The Washington Wizards joined the NBA in 1961. Originally known as the Chicago Packers, the team rebranded to the Zephyrs before moving to Baltimore and becoming the Bullets. After a decade in Baltimore, the Bullets moved to Washington in 1973, and a couple of rebrands later, they are now known as the Washington Wizards.
Along the way, some great players suited up for the franchise, including Hall of Famers and a few soon-to-be Hall of Famers. Today, I want to explore the franchise history and see where the team and some of the players who have come through rank in the NBA record books.
15 former Wizards are among the NBA’s all-time statistical leaders:
- Points: Michael Jordan (5th), Moses Malone (10th), Elvin Hayes (11th) and Paul Pierce (17th).
- Rebounds: Elvin Hayes (4th), Moses Malone (5th), Dwight Howard (10th), Walt Bellamy (12th), Wes Unseld (13th) and Charles Oakley (22).
- Assists: Russell Westbrook (9th), Andre Miller (12th), Rod Strickland (13th) and Muggsy Bogues (25th).
- Steals: Michael Jordan (4th), Russell Westbrook (19th) and Paul Pierce (22nd).
- Blocks: Dwight Howard (13th), Ben Wallace (14th), Manute Bol (16th) and Elvin Hayes (24th).
- 3-Pointers made: Paul Pierce (12th) and Rashard Lewis (25th).
Though 15 Wizards rank among the NBA’s career statistical leaders, the franchise itself is in the bottom half of the league historically in terms of team success — perhaps because several of them compiled most of those numbers with other teams. Washington’s lifetime win percentage of 45.1% ranks 25th out of the 30 NBA teams. Only the historically bottom-feeding Charlotte Hornets, Memphis Grizzlies, Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves have a lower winning percentage.
In terms of playoff success, the Wizards are solidly middle-of-the pack. They have four NBA Finals appearances and one title, which is more than the 10 NBA teams who have never won a championship can say. However, every NBA Finals game featuring the Wizards occurred in the 1970s, and the Wizards haven’t reached the Conference Finals since 1979.
In full, 17 Hall of Famers played at least one game for the Wizards franchise: Wes Unseld, Earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Dave Bing, Walt Bellamy, Bailey Howell, Moses Malone, Michael Jordan, Gus Johnson, Ralph Sampson, Bernard King, Mitch Richmond, Spencer Haywood, Bob Dandridge, Paul Pierce, Ben Wallace and Chris Webber. Of these, Unseld, Hayes, Johnson and Bellamy are the only players who spent the bulk of their prime with the Wizards franchise.
Additionally, two former Wizards currently ineligible for the Hall of Fame will no doubt make it once they’re eligible. Russell Westbrook is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer who averaged a triple-double over his 65 games in Washington, and Dwight Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year who had a nine-game pit stop in Washington as his NBA career wound down. BasketballReference.com gives both players a greater than 99 percent chance to make the Hall of Fame, per their Hall of Fame probability calculation.
Unseld is the only player to have won an MVP while playing for the Wizards — impressively, he won it as a rookie in 1969. Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player in NBA history to win the MVP award as a rookie.
Unseld paired his 1969 MVP with the Rookie of the Year award. He the last Wizard to win Rookie of the Year, and three others won it before him: Earl Monroe (1968), Terry Dischinger (‘63) and Walt Bellamy (‘62). John Wall was the runner-up in 2011, but he lost to Blake Griffin, who was a rookie in 2010-11 because he missed the whole 2009-10 season with injury.
A deep dive into the Wizards’ presence in the NBA record books paints the picture of a once-great franchise that has floundered since the Reagan administration. Good players have come and gone, no doubt, but team success and consistency have been hard to come by. Now that a rebuild is fully under way, hopefully a new era of sustained success is in the near future.