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  • Abe Pollin will sell a portion of his holdings to a group headed by AOL executive Ted Leonsis.
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  •   Leonsis Won't Alter Wizards' Operations

     Ted Leonsis and Susan O'Malley share a laugh at a news conference to announce the sale of the Capitals. (AP)
    By Steve Wyche
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 13, 1999; Page D1

    While Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin will sell a minority interest in the team to America Online executive Ted Leonsis as part of the sale of the Washington Capitals, the management and operation of the NBA team Pollin bought 35 years ago for $1.1 million will remain unchanged.

    Team President Susan O'Malley and General Manager Wes Unseld will continue in their jobs. Their roles in franchise and community-related operations and the development of the on-court product, respectively, won't change, Pollin said.

    "[Pollin] told me to proceed with business as usual," Unseld said.

    Leonsis, who said his share of the Wizards "is less than 50 percent" but not far from being a majority, will have the first option to buy the remaining stake in the Wizards when Pollin decides to sell.

    That may not be for a while, said the 75-year-old Pollin.

    "It will be many, many years because I'm not ready to retire," he said. "I'm too young. ... My goal is to bring another championship to Washington."

    Pollin said Leonsis will have minimal, if any, influence on Wizards' personnel and management matters, such as the hiring of a coach, drafting players and making decisions on free agents and trades.

    "The final decisions will be made by me," Pollin said.

    Said Leonsis: "I told Abe, 'I want to be your partner.' Everything is up to him."

    Leonsis and two partners agreed to buy the Capitals and the stake in Pollin's other Washington Sports and Entertainment properties for about $200 million, with about $85 million going toward the purchase of the Capitals.

    As has been the case for weeks, Unseld continued his search for a coach and interviewed Jim Brovelli, the Wizards' interim coach for the final 18 games, Tuesday for the coaching position. Unseld spoke with St. John's Coach Mike Jarvis on Monday.

    Brovelli said he does not think any type of ownership change will have a major effect on who is hired as coach.

    "It would depend on how much decision-making power the new owner has," Brovelli said. "If he doesn't have major input, which sounds like the case, the process would continue the way it has been."

    Because Pollin indicated he did not have an exact timetable for selling his remaining interest in the Wizards, some coaching candidates may be reluctant to accept the Wizards job for fear Pollin could sell to Leonsis within a year or two and Leonsis could seek a coaching change, a league source said.

    Leonsis, who has a full-size basketball court at his house, has his sights set on acquiring the Wizards. He said buying the Wizards outright was discussed during negotiations for his purchase of the Capitals, but Pollin did not yet want to part with the NBA team.

    "The Wizards – Bullets – were the first," Pollin said, explaining why he opted to sell the Capitals, the NHL expansion franchise awarded to him in 1972. He purchased a share of the Baltimore Bullets in 1964 and became the team's sole owner in 1968.

    Leonsis said he grew up a basketball junkie in Brooklyn, N.Y. A Georgetown alumnus, he said he has a soft spot for Wizards rookie center Jahidi White, another Georgetown product whom he gave an internship at AOL during the lockout that began last summer.

    "He's a very bright guy, he's very successful and he has a lot of energy," Pollin said of Leonsis.

    Pollin said he did not have any discussions with former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan about the purchase of the Wizards or any parts of Washington Sports & Entertainment Inc., which includes the Capitals, MCI Center, US Airways Arena and TicketMaster.

    The WNBA's Washington Mystics will not be affected by Pollin's deal with Leonsis because they collectively are owned and operated by the 29 NBA teams.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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