—For the district? Yes of course; Ted Leonsis will take the anguish of Wizards, Capitals to the other side of the river

WASHINGTON — The Prince of Potomac Yard talked about water.

“When I first came to this site,” Ted Leonsis said Wednesday, “and stood on top of the roof of the building next door and looked out, we forgot about the power of having two rivers flowing directly into this community. And iconic real estate is incredibly important. “We have access — you can see the Washington Monument from here, Washington, D.C., a mile and a half from the border from here.”

That must be great! So nice that the billionaire owner of Wizards and Capitals will have a swanky view of the confluence of Potomac and Anacostia from his upcoming offices in Alexandria, where he will center his entertainment and sports empire. It would be unfair to say that literally He will look down on the people who are financing his JerryWorld, his BallmerVille, in Crystal City, or National Landing, or whatever name they prefer for their community across the river. But it will be a good view.

It is, however, a vision for one, for an audience of one. Which, in the end, is how anyone who cares and loves the District of Columbia should view this seemingly imminent departure of the Wizards and Capitals for Virginia.

Some of us are old enough to remember the “done deal” between Jack Kent Cooke and Virginia state representatives from a generation ago on that same property for a new football stadium that fell apart like cotton candy. So perhaps the Virginia General Assembly will raise objections to this new project that will be too big to overcome. Maybe the NIMBYs in Alexandria will make their voices loud and annoying enough to force a reconsideration.

But I doubt it.

“Hold me accountable,” Leonsis said Wednesday. OK.

It’s about the greatness of a man and his willingness to walk away when the city that has given him so much over the last few decades needed someone with his voice and influence to say, after COVID and after January. 6, and that he’s dealing with citywide crime outbreaks that have so many uncomfortable, “You know what? Some things may be wrong here right now. But I’m lucky to have enough financial security to endure this with you. I want to be part of the solution. Then I’ll be a little less rich. I’ll stay.”

Don’t tell me rich men don’t do this. That’s precisely what Abe Pollin did when he built what is now called Capital One Arena downtown, transforming the city, in 1997, mostly with his own money.

On the contrary, Leonsis opted for money. Which, as I’ve said and written dozens of times over the years, owners of professional sports teams are well within their rights to do. They can play wherever they want their teams to play. They can make any deal that lines their pockets and allows them to create the kind of multi-use “entertainment districts” that will attract the wealthy and well-connected to their new playgrounds. No one doubts that Virginia will turn Leonsis into an avant-garde stadium worthy of envy and admiration.

But it will be difficult to take at face value any future conversations Leonsis has about his love for the District.

Because you know what the Wizards, regardless of their current fortunes, mean to generations of D.C. basketball fans, I’m well aware that the Wizards were once the Bullets, that they once played in Baltimore, and before that, In Chicago. I know very well the history of franchise roulette, in many cities, with many teams. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt deeply when his The team leaves the city. When the Senators left, first, for Minnesota, and then when the team that replaced them left for Texas, it severely affected this city. Some of us followed the Orioles, because they were the closest team. We didn’t love them.

And when the then-Redskins left for Landover, Maryland, even though it was only a few miles from the DC line, it felt horrible. He still does it.

Add this to the ledger.

Because Leonsis knows, more than anyone, that the crowds that attend Wizards games, and have been coming to them for the past 25 years, are among the most diverse in the NBA: racially, economically and socially. Maybe Atlanta will have similar types of crowds for Hawks games. Most league buildings, these days, are full again, post-COVID. But overall, their fan bases are very white and very wealthy. That hasn’t been the case here since I started covering the team, when it played at the Capital Center in Landover in the late ’80s. Wizards crowds look like the District, at least how it used to look. They won’t when the team crosses the river.

(I don’t mention the Capitals crowds because the Caps regularly sell out Capital One. Caps fans have represented for almost two decades. I can’t imagine then that they won’t continue to do so in Virginia.)

Each owner vows that his or her fan base will follow the team “down the road” to the new location. The Warriors used that light rail, and express transportation would mean that most of their middle-class fans would come from Oakland, across the San Francisco Bay, and follow the team to the new Chase Center in downtown San Francisco.

They didn’t do it.

Chase is certainly packed, but not with the people who filled what is now called Oakland Arena for three decades. You have to pay for a $2 billion stadium; You don’t do it with $15 tickets. It does so with six-figure suites and five-figure court seats. As John Salley, who won four championships in his day playing for the Pistons, Bulls and Lakers, noted when the Pistons moved from downtown Detroit, 31 miles north, to the Palace of Auburn Hills in the late ’80s: “We used to play in front of the auto workers. Now we play in front of the executives.”

