I never really got to know Abe Pollin, only had a few encounters with him in the more than five years that I've lived in this area. So, I'm not able to share any great stories about any debates or discussions I had with him.
I only know what I've been told, from those who loved him, liked him and yes, loathed him. I also know that the first apartment that I lived in in D.C. was a few blocks from Verizon Center and that wouldn't have been possible without Pollin's gumption to build an arena downtown.
The last time I spoke to him was nearly two years ago, when I worked on a story about how the NBA was attempting to establish a foothold in China before the 2008 Olympics. It was brief conversation, about 10 minutes or so, but he had a great memory about taking his team to China in 1978.
He shared a story with me about how the team visited the Great Wall. Elvin Hayes and Dave Corzine refused to get off the bus. "I've seen a big wall before, Mr. Pollin," Hayes told him. That comment infuriated Pollin. He still sounded a little miffed. It's no coincidence that Pollin never paid for his team to make another international trip. The Wizards went to Europe last season as part of the NBA Europe Live series of games.
I actually met Pollin on my first day at the Washington Post. The Wizards held media day and Pollin predicted that the team was finally going to make the playoffs. He always said that, of course. Just like he also said that his team could win a championship, too, something that he would repeat over and over again until he passed. He died with that one in 1978.
My favorite memory was also an example of how much he loved his team. Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison had both been selected as all-star reserves in February 2005. Normally, that's something that teams will have a nice time acknowledging, but Pollin turned it into a party. He cut practice short and walked onto the court with several followers and Smashmouth's "All-Star" playing in the background.
Pollin looked around and noticed that something was missing. "Where's the cake?" he shouted, frustrated because the celebration was delayed. Then a giant frosted cake was wheeled out to the court. Pollin expressed his appreciation for Arenas and Jamison, but also acknowledged Larry Hughes, whom he believed was also worthy of all-star honors.
The man loved his team and his city. And on Tuesday, his life was celebrated in a public ceremony at Verizon Center. Since I won't bore you with any more of my lame stories. I thought I would let you see what people who actually knew him had to say. Here are some excerpts from the speeches delivered by current and former players and NBA commissioner David Stern.
"Mr. Pollin believed in things that nobody else did. That's why we have this spectacular building that we play, come and enjoy and have a good time in. Mr. Pollin believed in the NBA."
"Certain criteria you have to have on the Washington Wizards. You have to commit yourself to the community. You have to commit yourself on this basketball court -- 110 percent -- and other things you have to do as far as the straight and narrow. Mr. Pollin believed in the people who ran his front office. He believed in the training staff. He believed in the coaching staff. And most importantly, he always believed in his players."
"Most people when they think of Mr. Pollin, they think of an owner. To me, I think of a friend, somebody who believed in me. He believed that I was a certain player, a certain person and I didn't even know I had it in myself."
"Going back to 1967 when I was first drafted by the Baltimore Bullets, the thing that really entrenched me about being in Baltimore was Mr. Pollin. Because instilled a sense of family in our team. And we weren't a winning team at that time. We pulled together. I can remember him taking us out to his country club and we're having a lot of fun out there and we're sitting up in the window and all of a sudden Abe says, 'Look.' And the guys are out there playing bumper cars and hide-and-seek on the greens. So obviously, we know we didn't go back to the country club."
"I've always felt as though I was a Baltimore Bullet. And so many times when you leave a situation and you look back, you can appreciate the things that you left even more ... This is very tough for me. I was here a couple of weeks ago and I kept saying in my mind, Earl, you should call and just say hello. But I felt strange, not being able to call directly, but I didn't. So I sat on a plane back to New York with a friend of Mr. Pollin's and we talked about him the whole time back. And then I heard about him passing. So, for all of us, when we we have it our minds, the things that we want to do, go ahead and do it because you'll never know if we'll get the chance to do it again."
"Every year for 40 years, or up until recently, we would shoot ten shots from the three-point line to see who was the best shooter. Now I don't know this little Jewish guy thought he could outshoot me. But my momma didn't raise no idiot. I let him win. Wait a minute, you're laughing, but look at this. I was the captain of this team for 13 years. I coached this team for 8 or 9, I don't know, too long. I was an executive in his front office. I was general manager. Hey, corporate advancement works."
"Are we to be sad at this occasion, I think not. Because this man lived what I would think is a great life. And I tried to tell him that on many occasions. I would say, 'Buy an island. Don't build an arena in Chinatown. Buy an island down on the Caribbean and invite your best three-point shooting friend into coming down and being with you. But he didn't listen. He was a competitor."
"There is a void that's going to be in all of our lives because of him. And I will say to you, the only thing I'm going to share any grief about is, I know the young Wizards players are here today, their coaching staff. I kind of feel sorry for you guys. I don't know how many owners most of you will have over the course of your career. All I can wish is that you will have the opportunity to have one like I had."
"He had a huge influence on the way our league has evolved and when you think about it, the size of the league when Abe bought his team, when Abe moved to the Washington area and when Abe moved downtown, we were miniscule and we were dependant upon the leadership and guidance of people like Abe."
"He always said to me, don't talk me like that. I remember when you were a young ... kid -- and I'm using the kid because there are families here -- and you grew that stupid mustache and you tried to smoke that cigar so that you looked older. You're still a kid to me. Hey, Abe, I'm 65. I don't care how old you are, you're still a kid to me. And I think I was. But I was a kid and I was a friend. He's the only owner who called my wife to tell her that I was working too hard. And the only owner who called each Christmas to say, 'You're not really going skiing again at your age. Hey Abe, remember, I'm a kid.' "
"Those who know him, will know that he had a favorite refrain. When anyone said to him and I said it on many occasions, 'Are you sure you want to do this? It's not in the best financial interest of what you want to do.' Including, 'Are you sure about wanting to build this building downtown? Do you want it to be a monument or an albatross? Which one, Abe?' And he said, 'I always told you, I don't want to be the richest person in the cemetery. And I guess what I would say to Robert, to Irene and to the family, it turns out, based on what I've heard here and what I've heard the last several weeks, in the most fitting way, he really is the richest man in the cemetery. Rest in peace, Abe."
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