Abe Pollin's generosity recalled at D.C. memorial

The public joined former local basketball legends Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe, among others, in memorializing Abe Pollin on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Inside the arena on Abe Pollin Way, they were talking all about the Abe Pollin way on Tuesday night.

"Mr. Pollin was a very giving person," Lynn Boyd said on her way in to a memorial for Pollin, who died Nov. 24 at 85. "He gave so much to people in the community. He cared about individuals and their well-being. More people should be like that."

"He did so much for the people in this city," said Dorothy Douglas, who knew from Pollin's philanthropy: She once lived at Linda Pollin Memorial Housing, the nonprofit apartment complex that Pollin built in Southeast Washington in 1964.

Then, three years ago, a coda: Pollin, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, played community Santa Claus, personally delivering Christmas presents to Douglas's granddaughter, Pink.

"He brought me a dollhouse, some doll babies, some games and a bike," the pigtailed 6-year-old recalled.

Pollin became rich through real estate and famous as a longtime NBA owner whose risky decision to build a basketball arena in a decaying neighborhood helped revive downtown Washington. But that was hardly the extent of his legacy, for he was also one of Washington's most beneficent figures.

It was fitting, then, that his public send-off included a charitable twist: There were boxes at the entrance in which attendees could leave toys.

The Salvation Army boxes were full, even if the stands were not: There were perhaps 2,500 people at Verizon Center, listening to tributes from civic leaders, athletes, Pollin employees and just plain folk.

Tiffany Alston recalled the day Pollin visited her school. She was in fifth grade. "He said: 'You graduate from high school and get accepted to college, I'll foot the bill.' " She did -- and so he did -- and now she is a lawyer.

Pollin had "a heart as big as this arena," said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who pledged to have the city's high school basketball championship named in honor of the Washington Wizards owner.

On the arena concourse, guests used silver Sharpies to sign a large blackboard. "Anywhere but the picture," a security guard said, noting that Pollin's grinning visage was off-limits.

"Thanks so much for the wonderful opportunity," someone wrote.

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