Forget Contracts, Pollin Is Only Interested in One Thing: an NBA Title
In his 44th year of owning Washington's NBA franchise, Abe Pollin has been involved in his share of contract squabbles and verbal jousting. He's made his share of "take it or leave it" mandates to the best of 'em, long before Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas were born.
Earl Monroe, a Hall of Famer, left the then-Baltimore Bullets in a 1971 contract dispute with Pollin, only to return 37 years later to see his Bullets jersey retired at Verizon Center. Michael Jordan exchanged words with Pollin as a member of the Chicago Bulls during the 1999 work stoppage, only to come back and play for him for two seasons before Pollin fired him as the team's chief executive in 2003.
And there was le affair de Juwan Howard in '96, money-related issues with Bobby Dandridge and Mitch Kupchak, not to mention a scratchy relationship with local superagent David Falk. Chris Webber was sent packing for slights such as missing Fan Appreciation Day.
So when Pollin showed up at Verizon Center on Tuesday at a news conference announcing a four-year, $50 million contract extension for all-star forward Jamison, you knew how much keeping him in the fold meant to the owner and to the team's president, Ernie Grunfeld.
"I'd have crawled to get here," said the 84-year-old Pollin, who for about a year has been confined to a wheelchair because of progressive supranuclear palsy, a disorder of the brain that impairs movement and balance.
"A horrible disease," Pollin told me. "But I'm fighting it."
Pollin is still involved with Grunfeld in the recently concluded negotiations with Jamison, whom Pollin likened to his all-time favorite Wes Unseld.
Arenas's decision to accept less, he told Carter, was made to give Grunfeld the maneuverability to sign an additional player or two.
"Besides," he told Carter, "there's nothing I can do for my family with $127 million that I can't do with $111 million."
Pollin reached the Asia-bound Arenas on Tuesday to tell him he wanted Arenas to remain a Wizard. "Five years ago he told me you're the face of the Wizards; you're my guy," Arenas told Carter.
Still, some Wizards insiders questioned whether the team was financially prudent in signing the 26-year-old Arenas to such an extraordinary contract considering Arenas has had surgery on his left knee in each of the last two seasons. While a fan favorite and legitimate all-star when healthy, he was considered an erratic distraction by some last season. "Gil does need to mature," Jamison said. "Cut out some of the crazy stuff."