Forget Contracts, Pollin Is Only Interested in One Thing: an NBA Title

By George Solomon
Sunday, July 6, 2008

In his 44th year of owning Washington's NBA franchise, Abe Pollin has been involved in his share of contract squabbles and verbal jousting. He's made his share of "take it or leave it" mandates to the best of 'em, long before Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas were born.

Earl Monroe, a Hall of Famer, left the then-Baltimore Bullets in a 1971 contract dispute with Pollin, only to return 37 years later to see his Bullets jersey retired at Verizon Center. Michael Jordan exchanged words with Pollin as a member of the Chicago Bulls during the 1999 work stoppage, only to come back and play for him for two seasons before Pollin fired him as the team's chief executive in 2003.

And there was le affair de Juwan Howard in '96, money-related issues with Bobby Dandridge and Mitch Kupchak, not to mention a scratchy relationship with local superagent David Falk. Chris Webber was sent packing for slights such as missing Fan Appreciation Day.

So when Pollin showed up at Verizon Center on Tuesday at a news conference announcing a four-year, $50 million contract extension for all-star forward Jamison, you knew how much keeping him in the fold meant to the owner and to the team's president, Ernie Grunfeld.

"I'd have crawled to get here," said the 84-year-old Pollin, who for about a year has been confined to a wheelchair because of progressive supranuclear palsy, a disorder of the brain that impairs movement and balance.

"A horrible disease," Pollin told me. "But I'm fighting it."

Pollin is still involved with Grunfeld in the recently concluded negotiations with Jamison, whom Pollin likened to his all-time favorite Wes Unseld.

And, on Thursday, Arenas told The Post's Ivan Carter he will sign a six-year, $111 million contract with the Wizards, less than the six-year, $125 million-$127 million deal the team offered him.

Arenas's decision to accept less, he told Carter, was made to give Grunfeld the maneuverability to sign an additional player or two.

"Besides," he told Carter, "there's nothing I can do for my family with $127 million that I can't do with $111 million."

Pollin reached the Asia-bound Arenas on Tuesday to tell him he wanted Arenas to remain a Wizard. "Five years ago he told me you're the face of the Wizards; you're my guy," Arenas told Carter.

Still, some Wizards insiders questioned whether the team was financially prudent in signing the 26-year-old Arenas to such an extraordinary contract considering Arenas has had surgery on his left knee in each of the last two seasons. While a fan favorite and legitimate all-star when healthy, he was considered an erratic distraction by some last season. "Gil does need to mature," Jamison said. "Cut out some of the crazy stuff."

None of that deterred Pollin and Grunfeld from retaining Arenas and Jamison to remain with Caron Butler and the rest of the cast for a fifth consecutive playoff run and a chance at loftier goals. "I'm getting a little old and a little sick, but I'm still going to be around until we win the championship," Pollin said. "I'm stubborn and hardheaded."

We know.

Without Woods, Show Goes On

So what's Tiger Woods's AT&T National golf tourney at Congressional Country Club like without Tiger Woods?

Veteran Fred Couples, who stood in for Woods in making welcoming remarks at Wednesday's opening ceremony honoring the U.S. military, said it best: "I'm helping Tiger out. But I'd rather see Tiger."

That was the theme as Woods's event went off while Tiger was resting his left knee after surgery just after winning the U.S. Open in a stirring playoff against Rocco Mediate.

Some of us "160 yards into the woods" hackers who gasp at the sight of PGA Tour pros hitting drives on the range were still surprised only two of the top 10 players showed up this week. Debt is a word with a double meaning few pro golfers comprehend.

"We're all riding his coattails," Couples said. "I'm 48 and I've seen them all come and go, but he's one of a kind. The best ever. He took seven weeks off before the Open, played hurt and still won. Phenomenal."

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, whose staff has the task of selling the tour when Woods is on the shelf, compares Woods's absence to the weeks Jack Nicklaus would miss 25 years ago. "Tiger spikes an event. But when he missed eight weeks before the Open, we did well. Even though Tiger is the most recognizable guy on the planet, people underestimate the strength of the tour."

The Capitals' Changing Faces

Life as a professional athlete, even with its huge financial rewards, can be cruel.

On Tuesday, goalie Olie Kolzig, who was the face of the Washington Capitals on and off the ice for the past 10 years, signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with Tampa Bay. The transaction resulted in a sentence or two in most newspapers, a cold ending of a career in which Kolzig, 38, played more games (711) than any Capital and holds every team record for goalies.

On the same day, Cristobal Huet, whose late-season acquisition from Montreal put Kolzig on the bench and helped the Caps to the playoffs, signed a four-year, $22.5 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. Caps GM George McPhee responded by signing Colorado's José Théodore to a two-year, $9 million contract, as well as signing defenseman Mike Green to a four-year, $21 million contract extension.

Lots of names, numbers and money in those two paragraphs. But no heart.

A Fine Day for D.C. Sports

If you rode the Orange Line last Sunday you knew you were in a town where sports mattered. Soccer fans headed to RFK Stadium to see David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy meet D.C. United, and baseball fans in red curly 'W' hats headed for the Green Line connector en route to Nationals Park.

Two games: 35,979 saw United stop the Beckhams, 4-1, with fan favorite Ben Olsen making his season debut for United after being sidelined with an ankle injury. His fans rocked the stands, which always makes me think of January 1983 -- Tom Landry turning around in that coat of his and wondering why those stands were shaking. We knew.

A couple of miles away, 39,824 fans -- largest crowd so far at Nationals Park -- saw Ronnie Belliard hit an unlikely two-out, two-strike, two-run homer in the 12th inning to beat the Orioles, 3-2.

Two games watched by 75,803 fans, most of them happier than when the day began.

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