Abe Pollin, David Stern and George Washington
As guests like Ted Leonsis and David Stern lunched on salmon ceviche in cucumber barquettes and spring lambchops with artichokes and lemon, Abe Pollin was inducted into the George Washington University School of Business Sports Executives Hall of Fame today. He joined Ted Lerner and Jerry Reinsdorf, among others. Apparently Pops Mensah-Bonsu hasn't made it yet.
"I would say I met Abe first probably in 1967," Stern, the NBA Commish, remembered before the lunch. "He says he remembers me coming to a meeting and being this cocky kid who, during the break, smoked a cigar. I don't remember it that way, but I don't fight with Abe, so we'll go with that....And he picks on me a lot, he says, 'I remember you when....' I said 'Abe, for crying out loud, I'm 66 years old.' That's no excuse, you're still a kid."
Sure enough, when Pollin spoke at the end of the two-hour event, his first story was about David Stern. As a young kid. Smoking a cigar.
"The kid was so young that he had to bring a big cigar to [show] he was old enough to be a lawyer," Pollin said.
"All right, already," Stern finally said from the crowd.
The lunch video on the floor of the Smith Center was called "The House That Abe Built: The Making of the Verizon Center," and there were shots of Pollin talking about building "the best arena in the country" and Wes Unseld saying "I thought he was nuts" and those old-time shots of riot flames and burned-out storefronts downtown.
There were also portraits of Pollin as a young man, and clips of Marion Barry talking about how Pollin's heart was always in Washington, and yet more tales of the desolation downtown, pre-MCI Center, when Pollin was apparently instructed not to get out of his car when visiting the site. Presumably to avoid all those "Stop Bitching Start a Revolution" people.
"I thought he must have been out of his mind," Unseld said of Pollin's plan, in case "nuts" hadn't gotten it done earlier. Unseld said he recommended Pollin instead just go buy an island and relax. And we wonder where Gilbert Arenas got that idea of buying an island.
There were shots of construction troubles and construction highlights and opening celebrations, and then came the game highlights: Mystics fans dancing, Peter Bondra scoring, Antonio Daniels trotting out for a game, white towels waving in the stands, Agent Zero hitting three-pointers, Georgetown fans in body paint, monster trucks smashing things and little dogs running around. In the old days, of course, you had to go to the Cap Centre to see monster trucks.
Stern then spoke at the podium, calling Pollin "a beautiful person" and "utterly, utterly extraordinary."
"I'm here for my friend Abe, and I'll always be here for my friend Abe," Stern said, after recounting a bunch of stories of NBA negotiations from the late-'70s and early-'80s.
The 85-year old Pollin, speaking in a barely audible whisper from his wheelchair before the lunch, had acknowledged that his health wasn't great.
"[But] it's not gonna keep me from winning a championship," he said. "Until then, I'm not gonna quit, I'm not gonna quit."
But once he got to the podium, he didn't talk about the Wizards, and he was no longer whispering. He spoke at length about George Washington, from where he graduated in '45, and he even shouted a few times, once during a story about Elvin Hayes at the Great Wall of China. "When you get old, you tell stories," he told the crowd.
"How can I not speak after all these wonderful things have been said about me, my whole family and my wife?" he said. "And all these wonderful friends are here, and family, to pay tribute to me and my wife and pay tribute to all we have tried to do."
March 9, 2009; 2:06 PM ET
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