NPR logo Abe Pollin, NBA Wizards Owner, Dead At 85

Abe Pollin, NBA Wizards Owner, Dead At 85

Abe Pollin, who was the NBA owner with the longest tenure, died Tuesday at age 85 after battling a rare neurological disease.

Abe Pollin, the longest-running NBA franchise owner, died Tuesday. Susan Walsh/AP Photo hide caption

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Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Pollin, who with his wife Irene owned the franchise that in recent years was known as the Washington Wizards and before that the Bullets, had a disease known as progressive supranuclear palsy, an uncommon brain disorder.

Pollin purchased the Baltimore Bullets in 1964 and, over the years, owned a team that was often interesting to watch if not always the most successful, at times fielding stars like Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson, Elvin Hayes, Moses Malone and eventually, the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan after his prime.

The team has won just one NBA championship; in 1978. During the 1970s, it won four conference titles.

Pollin was the one-time owner of the Washington Mystics WNBA basketball team and the Washington Capitals NHL Hockey team. He sold both teams to a group headed by Ted Leonsis, a senior AOL executive who now has the right of first refusal to purchase the Wizards.

Pollin will long be known as the man who stopped Michael Jordan's basketball ambitions, not on the court where few people could stop His Airness but in the front office. After Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls, Pollin brought him to Washington in 2000, selling him a minority stake in the Wizards.

Jordan, with his towering ego, eventually proved insufferable, especially to Pollin. According to reports, Pollin was particularly irked by Jordan's presumption that he would one day own Pollin's team.

After Jordan sold back his minority stake in order to put on his basketball shoes and play a few seasons for the Wizards, Pollin outfoxed him by refusing to sell back to Jordan once he retired from playing again, the minority stake Jordan had given up. Jordan left the organization in 2003.

Pollin's contributions went beyond sports, however. A builder by trade, he did much to redevelop Washington, D.C's Chinatown that had become rundown but has experienced a renaissance following Pollin's construction of the Verizon Center, the home of the Wizards, Mystics and Capitals.

In fact, Pollin became something of a local hero by using his own money —- $200 million — to build the sports arena during an era when team owners invariably try to get taxpayers to pick up the tab.

Pollin also endeared himself to many by renaming the Bullets the Wizards because of the violent connotations of the previous name, an especially welcome change since Washington had earned a reputation for violent gun crime.

Before building the Verizon Center, Pollin constructed the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. That arena was the first to have luxury boxes.