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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.

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