June 22nd, 2004

The Curse Of Les Boulez’

Tony Kornheiser on why the NBA Draft is a source of dread for fans of Washington professional basketball:

Once upon a time, the draft was the most optimistic night of the year for Wizards’ fans. On one gloriously comic night, they took both Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues. On another, they passed up Karl Malone for Kenny Green. On still others, they took John “Hot Plate” Williams and Mel “Dinner Bell” Turpin. And each time they could say, “We just didn’t get lucky.” But when they finally got the overall No. 1 pick, they couldn’t say that anymore. They took Kwame Brown, a high school kid. And bad luck had nothing to do with it. Because by then we all knew it wasn’t luck, it was the Curse O’ Les Boulez.

It’s sad, really.

Really sad.

What goes unsaid in this column, is that there’s really only one individual who deserves the blame for this litany of failure, and that’s Wizards owner Abe Pollin. In a lot of ways, Pollin reminds me of late New York Jets owner Leon Hess. When that team was essentially bankrupt in the early 1960s (then the original football Titans), it was Hess who swooped in with a couple of partners and saved it from bankruptcy. Later, though he was incredibly generous and loyal with his subordinates, that loyalty was often misplaced — a tendency that reached its zenith when Hess hired former Jets assistant Rich Kotite to coach the team before the 1996 season. The result: a two-year tenure that ended with a record of 4-28.

Fortunately, that embarassing public setback led Hess to hire Bill Parcells, and the team has been more than respectable since his arrival in 1997 (though, to be fair, it wasn’t all Parcells — after all, current head coach Herman Edwards has taken the Jets to the playoffs more times than Parcells did).

Sadly, there hasn’t been a similar transformation here in Washington. Granted, Pollin deserves a lot of credit in certain areas: he built MCI Center mostly with his own money, and helped revive a neighborhood in the process; when he sold the NHL Capitals, he found a stable owner that was committed to keep the team in Washington; and when it comes to the balance sheet of Washington Sports and Entertainment, the umbrella company that owns the Wizards, the MCI Center, and the Washington, D.C. Ticketmaster franchise, there’s little doubt Pollin has kept it profitable.

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any indications of similar success on the basketball court.

What do you do when the nice guy just can’t get it done?

UPDATE: Here’s a neat little story about Ben Wallace from Jim Henley.

One Response to “The Curse Of Les Boulez’”

  1. Jeff Grimshaw says:

    As long as DC area fans continue to flock to MCI to bear witness to 25 years of total futility and counting — nothing will change. DC needs to borrow a page from the NY Giants fan’s book – right after “the fumble” (love ya, Joe P.!) That is – burn your tickets in front of the Meadowlands (or MCI Center). Fly those planes with insulting banners (even if it’s over DC restricted air space!).

    You’ll notice that the Mara boys FINALLY got the message.
    Now it’s Abe’s turn – or shall I refer to him as “Mr. Pollin” like
    all his employess are required to do. As a vendor, I met Abe and I called him “Abe”. My Washington Sports client just freaked out. I told this person later that when I worked for Ted Turner, I called him “Ted” and that I didn’t think Abe was as big as Ted.

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