Abe Pollin was really a special person. What impressed me the most about him wasn’t the wealth he acquired starting the Washington Bullets/Wizards from scratch, but the way that he cared for people. He wasn’t the typical businessman that builds an empire and is only interested in getting more. He gave back to the community and helped others in ways that were considered generous by any standard. Put simply, he was a giver. That was something he did because that was who he was and I respected him for that. Mr. Pollin left his imprint on Washington DC in a way that not many other CEO’s or businessmen have.
Mr. Pollin surprised me on many occasions. I remember after the invasion of Iraq, I spoke at a big anti-war rally on the National Mall in DC. I had spoken at rallies before, but this one was a little bit bigger than usual. This was during the summer, so we had not officially begun practice yet. Well, the next week I was at the Verizon Center working out and received a message that Mr. Pollin wanted to speak to me in his office. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I was thinking, “Oh no, what if he is a staunch Republican and was offended by my stance against the war and no longer wants me to be an employee of his organization”.
So I enter his office, and he is sitting there with a big smile on his face, and shakes my hand. He begins to tell me that his son attended the anti-war rally and was raving about my speech. He said he read the text and was really impressed. We then began to have a lengthy conversation about politics. We covered Iraq, the Bush administration, Vietnam, inner-city schools… Even debated on the gentrification processes taking place throughout the city. He told me of his dedication to building units of housing for a range of different incomes and that he didn’t just focus on the high-income bracket, which is especially common in DC.
He also told me about an article he read in the Washington Post a while ago about how 40,000 to 50,000 young children in Africa died everyday from malnutrition. He criticized people here as being “oblivious” to the problems of the world and told me how he organized a trip to Uganda to get a close look at the struggles and connected with UNICEF to actually do something about it. Needless to say, I was very impressed. We looked up and an hour and a half had gone by. He apologized for keeping me so long and I told him that I really enjoyed our conversation. He told me to keep standing up for what I believed in and said not to be surprised if I received a tremendous amount of criticism, but that he respected the stance I took.
I went home and told my wife what had happened and she was just as surprised as I was. See, at that time I was in deed receiving quite a bit of criticism for my stance on the invasion of Iraq. It was extremely refreshing to have someone in his position offer words of encouragement and support.
Many former employees of his, most notably Wes Unseld, have since spoken about the way they were treated by Abe Pollin. They have voived opinions and stories about how he made them feel like they were part of a family, like he actually cared about them as human beings and not just employees.
I can say that I definitely concur.
After my open heart surgery, Mr. Pollin surprised me yet again.
While I was in the hospital recovering, he called me. I couldn’t really talk a lot without getting out of breath and he knew that and told me from the top of the conversation that he just wanted me to listen. He began sharing with me some of the surgeries that he had gone through and said that he was well informed of the particulars of my surgery. He told me that I was going to be fine and not to worry about what the reporters were saying. He told me that he read the article I wrote, where I took issue with the way my surgery was covered, and the fact that many reporters were doubting that I would ever play again.
He told me that although he admired my willingness to stand up to them, I shouldn’t let them bother me. He said, “They didn’t know what they were talking about”. He said I would be fine and told me not to rush coming back. Mr. Pollin wanted me to take my time, listen to the doctors, not think that I was Superman or anything. Just wanted me to realize that this was going to be a process and I had to be patient. A few months later, when I was trying to push myself to be able to come back that season, (I know athletes can be hard-headed sometimes) he actually called me and told me to slow down.
He said that my body would tell me when I was ready and that I shouldn’t be trying to break any records for the fastest person to recover from open-heart surgery. (He had a way of laughing at his own jokes but that one was funny).
Those conversations really meant something to me.
It spoke to his character. The fact that he didn’t see me as just an employee, but he actually cared. He, along with Coach Eddie Jordan, both on different occasions told me to slow down and stop pushing myself so hard, and to wait until I was totally healed. I don’t think people outside of the sports world can understand how much of an anomaly that is. For him to be more concerned with my health than getting me back on the court as soon as possible is definitely not the norm.
Mr. Pollin will be remembered by many players, including myself, as special for many different reasons. Knowing him and working for him was a pleasure. When people think of DC, his name will always be mentioned as a pioneer of the City.
Mr. Pollin, you will be missed.