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Relocated NBA Teams: The Baltimore Bullets

The Baltimore Bullets were a basketball team that played in the NBA from 1963 to 1973. There had been another basketball team that used the same name between 1944 and 1954 and played in the ABL and the NBA’s predecessor, the BAA. The Baltimore Bullets is the same franchise that later became the Washington Wizards of today. The team had its beginnings in Chicago as the Chicago Packers in 1963. The Packers only lasted two years in Chicago, where it was known as the Chicago Zephyrs in the second season. In 1963, the team relocated to Baltimore and took up the nickname which had been left behind by the original Bullets franchise. The Bullets moniker had been chosen by the earlier franchise because the team had played at an armory converted into an arena. The Bullets played their home games at the Baltimore Civic Center.

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Baltimore were a pretty decent team in competition, regularly making the playoffs. They reached the NBA Final once, conference finals twice and were three times division champions. The Bullet’s best effort came in the 1970/71 season when they marched all the way to the NBA Finals. After winning the Central Division with a 42-40 record, Baltimore edged past the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs in seven games. In the Eastern Finals, the Bullets won another seven game series, this time over the New York Knicks to exact revenge for their exit at the hands of the Knicks the previous season. In the NBA Finals, they met the Milwaukee Bucks led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then still known as Lew Alcindor). They were swept in four straight games by the Bucks. The chance to make amends in latter seasons was however compromised by the surprise sale of star player Earl Monroe to the Knicks barely three games into the next season. Monroe would haunt the Bullets as they exited the playoffs at the hands of the Knicks during each of the next two seasons. Monroe’s was not the first questionable trade the Bullets were making with the Knicks. A few games into the 1965/66 season, having lost the 1965 Western Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team shockingly traded Walt Bellamy to the Knicks. Bellamy would go on to shine away from the Bullets and was even named to the Hall of Fame. The team would have to wait five years to assemble another team that could reach and surpass that pinnacle.

Why were the Baltimore Bullets Relocated?

The Bullets were incredibly unlucky to share a city with two highly successful teams. This meant that the Bullets’ own flirts with success (relatively impressive by normal standards) were not enough to secure a solid fan base. In 1971 as the Bullets were beaten in their first ever NBA Finals, MBL’s Baltimore Orioles had just played in the second World Series in a row. The Colts of the NFL had won Super Bowl V in January. Quite simply, there was much more to excite the city of Baltimore aside from the Bullets having their best season. Games at the Baltimore Civic Center were regularly played in front of lean crowds, inevitably leading to financial losses. The civic Center itself was not much of a stadium. The arena’s shape, much longer than the court meant that many seats were positioned at awkward angles, denying many fans a good view of the action. In 1972, Bullets owner Abe Pollin announced his intention to move the team away from the city. After the 1972/73 season, the team relocated to Washington changing its name to the Capital Bullets. The team’s sendoff from Baltimore was as low spirited as most of their games, underlining their unpopularity. No ceremony was held to mark their last game in Baltimore, no acknowledgement for their best players or anything. The players simply walked off the court for the last time ever as the song “Never can say goodbye” played in the stadium. Attendance in Washington shot up, with 414, 402 fans turning out during the 1973/74 season compared to 263,660 during the teams last season in Baltimore. However over the next 20 years, the Bullets would continue to play a few games at the Civic Center. The city of Baltimore is nevertheless yet to host another NBA franchise since the departure of the Bullets.

Baltimore Bullets Notable Players

Earl Monroe G 1967-1972

Gus Johnson F 1963-1972

Wes Unseld C 1968-1973

Walt Bellamy C 1964-1966

Kevin Loughery G 1963-1971

Fred Carter SF 1968-1972

Jack Marin SF 1966-1972

Leroy Ellis C/PF 1966-1970

Don Ohl G 1964-1968

Jack Marin SF 1966-1972

Ray Scott C/PF 1966-1970

Johnny Egan PG 1965-1968

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