‘How it’s supposed to be’: Fans embrace deal to keep Wizards, Caps in D.C

‘How it’s supposed to be’: Fans embrace deal to keep Wizards, Caps in D.C

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

A cold, rainy evening with the struggling Brooklyn Nets in town to play the Washington Wizards meant the early-bird crowd outside Capital One Arena on Wednesday was meager. There was a school tour group and a few families lined up outside the box office, but one cluster stood out: a collection of Alexandria residents who fiercely opposed the proposal of Monumental Sports & Entertainment CEO Ted Leonsis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to construct a new arena for the Wizards and Capitals in Potomac Yard.

No rain could dampen their enthusiasm at the news that D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Leonsis signed a deal that would keep the teams in downtown D.C. until 2050 once the agreement receives expected approval from the D.C. Council. Some of them stood outside the arena’s F Street entrance letting unaware fans know.

“They’re staying here! The arena deal’s off!” one of the Alexandria residents yelled to a man whose face was painted half red and half blue. “Oh, thank God!” the man responded.

That face-painted man shared the sentiment with fans who gathered inside to witness the Wizards’ 122-119 overtime loss. Relief was the dominant reaction.

“We really, really don’t want to go into Virginia,” lifelong fan and native Washingtonian Ashley Littlejohn said, laughing, during the first quarter.

Littlejohn and her husband, Timothy, have been attending Wizards, Capitals and Commanders games since the then-Bullets played in Landover, at US Airways Arena, which stopped housing the team in 1997 and was demolished in 2002. Their joy at Wednesday’s news echoed that of most fans who were pleased to be spared the drive to Northern Virginia.

As Landover residents, the Littlejohns usually drive to Wizards and Capitals games but enjoy the option of taking Metro to a centrally located stop. A rush-hour commute to an already congested area in Alexandria was less than appealing for the couple, who see firsthand the kind of day-altering traffic a sports arena creates because they live near the Commanders’ stadium.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals and Wizards, announced on March 27 that the teams will stay in D.C. until 2050. (Video: DC Mayor’s Office)

Plus, there’s something to be said for tradition.

“This is my team — Wizards, Capitals, Commanders. You don’t want to change what you’ve been doing your whole life,” Timothy Littlejohn said. “It feels like this is how it’s supposed to be.”

Virginia residents Michael Dean and Sachiko Adams similarly relish the feeling of driving in from the suburbs to see a Wizards game. Dean and Adams are first-year season ticket holders and, despite the Wizards’ 14-59 record, already re-upped for 2024-25 in part because they enjoy the experience surrounding the games in addition to the action on the court.

“We know we’re not competitive — we like the players, we like the culture, we like the experience,” Dean said. “The ceremony of coming downtown, picking out where we’re going to eat beforehand and all that. And getting into Virginia at this time is tough on a normal day.”

Traffic had been a concern for the Alexandria residents opposing the arena, too. They had spent the past few months lobbying against the billion-dollar proposal in Potomac Yard, rattled that taxpayers could be picking up the tab.

“The teams should stay in the District of Columbia — it was wrong to try to bring them to Virginia, fundamentally,” said Andrew Macdonald, the former vice mayor of Alexandria and co-founder of Stop the Arena.

He said the group spent plenty of time in Richmond bringing concerns to lawmakers about the “downside risks” — and while he points to Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), the chief blockade against the arena in the General Assembly, as the group’s champion, Macdonald said he felt its voice made a difference.

Shannon Curtis, who lives in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, said she hoped there were “lessons learned” for lawmakers about how to approach such a major deal.

She called community engagement “anemic” as residents felt backroom dealing shaped the arena proposal rather than transparent public meetings. “I hope this is a very important lesson in how to treat your voters, your residents, and how not to do politics around these arenas,” Curtis said.

The news also prompted Timothy Littlejohn to think more broadly about the politics surrounding the region’s arenas — especially after Bowser noted at an afternoon news conference that the Wizards are looking to build a new practice facility in the District.

Leonsis, in an email he sent to Monumental employees and partners Wednesday, mentioned Gallery Place, U Street and the RFK Stadium site as locations under consideration for the facility. Bowser said at the news conference that the WNBA’s Mystics and the Capital City Go-Go, the Wizards’ G League affiliate, would remain at Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast.

What, Timothy Littlejohn thought, might that mean for the NFL team that plays in his neighborhood?

“My only thing is if this affects the Commanders moving into town,” he said. “Are we using up so much public money trying to keep the Wizards that we end up losing out on the Commanders? That’s just something I’ve been thinking about.”

On the court, the Wizards’ three-game winning streak ended with an overtime loss despite Jordan Poole’s season-high 38 points. Poole started his seventh straight game at point guard in place of Tyus Jones (back) and rattled off 14 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime.

Corey Kispert (15 points) missed what would have been the game-tying free throw with 13 seconds to go before Dennis Schröder extended the Nets’ lead at the free throw line.

Kyle Kuzma added 24 points and 10 assists with no turnovers for the Wizards while coming back from a shoulder injury.

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