Covering Mr. Pollin's Team On The Night Of His Passing | Wizards Blog Truth About

Covering Mr. Pollin’s Team On The Night Of His Passing

Updated: December 8, 2009

Two weeks ago Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin passed away prior to a Wizards game against the returning Eddie Jordan (on the anniversary of his firing no less) and the Philadelphia 76ers at the Verizon Center. Tonight, Pollin will be memorialized at the arena he helped build in the Chinatown area of Washington, DC where he championed a resurgence.

Covering that Wizards-Sixers game was a whirlwind with no concern for how time flies. I knew being around for the return of Eddie Jordan to D.C. would be tough enough. The passing of Abe Pollin changed everything. It was going to be a hard night at the Verizon Center, hard to focus on the reason why everyone from Abe Pollin to kind gentlemen checking bags at the press entrance was around, the game of basketball.

Being at the game became a privilege, an honor to experience an impromptu celebration of a man’s life through the sadness of his death. The man who owned the team I love. The man who was responsible for revitalizing part of the city  I love. It was a sad day for all who have been involved with the franchise, but I couldn’t feel luckier to be apart of it in the way that I was.

To see the fresh look of shock on Caron Butler’s face as if a close relative just died. To see Antawn Jamison having a moment where it wasn’t known if a tear was going to flow down his cheek or not (he held on). To see Phil Chenier up close talking about Mr. Pollin with a smile on his face. To see the faces of the emotionally stricken employees of the Washington Sports & Entertainment empire. And to be there as Wes Unseld said the words which moved me the most, two feet away and almost encapsulated by the media scrum, sweat beading on his brow from the camera lights, but looking as comfortable in his gray adidas jump suit as a grandpa telling stories to whomever would listen while sipping ice tea on a broken-in porch on a hot summer day.

“I just lost a real, real good friend … and I think it’s more than any of you will understand or I could even explain,” said Unseld. Like Big Wes foretold, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend. But because of his words, I still did.

And then Unseld said this: “The big thing you gotta understand is that he loved Washington … when some of us, at the time, really didn’t care a whole lot about it. He was a Washingtonian. And I don’t think there was ever a time that he did not want to see his team in Washington.”

It really hit me … a “Washingtonian.” Abe Pollin loved D.C. just as much as me. Actually, much, much more. That right there is from where my utmost respect for Mr. Pollin comes.

Sure, I wish the team was still called the Bullets, and I hope it eventually changes back. But when I think about what could have been, going off reports that building a new arena in Baltimore would have been much, much cheaper (but perhaps not more lucrative since who knows, studies might have shown Baltimore to be incapable of supporting an NBA team in comparison  toWashington), I’m glad to call my team the Washington Wizards (for now). But I’m even more glad that the franchise in my favorite sport, in my favorite city was owned by Abe Pollin.

{other recent Abe Pollin quotes}

[Ted Leonsis – Washington Post Op-Ed]

I will treasure our times together and the wonderful advice he always offered to me. I will never forget the sage advice Abe gave me in regard to leading a team as a public trust, nor his memorable counsel of “Ted, don’t get too high with the highs or too low with the lows — as this too shall pass.” He was a mentor, a friend and a pioneer in so many ways.

[Maureen Dowd – New York Times Op-Ed]

After giving everyone in his company, from part-time ushers to top executives, a Thanksgiving bonus; after making sure that the Wizards staff was going to get out early for the holiday; after sending his wife, Irene, a bouquet of yellow roses to thank her for their 64 years together, the 85-year-old Pollin died Tuesday at his home in Bethesda, Md.

Pinioned by his crippling neurological disease, he could no longer walk, read or write. He was confined to a wheelchair with a neck brace holding his head in place.

His mind was working, but his body was a cage around it. Just about the only pleasures left to Pollin, besides his loyal family, were Tchaikovsky’s Fifth, Puccini’s “Turandot,” Frank Sinatra (Abe loved that you could hear every word Frank sang), sunshine, birds, root beer Popsicles and Wizards basketball games.

[Ashley Halsey III – Washington Post]

He became a father figure to Wes Unseld, the team’s first-round draft pick in 1968, who was the keystone to the team’s lone NBA championship 10 years later. Unseld, who spoke at Friday’s service, went on to become the team’s coach and general manager.

“When I was a player, he would call me and say, ‘Wes, what’s wrong with my team?’ ” Unseld recalled. “As a player, I didn’t know what to tell him. Then, when I was the coach, he would call me and ask the same thing. I told him, ‘I don’t know, maybe it’s your coach?’

“When I became the general manager, he used to call me. Same thing,” Unseld said. “I began to try to avoid taking those calls.”

