D.C. Sports Magnate Abe Pollin Dies; Wizards Owner Remembered for His Generosity

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 25, 2009 | Go to article overview

D.C. Sports Magnate Abe Pollin Dies; Wizards Owner Remembered for His Generosity


Byline: Dick Heller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Abe Pollin, longtime owner of the Washington Wizards basketball team and one of the area's leading philanthropists, died on Tuesday. He was 85.

Mr. Pollin's company, Washington Sports & Entertainment, announced his death but provided no details. Mr. Pollin, the company's chairman, had been confined to a wheelchair in recent years because of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder that impairs movement and balance. He also underwent heart bypass surgery in 2005 and suffered a broken pelvis in 2007.

Mr. Pollin remained mentally sharp, but his brain disease forced him to give up his active lifestyle and rely on a cart to ride the halls of the Verizon Center. He and his wife, Irene, established a $1 million research fund in 2008 at the Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy in hopes of finding a cure.

Over his years in the District, Mr. Pollin won a National Basketball Association championship, took the city's hockey team to its only Stanley Cup final, built two arenas, helped revitalize part of downtown, hired and fired the world's most famous basketball player and performed innumerable acts of charity.

Shortly after Mr. Pollin's death was announced, NBA Commissioner David Stern said, With Abe Pollin's passing, the NBA family has lost its most revered member, whose stewardship of the Wizards franchise, together with his wife, Irene, has been a study in unparalleled dedication to the city of Washington. During his illness he fought with a determination and valor that will remain an inspiration to all.

During a pregame moment of silence at a somber Verizon Center on Tuesday night, before the Wizards' 108-107 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, images of Mr. Pollin from throughout the years flashed on the Jumbotron. One of the images showed Mr. Pollin hugging center Wes Unseld, just moments after winning their NBA championship in 1978.

Mr. Unseld, who later coached the basketball team and remained with the organization for years, said Mr. Pollin will forever be remembered as much more than just an owner.

I just lost a really, really good friend, said Mr. Unseld, who attended last night's game. "I think it's more than any of you will understand or I could explain. It's going to be a big void in sports and this community as well. The type of person he was, Mr. Pollin was a tremendous competitor.

I wanted to win because it made me look good, and I could renegotiate contracts. He wanted to win because he was a competitor and for what it gave to other people and gave them a sense of pride. He was different, and he followed that every day for the 40 years I knew him.

After being inducted into the Sports Executives Hall of Fame at George Washington University, his alma mater, in March 2009, Mr. Pollin expressed his wish to remain with the Wizards, at the time ranked last in the Eastern Conference, until they reached the top again.

We're going to continue working until I quit, he said. And I'm not going to quit until I win a championship.

Mr. Pollin said his illness, which confined him to a wheelchair, only increased his desire to raise a championship banner at the Verizon Center.

Obviously, I'm ill and I never expected to be in a wheelchair, he said. I've contracted a very rare disease, but it's not going to keep me from winning a championship. I'm going to do whatever I can to win a championship for this town, for me, for the fans.

That task now falls to Mr. Pollin's successor with the Wizards.

Under a plan devised nearly a decade ago, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis is expected to take over majority ownership of the franchise, as well as the Verizon Center and the area's Ticketmaster franchise.

Mr. Pollin owned the Capitals until he sold the team to Mr. Leonsis in 1999. He also sold the Washington Mystics of the Women's National Basketball Association to him in 2005. …

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