Did You Know? Washington Bullets Were Renamed After Rabin Assassination

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I’m filing this under Wow, Just Wow:

The crowd was still singing as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin walked offstage at a Tel Aviv peace rally. His motorcade was parked around the corner, through a throng of supporters waving flags bearing the Star of David, hailing the first progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace in a generation.

The songs continued. Rabin shook supporters’ hands. Then three shots rang out from the gun of a Jewish ultranationalist. Two bullets struck Rabin in the arm and back. He died in surgery later that night.

Within hours of the attack, news reached Abe Pollin, a Washington developer, owner of Washington’s National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams, and Rabin’s close friend.

Not even a week after the prime minister’s death on Nov. 4, 1995, and four days after his funeral, Pollin declared his basketball team would no longer bear the name “Bullets,” the moniker the team had had for 32 years. Washington had endured a rash of drug- and gang-fueled gun violence in the early 1990s that made it one of the most deadly cities in the country. Now, to Pollin, the shooting epidemic looked worldwide.

“My friend was shot in the back by bullets,” he said, announcing his decision. “The name ‘Bullets’ is no longer appropriate for a sports team.”

But Pollin hadn’t decided, or at least hadn’t announced, plans for a name change before Rabin was shot dead. He flew to Jerusalem for the funeral, along with dozens of heads of state.

President Bill Clinton delivered the eulogy. “Shalom chaver” — in English, “Goodbye friend” — Clinton said to Rabin.

Investigators recovered lyrics to the song “Shir LaShalom” or “Song for Peace,” which the crowd at the rally sang as Rabin left the stage, in the prime minister’s pocket stained with his blood.

“Don’t say the day will come/ Bring the day about,” the final verse begins, translated from Hebrew to English. “And in all the city squares/ Cheer for peace!”

Pollin returned to Washington and almost immediately declared the team would drop the “Bullets” nickname.

“If I save one life, make a change in one life,” he said, “it’ll be worth it.”

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