YouTube video

In the 1990s, the construction of a new sports arena in Chinatown brought the Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) to the heart of DC. The cost of this move was felt deeply in Chinatown, as several blocks of residences and small businesses were flattened to make way for the multimillion dollar project. Decades later, the Wizards are now considering an exit from DC for Virginia. As has been noted on the show before, these massive sports teams moves primarily benefit owners and their cronies in industry, who stand to benefit from vacuuming massive quantities of taxpayer money into their own pockets. Edge of Sports breaks down how the flight of sports teams from DC could once again come at Chinatown’s expense.

Click here for the full episode

Studio Production: David Hebden, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Taylor Hebden
Opening Sequence: Cameron Granadino
Music by: Eze Jackson & Carlos Guillen


The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Dave Zirin:

Okay, look, for those who do not know, we record and produce this TV show in the great city of Baltimore, a place with a sports history, as rich as any in the worlds of pro baseball and football, but without an NBA team. This was not always the case. In 1963, Baltimore got a team as the Chicago Packers moved to town and called themselves the Baltimore Bullets. Then a decade later, the Bullets left Baltimore for the DC suburbs, first as the Capital Bullets in Landover, Maryland outside of DC. They eventually became known as the Washington Bullets.

The story continues. In 1997, the team dropped the bullets name because of concerns of owner Abe Pollin, that they were glorifying violence. They became the Wizards. But with that rebranding, the team enacted a different kind of violence, this kind cruel and cold, with prophets running rough shot over the people. Pollin moved the team to a brand spanking new arena in the heart of DC’s Chinatown, irrevocably changing the area.

The arrival of the arena was like a bomb going off, flattening the entire community. It signaled the end of Chinatown as a place where actual Chinese and Chinese American families lived and ran shops and restaurants. Instead, it became a neighborhood that adapted to the stadium, as developers tore down local businesses in favor of high-end chains with impossibly bright signage. And of course, in a nod to what was, the names of the restaurants are spelled out in tiny Mandarin lettering, beneath the big signs writ large, promising high end gluttony, either before or after the game. A community had been replaced by a brand.

That shoddy Blade Runner-esque landscape is what exists now in the Chinatown corridor. And so it has been for a quarter century. But now, there are reports that the Washington Wizards are planning their fifth move in 60 years, with an eye on tax breaks and public funds that could be accrued by hightailing it to the Commonwealth of Virginia, along with the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and perhaps even the WNBAs Washington Mystics who are playing in a brand new arena themselves in Southeast DC.

Franchise owner Ted Leonsis who bought the team from Abe Pollin, has decided that threatening to move the teams, straight extortion, is the way he wants to do business with the city. Let’s forget a moment that 70 million was spent to refurbish the arena just two years ago. Let’s forget that if this move happens, the team will either call themselves the Virginia Wizards, which sounds more KKK than a pack of Marlboros, or remain the Washington Wizards, keeping the commercial branding while abandoning the city, a total slap in the face.

Forget that if they dare continue the tradition of playing Welcome To DC by go-go Legends Mambo Sauce in the arena, it would be yet another slap in DC’s face by a feckless franchise that hasn’t won 50 games in a season since Jimmy Carter was president. Also forget that while Northern Virginia is close, it’s psychologically and politically for a lot of folks in DC, a whole other world. Forget all of that.

What is truly vexing me, what’s really grinding my gears, is that this team is now threatening to gut the same neighborhood for the second time in a quarter century. What is going to happen to all those big box bars and restaurants in Chinatown? If the arena leaves, will they be able to stay open? No. Will Chinatown magically come roaring back? No. Instead, we’ll be left with a ghost town of boarded up restaurants, with tumbleweed lazily being blown across Seventh Street.

This is maddening. An utterly venal effort aimed at extorting more money out of a city and a budget crunch. Team owner, Ted Leonsis, might as well be saying, “Nice neighborhood you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it.”

Look, if you know me, you know what my solution to this would be? The city should seize the Wizards, pay off Leonsis and have the team become the most lucrative public utility in the city. Enough with franchise owners coast to coast, threatening our cities for more public welfare during a time of rising inequality and infrastructure degradation. I mean, a portion of I95 quite literally collapsed. And yet, new sports arenas is where the Ted Leonsises of this world are saying we should be spending our precious public funds. So, if you want to break it down to a slogan, save DC save the Wizards, seize the team.

Well, that’s all the time this week. Thank you, Dr. Harry Edwards. Thank you to the team here at The Real News Network. If you are listening right now, if you are watching, please stay frosty, stay safe. We are out of here. Peace.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Dave Zirin is the sports editor of the Nation Magazine. He is the author of 11 books on the politics of sports, including most recently, The Kaepernick Effect Taking A Knee, Saving the World. He’s appeared on ESPN, NBC News, CNN, Democracy Now, and numerous other outlets. Follow him at @EdgeofSports.