Thursday, December 10, 2009

5 Years Ago

Five years ago yesterday for Wizards fans will bring many mixed feelings. Yesterday was the five year anniversary of Lamar Hunt announcing that he was putting the Wizards up for sale. I say that this brings mixed feelings because at the time it brought rage, fear, and frustration to most if not all Wizards fans. But years later, after the purchasing of the team by OnGoal, that day is seen as a day when a big change occurred with the team and things started to turn around.

The day before the announcement was when the speculation started. Hunt had called a press conference for 2:30 pm the next day. This was shortly after the failing of Bi-State II which would have helped to renovate Arrowhead for Hunt's other KC team, the Chiefs. Immediately the thoughts of relocation and selling the team came up, but with the announcement being in KC relocation seemed extremely unlikely. The more hopeful people were hoping for either the announcement of a stadium deal, new investors, or potentially a World Cup qualifier returning to KC. Even those with contacts inside the front office didn't even know what the announcement was going to be about.

I remember exactly where I was that day. I was a senior in college and unfortunately had my European Reformation class right at the same time as the announcement. I dazed through class that day and took part of my final in that class before bolting back to my room and getting back on Bigsoccer to find out what had happened with the announcement. I get on my computer and the first thread I see is this. My heart like most Wizards fans immediately sank. The sadness quickly turned to rage at Hunt for doing this, for wanting to sell "my" team. I became so pissed at Hunt that I quit watching the Chiefs and vowed never to spend another dime on that team (this turned out to be false because as a Jackson County resident I'm helping to fund their stadium renovations). I still 5 years later have not watched more than a few plays a season of the Chiefs.

Here was Hunt's reasoning at the time for selling the team: "Similarly not feasible for the Wizards to not succeed without a SSS. I must concede I did not fully recognize this when the league first started. The recent failure of the Bi-State committee makes us realize that we need to focus on having an appropriate facility for the Chiefs in mid-America. It is because of this we are announcing that we are putting the Wizards up for sale."

That was a punch in the gut, he threw the Wizards under the bus to work to get things taken care of for the Chiefs. From a profitability standpoint I understand, but still years later that hurts a little to read that quote.

After the initial sadness/frustration, things started to be worked out, the Heart of America Soccer Foundation was formed with one of their primary goals being to find local ownership for the Wizards. Wizards fans owe people like Sam Pierron, Greg Cotton, Mark Naster, and others in the HASF that started this work. It took over a year and a half, but HASF and others had worked to bring together OnGoal LLC which on August 31, 2006 purchased the Wizards from Hunt. And while the work after that point has had it's ups and downs, that moment is still probably the best day in Wizards history in my mind.

As time has gone by, I have forgiven Hunt to a point. He kept his word and worked to find local ownership first. He just as easily could have let KC be a lame duck for the 2005 season and sold them off to Rochester, San Antonio, or wherever half way through the season. But he kept his commitment to finding local owners and it worked out for the best for the Wizards as OnGoal has helped to breath some new life into the team. And now with a new stadium looking like it could very well be in the final planning stages I now look back at the announcement of the sale of the team as a turning point (for the better) of the team.

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