How Rabin’s Assassination Changed Pro Basketball
The 1995 death of the Israeli prime minister still stirs debates
Yesterday was the anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. While many of the ceremonial remembrances in Israel already took place weeks ago, a number of world leaders and Israeli politicians paid tribute to Rabin.
Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni wrote on Facebook that November 4 was “a day of clarifying the meaning and implications of the assassination for us as a state and a people, [clarifying] what Rabin was for each and every one of us, and especially for peace. But today it’s also personal.”
Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich wrote that she and a smattering of other Labor MKs were congregating at the site of the prime minister’s murder, where a memorial exists, next to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, and she asked the public to join them.
The political nature of Rabin’s horrific death has since become a talking point in arguing why peace is too far-fetched an idea to be realized or why peace must be realized because it is so vitally far-fetched. I don’t have a homily on the topic this year (though Rabin’s death has inspired them in years past), but in a strange, one-off way, Rabin’s death has a newsworthiness in America that it didn’t before.
The recent movement to convince Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder to change his team’s historic name is rooted in the same idealism that led Abe Pollin, another Jewish D.C. sports franchise owner to rename his basketball team the Wizards from the Bullets in the 1990s. It’s something of legend that Pollin’s decision came not only in response to record gun deaths in the District of Columbia during the 1990s, but also by the death of his good friend Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, who was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
“I just came back from Israel, where I attended the funeral of my good friend, Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin,” Pollin said. “My friend was shot in the back by bullets. The name Bullets for a sports team is no longer appropriate…..
Still, Pollin said he was compelled to make the change for a couple of reasons. Originally, they were the Baltimore Bullets — a team that wanted to be “faster than a speeding bullet.” Now, because of the high number of gun-related deaths in the Washington area, the term Bullets has taken on another, more negative connotation. Pollin said the name change will be made in conjunction with another campaign.
The process of the Washington Bullets name-change was well underway by November 1995, but following Rabin’s death, Pollin grew more determined to move away from the team name and was heavily derided for his leadership in the press. Almost two decades later, whether Snyder, like Pollin, should also see his team mascot as the emblem of a bad public message remains a matter of heated debate.