The first thing Washington Wizards forward Antawn Jamison realized Tuesday night after he carried his team to a 108-107 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers was that he never would hear Abe Pollin's voice after a victory again.
Jamison, who had 32 points and 14 rebounds (both season highs), had grown used to receiving a call from the Wizards' owner the day after wins - or occasionally seeing him in the locker room minutes after the final horn sounded.
But when Pollin died Tuesday at age 85, Jamison lost not only the owner of the team that he has captained since arriving in the District in 2004 but also his biggest cheerleader.
Jamison knew Pollin hadn't been in the best of health, but he was shocked when he received news of the owner's death roughly five minutes before he got to Verizon Center for the pregame walkthrough.
He and his teammates immediately aimed to "win the game for Mr. P." Afterward, Jamison struggled to keep an even voice while discussing Pollin.
"I talked to him about a week and a half ago, and he was still the same Mr. Pollin, knowing we were still going to turn things around," Jamison said. "Telling me I'm his guy and he appreciates everything I've done for him, and now to know that after wins I won't hear that voice saying 'Good job, man' and 'I believed in you' - it's going to be tough."
Jamison became an instant favorite of Pollin's "from Day One," the forward said. He remembered his first game for Washington; despite not having Gilbert Arenas, Brendan Haywood and Larry Hughes - who were all suspended - the Wizards opened the season with a 103-91 victory at Memphis on Nov. 3, 2004. Jamison led the way with 34 points and eight rebounds.
"The next day we had shootaround in Charlotte, and somehow we got one of those old-fashioned speaker phones, and Mr. Pollin was on the speaker saying, 'Where's Antawn at? Get him on the phone. You remind me of Wes [Unseld].' He believed in me, man," Jamison said. "It's tough. When people put your trust in you to get it done and do it a certain way, he was the first one to believe in me."
Five seasons later, Jamison and the Wizards were facing former coach Eddie Jordan and the 76ers on the one-year anniversary of the date Jordan was fired following a 1-10 start. But Pollin's death quickly overshadowed the reunion, and honoring the owner quickly became the motivation.
During a brief pregame ceremony, images of the owner over the years - including Pollin with the 1978 championship trophy and at community events - flashed on the video screen. The next-to-last image was of Pollin hugging Unseld after their championship victory. The last was of Pollin embracing Jamison.
Once the game began, Jamison - intent on honoring Pollin - put the Wizards on his back with 13 first-half points and a 17-point third quarter, which Washington used to come back from a 46-45 halftime deficit. Philadelphia pulled within one point in the final minute, but Louis Williams' 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left missed its mark, and Jamison fittingly grabbed the rebound.
"Did you see what he did?" Arenas said of Jamison's performance. "He played his butt off tonight. We wasn't going to try to do nothing but win this game for Mr. P. He treated us like family. He believed in us no matter what. Nobody was sitting out there, and he always believed he was our guys from the beginning."
Jamison joked that Pollin reached down and deflected Williams' potential game-winning shot. He echoed Arenas' sentiments that the Wizards wanted to honor Pollin with a victory and aim to turn their season around, acknowledging his desire to win another championship.
"For those two hours, we gave it our all. It was another game, another important game, but you wanted to get the win for Mr. Pollin," Jamison said, his lip quivering. "Every game we play from now on, you know he's watching. Every game we play, he's watching from a better place. ...
"But we also know that now we won't be getting that call or seeing him coming through the locker room, but that's what we have to deal with."