about 5,000 seats. We don't have a single seat [now].
When we had our veterans caps event the other day, everyone was standing on the side. There was no place. As opposed to Kettler, where we have about 1500 seats. We'll have events and the players will play, there will be 1500 people and we'll do a blood drive or a charity fundraiser. That's the kind of facility that we want and more and more what communities are expecting because there's this huge social responsibility that comes with the teams to help charities to do as much as you can for the community. We're limited with the Wizards because of that.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
I look at the arms race -- I use that term. In the NHL, we built what is still considered today the best NHL training facility. And it does help us a lot in keeping players here because they see that this is where they spend most of their time as a player. It's not in the Verizon Center main court. It's in the practice facility, the weight rooms and the training rooms.
So if you create that kind of environment, first and foremost, your existing players compare that with another place. So with the Caps, players talk amongst themselves. They go, 'What a great setup this is.' All of our players now live in Virginia close to the practice facility, because that's where they spend their time. They just come to the Verizon Center to play 41 games, but all of their practice, all of their classroom, all of their preseason, all of their rookie camp, all of the offseason when they skate and when they bide their own time, it's all done at Kettler.
So the first thing is making sure you have a world-class environment to keep your existing players and keep them healthy, and having the bandwidth and availability for the coaching staff. It's just one of the ingredients is what I'd say. If you're a free agent and four teams are going to make you a big offer, you look as a free agent at a whole matrix of things that are important to you. One thing might be [whether this is] a playoff team, and maybe if I get added to it, maybe it can be a championship-caliber team. So, who are the players and the team?
Second is, do I like the community and do I think it is a good community for me, my wife, my children? So Paul Pierce, he came to D.C. because he was familiar with D.C He watched how this community grew, he's living in the suburbs. He loves where he's living because he's close to Tyson's Corner. It's close to D.C. and his kids are in a good school. So quality of life, quality of education, that plays a big part in the mix.
Then, there's some things like -- and you are hearing it now a lot from our players if you listen to the interviews -- we've made investments in training staffs and the physical side of their maintenance. You'll hear players say, 'I am a backup, but our staff and our training people, they are keeping me in the best condition so I am ready and helped me to rehab.' That's such a big part of pro sports, the health of the players. At Kettler, we've got a whole area for massage therapy, we have a pool with a treadmill in it for when guys are rehabbing their knee, as an example. That's part of the arms race, so free agents go, "Will I be taken care of and do they have a good medical staff?"
We've been investing and spending time, and there are fruits of that labor because you are hearing players that are joining us from another team -- [Marcin] Gortat, Paul Pierce, Nene -- who talk about the confidence they have in our staff. Again, word gets around, and that's a part of it.
Then, it's the facility. Can you feed? We don't have a kitchen in the training facility or in the practice court [at Verizon Center]. If you go to Chicago, take a look at the pictures. They've got chefs and nutritionalists and the ability to provide great nutrition if you will. And so all of that comes into the mix.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
So we think it's important in this arms race, the term I coined about this. [It's important] for the well being and health and retention of existing players, and its part of the ingredient for a free agent who knows how much money he can get. It's one of the things that they look at.
Then, for the community, you should perhaps talk to the people in Ballston, talk to fans in Ballston. It's become a place that they are proud of. They are thrilled that it's there and they spend a lot of time there. They bring their kids there, you know, they welcome the team back from a long road trip and go to the open practice. Because it's so high quality, it's why the Olympic team came and trained there, it's why college teams want to come. It's one of the reasons youth hockey exploded in Virginia. And we donate a lot of time to the community.
We'd want to do the same thing with basketball. We'd want to encourage high schools and colleges and church leagues to come. We'd love to have high school kids come with their coaches and be able to meet with Randy [Wittman] after practice and watch a practice. So there's all of that that goes into it. And we are at a very preliminary stage.
That's why I acted surprised on "Everything you need to know" and "here's what they are doing." I didn't know some of the stuff because it wasn't true.
Editor's Note: Stay tuned for Part 2, where Leonsis discuss the way the facility will be funded and whether a new facility in D.C. will actually convince players to live in the city.