When you earn your keep during the chill of winter, the heat of summer can be a nice time for easy living, big talk and grandiose dreams.
But Abe Pollin -- who owns Capital Centre along with its main tenants, the Capitals and the Bullets -- doesn't consider himself one for idle chatter. Nor does he go for passionate flights of fancy. Laugh if you must as he talks of Stanley Cups and NBA titles, of the Bullets being as good as the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers by midseason. But Pollin wouldn't say such things if he didn't believe them.
Pollin does believe. "That's what I'm here for," he said. "If I didn't love it, didn't believe we would be successful, I would sell the teams and go out and build buildings."
It has been seven years since Pollin has achieved success in the sporting arena on a par with what he has experienced in the construction game. Since the Bullets made it to the finals in 1979 after winning the title the season before, they have been grounded in mediocrity. The Capitals, one of the best young teams in the NHL, have forged a groundswell of support over the last three seasons, only to have their hopes dashed by the aging New York Islanders in the playoffs. Even Capital Centre itself has been less than kind to Pollin, serving as the backdrop to his recent court battle with partner Arnold Heft.
But despite -- or perhaps because of -- these annoyances, Pollin remains ever the competitor. In an interview this week, he was positively effusive about the future. Excitement is the key word here. The Bullets will be exciting, the Capitals will be exciting, the Ice Capades will be . . .
Pollin clearly is excited by any number of his interests, including 7-foot-6, 190-pound Manute Bol, a second-round pick of the Bullets in the June draft. Bol has become, in the owner's words, "a personal project of mine." So much so that Pollin chartered a plane and flew to New Jersey to watch Bol in a U.S. Basketball League game.
That the angular center blocked about 15 shots in the game didn't impress Pollin as much as Bol's regal mien. "Everyone who has met him has just fallen in love with him," Pollin said. "He's very, very impressive as a human being, not just as a basketball player."
Of course, Pollin expects Bol to turn out to be more than Capital Centre's goodwill ambassador. "The fact that he's tall and has a nice smile is great, but he's got to be a player, too," Pollin said. "He can't be expected to develop in one year but I've made that personal commitment to him, which I've told him about."
According to Pollin, Bol will be just one cog in the Bullets' rapidly developing machinery. "I can't compare us to the Lakers right now but by midseason I think we'll be as good if not better," Pollin said.
"Having Jeff Ruland for a full year makes us better. Jeff Malone's development makes us better. There's Dan Roundfield. I don't think he was played or handled properly in Detroit last season, and he's anxious to prove that he's still a hell of a player."
It sure sounds good, these company lines, even if they are only based on wishes and hopes. By the same token, it also matters little to Pollin that the Bullets find themselves competing in the toughest division in the league and perhaps in professional sports. That the Atlantic Division just got that much better when the New York Knicks added former Georgetown center Patrick Ewing is of next to no concern to Pollin.
"When we joined the NHL, we had a decision to make about the Capitals being placed in the Patrick Division," he said. "We could have moved out -- it was up to us -- but we knew that to be the best, we had to beat the best. The same thing applies here. Patrick Ewing will be a great, great player in the pros, but we'll beat him. The Bullets will beat him."
And, in Pollin's eyes, that victory will be of far greater import than mere wins and losses. It will be a triumph for fiscal responsibility as well. In the NBA, where motion pictures, cable television and even Arab oil money pump dollars into franchises, Pollin, working alone, is something of a dinosaur. Second only to Franklin Mieuli of the Golden State Warriors in terms of continuous ownership, Pollin long has fought against extravagance in player salaries.
That fight has caused some to label him, charitably, as cheap. Others have had less endearing terms. Abe Pollin doesn't care.
"I've only lost one first-round draft pick (Maryland's Len Elmore) in all the time I've been in sports," he said. "I've said from the very first day I've been involved in sports that spending money wouldn't keep my teams from achieving success.
"Some owners in sport, after being successful in other businesses which allow them to enter sports, then lose all sense of economic values and right from wrong. They hurt themselves and the game. Hopefully, I've avoided that. I'll spend whatever's necessary -- within reason -- for a player or for a team to be a winner."
One test of Pollin's sincerity can be found in the current negotiations with Capitals center Bobby Carpenter. Carpenter, coming off a 53-goal, 42-assist season in 1984-85, was a free agent at the conclusion of the season, yet negotiations have dragged on to now, less than a month before the start of training camp.
"Carpenter is someone we took a chance on early on and who had a great year last season. Hopefully, we will re-sign him," Pollin said. "Negotiations are continuing and the season or training camp have yet to start. From an organization's standpoint, though, salary structure is important. You can't just give to one person at the cost of the team. Everything has to make sense and fit."
There is room for compromise within those parameters. In 1983, Pollin was chairman of the NBA labor committee that worked along with the league's player association on their collective bargaining agreement. That was the deal that introduced the salary cap as well as the players' receiving part of the league's gross revenues, issues that came up during the recent, short-lived baseball strike.
As brief as it was, Pollin considered the baseball work stoppage "terrible, just awful. The public envisions athletes as earning these large sums of money and the owners as all terribly wealthy. Strikes only turn them off more and it's incumbent upon both sides to never let that happen.
"Compromise is what life is all about. If a deal isn't good for both, it's not good for either. I'm not commenting on how baseball went about their business, but I know that in our case, when we opened our books, there was an honest appraisal. We weren't talking about phony money or tax money. We were talking real dollars."
Even the start of the football exhibition season and with it the hypnotic sway that the Redskins hold on the city doesn't bother Pollin.
He says his time will come soon enough.
"This town is most unusual in terms of sports," he said. "Most people come here from somewhere else and the depths of their roots are shallow. But we've been here awhile now and I can see changes, especially in younger people. As more and more grow up, the depth of their support is growing.
"Now they're saying 'we.' The Bullets and Capitals are becoming 'our' teams."