Abe Pollin's voice was barely audible, but his message was clear - “I'm not going to quit.”
The 85-year-old Washington Wizards owner on Monday came to George Washington University, a school from which he graduated 64 years ago, to accept an induction into the school's Sports Executives Hall of Fame. Before being showered with praise from friends, family and fellow sports executives for his more than 40-year career, Pollin issued strong words to fans through the reporters in attendance.
“As you know, my team is not doing real well this year,” he said. “But we're going to continue working until I quit. And I'm not going to quit until I win a championship.”
For one of the first times publicly, he addressed the supranuclear palsy that has wracked his body and left him bound to a wheelchair, but he insisted it only has increased his desire to raise a banner in Verizon Center.
“Obviously, I'm ill and I never expected to be in a wheelchair, but I've contracted a very rare disease, but it's not going to keep me from winning a championship,” he said. “And until then, I'm not going to quit. I'm not going to quit. I'm going to do whatever I can to win a championship for this town, for me, for the fans.”
More than 100 friends and family members gathered to hear more stories about a man described as “ubiquitous” and “inexhaustible.”
Pollin, who owns the Wizards and serves as chairman of Washington Sports and Entertainment, was praised for his involvement in several key NBA decisions, including the merger with the ABA in 1976 and the labor agreement of 1983, the first to include a cap on player salaries. In a short video presentation, Wizards and D.C. officials praised Pollin for his choice to build Verizon Center downtown - against the advice of business associates. Development of the arena has been credited with revitalizing the downtown area.
“He is just utterly, utterly extraordinary,” said NBA commissioner David Stern, who first met Pollin as a young lawyer in the league's central office. “I can't say enough nice things about Abe.”
Speaking to the assembled crowd, Pollin spoke of his time as a student at GW and as a team owner, telling a story of when he first met Stern.
“The kid was so young that he had to bring a big cigar just to make sure he was old enough to be a lawyer,” Pollin said, eliciting laughter.
George Washington's Sports Executives Hall of Fame was founded three years ago by the university's sports management program to honor accomplished alumni and allow students to gain insight from the sports industry's top leaders. Previous inductees include Nationals owner Ted Lerner, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and New York Yankees president Randy Levine.
“Many years ago, Abe Pollin envisioned Washington, D.C., as an international sports town with a full complement of teams and events,” GW president Steven Knapp said. “The realization of that vision is no more present than in his legacy of accomplishments.”
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