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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Ted Leonsis will take Wizards angst across the river.

SportsTed Leonsis will take Wizards angst across the river.

Ted Leonsis said that when he first arrived at the site, he stood on the roof of the building next to it. The billionaire owner of the Wizards and Caps will have a great view of the Anacostia and the Potomac from his soon-to-be floor-wide offices in Alexandria. It would be unfair to say he will be looking down upon the people who are financing his projects, but it will be a swell view. It's a view for one, for an audience of one, and that's how anyone who cares about and loves the District of Columbia should view this. Jack Kent Cooke and Virginia state representatives from a generation ago had a deal to build a football stadium on the same land, but it didn't work out. Maybe the Virginia General Assembly will object to the project, which will be too great to overcome. Leonsis said to hold him accountable. When the city that has provided him so much over the last decades needed someone with his voice and influence to say, post-COVID, and post-Jan. 6, and which is grappling with crime outbursts throughout the city, this is about one man's grandiosity, and readiness I want to be part of the solution, so I will be slightly less rich.

Abe Pollin built what is now called Capital One Arena downtown, mostly with his own money, in 1997 and he did it because rich men don't do this. The owners of pro sports teams are within their rights to do so. They can make any kind of deal that will allow them to create an entertainment district that will bring the well-heeled and well- connected to their new playground. Leonsis will be envied and admired, but it will be hard to take at face value any future talk from him about his love of the District. I am aware that the Wizards were once the Bullets, who used to play in Baltimore and Chicago. I am aware of the history of franchise roulette in many cities and know that it hurts when your team leaves town. The city was hurt when the Senators left for Minnesota and the team that replaced them left for Texas. Even though it was a few miles from the D.C. line, it still felt terrible when the Redskins left for Landover. The crowds who come to Wizards games for the last 25 years are some of the most diverse in the NBA. The league's buildings are again full, but the fan bases are very White and rich. The Wizards crowds have not been the same since I started covering them. Caps fans have been with the team for nearly two decades. Every owner swears that his or her fans will follow the team to the new place. The Warriors claimed that light rail and express transportation would mean that most of their middle-class fans would come from Oakland and follow the team to the new Chase Center in downtown San Francisco. Chase is full, but not with the people who filled Oakland Arena for three decades. You can do it with six-figure suites and courtside seats. When the Pistons moved from downtown Detroit to the Palace of auburn Hills in the late ’80s, they used to play in front of the auto workers. We play in front of executives.

It will be impossible to forget that the Capital City G-League team is named the Capital City G0-Go, and that the District of Columbia is called The District of Columbia. It is hard to process the reports that Leonsis was annoyed by the teens performing Go-Go music outside of Capital One. The Wizards/Capitals move to Virginia is difficult for D.C. residents to accept because it is four miles away from Capital One. A 20,000-seat arena, practice facility, and new restaurants/entertainment venues are going to be located in an area with many incoming and surrounding roads that are currently one- or two-laners. It will be a much longer commute for many if they decide to come. It's like this, the way that many Virginia residents feel about coming into the District for a night out, when they have One Loudoun or Reston Town Center available, closer-in? District residents feel the same way about going to Alexandria for a night out. You have your reasons. The District has been kicked in the stomach again because of COVID, which has reduced the number of offices in downtown. The Mayor took a big L here, because she wanted to prevent something like this from happening, because you can't replace the Caps and Wizards. They can't leave on your watch, that's the job. Leonsis would have been better off talking to reporters after the press conference to hear what he was feeling. He and his team have ideas about how Capital One can become more of a destination for people who want to see ice shows and concerts. The return of the Mystics to Capital One Arena was one of the highlights. I was in San Francisco in the spring of that year, covering the Warriors and the Astros, and I was able to watch the Caps play the Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals in my hotel room. If you were from D.C., you were aware that the pain in the butt of the Pens was as big as it was for the Caps. It was town business. When the broadcast cut to the cheering crowds outside of Capital One, in Penn Quarter, deliriously happy, and young, and diverse, having finally slain the beast, it did something to me. I want to be a part of documenting how happy the city is.

The joy that those franchises brought to my hometown was forever. The city was wounded when the men and women on the other side of the river celebrated their good fortune and didn't seem to care about the pain left behind.

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