Abe Pollin, a native Washingtonian, owns the Washington Bullets, Capitals and Capital Center.
In response to a Sports Illustrated article in which writer Frank Deford suggested Washington is not a very good sports town, Pollin offered his own conclusions during a recent interview.
He also talked at length about the Bullets' recent loss in the championship finals, the NBA's rule changes, his firing of Tom McVie last fall and other issues during a 90-minute session with staff writers David DuPree, Robert Fachet and Leonard Shapiro.
Q: Where does your constituency come from in basketball and hockey and what are your general impressions of Washington as a sports town?
A: Let's start with the Bullets. The Bullets have been here 5 1/2 years and I think for the first time this year with the last half of this season and through playoffs that the town has showed to me that they have really taken the Bullets as their own. I've never felt that, including last year when we won the championship, as I'm feeling now. It's just pervasive everywhere I go. The Bullets are on everbody's minds and lips and they say for the first time, as I see it, "our team, we.". . . It's indicated to me by the business that we're doing just since the playoffs in selling tickets for next year. We're way, way ahead. I don't know the exact number, but we're 50 percent ahead this moment in renewals and new sales. . . .So I really look forward to increasing fan support and I think it's very broad based as far as the Bullets are concerned. . . .
For the Capitals . . . .I think people were disappointed in the Capitals. Disappointed in the fact that each year we tell them we are getting better and we're going to make the playoffs and we didn't . . . I was disappointed that we didn't make it . . . I think there is an attitude out there now, and I think rightly so, "we want to see some results." I think we will show it to them this year. I think we have finally overcome the horrendous start that we had in this league with our new expansion franchise with out very disastrous draft choices that we made the first two or three years. . .
I think now we're to the point where we will show the fans that we do have a good team. We will have a competition team.And once we have a competitive team I think the predictions that were made about Washington as a hockey franchise will come true and that is what everybody who knows anything about hockey has always predicted -- that Washington would be a supertown and a superfranchise once we had the team that was competitive. . . .
I think Washington is an unusal sports town in that most people in this city come from somewhere else. . . When we first came here with the Bullets, people would come and, if we were playing the Knicks or the Celitcs, half of them would be rooting for the other team. That isn't true anymore. We have built, I think, a base of support of younger kids, young people who, as they get older, there's no other team for them. People who were 9, 10 and 11 when we first got here are teenagers now and they love the Bullets and they root for no one else but the Bullets. And I think that's going to happen with the Caps as well. . . .
Q: Are you as concerned, as a lot of other people seem to be, about the future of the Nba?
A: No. . . I think we have more than bottomed out in the NBA. Everything that could go wrong went wrong this year -- the major markets had teams that weren't very good, some of the new stars who came in really weren't that charismatic to attract fans. And, in addition to all of that the television ratings were down, But the fans who actually came were within 7 percent compared to last year. So the fans were about the same. I think CBS realizes they had to change some things and they are going to change some things -- starting times and some other things I think with the addition of [Larry] Bird and [Earvin] Johnson, and [Bill] Walton back and L.A.. and New York and Chicago maybe having better teams, the league will be better overall . . .
Q: How did you vote on the three-point field goal rule?
A: I voted yes and it won by one vote. [Golden State owner] Franklin Ieuli came to me and said "We traditionalists have to stick together. We can't allow them to ruin our game." In fact, he made an impassioned plea to the board of governors for about 20 minutes, talking about the fact that we were fooling with the family jewels . . . .He was talking about the fact that we really had no right to tamper with the game that for 90 years had done so well and so forth. I reflected on it and felt that the game had changed already. We've got the 24-second clock and there are other rules that do change. . . .
I think it's wrong to be rigid and not flexible to consider something that might improve the game. . . .We owe it to the fans to give it an opportunity so I voted yes.
Mieuli was so against it that he said, "If you vote for it I will leave, I will not be a member of this board of governors ever again," and he has resigned. He walked out and we didn't see him again for two days. . . .
Q: How do you feel about rookies coming into the league, never having played, like Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, earning $600,000 a year?
A: I think that's terrible, absolutely terrible. I can understand Bird a little bit because he had an unusual situation and he had the Celtics in a corner. But I still thhink it's a mistake. . . . I think it puts everything out of kilter. I think when the veterans, who have proven themselves as stars and can draw fans and win games for you, the longer they stay in the league they are deserving of big salaries. . . .I thought the signing of David Thompson for $800,000 a year was a catastrophe for the NBA and I've told the owner that.