It will be impossible to forget what now feels like an appropriation of the city’s culture, by dubbing Washington’s G-League team Capital City Go-Go and centering DC at every opportunity, putting “For the District” and ” The District of Columbia.” on their Twitter accounts and on the jerseys of Wizards players, or touting this year’s alternate jerseys with an awesome story about the city’s Boundary Stones, or putting “DC” on hats and apparel, just to get away from all that, for the charming treatment throughout the river, your Braves New World.

And if there’s any truth to the report that Leonsis was irritated by teenagers performing… Go-Go music, outside of Capital One? Well, it’s hard to know how to process that. Street musicians? That is a problem?? Good sir.

(After this was initially posted, I was informed that Leonsis’ problem is not with the buskers who perform in front of Capital One on event nights, but that there is a concern about a particular person who has been aggressive toward the passersby, both in front of the stadium and other nearby businesses).

If you’re not from here, you may not understand why a Wizards/Capitals move to Virginia is especially difficult for DC residents to accept. It’s just four miles from Capital One, Leonsis said Wednesday.

Psychically it feels like the Grand Canyon.

First, the traffic. The dance of putting a 20,000-seat stadium, practice facility and new restaurants and entertainment venues in an area surrounded by Reagan National Airport, Amazon II and a large, busy shopping center, with many incoming and surrounding roads that currently They are one or two. -Laners, it’s discouraging. Sources involved in the discussions said Wednesday that part of the deal is significant improvements to roads surrounding the proposed site, along with expanded light and heavy rail services. However, it will be a much longer journey for many if they decide to come.

Will fans who have taken a 30-45 minute Metro ride from the Maryland suburbs to downtown Gallery Place be willing to add another 20-30 minute round trip to get to and from Alexandria? Do the Wizards or Caps games start at 7 pm?

Second… well, put it that way. How do many Virginians feel about coming to the District for a night out, when they have One Loudoun or Reston Town Center available, closer? District residents feel the same way when they go to Alexandria for a night out, when we have Penn Quarter or Columbia Heights or NoMa patronized. Don’t you feel safe coming here? Many of us don’t feel safe going out. You have your reasons. We have bears.

It just feels like, once again, the District has been kicked in the gut; She has been blamed, because COVID reduced like a scythe the number of offices operating downtown, leaving restaurants and bars with fewer customers for lunch or dinner. However, make no mistake: Mayor Muriel Bowser gets a big L here. It was her job to prevent something like this from happening, because she cannot replace the Caps and Wizards, and the energy they have brought to the center. I know it was difficult to find the amount of money necessary to keep Leonsis away from wanderlust. But that’s the job. They can’t leave under her watch. They go for hers.

I don’t doubt that the decision was difficult, perhaps even painful, for Leonsis. Therefore, it would have been useful for him to express what he felt on Wednesday to the journalists who asked to speak with him after the press conference, instead of turning them away. And he and his team have ideas about how to transform Capital One, now free from having to cross off dozens of potential days on the calendar each year for Wizards and Capitals games, to keep the building busy most of the time. Ice shows. Concerts. Activities in conjunction with the DC Convention Center, and/or DC Events The return of the Mystics to Capital One, after playing at the Southeast Entertainment and Sports Arena. (Speaking of which: what exactly is Leonsis planning to do now with the ESA, which he spoke so grandly about just a few years ago?)

But nothing replaces a sports team in the soul of a city. Nothing.

Do you know one of the big reasons why I came to The Athletic in 2018? I was in San Francisco in the spring of that year, watching the Capitals play the Penguins in the Eastern Conference semifinals, in my hotel room, while covering the Warriors and Rockets. If you’re from DC, you knew, whether you Rocked the Red regularly or not, how big of a pain in the Penguins’ ass the Caps were for a decade, how desperately Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström wanted, needed, beat Sidney Crosby and the Pens. They were city businesses.

So when Evgeny Kuznetsov scored that breakaway goal in overtime to seal the series over the Penguins, and the broadcast cut to the cheering crowds outside Capital One in Penn Quarter, deliriously happy, young and diverse, having finally killed the beast, it did something to me. I told myself, in that hotel room, “look how happy the city is. This is amazing. I would like to be part of the chronicle of that.”

And I was, as I witnessed firsthand how the Nationals won the World Series and the Mystics won the WNBA title behind “Playoff Emma,” within weeks of each other in 2019. And the joy those franchises brought to my hometown was immeasurable. , and forever.

I love this city, my city. And my city was badly hurt on Wednesday morning, when men and women across the river toasted their good fortune, a deal well done, and didn’t seem to care one bit about the pain they left behind.

(Photo of Ted Leonsis and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin: Win McNamee/Getty Images)