Washington Wizards and Washington Sports & Entertainment Mourn the Passing of Chairman Abe Pollin
The Washington Wizards and Washington Sports & Entertainment today mourn the passing of their Owner and Chairman, Abe Pollin, at the age of 85. Pollin leaves behind his wife, Irene, and two sons, Robert and James, as well as two grandchildren (Hannah and Emma) and a great granddaughter (Ruth). Pollin passed away with his family by his side.
In 46 seasons of ownership of the Washington Wizards, Abe Pollin held the distinction of being the longest-tenured owner in the National Basketball Association. From the time he became an owner in 1964, Pollin played an integral role in steering the NBA from a small, regional league to a worldwide presence on the business landscape. All the while, Pollin strived to make his franchise an industry leader on two fronts – the basketball court and the community – combining his love of sports with dedication to public service.
Pollin was at the center of some of the most historic events in the NBA during his time at the helm of the Washington franchise, and he reached the pinnacle of the sport in 1978 when his Bullets, behind the play of Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge, brought a World Championship to Washington.
As the majority owner of Washington Sports & Entertainment, Pollin oversaw the operations of the Washington Wizards, the Washington/Baltimore Ticketmaster franchise, and the management of three multi-purpose facilities throughout his career: Capital Centre, Verizon Center and The George Mason University Patriot Center. Pollin also formerly owned and operated the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics before their respective sales within the past decade.
Perhaps Pollin’s greatest accomplishment was the private financing and construction of Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C., and the subsequent economic resurgence of the surrounding neighborhood. In 1995, Pollin broke ground on Verizon Center and stated two goals he had for the facility: to be the best and to revitalize downtown Washington, D.C. On December 2, 1997, Verizon Center opened with a victory for Pollin’s Washington Wizards in the building’s first-ever event. Since opening, the arena has installed the first true indoor high-definition scoreboard for an arena in the country and has been nominated for Arena of the Year by leading trade publication Pollstar. Hosting over 28 million people with over 2,600 concerts, family shows and world-class sporting events, Verizon Center is the centerpiece of $6.2 billion in redevelopment in the surrounding Chinatown neighborhood in downtown Washington, D.C. (Source: Downtown BID).
Verizon Center marked Pollin’s second state-of-the-art facility, as he previously owned and operated the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. In 1973, the Capital Centre was a building that was then what Verizon Center is now: an arena at the forefront of the sports and entertainment industry. The Capital Centre was the first arena to boast a series of unique features including electronic ticketing, one-of-a-kind luxury suite accommodations and never-before-seen telscreen video displays.
Along with the opening of Capital Centre, Pollin brought professional hockey to the nation’s capital for the first time. Defying long odds, Pollin secured an expansion franchise from the NHL, and the Washington Capitals were born. During Pollin’s ownership of the Capitals, the franchise made 15 playoff appearances, including an exciting run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998, the team’s first season at Verizon Center. Pollin sold the Capitals to Lincoln Holdings, LLC and majority owner Ted Leonsis in 1999.
Pollin also founded Washington’s WNBA franchise – the Washington Mystics – in 1997, and saw his franchise debut at Verizon Center 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. In May of 2005, Pollin facilitated the sale of the Mystics to Lincoln Holdings and brought in Sheila Johnson as the Mystics President and Managing Partner. 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.
Pollin’s success in the business of sports and entertainment was equaled only by his passion to use his fortune in life to make the life of others better. His philanthropic and humanitarian endeavors knew no bias or boundaries, evidenced by the numerous public service and community organizations to which he selflessly devoted enormous time and energy.
On December 3, 2007, the District of Columbia’s Mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, proclaimed “Abe Pollin Day” in honor of Pollin’s 84th birthday and his great contributions to the city. The Mayor also renamed F Street between 6th and 7th Streets NW as Abe Pollin Way. In 2009, Pollin’s alma mater, The George Washington University, inducted him into the school’s “Sports Business Hall of Fame.”
Abe Pollin moved with his family to the Washington, D.C. area from Philadelphia at the age of eight, and later graduated from The George Washington University in 1945. In 1957, the Pollin family launched their own construction company, and built several large apartment buildings and office buildings in Washington, D.C., one of which featured the first-ever rooftop pool.
Throughout his adult life, Pollin was hand-in-hand with his wife Irene Pollin, who has over three decades of experience in the health care profession. She created the first Medical Crisis Counseling Center developed to treat patients and families coping with chronic illness, and has developed Medical Crisis Counseling Centers at the Washington Hospital Center, as well as additional facilities in surrounding communities. As president and founder of the Linda and Kenneth Pollin Foundation and the Sister-to-Sister Foundation, she serves on a number of national advisory boards and commissions in fields of both mental and women’s health.