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Perspective | D.C.’s teams are staying where they belong. What a monumental relief.

Perspective | D.C.’s teams are staying where they belong. What a monumental relief.

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

This was a day to take the high road. For sports fans across Washington D.C. to roar, then exhale. A day to beat our chests and scoff at that pile of dirt in Potomac Yard. And to forgive — no one said a thing about forgetting — and move forward, because the Wizards and Capitals are remaining right where they belong.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) and Ted Leonsis, the CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment and owner of the teams, finally made nice and agreed to keep the teams stationed inside Capital One Arena until 2050. This officially ends Leonsis’s courtship with the state of Virginia, a plan that began behind closed doors but spectacularly failed for all to see, no matter how he tried to revise that history Wednesday evening.

So, this was a day for legacies. The Virginia governor’s took a blow. Bowser’s puffed up like one of Glenn Youngkin’s signature vests. Abe Pollin’s was rescued. And as for Leonsis …

What, now? What to make of that man and his legacy?

Will he be remembered as the steadfast sports owner, and applauded for remaining in the city?

Or be forever demonized as the suburban-minded CEO who tried to scheme and plot his way out of town?

This is why Wednesday, March 27, 2024 isn’t a love fest that Bowser, the D.C. Council and Monumental might want it to be. No magic wand can abracadabra away these last three months of secret deals, public disses, false claims and hurt feelings. Too much has already been said, too many propaganda pieces have already been produced to make us forget that Leonsis had a wandering eye and lustful heart for another city, and that he really, really wanted to leave D.C.

Rather, this date should reflect only the latest twist in the two-decade saga featuring Leonsis as the owner of the city’s professional basketball and hockey teams.

Legacies often aren’t linear. They take a circuitous path. One day, you’re a raven-haired tech mogul with a minority team stake, looking around an empty MCI center and envisioning how on Earth are you going to fill all those seats? Then almost 20 years go by, and you’re standing on the ice inside an arena in the desert, a little older, a lot grayer, and savoring a celebration that, at times, only you had the guts to predict out loud.

“It makes it taste better,” Leonsis said in June 2018, following the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-clinching win over the Vegas Golden Knights. “It’s much, much sweeter to go through all of the pain and suffering to get to the top of the mountain. That’s the way life is. That’s the way great businesses get built. It’s never easy.”

If only the story could have ended there — with a fan base and a city high on dopamine from witnessing the breakthrough of breakthroughs, and a team owner revered as the chief supplier of this glee. Leonsis would’ve been the bigshot who brought Michael Jordan to town. The idealist who also attempted to bring the Olympics, too. The executive willing to make Ovi a lifer, and the advocate who ushered in an era of female empowerment at Monumental, with women all throughout ownership, management and basketball operations. The beloved sports owner who dreamed, swung big and ultimately, won.

If only the story had ended there …

The ellipsis, however, means there’s a continuation. Leonsis will never just be the sports owner who stayed. His legacy has too many ugly spots. Twists and turns. Scratches from the whiplash of being the visionary turned villain. It’s not a rise and fall, just the way life plays out when your grandiose ambitions outweigh reality.

That’s why on Sunday, when the same man who brought the Cup to D.C. appeared on the arena video board to congratulate T.J. Oshie for his 1,000th career game, light boos greeted him. This was an afternoon game, so imagine how a nighttime crowd would’ve unleashed the fury for real.

Booing Ted Leonsis at a Capitals game might have seemed unimaginable in June 2018. In March 2024, however, it was the only acceptable response.

As for Bowser, she’s an elected official, and not a commissioner of a sports league. Her job is to steward the city, and so her legacy should reflect issues that matter in a municipality, like education, affordable housing, youth violence, the opioid crisis, on and on. However, since sports can galvanize a people, giving a city an identity, this day will be remembered for Bowser, as well.

Good for her, and her legacy. She won’t end up as the mayor who lost two teams at once — and for that, Bowser should award the key to the city to Virginia Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth). That powder keg of a politician. Lucas deserves a bouquet of yellow lilies in perpetuity for saving two of the city’s teams. Lucas may care only for her Virginia constituents, and likely only stepped up as the one-woman roadblock to the “Glenn Dome” because of party-line animus against Youngkin, Leonsis’s partner in the now-dead deal. But petty politics never looked so pleasant. God bless you, Sen. Lucas, and your delight in humbling a haughty governor and breaking a billionaire’s heart.

But this was a day to cheer again.

This was a day for the city.

The teams are staying in D.C., where they should be. Capital One Arena will remain as the city’s centerpiece, rather than the abandoned paperweight it could’ve been without the Caps and Wizards as full-time tenants. And we no longer have to entertain the worst fears of the Chinatown/Gallery Place neighborhood descending into a Scooby-Doo ghost town. The neighborhood that surrounds the arena might recover after all, even if the transformation needs time and patience. There’s still much to be done to make downtown D.C. the alluring destination every major metropolitan city should have, but that work would’ve been next to impossible had the Monumental Sports & Entertainment economic engine bolted for Alexandria.

So, the next time you’re downtown, raise a glass for Lucas and for Pollin at Clyde’s, or Rocket Bar, or Irish Channel. And while you’re at it, toast the city. On Wednesday, the District of Columbia won. And for a few minutes, it didn’t matter who brought us to this finish line.

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