“I know my boss, my mentor and friend is looking down on us, wishing us the best for ourselves and our families,” said Handleman, who worked for Pollin for 35 years.
Pollin also was fiercely loyal to the NBA, according to league commissioner David Stern.
“If you asked Abe to do anything for the league, he would do it,” Stern said. “He could never say no. … It was fun to watch.”
Pollin spent the final years of his life bound to a wheelchair, his body wracked by a debilitating palsy that affected his movement and speech. But his mind and spirit remained strong, friends said. Rabbi Bruce Lustig compared Pollin’s experience to that of artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who was crippled by arthritis but continued to paint.
“The pain passes, but the beauty remains,” Lustig said, quoting Renoir.
Many players and employees told personal stories.
“He treated everyone with dignity and respect, no matter what situation in life we were in,” said Kenny Burns, who worked as an arena staff member since 1973 under Pollin.
Hall of Fame Bullets player Earl Monroe recalled the time Pollin placed a cheesesteak in his locker before a game, knowing Monroe had played well the night before after eating one. Monroe said he recently thought of calling Pollin but said he felt uncomfortable going through a family or staff member.
“I felt strange not being able to call directly… then I heard about his passing,” Monroe said. “For all of us, we should keep in our minds the things we want to do because we may never get to do them again.”