Pollin kept city in heart till end

At Wizards owner's funeral, a grieving D.C. expresses its gratitude

About 1,000 mourners gathered at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Northwest Washington to remember the former Wizards owner.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 28, 2009

After almost three days of public grief and mourning it seemed as though every story had been told about Abe Pollin in a city that has loved him in death as he loved it in life.

He was called a generous, humble, loyal, caring, devoted and kind man who adopted Washington with a passion and a purpose that left an indelible mark on the places and people he touched. On Friday, amid the sadness, close friends and family members said Pollin, who died Tuesday, was far more than a popular basketball team owner who made a fortune in real estate.

"He's a man who accomplished so much in his life, I dare not recount it," his rabbi, Bruce Lustig, told about 1,000 mourners at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Northwest Washington. Details emerged at his sendoff that did not make it into the obituaries, columns and TV interviews over the past several days.

At parties, he dumped cocktails into potted plants when he realized he couldn't keep pace with the drinkers. He had a passion for fresh vegetables, hunting produce stands on the back roads to Rehoboth, Del., for the perfect vine-ripened tomato. As a boy, he took along a salt shaker and ate those tomatoes on the spot. He loved root beer.

He loved Sinatra for his voice and because you could hear every word.

He cried when he listened to Tchaikovsky -- every time.

He tackled a five-star meal and a good Popsicle with the same joy.

He was a table tennis champion in his youth and a sports fanatic for life.

When he was 9, his otherwise protective mother let him head out alone to Griffith Stadium to watch the Washington Senators play baseball.

When he was 11, Pollin went solo to the 1935 prize fight between Joe Louis and Max Baer, rooting for Baer to win in the belief that he, too, was Jewish. Told otherwise only a few years ago, Pollin rushed to Wikipedia to confirm his error.

And he loved the hapless basketball team that he bought as the Baltimore Bullets in 1964, later moving it to Washington and, after the 1995 assassination of his friend, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, renaming it the Wizards.

He became a father figure to Wes Unseld, the team's first-round draft pick in 1968, who was the keystone to the team's lone NBA championship 10 years later. Unseld, who spoke at Friday's service, went on to become the team's coach and general manager.

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