Let me preface this post by saying that this is sports-related only in so far as it provides a context for what it is that I wish to be read. This post is about being a man, a real man — a gentleman. It’s about giving a damn. It’s about sharing. It’s about community. It’s about family. It’s about friendship. It’s about prosperity. It’s about philanthropy. It’s about love. It’s about doing your best. It’s about doing what is best (for yourself, and for others). It’s about the rich, and it’s about the poor. It’s about taking less and giving more.
Abe Pollin was the owner of the Washington Bullets/Wizards basketball franchise, which he purchased in 1964, among other business ventures — he was also owner of the Washington Capitals, though he was forced to sell the team in 1999. He was the NBA’s longest tenured owner, owning the franchise for nearly half a century.
This is somewhat old news, he died two days ago, but after reading numerous quotes and anecdotes told by friends, industry people, sports columnists and players all over the web, and a story in the Washington Post I thought I’d drop some of them here, I think because it’s good for anybody to know that there are generous, hard-working, philanthropic, business owners in high profile positions. I’m not sure if that gets overlooked, simply because I’m not sure there are that many people that fit that criteria. I think for the most part the general conception of rich, business owners — whether it be sports, banking or technology related, etc. — is that of a parsimonious, old scrooge only and always looking out for his bank account — players, employees and community be damned. Whether that’s generally true, and an accurate portrait of these men I can’t be sure. Perhaps it’s just a dirty stereotype. Based on what I’ve read though, Abe is as much the polar opposite of that as one man can ever hope to be.
“The first time I met him one-on-one was when I came down to interview for the job. I sat in his boardroom here, and it was an interview that lasted about 10 minutes. He shook my hand and says, ‘You’re my coach.’ And I said, ‘I wanna be your coach.’ I don’t think any other interview has gone like that in the NBA. He said, ‘We don’t need a contract, your handshake is good enough for me.’ And I walked out and said, ‘Jeez, I gotta tell my agent that I took a job and there’s no money involved.’ But that’s the kind of man he was … he knew and I knew. He was very special, no doubt about it.” –Eddie Jordan
“I remember when I came up here to interview for my first time. He asked about me. He didn’t ask too much about basketball, he wanted to know about my family. He wanted to know about my children, my parents, my background. We probably spent the first half hour about that before we ever talked about the game or basketball. That’s the kind of person he is. He wanted to know you as an individual. He’s very big on family. He was very, very big on loyalty. And he was very big on good people.” –Ernie Grunfeld, GM
“Pollin sometimes was criticized for the so-called “mom and pop” way he ran the franchise. He sometimes was criticized for his devotion to his employees — he was loyal to a fault, they said. If that is so, his was a fault to be valued in sports today, when loyalties are too often measured by the bottom line. The bottom line about Abe Pollin was that he was ours. He was part of the District.” — Thom Loverro of the Washington Times
“Antawn Jamison nodded at the portrait being painted of Mr. P, whom the veteran forward said worried as much about his millionaires as his minimum-wage minions. “I have a friend here who said to me today, ‘If it hadn’t been for Mr. Pollin, I’d probably be dead.’ It wasn’t just the players he cared about; he got people off the streets in D.C.” –Mike Wise, Washington Post
“His prime development legacy, let there be no doubt about it, will be the MCI Center, which Pollin built out of his own pocket while the city suffered from crippling financial woes and went on to anchor the rebirth of downtown Washington. Though well known as a hellish negotiator, Pollin was generous with his riches, donating heavily to Jewish causes (he helped save the Sixth & I Synagogue, for instance) and, among other good works, paying for an entire elementary-school class to go to college.” –Matt DeBonis, Washinton City Paper
There’s also a great article at the CBS sports website that goes into a little bit more biographical detail.
And last, but by all means not least, the Washington Post has a nice selection of vintage pictures in a slideshow for you to peruse.