Pollin Brings Luck To Wizards Lottery Hopes

Irene Pollin woke up this morning knowing she was headed to Secaucus, N.J. to represent the Washington Wizards at the 2010 NBA Draft Lottery. As she dressed, on a table nearby was a ring, one that meant the world to her late husband, former Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin. At first she was going to leave the ring, but ultimately decided to wear it as her good luck charm.

It worked.

The Wizards won the lottery and will select first overall in June’s draft. The pick gives Washington, which finished 26-56 last season, its choice of one of the top college players in the country, including Kentucky’s freshman guard John Wall, the consensus number one, or Ohio State’s national player of the year Evan Turner.

Pollin happily showed off the ring afterwards to the crowd inside the NBA Studios, where the lottery was held. It was her late husband’s from the 1977-78 Washington Bullets championship and featured his name engraved. Pollin said Abe, who passed away at the age of 85 in November, wore it every day since that title win.

“I put this on this morning. I wasn’t going to, but I said you know this has been so much a part of our lives for the last 46 years,” Pollin, whose family has owned the Wizards since 1964, said. “My husband wore this ring every single day. He’d always ask, where’s my ring? It feels good that everything came together.”

Based on the odds, the Wizards were slated to get the number five pick, but moved into the Top 3 after the Golden State Warriors dropped to sixth. That left the New Jersey Nets, the team with the best odds to win the lottery, the Philadelphia 76ers, who had the next worst odds after the Wizards, and Washington as the remaining clubs with the shot at this year’s premier pick. After NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver eliminated the Nets and then the Sixers, Pollin’s mouth dropped wide open.

“I can’t believe it. That’s all I can tell you,” Pollin said. “As they went card after card, I kept saying the next one is going to be the Wizards. Part of me can’t comprehend this is happening. I’m just so thrilled and the meaning of this for our franchise. We’ve had a rough couple of years and I think this will make an incredible difference.”

This was the sixth straight year the team with the best chance to win the lottery didn’t. It also marked another disappointing event for the Nets, who were represented by new owner Mikhail Prokhorov after finishing an NBA-worst 12-70 last season.

This wasn’t Pollin’s first trip to represent the Wizards. She did so in 1993, when the Wizards had the third-best odds in the lottery, but wound up falling to sixth. This year’s event, however, was one of Pollin’s last acts as majority owner of Washington Sports and Entertainment, which consists of the Wizards and the Verizon Center. The family, including sons Robert and Jim, recently sold their 56 percent share in the team to Ted Leonsis, a popular figure in the Washington community who also owns the Capitals.

“It feels like a new day with a breath of fresh air, and it gives us a great opportunity to get off on the right foot,” Leonsis said. “I’m really excited about what the NBA has to offer. I believe we’ll work passionately with a lot of dedication to build a passionate team.”

Leonsis, who is expected to take over the organization in the next few weeks, hopes the top pick in the NBA draft turns out as well as it did for him in the NHL’s event.

“Washington is a basketball city and we’ve seen with our hockey team how great a first-round pick can be, especially if he’s of a worldly talent of Ovechkin,” Leonsis said, referring to one of the NHL’s top young superstars, Alexander Ovechkin, whom was taken first by the Capitals in 2004. “I’m sure we’ll be able to get one of those players that we’ll be able to build around in the Washington Wizards regard.”

Scouts believe Wall is the type of talent that Leonsis describes. Adding the 19-year-old to the roster should immediately give the Wizards one of the top backcourts in the league, as Wall would be paired with three-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas.

Leonsis isn’t ready to completely commit to Wall just yet though. He says it will be up to general manager Ernie Grunfeld and head coach Flip Saunders to evaluate all of their options. One thing is for certain, Leonsis has absolutely no desire to trade away the top pick.

“We won’t be giving up the first pick,” Leonsis said. “I love young players and I believe building around a core of young players is the way to go.”

The Wizards last held the No. 1 pick in 2001, when the team selected Kwame Brown. Washington shipped Brown, along with Laron Profit, to the Lakers four years later for Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins. There’s no doubt that fans in Washington are hoping for a different experience this time around.

On June 24, live from Madison Square Garden in New York, commissioner David Stern will walk to the podium, smile plastered across his face, as he announces “with the first pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Washington Wizards selects…”

Now that has a nice ring to it.