Hughes: Where Wizards place in NBA's 75-year history


The NBA will be celebrating its 75th anniversary all season long with a series of promotions and retrospectives, including the unveiling of the 75 greatest players in league history next month. In contemplating where the Wizards place in the context of those 75 years, there have been some dramatic highs and lows. The franchise has existed for 60 seasons, so 80% of the league's history, with plenty of success and failure along the way.

They have played using six different names: the Chicago Packers, Chicago Zephyrs, Baltimore Bullets, Capital Bullets, Washington Bullets and as the Washington Wizards. Though a separate Baltimore Bullets team played from 1949 to 1955, their records are not officially included in Wizards franchise history. Their franchise story began in 1961, as the Packers, with the first expansion draft in league history.

In these past 60 years, the franchise has been at its high-point one of the best teams of the 1970s and at its low-point (standings-wise) a team that missed the playoffs 15 times in a stretch of 16 seasons from 1989 to 2004.

Along the way, some great players have suited up for the franchise. There have been Hall of Famers who made their name with the team like Wes Unseld Sr. and Elvin Hayes, plus legends who passed through towards the end of their careers like Michael Jordan and Moses Malone.

In an attempt to encapsulate it all, here's a by-the-numbers look at where the Wizards place in the NBA's history so far...


9th-oldest (60 seasons)

The franchise began in 1961 as the Chicago Packers and played one season before changing their name to the Zephyrs. They would then play one season as the Zephyrs before moving to Baltimore and rebranding as the Bullets. There are only eight franchises older than the Wizards: the Knicks, Warriors, Celtics (1946-47), Kings, Pistons, Lakers (1948-49), Hawks and Sixers (1949-50).

25th in win percentage (.452)

Though the Wizards are one of the oldest franchises, they are not among the winningest, at least in terms of win percentage. Only five teams have a worse win percentage; the Hornets, Nets, Grizzlies, Clippers and Timberwolves. The franchise with the highest win percentage is the Spurs (.597), while the lowest is owned by the Timberwolves (.394).

T-17th in playoff appearances (30)

Despite their regular-season win percentage, the Wizards fare much better in playoff appearances, having made the postseason in exactly half of their total seasons. They have more playoff appearances than the Kings despite the fact the latter has existed for 13 more years.

One of 21 teams with a championship (1978)

It has been a long time since the Wizards franchise made a deep playoff run, but they do have a championship, having beaten the Seattle Supersonics in the 1978 NBA Finals. That one title ties the Wizards with seven other teams that also have a lone championship: the Hawks, Blazers, Thunder (technically, the Sonics), Kings, Mavericks, Cavaliers and Raptors. The Bucks winning their second Larry O'Brien Trophy this past season pushed them ahead. There are nine teams remaining without a ring: the Nuggets, Jazz, Suns, Clippers, Magic, Grizzlies, Hornets, Timberwolves and Pelicans. In recent years, having a championship in their past has allowed the Wizards to include a gold stripe on the back of their uniforms.

T-10th in Finals appearances (4)

There may be a lot of teams that have caught up to or passed the Wizards franchise in championships, but they still rank quite high in Finals appearances. With four Finals berths in the 1970s, the Wizards are still in the top-third of the NBA. Their four Finals runs in the 1970s were the most of any team that decade. The Lakers and Knicks each made it three times, while the Celtics and Bucks went twice. While the Bullets won one title in the 1970s, the Celtics and Knicks each won two.

18th-most wins (2,187)

The Wizards rank about average in terms of total wins. Despite their sub-.500 win percentage, they have been around long enough and have won enough games to be in the middle of the pack. There are a few franchises younger than them with more victories, however, including the Blazers who have 24 more wins despite playing nine fewer seasons. 

7th-most losses (2,654)

Only six teams have lost more games than the Wizards franchise in league history. Those teams are the Kings, whose 3,135 losses are the most of any team, plus the Warriors, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks and Sixers.


One MVP (Wes Unseld Sr.)

MVP is the most exclusive award given out annually by the league and the Wizards franchise is one of 23 teams to have at least one in its past. That would be Unseld Sr., who amazingly won MVP as a rookie. Unseld Sr., at just 22 years old, averaged 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds per game in his first season. 

Two Rookies of the Year (Unseld, Earl Monroe)

Unseld Sr. won the MVP as a rookie, so naturally he was also the NBA's Rookie of the Year. He was the second consecutive Rookie of the Year for the franchise, in fact, as fellow Hall of Famer Earl Monroe won the award the season before, in 1967-68. Monroe averaged 24.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. 

Four No. 1 picks

Though two players in franchise history have won Rookie of the Year, neither were No. 1 overall picks. Both Unseld Sr. and Monroe were taken second overall. The four No. 1 overall picks selected by the franchise were Walt Bellamy (1961), Bill McGill (1962), Kwame Brown (2001) and John Wall (2010). Bellamy was a Hall of Famer and Wall became a perennial All-Star, while Brown and McGill were never selected for All-Star teams.