Q: If you had somehow this season had the first pick in the draft and a person like Magic Johnson was there, you wouldn't take him?
A: No way. There's no way I would pay him that kind of money. Nope. I would pass. . . .
Q: How disappointing was it to you that you weren't able to win that second NBA championship?
A: It was disappointing, no questtion, but I was prepared not to win it because I realize that in order to win a championship everything has to fall exactly into place and the chances of it falling into place two years in a row are very minimal. So. . . .I was hopeful and prayerful of winning it, but I've got the ring and nobody can ever take that away, and coming in second out of 22 teams is not bad. In fact, I think our guys showed as much or more class coming in seconds as they did in winning the championship. So I am very proud of our guys.
Q: How much effect did the loss of Mitch Kupchak have on the outcome of the championship series?
A: Well, we've never said this before and I would like to say now, yes, I think that if Kupchak had been in the lineup we would have won the championship. I never want to use that as an excuse, but I really believe that and I have to tell you how I really feel.
Q: There has been talk that Kevin Porter might be coming back to the Bullets. Would you like to see that happen?
A: I think Kevin would be a good addition to our team. Probably one of the mistakes we made of the many we make, was making that trade. I think mistakes we made, of the many we make, was making that trade. I think Kevin, if he were with the team, would add a lot to the Bullets. If it is possible that we could get him, we would.
Q: There are reports that Dick Motta is being considered as a possible successor Jerry West as the coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. He is still under contract to you, but if it came down to letting him out of that contract, would you let him go?
A: I consider a contract a very important document. Only because it's a document that comes after one shakes hands and it's the handshake. . . .So my feeling is that when I shake hands with somebody, he's obligated and I'm obligated.
Q: So Motta will be your coach next year?
Q: Speaking of coaches, if you had it to do over again would you make the same move, firing Tom McVie?
A: Oh, yes. No question about it.
Q: Even after he took Winnipeg to the WHA championship?
A: No question I would have made the same move.
A: Let's put it this way. I had never really come out publicly and said why I made the move and I don't intend to now. I can tell you that this character . . .and his hard work were all positive and none of those things was the reason for the decision. I will only say that I gave it a great amount of thought. . . .I didn't make it in a moment of anger or a moment of emotion because I don't make decision when I'm emotional. . . .
Q: What kind of ground is Danny Belisle on?
A: He had a two-year contract and this will be the second year. I think under the circumstances he did a very acceptable job. He came in under very trying circumstances. . . .I think this year will be a good indication, because he knows the players and will be training camp and will have the chance to mold the team the way he wants. I think he is a good professional coach and knows the game. I think the players respect him and respond to him. He's a hard worker. I like him personally.
Q: When Scotty Bowman was available and looking around for offers before he decided to leave Montreal, did you discuss a job here with him?
A:. . . .There were some thoughts that were concerned with Scotty Bowman, and that's as far as I want to go with that.
Q: Were there any thoughts concerned with DonCherry when he was available?
A: No. He's not my kind of guy.
Q: One of the biggest complaints from the public is the high costs at Capital Centre. What is your response to this?
A: My response is that they're right. The costs are high, but so is everything else. We are a private facility out here that has a mortgage that we have to pay. There are taxes we have to pay. We pay all our own costs and so we're hit with the inflationary spiral like everbody else. In the five years we've been here our fuel costs are skyrocketing are skyrocketing so that we try very hard to keep the cost down as much as possible in everything that we control -- like the price of tickets. . . .
The people are right, the costs are high, but we try to keep them as low as possible. Everything is high and we are not subsidized by the taxpayers.
Q: Could you update us on the recent court decision that says you owe Prince George's County $500,000 in back taxes?
A: I won't go into the details of the case because it is still before the courts but. . . .one of the things that has bothered me a bit is that. . . .the press has published some articles that gave the impression that we weren't paying our way and that we. . . .tried to avoid paying our way on taxes. . . .That is not the case.
We pay into an escrow account quarterly the amount we are supposed to pay. The money is there and it will always be there. We feel very strongly that we are right in the legal matter, which I won't go into. . . .I'll give you some numbers that you might find interesting. In the 5 1/2 years we've been here. . . .we have paid somewhere near $11 million to the county. This has nothing to do with the other benefits of the Capital Centre to the county. We feel we have been more than good neighbours and paid our way in the county. CAPTION: Picture, Abe Pollin