- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2001

The jam-packed All-Star weekend elicits bittersweet emotions from Washington patriarch Abe Pollin. The Wizards owner is ecstatic that Washington and MCI Center, the $221 million home of the Wizards, will be the site of the NBA's 50th anniversary game Sunday.

He beams with pride as the world of pro basketball comes to the revitalized Chinatown he promised MCI Center would help deliver. Conversely, the man who calls himself the "nutty optimist" is despondent about what has taken place this season on the court, where Washington is a disappointing 12-36, and off it, where two of his players, Michael Smith and Rod Strickland, both have been arrested twice.

As a result, there are no Wizards in this year's All-Star Game Pollin feels Juwan Howard should be on the team and says he let the league know this. But two former Wizards Rasheed Wallace of Portland and Chris Webber of Sacramento represent the West. The pair were involved in trades that landed Strickland and Mitch Richmond, respectively, aging guards who now come off the bench for the second-worst team in the East.

Pollin, who rubber-stamped the deals, revisited them yesterday with some regret in a conversation with The Washington Times.

"At the time we made the trades we thought they were the right things to do," Pollin admitted, "but it would be great to have [Wallace and Webber] on my team right now. We don't. We've made some very good trades, and we've made some trades that aren't very good. Every team in the league does that. They're great players. I wish them well, and I'm happy for them."

Even as he watches Wallace and Webber on Sunday and sees what could have been with the knowledge that his team almost certainly will miss the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons, Pollin won't let it put a damper on the weekend.

"It's a very special moment for me personally," said Pollin, who will play host at an All-Star Game for the third time in his 36 seasons as an owner and the first time since 1980. "In the past when I've hosted it, it was a one-day event handled primarily by the home team. This time there are all sorts of wonderful things for the fans to do. It's a major, major difference from what I'm used to."

Still, Pollin finds the Wizards' recent spate of legal problems troubling. Although he would not comment directly on the pending cases against Smith (misdemeanor drunken driving and misdemeanor assault charges) and Strickland (his third drunken driving charge), Pollin still had some pointed words.

"If they have any kind of legal problem I am disappointed in them because they are held to a higher standard," Pollin said. "If they can't live up to a higher standard then maybe they should go and do something else. They should find another way to make a living."

Pollin, who is fond of Strickland, says the point guard's tendency for legal entanglement is particularly alarming.

"It does bother me, and I think there is something bothering Rod," Pollin said. "I don't know what it is. I wish I knew what it was so that I could help him because I like him. He's a great athlete, and he really is a good person. But something is bothering him, and I'm not sure what it is. Hopefully he'll find out what the problem is, root it out and get rid of it."

Despite rumors otherwise, the 76-year-old Pollin, the longest tenured owner in the NBA, has no intention of selling the Wizards.

"If I felt in any way that I was not doing a good job I would leave," Pollin said. "When the team hasn't been successful in a while, of course all those rumors will start. But once we turn the team around I'll be a hero again, and everyone will be saying, 'Hey, Pollin! You've done a great job.' That day is coming soon."

The Wizards' on-court success still may be a few years away. But Pollin, who made his fortune through construction, has seen MCI Center built with no public funds play a part in the revitalization of downtown. And Pollin believes the All-Star Game will bolster the local economy even more.

In 1997, All-Star festivities pumped $30 million into Cleveland's economy. And in 1998 the game added $52.4 million to New York's economy. By contrast, estimates are that Philadelphia, scheduled to play host to the game during the lockout-truncated 1998-99 season, lost an estimated $35 million.

"It took awhile for us to get [the All-Star Game], but now we've got it and we're going to make it a showcase event," Pollin said.

Then he added, "Give us some time. The Wizards are going to make the same kind of comeback."

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