Washington Wizards Owners Irene & Abe Pollin
In their 46th season of ownership of the franchise, Irene and Abe Pollin hold the distinction of being the longest-tenured owners in the National Basketball Association. Since becoming owners in 1964, the Pollins have watched the NBA become the standard by which all other professional sports leagues are measured, as it exploded in growth from a small, regional league to a worldwide presence.
Irene and Abe Pollin have been at the center of some of the NBA’s most historic events during their distinguished time at the helm of the Washington Bullets/Wizards. In 1978, they reached the pinnacle of the NBA when their Bullets, behind the play of Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge, defeated Seattle and brought a World Championship to Washington. In the summer of 1979, Pollin took his Bullets to Asia to lead the NBA’s first ever venture into China, forging the way for the NBA to become a global entity, and watched as members of his organization made a return trip to China in September of 2009 to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the historic first trip.
As the majority owners of Washington Sports & Entertainment Limited Partnership, the Pollins oversee the operations of the Washington Wizards, Washington/Baltimore Ticketmaster and in-house promoter Musicentre Productions, as well as the management of Verizon Center and The George Mason University Patriot Center.
Thirty-six years ago, the Pollins opened the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, the new home for their Baltimore Bullets, and applied for a National Hockey League expansion franchise. The Capital Centre opened on December 2, 1973, and it was what Verizon Center is today -- a state-of-the-art sports and entertainment facility that became the standard for new arenas throughout the world.
The Capital Centre, aptly named by Irene Pollin, was built in a record 15 months and boasted a plethora of unique features including electronic ticketing, one-of-a-kind luxury suite accommodations and the never-before-seen telescreen. It was the premier arena in its time, as it hosted a wide range of events from sports to concerts, and even presidential galas.
But as time and the sports and entertainment industry changed, the Pollins realized that their teams were no longer playing in the “best” facility in their respective leagues. In 1964, when the Pollins and two partners purchased the Baltimore Bullets, they had dreams that someday the team would play in a brand-new facility in the nation’s capital. Once again, they seized the opportunity to make their dreams a reality.
After the long years of planning and building Verizon Center, the Pollins watched as their dreams came true on December 2, 1997, when a sellout crowd filled Verizon Center to watch the Wizards host the arena’s first event versus the Seattle Supersonics. Since that time, the downtown Chinatown neighborhood has sprung to life with close to 27 million people having spun the turnstiles at Verizon Center to be a part of nearly 2,500 concerts, family shows and world-class sporting events. The 2007-08 NBA season marked the 10th Anniversary of the opening of Verizon Center in downtown Washington; a milestone celebrated with a series of special community events and building accolades. Nominated for Arena of the Year for the first time by leading trade publication, Pollstar, Verizon Center also saw the installation of the first true indoor, high-definition, light emitting diode (LED) display scoreboard for an arena in the country, once again putting the building on the cutting edge of technology and ahead of the curve.
“I had two goals when I decided to build this building,” said Abe Pollin. “The first was that if I was building in downtown Washington, the nation’s capital, it had to be the best building of its kind in the country. The second was to be the catalyst that turned the city around.”
In 1998, as the Wizards completed their first season at Verizon Center, the Pollins’ WNBA franchise, the Washington Mystics, made history of their own. The Mystics made their Verizon Center debut on June 19, 1998 in front of 20,674 fans — the largest crowd ever to attend a women’s professional basketball game in the United States. And while the Mystics’ beginnings under the Pollins’ guidance were historic in their own right, their purchase by Sheila Johnson and Lincoln Holdings was of similar significance. In May of 2005, the Pollins facilitated the sale of their Mystics to Sheila Johnson as the Mystics President and Managing Partner, and brought Johnson to Lincoln Holdings, a minority partner in Washington Sports & Entertainment. With Lincoln Holdings’ stake in the NBA’s Wizards and the NHL’s Capitals, Johnson became the first African-American woman to have ownership interest in three professional sports franchises.
While the sports industry is full of astute business professionals, what distinguishes Irene and Abe Pollin from their peers is their commitment to social responsibility. They share a passionate need to give back to the community and have made helping people a way of life. Their philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors know no bias or boundaries, which is evident by the numerous public service and community organizations to which they selflessly devote enormous time and energy.
Abe Pollin serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council, is Honorable Chairman of the Salvation Army’s Leadership Committee for Centers of Hope and Co-Chair of the Community Capital Campaign for N Street Village in the District. He is also the co-sponsor of the “I Have a Dream Foundation” and he personally guaranteed a college education for 55 students. Recent philanthropic endeavors of the Pollins have included the re-launch of the Abe’s Table program to feed the underserved in the DC community and financial sponsorship of Gilbert Arenas’ Gilbert Scores for Schools program, through which the Pollins donated $100 for every point that Arenas scored in select Wizards games during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons to a different Washington area school each game (a donation that exceeded $300,000 last season alone). In August of 2008 the Pollins donated $1,000,000 to the Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy - CUREPSP - to establish a fund to support research in corticobasal degeneration (CBD) and to find the cause and cure for the rare neurological disease, a disease which Mr. Pollin was diagnosed with several years ago.
