Returning to My Sports Roots, Sort Of—And Proudly Rooting for Deni Avdija

I have fond memories of attending Baltimore Orioles, Colts, Bullets and Clippers games during my childhood.  We even had season tickets for a few years for the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team.  Of these five professional sports teams, the Baltimore Orioles are the only one still around. I still keep up with the Orioles a bit and on occasion, wear an Oriole’s hat—even on the streets of New York.  It makes it easier since they haven’t been real American league East competitors for years.

I followed the Colts and even attended a Colts vs Oakland Raiders playoff game when I was a kid.  I remember wearing my Johnny Unitas then Bert Jones football jerseys on game days for years.  When I was in St. Louis for college, the team was “kidnapped” in the middle of the night to Indianapolis.  I couldn’t bring myself to become an Indianapolis Colts fan.  Good thing I never took to the Cardinals—they suffered a similar fate—relocating to Arizona.

The Baltimore Clippers and the Baltimore Bullets are similarly no more.  The Clippers of the AHL—The American Hockey League—played at the Baltimore Civic Center from 1962 to 1976. I attended a few of their hockey games as well. When they left, I sort of followed the Washington Capitals. The Caps played their home games at the Capital Centre, in Landover, Maryland from 1974 to 1997.  By the time they moved to the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C, I was long gone.

The Bullets bring back good memories—I attended a few games with my late grandfather, Arthur.  Then, the Bullets too “relocated.”  In 1973, they moved to Landover, Maryland, played a season as the “Capital Bullets,” and in 1974 became the Washington Bullets.  I stopped actively following the team, but not the  fascinating and emotional story of their name change, which took place in 1995, the year Jewish owner Abe Pollin decided to change the name to the Washington Wizards.  I thought of this story about 7 years ago, when crossing the border in Eilat, Israel in to Jordan, and again a few days ago when Deni Avdija, an Israeli 19-year-old, was drafted #9 by the…Washington Wizards.

Pollin and the late Israeli Prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin were dear friends. As Pollin recounts in this fascinating New York Times story, he received a call in 1968 from the Israeli Embassy in Washington. “They heard I had a tennis court.  They asked if I would like to play with the new ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin. Oh, boy. We became friends. His wife. My wife. Our children. Last summer I took my whole family to Israel to see him.”  This explains the photo I saw of Rabin on the wall at the Wadi Araba Crossing or Yitzhak Rabin Crossing, the border crossing between Aqaba, Jordan and Eilat, Israel.  There is an amazing photos of Rabin—in his tennis clothes!

When the Israeli Prime Minster was assassinated in November, 1995, his dear friend, Abe Pollin-who had been toying with changing the name of his basketball team from Bullets for months—decided to move up the date of the announcement of a name change.  He made the decision while flying back from Rabin’s funeral.  His dear friend had just been killed by bullets.  “Bullets connote killing, violence, death,” Pollin said. “Our slogan used to be, ‘Faster than a speeding bullet.’ That is no longer appropriate.”

Since then, the Washington Bullets have been the Washington Wizards.  I suspect that Yitzhak Rabin z’l would be smiling to learn that now, a young Israeli who promises to be a great role model and emissary of Israel, will play for the team that the late Mr. Pollin, who died in 2009 at age 86, owned for 46 years! Pollin was the owner of a number of professional sports teams including the Washington Capitals, the Washington Mystics (WNBA), and the Wizards.

We welcome Deni Avdija to Washington. I was lucky enough to cover the NBA draft for the Jewish News Syndicate.   Seeing Avdija smiling and wearing his Washington Wizards hat, got me very excited. I think I am returning to my roots, sort of!

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