Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Abe Pollin

Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin passed away yesterday afternoon at the age of 85, less than one week after I said that Ted Leonsis was more my kind of owner than Pollin. After reading about Pollin in several articles and hearing him lauded on local sports radio, I now see that I was unfair in my judgment of him, the longest-tenured NBA owner.

There's no question that Pollin loved the Wizards, and cared deeply about his players and his team. To preserve his team, he did something that no one else in the world has ever done: he fired Michael Jordan. Pollin related that Jordan had created an unfavorable atmosphere at the team, and had been as much a detriment to the team off the court as he had helped them on the court. Pollin knew he would take heat for the decision to sever ties with Jordan, but he was willing to take the PR hit for what he believed to be the right decision for his team. Jordan's Hall of Fame induction speech may have given us a glimpse into how right Pollin was.

Abe Pollin's true legacy, though, will be the Verizon Center. Pouring in millions upon millions of dollars of his own money, he chose to build a stadium downtown rather than take financing offers from suburban areas, because he knew it was the right decision for the city, and that the money would follow. The area now boasts brand new office buildings, restaurants, and one of the most advanced sports facilities in the world (just like the Capital Centre before it, which was the first major sports venue in the country to boast luxury boxes and electronic ticketing). Pollin's vision, and his execution thereof, single-handedly revitalized downtown Washington.

I still think Ted Leonsis is a fantastic owner, and perhaps one of the more underrated owners in all of sports. His passion for his team and his accessibility make him a fan favorite, and rightly so. But Abe Pollin's business acumen and loyalty were peerless. We were fortunate to have two wonderful owners in Washington, DC, and the responsibility now falls to Leonsis to carry the torch.

Good luck.

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