To many, the challenge of selling Baltimore on the virtues of FTC the Washington Bullets after the team spurned Charm City would be the rough equivalent of paddling against the Savage River rapids with a tablespoon for an oar.
But Judy Holland, the Bullets' new vice president in charge of Baltimore operations, is the type of person who looks at the tablespoon and is grateful that it's not a Popsicle stick.
"I just think there's going to be a really good marriage between us and Baltimore," said Holland from her Baltimore Arena office. "There's a lot of interest here on both parts and we'll do our best to get them together."
The bulk of responsibility for getting the parties together now falls on Holland's shoulders. She will coordinate the franchise's efforts to woo Baltimore, the city the Bullets left after the 1972-73 season for their current home in Landover. She also will run game-night operations at the Arena on those four occasions next season when the Bullets come to call.
But Holland, 34, has already risen above the barriers that the typically white male-dominated world of sports can place on one who is neither. She is, according to Brian McIntyre, vice president of media relations for the NBA, the highest-ranking black woman working for an NBA franchise. So how hard can charming a city be?
On the subject of being a trend-setter, Holland gives credit for her promotion to team owner Abe Pollin and team president Susan O'Malley.
But Holland also understands the significance of her achievement and the perseverance required to reach it.
"It's tough and in many ways being a female has been more of a hinderance than being black," she said. "Most people feel that females just don't understand sports. I've had phone calls where the caller will say, 'I have a question.' And I'll say, 'Can I help you?' And then he'll say, 'Let me speak with your boss.' And I'll say, 'I am the boss.' "
Bullets coach Wes Unseld said: "There are some inherent problems being a woman with some of the good ol' boy network in place, and maybe with a good ol' white boy network working.
"But Judy understands that better than anyone, and with her personality and her work ethic, she will walk right over those barricades and nobody will ever know it."
Holland also has the backing of O'Malley, who runs the off-court aspects of the franchise. O'Malley is the NBA's highest-ranking female team official, and the first to be named president in a promotion announced yesterday. "We decided that we needed to make a difference in Baltimore and that Judy was the best person to help us do that," O'Malley said. "There was never another person considered."
A native of Frederick, Holland started out as a metro reporter for the Frederick News-Post and discovered that her writing skills were "terrible."
"I wanted to be the best newspaper reporter in the country and get to the best paper in the country," said Holland. "When I started in newspapers, I found that I didn't like it. I just realized that I'm not very good at this."
So, she joined the Bullets' organization in 1981 in public relations, typing and answering phones and filing. But she established a reputation with reporters and players as an effective and efficient professional.
"She's a people person," said Unseld. "She's had a better rapport with the players than anyone in the front office. She understands that you're dealing with a diverse amount of ego and she knows how to get them to do what needs to be done while massaging their egos."
Holland was named the team's community relations director in 1988 and has run the team's "Just Read It" rally that attracts 15,000 students, as well as the "Shooting Star" program that recognizes local humanitarians and community leaders.
She also organized a sports memorabilia auction and fashion show this year that raised more than $15,000 for the National Cancer Institute.
But winning over Baltimore, a city the Bullets abandoned because of sagging attendance, will be the biggest challenge of her career.
"I personally think that the city has never forgiven Mr. Pollin for taking the team out," said Holland. "But the team wasn't selling out and he realized that it was a business opportunity.
There has been movement in that regard. The Bullets have played 11 home games in the Arena over the last three years to an average attendance of 10,647, with four more games on tap for the coming season.
In addition, the team plans to hold more practices and clinics in Baltimore and get players more deeply involved in the Baltimore community, Holland said. Also, the Bullets will hold a "Draft Night" party here as well as at the Capital Centre next month.
"We didn't do anything here except play the four games," said Holland. "But we'll change that. Instead of calling the Capital Centre and asking about tickets, you can call the Arena and we can handle it. We want people in Baltimore to start thinking of the Bullets as their team."