D.C. sports icon, Wizards owner Pollin dies

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Mr. Pollin’s basketball franchise fell on hard times, with only a few exceptions, from the late 1980s through the following decade.

But he scored a major coup for his perennially downtrodden club in 2000 when he persuaded Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest and most popular player in basketball history, to join the franchise as president and a minority stockholder.

Mr. Jordan spent 3 seasons in Washington — the last two on the court after he decided to end his retirement as a player. But Mr. Jordan’s domineering personality clashed with that of Mr. Pollin’s, and the two parted company after a stormy 20-minute meeting in May 2003.

Mr. Pollin later explained his decision in an interview with the Associated Press, saying, “It was not a healthy atmosphere to produce a happy organization or a winning team. I knew that there would be some negative stuff thrown at me, but when I made my decision, I stuck to my decision. I wasn’t going to change. I always do what I think is best for the franchise.”

Despite his flagging health in recent years, Mr. Pollin’s interest in his basketball team and other activities never flagged.

When star guard Gilbert Arenas agreed to a six-year, $111 million contract during the summer of 2008, Mr. Pollin said jokingly, “We’re giving you a lot of money. Now all you have to do is give us a championship.”

That title has yet to materialize. Though recognized as one of the league’s most influential owners as well as its longest-tenured, Mr. Pollin had little luck seeing his team gain titles.

Washington’s only championship came in 1978, when the Bullets defeated the Seattle SuperSonics in seven games behind the superstar trio of Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Bobby Dandridge. The Bullets also reached the NBA Finals in 1971, 1975 and 1979, but lost each time.

In 1996, Mr. Pollin conducted a fan contest to rename the club, saying “Bullets” had negative connotations because of the city’s high crime and murder statistics.

In December 2007, in honor of Mr. Pollin’s 84th birthday and the 10th anniversary of Verizon Center, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty proclaimed Abe Pollin Day, and he renamed F Street between Sixth and Seventh streets Northwest, near the arena, Abe Pollin Way.

Mr. Pollin was involved in numerous charitable and civic activities. Among other posts, he was honorable chairman of the Salvation Army’s Leadership Committee for Centers of Hope and co-chairman of the Community Capital Campaign for N Street Village in the District. He also was co-sponsor of the I Have a Dream Foundation and has personally guaranteed a college education for more than 50 students.

Additionally, Mr. Pollin was given the Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award for his efforts in revitalizing downtown Washington, the Distinguished Service Award by the U.S. Army, the Robert F. Kennedy-Martin Luther King Jr. Award by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the United Cerebral Palsy Achievement Award, the Jewish Leadership Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the United States Sports Academy.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, the Ward 2 Democrat who represents the area of the city that is home to Verizon Center and who worked closely through the years with Mr. Pollin, said the team owner and philanthropist was “an example for everyone else.”

“Abe Pollin was a great man who just loved this city,” he said.

Irene Pollin, a former psychiatric social worker and lecturer at Harvard University, also has received numerous honors. The couple werehad been married 64 years, and Mrs. Pollin is listed as co-owner of the Wizards and the Verizon Center.

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