Washington Wizards City Edition jerseys inspired by Benjamin Banneker — Andscape
Hunter Lochmann has seen the early reviews for the Washington Wizards’ new City Edition jerseys.
The team’s chief marketing officer was prepared for people to be jarred by the brash colorway, but maybe not some of the comparisons.
“Medieval. Robin Hood, because of our new [jersey sponsor] partner,” he said. “Harry Potter.”
But he’s certain that once folks understand the story behind the departure from the Wizards’ red, white and blue motif that includes the nation’s first president, a Black astronomer, and little pieces of stone, their opinions may change.
“We are getting shellacked. I’m no longer reading the comments. Just because no one understands what they are,” Lochmann told Andscape last week.
“It may not be beloved, but people are going to make the connection and I think will appreciate it.”
Lochmann, a self-proclaimed “history nerd,” embraces the culture and history of the Washington area. He lives near the Washington-Virginia border, where he learned of the tiny federal monuments known as boundary stones that were used in the late 1700s to mark what is now Washington.
After President George Washington chose the land that would be the new home of the federal government, he requested that some of the buildings be built with stone, a nod to the architecture used in Europe. Washington and French planner Pierre Charles L’Enfant, concluded that the district should be a square and each would be 10 miles long.
In 1791, the pair enlisted a surveyor named Andrew Ellicott — Ellicott City, Maryland, is named after him — to map out the future district. The plan was to choose a starting point (which turned out to be in what is now Alexandria, Virginia), mark it with a 2-foot-tall piece of stone, travel a mile, and place another stone until it reached 10 miles. At that point, reposition 90 degrees, and do the same thing. They kept up this pattern until returning to the original point, outlining the boundary of the new nation’s capital — hence the boundary stone.
One member of Ellicott’s survey team was Benjamin Banneker, the son of formerly enslaved parents, who grew up on a tobacco farm in Baltimore County, Maryland. Unlike many Black Americans at the time — he was born in 1731 in what was then a slave state — Banneker received a formal education, which he used to later study the measurement of time, mathematics, and — after meeting George Ellicott, the cousin of Andrew — astrology.
According to sources, Banneker, then 61 years old, maintained the timekeeping and celestial measurements hat helped determine the latitude of the stars, which helped map out where to place the original stone in Alexandria. Another part of Banneker’s story, which was contended by historian Silvio Bedini in 1972, is that during the initial surveying of the capital, Banneker lay on his back for six nights, mapping the stars, to determine where the first stone — the south corner stone — would be placed.
“Once he established that point, then Ellicott was able to lay out the 40 miles of lines, which took him 34 days,” said Stephen Powers, a civil engineer in Virginia who consulted with the Wizards and Nike to help design the jerseys.
The participation of a Black man in the creation of the nation’s capital was out of the norm. A 1791 article in The Georgetown Weekly Ledger (according to the White House Historical Association), explains as much:
“[Ellicott] is attended by Benjamin Banneker, an Ethiopian, whose abilities, as a surveyor, and an astronomer, clearly prove that [Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson’s] concluding that race of men were void of mental endowments, was without foundation.”
Washington is such a tourist destination — it feels as if every middle school field trip is to the city — that many people are pretty familiar with Congress, the White House and the monuments. So Lochmann, with knowledge of the boundary stones and Banneker, had to ask himself, “How can we tell this underground story of things people really don’t know about?”
He’s excited for people to learn about this lesser-known history.
“They’re living in plain sight of all of us, and you can drive by them. They can be in someone’s backyard,” Lochmann said.
“These were commissioned by the father of our country to set up the first federal district. What gives the city our name: the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. That’s what fascinates me.”
The jersey design is a stark departure from what people are accustomed to from the Washington franchise. Since the days of the old Baltimore Bullets in the 1970s, the team has been synonymous with its red, white and/or blue color scheme. There have been changes before — the gold jerseys from the mid-2000s, the pink, cherry blossom-influenced colorway in 2022 — but this season’s City Editions look very unfamiliar.
The green, teal and copper colors represent the oxidation of the metal cages that currently house the boundary stones and the leaves and greenery beside the stones on the ground. Red lines run diagonally across the jersey and shorts, replicating the diamond outline the boundary stones made when placed in 1791 and 1792 by Ellicott, Banneker, and the rest of their survey team (According to Bedini, Banneker left the project in the first three months). Six red stars on the side of the jersey are a nod to Banneker lying on his back to make the astronomical survey.
Instead of “Wizards” being on the front of the jersey, it reads “The District,” using blackletter, or Gothic script, font that resembles that used by L’Enfant on the original map of the district. The team will wear the jersey for the first time on Nov. 10 for its first home, in-season tournament game against the Charlotte Hornets.
One of the smallest, but distinct change was in the team’s logo on the shorts. The crest usually has the Washington monument placed under a single grey star. For the City Edition uniforms, the Washington monument has been replaced with a single boundary stone.
Lochmann has been told the jerseys resemble that of the Seattle Kraken or New York Liberty or former Vancouver Grizzlies.
“And that’s fine,” he said. “It’s close to it.”
The team plans to do more than release the jerseys. It wants to hold a scavenger hunt for the remaining original 36 boundary stones — whether through destruction or disappearance, three of the stones are now replicas and another was replaced by a plaque. The Wizards are also working on a mural, and they plan to launch event activations at the sites named after Banneker in the metro area, including at Banneker Courts in Northwest Washington, which, coincidentally, dedicated a court in 2022 to then-Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who was traded to the Phoenix Suns in June after 11 seasons.
The Wizards aren’t the first Washington pro sports team to recognize the boundary stones: D.C. United acknowledged the stones and the border they made in their 2018 season kits.
“This to me is something we get to educate our fan base and city on,” Lochmann said. “And that, to me, we’re going to hopefully leave a little bit of a legacy and shine a light on these things, and maybe it turns into field trips for D.C. public kids down the road.”
Lochmann and the Wizards marketing team have seen all the immediate reactions to the jerseys on social media:
“Where did these colors even come from? This is like Jordan era wiz.”
“What the helllll?”
“Yeah nah slim.”
“This is what the Hogwarts basketball team would wear.”
“What the actual hell is that?”
But that’s one of the inherent risks of marketing: not everyone will (immediately) like what you present to them. The franchise went through this six years ago when it named its G League team the Capital City Go-Go. For those not familiar with go-go music, a subgenre of funk popualarized by local favorite Chuck Brown, it seemed like a weird name for a developmental basketball team, but for those who live in the Washington area, Go-Go was perfect. Even those not from the area should be aware of go-go music; Experience Unlimited’s song, “Da Butt,” released in 1988, is a certified classic.
“It’s like, if you know, you know,” said Rebecca Winn, the Wizards senior vice president in marketing. “… Those of us that are here know.”
As long as Lochmann and his team feel confident in what they are doing, and educating the fan base about the boundary stones and Banneker, they can disregard some of the less favorable reviews. More than anything — even more than retail sales — it is storytelling that Lochmann strives for with the City Edition jerseys.
“You know the line, ‘They understood the assignment?’ ” Lochmann asked, surprising this reporter. “It’s about telling a story of your city.”
Plus, some of the most important stakeholders are fans of the jerseys, as evidenced by a teaser trailer the team released on Nov. 1.
“[The players] liked them. I didn’t hear one negative thing,” Lochmann said. “And they’d tell me.”