[Mike Prada – Bullets Forever]

See, Abe Pollin used the Washington Bullets/Wizards as a vehicle for social improvement. As far back as the 1970s, when racial discrimination in sports was still rampant, Pollin was hiring African Americans such as KC Jones (just four years removed from his playing days) to high positions in his organizations. He brought his championship-winning club to China in 1979 in an attempt to help improve U.S. relations there, an action that seems common now, but was anything but then. He rewarded those who were loyal to him, standing by them whether they were upper-level management or the equipment managers. He renamed his team because he was concerned that he was promoting violence in some way. (For the record, this site’s name is not in protest of Mr. Pollin’s decision, but rather as a rallying cry uniting the two eras of the franchise). And, of course, in the most stunning example of social consciousness of all, he moved the team downtown and built a stadium in a downtrodden area of town on his own dime in an attempt to revive the surrounding neighborhood.

[Craig Stouffer – Washington Examiner]

Should Pollin’s death serve as inspiration for the Wizards to fulfill his final dream of another championship?

“Yes and no,” said Butler. “Because as much as he cared about this franchise and us winning and moving forward, everybody knows that’s what he would’ve wanted. For us to continue to build and have success. This was his baby, he built it from the ground up. He wanted another championship. He put us together. He loved all of us, but myself, Gil and Antawn, like sons, and he kept us together and he wanted us to be together for a reason, and that’s to bring something special to Washington.”

It was no surprise to see Butler keep his emotions in check. It was also easy to tell when he finally reached the breaking point without quite crossing it.

“It’s no replacing Mr. Pollin,” said Butler. “It’s no replacing him. We lost a great, great man. Great pillar in the community. There’s no replacing him.”

{winning one for Mr. Pollin}

[Dan Steinberg – DC Sports Bog]

So as that game went on, Butler said, he was explicitly thinking about Pollin’s request.

“I thought about it a lot,” he told me. “For someone to be going through all that he was going through from a health standpoint, to care about us so much, winning and bringing a championship here? All his speaking engagements, everything he’s done, all he’d talk about was championships and rings.”

After a back-and-forth game, the Wizards were down five with 80 seconds left, and Cleveland had the ball. Media members went down to the press room, because the game and the season were essentially over. And then, out of nowhere, the Wizards scored the final six points, with Butler contributing four points and three rebounds and the game-winner in that improbable final stretch.

“I’ve never seem him that intense,” Haywood would say after the game. “He wouldn’t let us lose.” (Read Mike Wise’s definitive piece on the game.)

“We went up there, and we played our heart out. Butler told me this week. “At the end, I was just like ‘Man, this one was for Mr. Pollin.’ … He called me to congratulate me after the game, said he was so damn proud of me. He always told me he was proud of me. You know, that meant a lot.”


[George Solomon – Washington Post]

One of the great irritants Abe Pollin endured as owner of the Wizards/Bullets would be whenever his team was playing one of the NBA glamour clubs featuring stars such as Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, LeBron James or Kobe Bryant and many fans in his arena were rooting for the visitors. It drove Pollin crazy.

Uh, ok. The marketing team, formerly led/provoked by Susan O’Malley, the daughter of one of Mr. Pollin’s cronies, Peter O’Malley, used to sell tickets by peddling the glamor of the opponents coming into town. But I guess you do what you gotta do to make money and keep the team afloat, even if it drives you crazy.

{means well, but writes a crock of sh*t}

[Phil Mushnick – New York Post]

In 1995, as college and pro teams lined up to change uniforms, colors and logos to best profit from gang-popularized fashion, Pollin demanded that his NBA club go the other way. With violence in Washington and Baltimore daily leaving members of the young, male demographic shot dead in the streets, Pollin replaced Bullets with Wizards.

That move surely cost Pollin and the NBA a bundle. But Pollin didn’t want anyone being arraigned for murder wearing his team’s merchandise, nor did he wanted anyone murdered in (or for) his team’s otherwise worthless clothing.

  1. Pro teams lined up to profit from gang-popularized fashion? Really? I’ll go ahead and call a spade a spade and say this statement a load of horse sh*t.
  2. I can’t be 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure that going from Bullets to Wizards didn’t “cost Pollin and the NBA a bundle.” In fact, I’m willing to bet that Pollin made a pretty penny off his team’s rebranding and new jersey sales.
  3. If Pollin did lose money by going with a “non-violent” team name, we probably would have heard about it via some study done by social scientists. To my knowledge, there is no such study … probably because such a study would have shown the endeavour to be profitable.
  4. Besides, all the gangs and those waiting to be arraigned for murder can still wear retro Washington Bullets uniforms. And who makes the money off the sale of those?

{Abe with famous politicians}

Abe Pollin was one of the most powerful men in the Nation’s Capital, a “titan” as Ernie Grunfeld has so aptly called him in several media appearances. Here are a couple shots of Mr. Pollin with same famous politicians. Hey, is that Republican Michael Steele?

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.