Through six names and three markets, the Washington Wizards have more than a half-century of history in the NBA.
The Wizards were born in 1961 as the second NBA team to call Chicago home. After the Stags, a charter member of the NBA’s forerunner, the Basketball Association of America, folded after the 1949-50 season, it was 11 years before the NBA returned to the Windy City, this time with the expansion Packers.
The Packers tapped Indiana center Walt Bellamy as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1961 NBA Draft and among the notable names taken in the expansion draft were former Los Angeles Lakers guard Slick Leonard, and former No. 2 overall pick Archie Dees from the Detroit Pistons.
The Packers weren’t long-lived; the franchise changed its name to the Chicago Zephyrs for its second season. It didn’t matter—the Zephyrs lasted just one season before the team packed up and moved to Baltimore to become the NBA’s second iteration of the Baltimore Bullets.
The franchise’s shining moment in Baltimore came in 1971, when the Bullets stunned the defending champion New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals despite a 42-40 regular-season record. However, the Bullets were swept in the NBA Finals by the Milwaukee Bucks.
In 1973, the team was on the move again, this time to Landover, Md., in suburban Washington, and was renamed the Capital Bullets. However, when the National Hockey League put a team in the Capital Centre and named it the Washington Capitals, the Bullets changed names again after just one season, this time to the Washington Bullets, in time for the 1974-75 season.
The Bullets reached the NBA Finals in 1975, this time as heavy favorites following a 60-win regular season. But the Golden State Warriors shocked the Bullets in a four-game sweep.
The 1977-78 season didn’t shape up to be a special one; the Bullets were just 44-38 in the regular season, but stormed through the playoffs, knocking off the defending conference champion Philadelphia 76ers to win the East and then outlasting the Seattle SuperSonics in a seven-game NBA Finals to win the first—and only—championship in franchise history.
The Bullets and Sonics returned to the Finals in 1979, but this time Seattle claimed the crown in five games.
That marked the end of the glory years for basketball in the nation’s capital. The team reached the second round of the playoffs in 1982, missed the postseason in 1983 and then suffered five consecutive first-round defeats from 1984-88. That was followed by the longest playoff drought in franchise history, an eight-year stretch of futility from 1989-96.
In 1997, there was one more name change as well as a new arena. Owner Abe Pollin had announced two years earlier that he was abandoning the “Bullets” name because of the high violent crime and homicide rates in the District of Columbia. The newly minted Washington Wizards also left the suburbs to move to a new downtown arena, now known as the Verizon Center.
The Wizards last made the playoffs in 2008 and last advanced past the first round in 2005. In 52 seasons, the franchise has 25 postseason appearances and the lone championship in 1978. The club record for wins was the 60 posted in 1974-75 while the original Packers still hold the franchise mark for futility with their 18-62 expansion season record.
So who are the best players by position in the history of the Washington Wizards franchise?
NOTE: Players must have appeared in 250 regular-season games with the franchise to be considered for this list.
Small Forward: Caron Butler (2005-10)
When Washington acquired Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins from the Los Angeles Lakers in August 2005 for Kwame Brown and Laron Profit, the Wizards knew they were getting a solid player. They didn’t expect to land an All-Star.
But that’s what they got in Butler, who was twice an All-Star with Washington. In parts of five seasons, Butler averaged 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game and the Wizards were a playoff team in three of his four full seasons in Washington.
Butler is sixth in franchise history with 563 steals and is also ninth with 215 3-pointers. His 87.2 free-throw accuracy and 1.8 steals per game are third in club annals and he is sixth with 38.5 minutes per game.
He is also the franchise’s single-season record holder for free-throw percentage, shooting 90.1 percent in 2007-08.
Here is a mix of Butler’s best moments with the Wizards:
In February 2010, the Wizards traded Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to the Dallas Mavericks for Drew Gooden, Josh Howard, Quinton Ross and James Singleton. Butler was originally drafted by the Miami Heat and has also played for the Los Angeles Clippers. On July 10, he was dealt to the Phoenix Suns as part of a three-team deal that included the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Power Forward: Elvin Hayes (1972-81)
The June 1972 deal that brought Elvin Hayes to the Baltimore Bullets and sent Jack Marin to the Houston Rockets is regarded as one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history and it helped to eventually bring a championship to the Bullets.
Hayes was named to eight All-Star Games as a member of the Bullets and was a six-time All-NBA selection, including three first-team appearances. Hayes was also a two-time All-Defensive selection and led the NBA in rebounding in 1973-74, while twice leading the league in minutes in 1973-74 and 1976-77. Hayes posted the best defensive rating in the NBA in 1974-75 with an 87.6 (points per 100 possessions) and twice led the league in defensive win shares (1973-74 and 1974-75).
Hayes averaged 21.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocked shots per game in nine years as a Bullet while playing 40 minutes a game.
