- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 28, 2009

They descended upon the Washington Hebrew Congregation to pay tribute to a city treasure on Friday.

They talked of the devoted family man as they only knew. They talked of his generosity and passion and the principles that guided him both as the patriarch of the family and in business.

His was a remarkable 85 years, they said. He was so full of life, even in his waning years as a rare brain disorder robbed him of his ability to walk, read and write and much of his vision.

“Abe Pollin, first of all, was an extraordinary human being,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “He was a good and decent man who made his community a better place.”

It was that commitment to the community that led to a promise from one of his two sons, Robert: to see to completion Pollin’s vision of an affordable housing project that would aid schoolteachers, police officers and so many others who have been priced out of the neighborhoods in which they work.

Robert said his father recognized that the revitalization his arena spurred in Chinatown came with the downside of escalating home prices and rents.

That was the person they knew and loved, not the owner who sometimes was criticized because of his oft-losing sports teams, the Wizards and the Capitals - before the hockey team was sold to Ted Leonsis.

Wes Unseld, once the face of the franchise and a favorite of Pollin’s, sometimes would dread those telephone calls from the owner.

“Wes, what’s wrong with my team?” Pollin would ask.

Unseld fielded those calls as a player, coach and president of basketball operations.

As a coach, Unseld presided over several teams that competed with conviction but lacked talent.

The calls still came, the question always the same.

“I guess it’s my coaching,” Unseld said.

They knew him as the philanthropist who took up so many worthy causes, sometimes unbeknown to everyone but his family.

When progress started to lag on a school that Unseld’s wife was starting in Baltimore, Pollin dispatched his construction crew to finish it.

They said his was a life in part about reaching out to help others, about providing for those less fortunate in life, about this or that tiny gesture that touched those who might have only known him as the sports mogul. Just do it, he would say. And never mind the cost.

He lived the dream, too. He was the one-time sports fanatic who eventually came to preside over the games he so loved.

His mother would give him a quarter to watch the Senators at Griffith Stadium. Later, he was a vociferous supporter of his “kid brother,” Harold, who was a first baseman on the Roosevelt High School baseball team.

He even dragged his father to one of the Roosevelt baseball games. The father knew nothing about sports, which prompted a question from him at one point: “Why isn’t Harold doing anything?”

Pollin knew enough about sports not to micromanage those entrusted with securing talent and coaching it. His sense of loyalty was unyielding, as Unseld has noted in recent days.

It cut both ways. One player, Unseld said, disliked Pollin’s habit of affectionately squeezing his cheek after a victory. The player told Unseld, then the coach, that if Pollin ever did that again to him, he was going to punch the owner in the nose.

Unseld thought on this a spell, thought about all his years with Pollin.

He went back to the player and told him that if he ever punched Mr. Pollin in the nose, it would be a career-ending move, because the coach, this mountain of a man, would be prompted to respond in kind. Situation defused.

Ernie Grunfeld, who heads the Wizards today, simply said: “A great man and a titan. He will be greatly missed.”

Missed but hardly forgotten, as Rabbi Bruce Lustig pointed out.

“A good name,” he said, “endures beyond the grave.”

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