Abe Pollin was pugnacious to the end, refusing to walk away until he saw his beloved NBA franchise hoist a second championship banner.
It was not meant to be.
He passed away with his team mired in injuries and uncertainty and friction. That seemingly was the fate of the franchise since the ‘80s. Its big-name players would succumb to injury, and another season would be lost.
But Pollin never accepted that this was the lot of the franchise. He always saw a better day and the promise of another season, as Dave Johnson came to learn.
“He meant it when he said he would not quit until he won another championship,” the team’s radio voice said on Tuesday.
They would wheel Pollin to the team’s functions the last few years. Frail though he was, his mind remained sharp and focused on what the team could be if it regained its health.
“He came down to our training camp for a day in October,” Johnson said. “I am sure it could not have been easy on him, making the trip to Richmond, but that is what the team meant to him.”
It is easy to forget after so many disappointing seasons that the Pollin-led Bullets were once one of the elite franchises of the NBA.
The Bullets advanced to the NBA Finals four times in nine seasons and claimed the NBA championship in 1978. That was an unexpected development, given the team’s up-and-down season.
It was a 44-win team that did not find its focus until the postseason, and even then the Bullets needed a Game 7 victory in Seattle to reach the pinnacle of their sport.
That was the beginning of the end of the franchise, although the Bullets reached the NBA Finals the following season, only to be defeated in five games by the Sonics.
Pollin admired Wes Unseld, the foundation of those teams, like no other player. Theirs was a unique relationship that never produced a similar amount of success over the next generation as Unseld moved up the rungs of the franchise, from the television voice of the team to coach and finally president of basketball operations.
The losing, the bad breaks and the growth of the NBA at times led to the charge that the game had passed by Pollin, that he had neither the money nor know-how to compete with the new breed of owners.
That charge lost much of its punch after the Wizards advanced to the playoffs in four consecutive seasons before injuries halted their progression last season.