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Pollin was a cut above

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The public joined former local basketball legends Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe, among others, in memorializing Abe Pollin on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.

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By Mike Wise
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Every three weeks, with few exceptions in four decades, the barber's most faithful customer would show up and wait for his chair to open.

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"He first came in the shop in, I believe, 1969 or 1970," Jose Ayala said. "So youthful looking, so full of life. Until maybe the last year, this is what I remember about Mr. Pollin."

For almost 40 years, two men from disparate backgrounds and generations bonded in that chair. The Latin-American immigrant, snipping the top and sides of the millionaire sports owner's head.

He used scissors first. Then he buzzed the side and back with clippers. Jose finished by palming a large dollop of shaving cream from the hot-shave machine, spreading it on the back of Mr. Pollin's neck, carefully using a straight razor to finish up.

Once, about 15 years ago on an extremely busy Saturday, Mr. Pollin couldn't stand to see his barber's shop so chaotic. So he got up, went to the back, got a broom and began sweeping mounds of shorn hair off the floor. "I said, 'Mr. Pollin, it's okay, you don't have to do that.' Finally he gave me the broom."

"I did not charge him maybe the last, I would say, the last four or five years," Jose said, sitting in a customer stool at Spiro's Barber Shop in Kensington early Tuesday morning.

"Such a nice man. He tried to give me money, but I wouldn't take it. It was my way of saying thank you for the wonderful things he has done for me."

Jose walks over behind his barber stool and reaches for two copied, color photographs. The first photo is of Abe Pollin, whose 85 years were touchingly remembered Tuesday night at Verizon Center, holding an infant several months old at the Capital Centre, circa 1990. The second photo was taken later -- same man, a little older, and same child, now a strapping, smiling 14-year-old in a tie, both clutching a basketball together.

Jose's eyes begin to well.

"Mr. Pollin," he begins, "is why we have a child."

Jose and his wife, Daisy, had tried to have a child of their own for many years. But after two miscarriages, the couple decided to adopt a child from Caracas, Venezuela. Through an adoption agency, they met their future son while he was still a week old. But paperwork and bureaucracy prevented them from returning to the United States with the baby.

Soon after they returned to Maryland, Mr. Pollin showed up for his usual trim. Jose had told him what happened, "and Mr. Pollin said, 'Listen, you are going to adopt this child and I will help you.' " Jose was given the telephone numbers of lawyers at the Arent Fox firm used by Mr. Pollin, who spearheaded the adoption process. "Don't worry, I will take care of you," he said. "The main thing is you have your son."


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