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Wizards to play preseason game in Baltimore for the first time since 1999

When the Washington Wizards announced Wednesday that they would play a preseason game against the New York Knicks in Baltimore this fall, Frank Remesch wasn't surprised.

As general manager of the Baltimore Arena, which will host the Oct. 17 exhibition, Remesch said the success of a Washington Capitals preseason game against the Nashville Predators in 2011 helped sway Ted Leonsis, who owns both the Capitals and Wizards.

“I think it's kind of common sense,” Remesch said, noting that the Capitals will take part in a second Baltimore Hockey Classic against the Boston Bruins on Sept. 17. “It used to irritate me so much when I would hear that Baltimore is a tertiary market. It's a primary market, and we've proven that over and over again. I don't mean to speak for them, but I think it's a common-sense approach that the Wizards realize that Baltimore is marketable.

“They want to draw the patrons, they want to draw the merchandise, they want to draw the TV viewership, and that's just nothing but great for Baltimore. It pats us on the back and says that we support people and we're worthy of an event here. It's nothing but good news. I'm thrilled.”

The game against the Knicks marks the first time the Wizards will play in Baltimore since 1999. The franchise played in Baltimore from 1963 to 1973 as the Bullets before moving to Landover.

The return of six-time NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony to the Baltimore area adds significance to the game. The 29-year-old forward spent his first three years of high school at Towson Catholic before transferring to national powerhouse Oak Hill Academy for his senior year and leading Syracuse to its first national championship in 2003 as a college freshman.

Remesch said the presence of Anthony, who is believed to be playing in his first game in Baltimore as a professional, will further elevate interest in the game.

“I think it's just going to have a huge impact,” Remesch said. “It's just my guess, my gut feeling that to bring someone back home, an athlete of his caliber, it's just phenomenal. Now people can see him first-hand. They don't have to go to New York or down to D.C. They can see him in their own backyard. I think it will have an influence on this game.”

In a written statement released by the team, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said returning to Baltimore strengthens the franchise's roots in the city.

“The city of Baltimore has a storied basketball tradition that includes playing an integral role in the history of our franchise,” he said. “We're looking forward to bringing the team back in October and getting the opportunity to play in front of our fans in the Baltimore area.”

Although the team left the city four decades ago, Remesch said he has heard anecdotally that interest in the organization has remained strong in and around Baltimore.

“I compare it to the Caps,” Remesch said. “Since we do not have a professional basketball team or a professional hockey team here at the arena, I do think there is a core group that supports it, and I think it's growing. I asked the Capitals, ‘Why are you coming to Baltimore?' It didn't make sense to me. You have a 20,000-seat arena [in the Verizon Center]. Why are you coming here to a 12,000-seat arena?

“They said, ‘The Baltimore market is the No. 1 growing market for the Capitals. It's outpacing the D.C. market.' So there's this untapped commodity here, and I'm sure it's the same for the Wizards. It might not be on the same level, but I'm sure it's on the same format. It worked for them once, so it kind of makes sense. Hopefully, they have an ease with dealing with us and the city of Baltimore and that we give them something of value.”

An announced 11,082 turned out for the Capitals' preseason game against the Predators two years ago. Remesch said the arena will seat between 11,500 and 12,000 fans for the Wizards-Knicks game. Arena officials recently refinished the court and installed new baskets, backboards and a shot clock in preparation for the Colonial Athletic Association conference championship at the venue in March, Remesch said.

“It's going to be beautiful for everything,” he said. “The arena is going to look fine. God willing, we'll have it every year here for a long time — just like the Caps.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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