Even With Health Failing, Pollin the Owner Is Still Pollin the Fan
At 84, Abe Pollin still "gets that special feeling" the week training camp begins, as it will Saturday in Richmond for the Washington Wizards. And while confined to a wheelchair and disappointed at the news Wednesday that Gilbert Arenas underwent a third surgery on his left knee, Pollin begins his 44th year of NBA ownership convinced this team could be his best ever.
"We're capable of playing with anybody," Pollin said in an interview this week in his Verizon Center office. "After all these years, I'm still a fan. I can still taste the excitement of the start of a new season."
Arenas, who signed a six-year, $111 million contract in July and probably will not be available at least until late December, is a key component in the Wizards' hopes for a fifth straight postseason appearance and advancing deep in the playoffs.
"There is one person that wants Gilbert on the floor as much as I do and that's Gilbert himself," Pollin said in a statement the day after learning of Arenas's latest setback. "We want him to be 100 percent healthy, and this procedure will help him rehab more effectively. Even with Gilbert out of the lineup, I have a great deal of confidence in our guys."
Over the years, Pollin has retained his optimism for a second NBA title despite what former columnist Tony Kornheiser refers to as "the curse of Les Boulez" -- denoting years of misfortune, key injuries, contract disputes, poor trades and bad luck.
"Antawn Jamison is the closest player we've had to Wes Unseld," said Pollin, who for more than 20 years opened training camp with a shooting contest against Unseld. "I always won, of course, although Wes said he let me win, which is not true. One year, I hit seven of 10 three-pointers, with Wes shoving me from behind before each shot."
Those days, sadly, are over for Pollin, as are his longtime regimen of walking two miles a day, playing tennis and swimming. Pollin now battles a rare neurological disease -- corticobasal degeneration -- that is similar to Parkinson's disease and impairs his movement and balance.
"A horrible disease," he said. "I was the most independent person in the world, but now I'm completely dependent on others [particularly his wife, Irene] for everything."
He still goes to his downtown office from his Bethesda home once or twice a week and undergoes physical therapy four times a week.
Pollin has donated $1 million to the Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (CUREPSP) for research in hopes "of helping others and maybe me" combat the disease that affects about 5,000 Americans.
The Wizards' opening game against New Jersey is Oct. 29 at Verizon Center.
"I'll be there if I have to crawl," Pollin said. "The team has been a major part of my life for 44 years, and I'll keep going as long as I can."