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Wizards’ 1978 championship trophy was buried in a closet

Apr 5, 2013, 6:27 PM EDT

Larry O'Brien trophy Getty Images

If you’re a franchise with a Larry O’Brien trophy — whether you have enough to fill a room like the Celtics or just one like the Mavericks — you should display it (or them) proudly. They do not come easily.

So when Ted Leonsis bought the Washington Wizards, he has the logical question of where the 1978 Washington Bullets’ trophy was? And nobody had a good answer. Or really any kind of answer.

And that started a quest that ended in a dead guy’s home closet, a story reported by the Washington Post.

But then, finally, there was a breakthrough. Someone recalled someone else saying sometime awhile back that Smokey Bowie, the late building manager/head engineer/jack-of-all-trades who had been with the franchise since the old Capital Centre days until passing away a few years ago, had at some point taken it home with him for safekeeping. And sure enough, a carload of team employees dispatched to Bowie’s old house found the trophy — scuffed up, tarnished and dented — at the bottom of a closet.

“They bring it in,” Leonsis recalled this week, “and it’s got dings in it, it’s matted, not shiny. My wife [Lynn] is best friends with the woman who runs Tiffany’s in Tysons Corner, so I asked her to look at it, and I said, ‘Look at this – this is what we spend a billion dollars over our lifetime to try to win, and it’s been sitting in someone’s closet. Can you fix it?’ It took about three months, but it came back perfect.”

It is now prominently displayed near the entrance of the arena for all to see.

The Wizards are honoring the 1978 team on Saturday night — Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Bobby Dandridge and some of the other players will be there. A new championship banner will be unveiled in the arena.

Which is good — Washington has a proud basketball history and that should be celebrated as part of the franchise’s future.

  1. saint1997 - Apr 5, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    It’s ironic that if Washington sucked just one more year they could grab someone at the top of the extraordinarily talented 2014 class and get them over the hump, but they’re good enough now I don’t know if they can win a championship if they get to the playoffs

  2. dysraw1 - Apr 5, 2013 at 6:51 PM

    the big E. is gonna hurt somebody

  3. doublezero74 - Apr 5, 2013 at 7:30 PM

    A Truly woebegone franchise, your Washington wizards.

  4. 00maltliquor - Apr 5, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    Kept it for “safekeeping”….in a dark closet on the bottom, dinged up and tarnished, huh?…..wooooooooow.

  5. shrshot - Apr 6, 2013 at 9:14 AM

    Change the name back to Bullets and fire that POS GM. That’s the start of rebuilding the franchise. Got a better chance with Bert and Ernie than Ernie Grunfeld

  6. dedalus13 - Apr 6, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    This is just incredible! A NBA championship trophy is some bling that you would want to showcase in a hall or wherever for everyone to see it! What about all the players that have committed to this franchise and never asked to see that relique? Says a lot about the organization in general….

  7. mazblast - Apr 6, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Man, I loved the NBA back then. Great teams, great team play, and the personalities still managed to shine through. Now, thanks to David Stern’s emphasis, it’s all about big-market teams, individuals, and who can sell the most sh**. The game stinks now and it’s only worth watching when it looks like one of Little Caesar’s favored teams isn’t going to win a game or series.

    Thanks, Stern, you troll. You’ve managed to “liberate” a lot of hours I might have spent watching basketball, as opposed to the “product” you throw out there.

  8. 8man - Apr 6, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    I lived in Alexandria and watched as the Bullets avenged a previous year’s loss to Seattle to win this trophy. I can’t believe this story. I’m aghast…yet unsurprised…

    Abe, if you weren’t gonna display this proudly, why wasn’t it in your living room?

    Someone said it. Rename them the Bullets and make the detractors grow a set. I’m old and I don’t give a rat’s ass about sensibilities or peoples feelings anymore. If they can’t get over a franchise name, chances are they can’t get up and do what it takes to go to work. Which means, they are essentially, useless.

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