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The Wizards should rebrand themselves as the Grays

The Wizards will never become the Bullets again. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t consider rebranding themselves.

Josh Gibson Griffith Stadium
We’ve talked about changing the Wizards’ name to the Bullets before. But how about the Grays, a dynastic team back in the 1930s and 40s?
Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

As the afterglow of the Washington Mystics’ and Nationals’ championships begin to dissipate in the nation’s capital and the Washington Redskins enter their long offseason, sports fans in Washington who aren’t the biggest NHL fans have to turn to the NBA for their sports entertainment pleasure.

I say that with remorse, because there’s not a lot to like about the Washington Wizards these days. Aside from a brief spurt of competence a couple years ago, the team has been uniformly lousy since its heyday in the 1970s, and the current roster has little hope of reaching the playoffs anytime soon.

Besides its decades-long record of poor performance on the court, the Wizards have a marketing problem, as they possess what may be the worst nickname in professional sports. It was chosen almost solely for alliterative purposes and it has absolutely no connection to the city, the sport, or the team. The concept does not lend itself to any particularly compelling image or mascot, either.

Given the team’s putrid record since it adopted the new nickname in 1997, it’s impossible to disassociate the lousy name from this lousy team. A change is desperately needed.

Another team with a similar problem--the formerly bereft Los Angeles Clippers--recently announced that it was contemplating a branding makeover, which would include a new name, uniform, team colors, and logo, in an attempt to disassociate itself from the decades of mediocrity that cling to its brand. It is a great idea, and one the Wizards should emulate.

And I’ve got just the nickname for them--one that’s tied to the city’s history as well as its distinct character, that would be completely unique and immediately make its merchandise amongst the most valuable in the NBA.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you the Professional Basketball team of our nation’s capital: The Washington Grays.

The name comes from the Washington Homestead Grays, a Negro League baseball team that was in D.C. in the 1930s and 40s. They were a powerhouse as well, winning 10 Negro National League and three Negro League World Series titles between 1937 and 1948 alone.

But the fact that it’s a different sport shouldn’t matter at all. It’s the Nationals’ loss that they didn’t take the name themselves, even though they have worn Grays throwbacks and honor some Grays players at Nationals Park. But I believe it is also appropriate to honor the Grays through the NBA team.

The problem, I suspect, is that the Wizards don’t own the trademark--so it can’t reap all of the merchandise profits from it--but the name change will doubtless be so popular that the team and whoever owns it can reach a deal that would still leave the team with more merchandise revenue than if it were to stick with the Wizards.

A mascot might be problematic but that’s unimportant. We can completely forgo a stupid creature on the sidelines or take a page from the Philadelphia Flyers and try to invent a great mascot like Gritty, although there’s little chance of that lightning striking again. If we need an image for one of the alternate uniforms we can take a page from the Golden State Warriors and create an image of D.C.’s iconic skyline.

The Wizards have been a forgettable franchise with a forgettable name and a desultory history. In one fell swoop it could completely change all of that and give D.C. residents--and people across the country--a team worthy of being celebrated--and one that stands in stark contrast to the city’s NFL franchise.