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The Baltimore Bullets were an American basketball team that played in the NBA from 1963 to 1973. They are a predecessor to the Washington Wizards who still play in the NBA today. The team played their home games at the Baltimore Civic Center. The Bullets had one of the most explosive offenses in the league but their shambolic defense held them back from real success.
How did the Baltimore Bullets Start up?
The Royals franchise was started as the NBA’s first expansion franchise in 1961. The team, then based in Chicago was known as the Chicago Packers for the first year and changed to Chicago Zephyrs in 1962. In 1963, the franchise was relocated to Baltimore and renamed the Baltimore Bullets, to honor the former Baltimore Bullets franchise that had folded in 1954. The nickname Bullets had been picked by the earlier team because they used to play in an armory.
The Baltimore Bullets in Competition
The Bullet’s first season in competition was 1963/64. That season, the team finished fourth in the Western Division with a 31-49 record. The following season, they traded wisely and were rewarded with an impressive 37-43record that saw them finish third. They then beat the St. Louis Hawks in four games in the playoffs. In the Western Finals, they were defeated four games to two by the Minneapolis Lakers. In 1965/66, six players averaged double figures in scoring and this helped the Bullets to a second place finish with a 38-42 record. They however exited the playoffs after losing in three straight games to the Hawks. In the next two seasons, the team finished in last place as they moved to the eastern division.
In 1968/69, following further great drafting, the team topped the league with a 57-25 record. They disappointed in the playoffs though as they lost to the Knicks in four straight games. They had another impressive record, 50-32 in 1969/70 but dropped to third in the Eastern Division. In the playoffs, the Bullets met the Knicks again and lost in seven games. They were placed in the newly formed Central Division for the 1971/72 season and they emerged top with an otherwise unimpressive 42-40. In the playoffs Baltimore beat the Philadelphia 76ers in a tightly fought seven game series to reach the Eastern conference Finals. They were again matched up against the Knicks who they beat in seven games to make it to the NBA finals. However, a title win was not to be as they were beaten in four straight games by the Milwaukee Bucks.
In 1971/72, they somehow topped the central division with a 38-44 record and yet again met the Knicks in the playoffs. The Knicks triumphed in six games to end any hope of a return to the NBA finals. The next season, they topped the Central Division again with a 52-30 record and they would meet their perennial tormentors New York Knicks who again cut short their hopes of further progress. Game 5 of that contest with the Knicks would be their last game of their time in Baltimore as a move away from the city was announced soon after.
The Baltimore Bullets Most Notable Moments
Between 1969 and 1973, the Bullets formed a bitter feud with the New Yorks. This feud arose from the fact that the teams met in each of those five years at the playoff stage. The teams had contrasting playing styles with the Bullets boasting their electric offense with the likes of Gus Johnson, Monroe and Kevin Loughery while the Knicks were known for their defense held together by Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Frazier. The Knicks heaped misery on the Bullets as they eliminated them in four of these years with the Bullets only coming out on top once. Personal rivalries also developed, the main ones being between Wes Unseld and Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Gus Johnson, and Jack Marin and Bill Bradley.
Baltimore always made good trades particularly when drafting rookies. Many of their most successful players including Unseld, Johnson and Monroe were signed as rookies often with the Bullets giving up more established players. Many of these players went on to become NBA Hall of Famers.
The Bullets’ Most Notable Players
Wes Unseld joined the Bullets as a Rookie in 1968 and hit the ground running. He averaged 18.2 rebounds per game, winning the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards, the only player to do so besides Wilt Chamberlain. For he rest of his Baltimore career he averaged double digit in rebounds.
Gus Johnson played center/forward for the Bullets from 1963 to 1972 and was pivotal alongside Wes Unseld to the team’s relatively impressive records in the latter years of the 1970s. He won Rookie of the Year in 1963/64 averaging 17.3 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.
Wes Monroe played for the Bullets from 1967 to 1972 and averaged above 20 ppg in each of those seasons. He hit a career best 25.8 ppg in 1968/69 coming off from his Rookie of the Year win the previous season. He was instrumental to their famous run to the NBA finals in 1971 scoring 21.4 points per game.
Other notable players include Elvin Hayes, Kevin Loughery and Bailey Howell.
What Happened to the Baltimore Bullets?
Although the team performance was not that bad, the Bullets were unable to draw the kind of crowd owner Abe Pollin would have hoped for. Abe saw little hope for the team in Baltimore as he believed the city was in economic decline. In addition, the Civic Center was getting old and that needed money to fix. Following the conclusion of the 1972/73 season, the team was relocated to Washington and renamed the Capital Bullets and later the Washington Bullets. Baltimore was left without NBA basketball but the bullets made a commitment to play occasional games at the Civic Center for the next 20 years.