Abe Pollin is angry.
The Bullet owner didn't like a column I wrote Saturday morning.
I said the Bullets were ripping off their customers by advertising playoff tickets for sale if the customer put down $50 toward the purchase of a season ticket for next year.
I also said the Bullets created a public-relations disaster when their executive vice president, Jerry Sachs, botched a TV interview so badly that most people understood him to say the Bullets "held back" about 2,000 tickets for that $50 deal.
Fans were steamed, I said, because game six was not to be televised locally. And the fans - at least those who called The Washington Post - believed the Bullets were blacking out TV in order to sell the 2,000 tickets with the $50 kicker attached.
Pollin didn't like any of that and told me so at a 90-minute breakfast meeting yesterday. He said he wanted to get his side of the story into the paper. Pollin painted a picture of an honest owner doing his best to make all his customers happy, even losing $15,000 to do it. He admitted errors, too.
What especially disturbed him were the words "ripping off."
He says he has a reputation for integrity and honesty in this city. He shortchanged himself there, for his is reputation is national - he may be the only man to build his own arena with private funds and then move in his own hockey and basketball teams.A ripoff artist doesn't accomplish those things.
So maybe I used the wrong words saying "ripping off."
Or did I?
We talked about that ad featuring the $50 deal.
Here's what Pollin said: "You have a legitimate point there. We've used that same ad over the years and it didn't really bother anybody. But this is the first time in years that tickets to the Bullets are that meaningful. That ad is wrong. It is a ripoff."
Pollin said the ticket-selling plan would be discontinued immediately.
On the television situation, Pollin agreed that Sachs confused viewers with his comments at half-time of game five. But the owner insisted the Bullets did not use the propsect of a TV blackout to induce fans to buy those 2,000 tickets still unsold 35 hours before game six would start.
He said there never were any plans to televise the game.
He said he would be breaking his word if he televised it. "My word is my bond," he said. "If I make a promise to one person over here, and 10,000 people over there want me to break my promise, do I do it? No. What is one life worth? What is one promise worth? One life is worth the world"
But the Bullets had televised an earlier home playoff game, I said, and wouldn't the fans properly expect all sold-out games to be televised?
"That first one was an experiment," Pollin said. He spoke of game three with Philadelphia. "It was sold out four days early. And when we announced it would be televised, we got hundreds of phone calls from people complaining that they'd bought tickets with the expectation the game would not be televised."
Veterans of The Washington Post sports department say our phone calls accurately narrow those going all around town - to the Bullets, the Redskins, Capital Centre. When people complain, they call us. Hundreds of ticket holders, may have growled at the Bullets about the game being on TV, but none called The Post.
Anyway, after those hundreds of calls, Pollin said, he decided there would be no televised of game six. When that decision became public, angry fans called the Bullets, The Post and WDCA-TV, asking what was going on here? Some of those fans believed the Bullets were taking advantage of their sudden box-office appeal to gouge the public.
Pollin said that's the last thing he'd ever do. He resented a generalization in my column that sports owners make money by ripping off the customers. He said he was not one of that group.
Still, Pollin had to deal with the angry fans. "I was in a moral dilemma," he said. Would he "keep the faith" as he put it with those people who bought 2000 tickets the day before game six? Or would he accede to the complainers who, inflamed by Sachs' interview remarks, thought the Bullets were doing a job on them?
Pollin said it was not an easy decision. "It required the wisdom of Solomon. I agonized over it." He said meetings Thursday and Friday led to an 11th-hour compromise: the game would be televised, but on a delayed basis, starting 1 1/2 hours after the tipoff.
Pollin said the decision cost him $15,000. That's the fee WDCA-TV would have paid to do the game live. Pollin said the station even offered to pay the $15,000 if it could start the taped game only an hour late.
But Pollin said he thought an hour's delay still wasn't fair to the ticket-holders and he held out for 9:30. "And I told WDCA I didn't want any money at all," he said.
One thing more. The CBS network will televise all the championship series between the Bullets and Seattle or Denver. They will all be on local television. "We have nothing to do with that," Abe Pollin said. He sounded grateful.