[to top of second column]
"It was an atmosphere on edge," Pollin later explained in an interview with The Associated Press. "It was not a healthy atmosphere to produce a happy organization or a winning team. ... I knew that there would be some negative stuff thrown at me, but when I made my decision, I stuck to my decision. I wasn't going to change."
The drama of Jordan's exit threatened to overshadow the rest of Pollin's accomplishments, including his philanthropy and his two state-of-the-art arenas.
The Capital Centre, located in Landover, Md., was the nation's first sports major venue with luxury boxes and a big replay screen. It was topped 24 years later by the Verizon Center, which Pollin built with $200 million of his own money at a time when many owners of professional franchises demanded taxpayer support for new facilities -- and threatened to move their teams if they didn't get it.
"He had opportunities to go to other places, but this is where he wanted to be," team president Ernie Grunfeld said. "He wanted to do this for his city."
Born Dec. 3, 1923, Pollin and his family moved from Philadelphia to the Washington area when he was 8. He graduated from George Washington University in 1945 and went to work in his family's construction business. He started his own construction company in 1957.
Pollin and two partners bought the Bullets in 1964 for a record $1.1 million, a mere fraction of the salary of today's NBA stars. He bought out his partners four years later and moved the team to the Washington suburbs when the Capital Centre opened. He also acquired an expansion NHL franchise, the Capitals, for his new building.
The Bullets won their championship with Unseld and Elvin Hayes and reached the NBA finals the following season as well, but Pollin was unable to keep up with the subsequent free agency explosion that sent salaries skyrocketing. He kept a shoestring front-office operation for much of the 1990s, was sometimes reticent to spend big for players, and developed a reputation for retaining employees who were loyal but not necessarily successful.
"I have no doubt that he kept me longer in positions than he should have," Unseld said, "and longer than I wanted him to. He was loyal."
Pollin's frustration boiled over when he argued with Jordan at a labor negotiating session during the 1998-99 lockout. When Pollin complained that individual owners such as himself could no longer survive, Jordan suggested that Pollin sell his team. Less than a year later, Pollin and Jordan became partners in a relationship that never blossomed.
After far too many losing seasons to count, the Wizards finally started winning again in recent years. A 2005 playoff series victory was the franchise's first in 23 years, and the team returned to the postseason for the next three seasons.
Pollin's other major franchise was more successful competitively, if not financially. The Capitals, faced with the daunting task of turning Washington into a hockey town, made the playoffs regularly in the 1980s and 1990s but also lost $20 million the year they made the Stanley Cup finals in 1998. Pollin sold the team to Leonsis the following year.
In addition to his wife, Pollin is survived by sons Robert and James, two granddaughters and one great granddaughter.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
< Sports index
Back to top
News | Sports | Business | Rural Review | Teaching & Learning | Home and Family | Tourism | Obituaries
Law & Courts |
Spiritual Life |
Health & Fitness |
Calendar | Letters to the Editor