Photo by Robert Banez for The Sports Capitol
Leonsis sets high bar for Wizards' entering 2018-19 season
BY BEN STANDIG | SEPT. 22, 2018
WARD 8 — The St. Elizabeths Entertainment & Sports Arena is officially open. With the new pad, expectations are on the rise for the Washington Wizards says the man who signs the checks.
Though the Capital City Go-Go already used the 120,000 square-foot facility for tryouts, Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the building which will serve as the practice facility for the Washington Wizards, and home for the Washington Mystics and Capital City Go-Go. Among the dignitaries on hand was Ted Leonsis, whose Monumental Sports & Entertainment Corporation owns those teams.
The Sports Capitol spoke with Leonsis moments after he, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other local notables used oversized scissors to cut a lengthy red ribbon in front of the building which includes a 4,200-seat arena. Monumental reportedly contributed $5 million toward the building with another $10 million into community investments, according to the Washington City Paper. The District picked up the remaining tab on the reported $69 million project. According to Events DC, projections include $90 million in new tax revenue over 20 years and more than 380,000 annual visitors per year.
Internal expectations for the NBA team aren’t different from a season ago. The 2017-18 Wizards didn’t come close to achieving them, however, finishing with a 43-39 record, the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and a first-round playoff exit. Leonsis isn’t looking for a repeat performance, especially not with a top-5 NBA payroll ($134.4 million in guaranteed contracts), and significant upgrades with the practice courts — plural is key — weight room and training/rehabilitation options.
Saturday’s focus centered on new beginnings for the teams and the city. With the the Wizards’ opening training camp at St. Elizabeths with Monday’s media day, the chance to chat 1-on-1 with the owner provided the opportunity to ask for his 2018-19 season expectations.
The Sports Capitol: What’s your favorite part of the new building?
Ted Leonsis: My favorite part of the new building has been just watching as both the arena and the practice facility went up, and walking out on the floor and seeing both the Wizards’ logo and the Mystics logo side-by-side. There’s a lot of talk about equality — and we’re living it.
Just talking to the players and them really saying the Go-Go, Mystics and Wizards being together is going to be very, very powerful for us. As I’ve told all the players, to those much is given, much is expected. Talking to (Mystics guard) Natasha (Cloud), she thinks this is a competitive advantage. I always thought Kettler (Iceplex) — now Medstar Performance Center — was a competitive advantage for the Caps. In this arms race of competitiveness in all of the leagues, I think we’ve stood up something that the Wizards, Mystics and Go-Go can really be proud of.
TSC: In terms of the Wizards, how do you see that competitive advantage translating?
TL: Just the flow from where they come in, where they can eat, where they can train, get taped. Weight room is world class. They’ve been sharing a little weight room in [Capital One Arena]. They’re going to have sensory deprivation tanks. They’ve got Alter-G (anti-gravity treadmills) everywhere. There’s a big pool that has a treadmill in it. We just want to invest as much as we can to remove any impediment to their success.
TSC: You are part of this new arena investment. The Wizards are in the luxury tax for a second consecutive year. That’s a big investment and not everyone thought that would happen. This team is also coming off that season. What are your expectations for this season?
TL: Well, we want to make the playoffs. We want 50 wins* and I’d like to set a bar that says if we can’t get by the first round and the second round^ then we didn’t meet our goals. We have to improve upon last year, but this is a really good team practicing in a world-class building. I think it’s the most complete team and we want to focus on everyone’s health. John (Wall) last year missed half the season. Otto (Porter) struggled at the end of the season (with hip, leg injuries). If we can keep them healthy and they’re well-treated and well-tended and well-compensated, we should have high expectations for them.
(* The Wizards last won at least 50 games in the 1978-79 season.)
(^The franchise hasn’t advanced to the conference finals, the bar now set by Leonsis, since the Washington Bullets lost in the 1979 NBA Finals.)
Ben Standig is a host, writer and co-founder of The Sports Capitol. This D.C. area native grew up rooting for all the local squads and dabbled in the professional media world after college before making a full shift to sports writing in 2005. Since, Ben has covered every team and big event in town for several outlets including the Associated Press, NBCWashington.com and Scout.com.