By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2010; D03
BOSTON -- For the first time in nearly 46 years, an entity other than the Pollin family will own the franchise currently known as the Washington Wizards. The NBA Board of Governors on Tuesday unanimously approved the sale of Washington's basketball franchise to Ted Leonsis's Lincoln Holdings, completing the next-to-last step of his takeover of Washington Sports & Entertainment -- which includes the Wizards, Verizon Center and Ticketmaster.
"We are pleased that the NBA's Board of Governors has approved Ted Leonsis's purchase of majority ownership of the Wizards from the Pollin family," NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement released by the league. "The transaction signifies the end of an era and a passing of the torch into very capable hands. We have long admired what Ted has done with the Washington Capitals in terms of sales, marketing and outreach in the community, and we look forward to him bringing those skills to bear for the Wizards."
Leonsis reached an agreement with the Pollin family on May 1 to purchase the remaining 56 percent of Washington Sports & Entertainment that he did not already own. The transition has been in the works for several months, and according to league sources with knowledge of the negotiations, the entire deal was valued at approximately $550 million. Lincoln Holdings will also absorb the Pollin family's portion of a nearly $250 million debt, rooted largely in the building of the Verizon Center, the downtown arena that Abe Pollin financed and opened in 1997.
The deal between Leonsis and the Pollins is expected to officially close on Wednesday, with a formal press conference to follow on Thursday, according to sources. The league had already vetted Leonsis when he purchased the Washington Capitals and a 44 percent stake in Washington Sports & Entertainment from Abe Pollin in 1999. Abe Pollin died of a rare brain disease on Nov. 24 and the franchise had been in a trust run by his widow, Irene, and sons Robert and Jim.
The timing of the move allows Leonsis to have influence over player selection in the June 24 NBA draft and the free agent signing period, which begins on July 1. The Wizards are looking for a turnaround after a difficult period for the franchise and recently was awarded the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, expected to be Kentucky freshman John Wall. The team will also have nearly $20 million in cap space this summer.
Leonsis met with Stern and other NBA officials the morning of the draft lottery. That evening, he expressed his excitement about taking over for Pollin while staying committed to his legacy. "I hope to pay appropriate homage to that legacy while still trying to create my own way," Leonsis said.
He added that his passion for basketball began as a child in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I grew up playing basketball. I grew up a Knicks fan. I grew up in the good days when the Knicks were fantastic at fundamental basketball and winning championships," Leonsis said last month. "I'm ready. I'm really psyched for the opportunity."