“I grew up in a house where both of my parents were very much involved in helping others,” said Pollin. “My philosophy is that those of us who are on the giving end rather than the receiving end are very lucky.”
Not surprisingly, recognition of the Pollins’ accomplishments are just as impressive as the deeds they acknowledge. The recent years have been landmark ones for Pollin, as he has received numerous awards and accolades recognizing his accomplishments in professional sports and contributions to community service.
Pollin was awarded the Duke Ziebert Capital Achievement Award for his efforts in revitalizing downtown Washington, DC He has also been the recipient of the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, presented by the US Army, the 1996 Robert F. Kennedy-Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, presented by Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, the 1996 United Cerebral Palsy Achievement Award and the 1997 Jewish Leadership Award. In 2006, Pollin was honored for his contributions to the world of sports and his community when the United States Sports Academy tabbed him for their Distinguished Service Award. On December 3, 2007, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty proclaimed “Abe Pollin Day” in the District of Columbia in honor of Abe Pollin’s 84th birthday and all of his contributions to the city. In addition to proclaiming Abe Pollin Day, the Mayor unveiled F Street between 6th and 7th Streets NW as “Abe Pollin Way.”
As if the years of experience with the Bullets/Wizards, Capital Centre and Verizon Center were not challenging enough, Irene Pollin is a noted health care professional with three decades of experience in the field. In 1976, she created the first Medical Crisis Counseling Center developed to treat patients and families coping with chronic illness. Since then, she has developed Medical Crisis Counseling Centers at Washington Hospital Center as well as additional facilities in surrounding communities.
Irene Pollin has forged a dynamic reputation as a psychiatric social worker and lecturer in the department of psychiatry at Harvard University. As president and founder of the Linda and Kenneth Pollin Foundation, she serves on a number of national advisory boards and commissions in fields of both mental and women’s health, and is the founder and chairperson of the Sister to Sister — Everyone Has a Heart Foundation, an organization whose aim is to increase women’s awareness of heart disease and provide free cardiac screenings. Pollin organized Sister to Sister’s BIKE FOR THE HEART in Washington DC in October, 2009 to aid in the effort to increase awareness of heart disease, with DC Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Washington Wizards Forward Caron Butler serving as Co-Chairs of the event.
In addition to lecturing in the academic community, Mrs. Pollin has been a guest on national and local broadcast shows including the Today show, Nightline with Ted Koppel, Good Day New York, National Public Radio and USA Today Sports Radio. She also has published numerous articles and is the author of two books, Medical Crisis Counseling — Short-Term Therapy for Long-Term Illness and Taking Charge — Overcoming the Challenges of Long-Term Illness.
She has served as a board member of numerous organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Smithsonian Institution, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, National Kidney Foundation, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the Society for Women’s Health Research, National Cancer Institute, National Rehabilitation Hospital, the National Institute of Mental Health, the U.S. Committee for the Washington, DC United Nations Fund for Women, the National Institutes for Health Foundation and the Office of Women’s Health at NIH. Outside of the health field, Irene Pollin has served on the board for the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Opera. In addition, she has given back to her alma mater by serving on the Board of American University, the American University Executive Committee and the Development Committee at American University, and being the guiding force behind the development of the new American University Library. In the spring of 2007, Irene Pollin received an honorary doctorate degree from Howard University.
Irene and Abe Pollin together established the Pollin Prize for Pediatric Research, administered annually by New York Presbyterian Hospital. The first Pollin Prize was awarded on November 15, 2002, to four international scientists for their work in Oral Dehydration Therapy, hailed as the most important medical discovery of the 20th century.
Abe Pollin moved with his family to the Washington area from Philadelphia when he was eight. He graduated from The George Washington University in 1945 and went to work for his family’s construction company for 12 years. Irene Pollin, a native of St. Louis, received a Bachelor’s Degree from American University, and then earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Catholic University. In 1957, the Pollins launched their own construction company and, as a local contractor, built several large apartment houses and office buildings, one of which featured the first-ever rooftop pool in Washington.
The Pollins enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren. Robert, the elder of the Pollins’ two sons, lives in Amherst, MA, with his wife Sigrid, where they are both professors at the University of Massachusetts. Robert, an economics professor, and Sigrid, an architect, have two daughters, Emma and Hannah. The Pollins’ younger son, James, is the President of The Pollin Group/MedEdatSea, a travel business specializing in cruises. Irene and Abe Pollin reside in Bethesda, Maryland.