Wizards to retire Chenier’s number despite seeing broadcasting run end
On the walls around the Washington Wizards’ practice court are giant drop cloths with four individual names and numbers: Wes Unseld, No. 41; Elvin Hayes, No. 11; Gus Johnson, No. 25; and Earl Monroe, No. 10. There will be an addition to that tight group this season: Phil Chenier, No. 45.
The Wizards will retire Chenier’s number on March 23, 2018, when the team hosts the Denver Nuggets.
Chenier played nine seasons for the Wizards, nee Bullets, before spending 33 seasons as the color commentator for the team. It was announced near the end of last season that the organization and Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic had decided to move on from Chenier, 66, breaking up his decades-long run with play-by-play man Steve Buckhantz on Wizards game broadcasts.
“I am so proud to have the honor and blessing of my No. 45 hanging with the greats of this franchise,” Chenier said in a press release. “It’s a statement to my teammates, coaches and all those who have sacrificed, supported and guided me over the many years that says ‘job well done.’ I also share it with the fans who have approached me with kind words and fond memories from both my playing days and my broadcasting career. My whole family is so grateful to Ted Leonsis, the MSE ownership group and the entire organization (from staff to players) who have been so kind, thoughtful and reverent towards me. I would also like to thank the Pollins, who brought me in to this organization 46 years ago, and the many people involved with the team during my early days. I’m so appreciative of each and every experience I’ve had here and can’t wait to share this honor with my DC Family in March.”
The jovial Chenier was a fluid scorer who averaged 17.9 points per game for the Baltimore, Capital and Washington Bullets before he became entrenched in the team’s broadcasts. Chenier was an All-Star in 1974, ‘75 and ‘77. He also played with the four other players who have their jerseys retired by the organization.
Chenier is tied for fourth among Washington players in field goals, is sixth in points, sixth in minutes played and ninth in games played.
But, for as good a player as he was, his largest stamp on the team likely came from his extended broadcast career. He and Buckhantz — who was publicly critical of Chenier not being retained on the broadcast — had rare chemistry that led to the two rhythmically following each other as opposed to one stepping on the other. Chenier was able to relay insight as a former player and critique that was constructive and telling. He had no gimmicks.
“Classy, dignified, informed and prepared, Phil has exemplified the very best as a player and broadcaster,” Buckhantz said in a press release. “Growing up with the Bullets with Phil as one of my role models made a huge impact on me, so it has been an honor and blessing to spend the last twenty years alongside him as a partner and a friend. I will feel a tremendous amount of pride watching his number 45 jersey raised to join the other greatest Bullets of all time.”
Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Wizards, Mystics, Capitals and Valor, has said the Chenier will continue to work with the team “by being featured in Monumental Sports Net’s Wizards content, with a larger presence in the Washington Bullets & Wizards Alumni Association and in a variety of other key roles within the organization.” He is also expected to be used by CSN Mid-Atlantic during Wizards broadcasts, though the details of his role have not been explained and that network has made a plethora of recent changes.
The Wizards open the season Oct. 18. Chenier’s replacement is yet to be announced. Whomever it is will have the joy and awkwardness of working the night Chenier’s jersey is retired. Chenier will have another night to spend with the fans who have known him for decades.