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Even With Health Failing, Pollin the Owner Is Still Pollin the Fan

By George Solomon
Sunday, September 21, 2008

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."

Notes From a Home Opener

Jason Campbell's 67-yard touchdown strike to Santana Moss that gave the Redskins a 29-24 victory over the Saints last Sunday took some of the early-season heat (was it hot or what?) off the fourth-year quarterback and first-year coach Jim Zorn. But many fans remain "steamed" at punter-holder Durant Brooks, a sixth-round draft pick from Georgia Tech who may have to become a heckuva engineer if he doesn't improve.

I saw LaVar Arrington, who works for Comcast SportsNet, in the press box Sunday. I miss LaVar playing for the Redskins. He has charisma. So does Jason Taylor. I still don't understand what happened with LaVar and the Redskins.

On Saturday, I ran into Mark Rypien, MVP of Super Bowl XXVI, at Alexandria's TopGolf where he was golfing with fans to raise money for his foundation that helps families of children with cancer. Ten years ago, Rypien's son, Andrew, died of cancer at age 3.

So how come the vaunted second-round draft class of '08 -- Fred ("I have an alarm clock now") Davis, Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas -- have contributed so little? Should we send them down to the Potomac Nationals for more seasoning? But give Vinny and the scouts credit for drafting safety Chris ("who says I'm not starting today?") Horton in the seventh round.

Meantime, how 'bout that Coach Zorn? Last February he caused a minor flap at his inaugural news conference by calling the Redskins' colors "maroon and black" when everyone knows they are orange and blue. Now he's using Yiddish slang for a private body part in a discussion this week about Antwaan Randle El returning punts.

Jimbo, call me before you go there again, or consult on such matters with your owner.

Meanwhile, the coach's latest faux pas paled in comparison to Chris Cooley posting six questions from the team's pregame "Tight Ends Test" on his popular blog before the New Orleans game, as well as a revealing photo of himself that probably will disqualify him for future Verizon commercials.

These are two reasons, in my view, for the Redskins' designating former Pro Bowl linebacker Ken Harvey as "director of responsibility." The team says it is not a full-time position.

Touching the Bases

· I'll provide detailed analysis next Sunday on what the Nationals have to do to become a more competitive team (after I talk to Boswell and some enlightened members of the aging Baseball Gang).

But for now, can't the club see its way clear to pay the city the $3.5 million in rent that was due last spring? The Nats have averaged 29,261 fans a game (19th out of 30 teams), selling more than 2.2 million tickets in a great, new $611 million ballpark. That's not bad, considering their 58 victories are second to the last in the Bigs.

So, pay the rent.

· Political Sports Tidbit: Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) told ESPN's Stuart Scott last month he was a "White Sox fan" and suggested that supporters of the Cubs "were the beautiful people" and not true fans. To which Chicago's own Michael Wilbon, who grew up on the South Side and has been a lifelong Cubs fans, said, "Barack is wrong; he should know 80 percent of Chicagoans are Cub fans."

· Fans of the popular TV series "Friday Night Lights" who look to this space for football updates will be happy to know the return of the Dillon Panthers is set for Oct. 1 on DirecTV.

Coach Eric Taylor, QB Matt Saracen, Smash, pained FB Tim Riggins, Tami Taylor and the whole Dillon gang begin the season on satellite before moving to NBC (Fridays) in February in an NBC, Universal Media Studio and DirecTV arrangement too complicated for me to understand.

Coverage of the Dillon Panthers begins here Oct. 5.

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