Mike Wise: Pollin stood by the people who stood by him

Washington, D.C., locals react to the death of Abe Pollin, 85, and remember the ways he transformed the city in the areas of sports, business, and philanthropy.
By Mike Wise
Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Unless they once lived a modest life, most rich, powerful men rarely connect with the working class. It's not merely about their status or social circles; it's just not in most of their DNAs.

So pardon if the stories of Wes and Earl the Pearl and Michael Jordan come later; pardon if the next few paragraphs are devoted to people of whom you've probably never heard.

Ernie Fingers was on the verge of tears Tuesday night in his office underneath Verizon Center, where the building that Abe Pollin built shook and the home team won, on the night they memorialized the man they call, "Mr. P."

"Best person I've ever known," Ernie said quietly hours after he had heard Mr. Pollin passed away. Ernie began working for Mr. Pollin in 1974 as his chief engineer of electronics. Having climbed Mr. P's ladder of loyalty like so many others in the building, 35 years later Ernie is the arena's vice president of television operations.

"Today was very close to when I lost my mother; he was my Pops away from home," he said, stopping, lowering his head. "I'm sorry, it's just been a tough day."

Roscoe Reeves was a cabbie in the District when I met him eight years ago while writing a story about the Wizards owner for another newspaper. Asked what he thought of Pollin, his 60-something eyes lit up: "Oh, Mr. Pollin, what a gentleman. I've known him since he was a young man. His father, Morris, sold bricks to the builders, and Mr. Pollin worked with him. A very socially conscious person, he is."

Roscoe, it turned out, worked as a locker room attendant at the Jewish Community Center, which the Pollins frequented as far back as the early 1940s. He remembered the son as an accomplished handball player and someone who always made time for him.

"Yes, I do remember," Mr. Pollin said, a bit stunned at the reference, when I asked him. "Roscoe Reeves." Laughing, he added: "But he's got the handball part wrong. I was a very good squash player."

Antawn Jamison nodded at the portrait being painted of Mr. P, whom the veteran forward said worried as much about his millionaires as his minimum-wage minions. "I have a friend here who said to me today, 'If it hadn't been for Mr. Pollin, I'd probably be dead.' It wasn't just the players he cared about; he got people off the streets in D.C."

While snooping around the Wizards six years ago trying to find out whether a deflated Michael Jordan wanted to remain with the organization, a person I rarely talk to called me on the telephone and, without introduction, opened with an absolute stunner.

"There will be a meeting in Washington next week at which Michael Jordan will be fired," the voice said.

I laughed at first, figuring it was a joke. Even now, it's still hard to fathom.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company