Hayes is the franchise’s all-time leader with 15,551 points and 1,558 blocked shots and is second with 9,305 rebounds, 736 steals and 731 games. His 40 minutes and 2.4 blocks per game are second-best in team history, his 12.7 rebounds per game is fourth and his 21.3 points per game is seventh.
He is also the franchise’s single-season record holder with 3,602 minutes played, 1,109 defensive rebounds and 44.5 minutes per game in 1973-74. His 29.7 defensive rebound percentage in 1973-74 is also a club high, as is his 87.6 defensive rating and 8.2 defensive win shares in 1974-75.
Here is a tribute video to Hayes’ days as a Bullet:
Hayes was a No. 1 overall selection by the San Diego Rockets in the 1968 NBA Draft and returned to the Rockets in a June 1981 trade in exchange for second-round picks in 1981 and 1983. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990 and currently works as an analyst for University of Houston basketball games.
Center: Walt Bellamy (1961-65)
Walt Bellamy instantly became the franchise’s top player from the moment he was picked No.1 overall by the Chicago Packers in 1961 and Bellamy went on to play in three All-Star Games as a Packer, Zephyr and Bullet. He was also the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1961-72 and led the league in field-goal accuracy, shooting 51.9 percent as a rookie in 1961-62.
In parts of five seasons, Bellamy put up astounding numbers, averaging 27.6 points and 16.6 rebounds while logging 41.6 minutes a game, despite facing almost constant double teams as the only real threat on the club.
Bellamy is fourth in franchise history with 5,438 rebounds and seventh with 9,020 points. His career 51.6 percent field-goal shooting is ninth-best and he is the franchise’s all-time leader in minutes, points and rebounds per game at 41.6, 27.6 and 16.6, respectively. His 23.9 player efficiency rating is also the franchise’s all-time best, as are his 49 offensive win shares and .201 win shares per 48 minutes.
Bellamy holds franchise single-season records with 2,495 points and 1,500 rebounds in 1961-62 as well as his 31.6 points and 19 rebounds per game averages that season. In the advanced statistical categories, Bellamy’s 26.3 PER, 13.4 offensive win shares, 16.3 total win shares and .233 win shares per 48 minutes in 1961-62 are all single-season records for the franchise.
Here are some of Bellamy’s highlights:
In November 1965, the Bullets traded Bellamy to the New York Knicks for Jim Barnes, Johnny Egan, Johnny Green and cash. He later played for the Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Jazz before retiring after the 1974-75 season. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.
Shooting Guard: Jeff Malone (1983-90)
Jeff Malone was a terrific scorer as a collegian at Mississippi State and he continued to be one after the Washington Bullets took him with the 10th overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft.
Malone was a two-time All-Star for the Bullets in a career marked by consistency. He averaged 20.2 points per game in seven seasons while shooting 47.7 percent, a high mark for a perimeter shooter.
Malone is second in franchise history with 11,083 points and is eighth in games with 548. His 86.9 free-throw percentage ranks fourth for the franchise.
He was at his best in this 1989 game against the Milwaukee Bucks, a night he scored 38 points:
In June 1990, Malone was dealt to the Utah Jazz as part of a three-team trade. The Sacramento Kings sent Pervis Ellison to Washington while the Jazz traded Bob Hanson, Eric Leckner and three 1990 draft picks (a first-rounder and a pair of second-round choices) to the Kings while the Bullets also sent a 1991 second-round pick to Sacramento. Malone also played for the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat before retiring after the 1995-96 season. Since retiring he coached the International Basketball League’s San Diego Stingrays for one season and was a coach in the D-League for five years, four with the Columbus Riverdragons and one with the Florida Flame.
Point Guard: Gilbert Arenas (2003-10)
Gilbert Arenas was a surprise as a second-round pick by the Golden State Warriors in the 2001 NBA Draft, but the Wizards wound up with a star when they signed Arenas as a restricted free agent in August 2003.
Agent Zero was a three-time All-Star for the Wizards and was also a three-time All-NBA selection. He led the league in minutes in 2005-06 and in 3-point field goals and attempts in 2006-07.
In parts of eight seasons in Washington, Arenas averaged 25 points, 5.7 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game.
Arenas is the franchise’s all-time leader with 868 3-pointers and is fourth with 636 steals, fifth with 2,046 assists and eighth with 8,930 points. His 25 points per game average is second-best in franchise history, his 39.4 minutes per game is third, his 1.8 steals per game is fourth and his 5.7 assists per game is eighth.
Here are some of Arenas’ highlights as a Wizard:
In December 2010, Arenas was traded to the Orlando Magic for Rashard Lewis and also played briefly for the Memphis Grizzlies. He spent last season with the Shanghai Sharks in the Chinese Basketball Association.
Tags: Baltimore Bullets Best Washington Wizards Best Wizards Capital Bullets Caron Butler Chicago Packers Chicago Zephyrs Elvin Hayes Gilbert Arenas Jeff Malone NBA Walt Bellamy Washington Bullets Washington Wizards