City Desk

Cheap Seats Daily: There Was a Time When Folks Weren’t Nice to Abe Pollin?

Doctors say Abe Pollin had been slowly dying from something called corticobasal degeneration. But you don't need to be an MD to know that Bullets Fever kept him alive.

For years, the owner has been running on fumes. When he'd show up very occasionally to team functions, he'd look so frail it seemed certain he'd be in the obituaries column by week's end. Pollin said he was going to stick around until his basketball team won another championship, and despite all appearances, with every passing day that seemed possible.

While everything about Abe's glorious today, Pollin was a punching bag for media and sports radio fans in this town for years. Dan Snyder can moan all he wants that the Washington Post picks on him, but the paper was just as tough on Pollin over time.

You can look it up. In July 2003, the Post ran a two-part series on Pollin that had several gratuitously brutal segments.

Among the key pieces of evidence was the fact that the Bullets used to practice at Bowie State University. The Post series gave a ton of former players a chance to come back and whack Pollin for making them workout there.

A portion of one of the Post's attacks:

"The bottom of the food chain," said former Bullet Jim McIlvaine.

"A dump," [Brent] Price said.

"Disgusting," said former Bullet and Wizard Tim Legler.

"A bad place," said former Bullet Rex Chapman.

Here it was, years after Pollin built the downtown arena mostly with his own money, and the paper spent oodles of column inches harping on how cheap the guy was.

Pollin's front office was Vinny Cerrato-bad for a long time, of course. A few years ago I found the Wizards' 1999-2000 media guide.

Ike Austin, Mitch Richmond, and coach Gar Heard were on the cover. Austin came to town via a trade for Ben Wallace. Mitch Richmond came here in exchange for Chris Webber. Heard was given the head coach's job after a long search, and when Pollin introduced him he said Heard "blew me away" with his perfectness for the job. The Wizards put up a 14-30 record before Heard got canned by Michael Jordan.

That 1999-2000 media guide also featured Rod Strickland, whom the Bullets brought here by sending Rasheed Wallace to Portland. And Juwan Howard, who Pollin kept here by offering a seven-year, $105 million contract.

Yeah, he's cheap.

Pollin already built his own monument—the building now called Verizon Center. But there's still a way to pay tribute: Turn the name back to Bullets. That was the team Abe Pollin brought here. That was name of the team he took to the NBA Finals four times in the 1970s—only two current NBA owners, Jerry (Buss) and Jerry (Reinsdorf), have taken their teams the finals more. And, of course, that's the name of the team he won the championship with in 1978.

C'mon, Ted. Let Bullets Fever run wild again.


Yesterday, Dan Snyder delivered a turkeys to anybody who showed up at FedExField. Sorta the same thing he's been doing to Skins fans for 10 years, when you think about it.

Speaking of repetition: Snyder came out of his undisclosed location to say he was sorry to Lindsday Czarniak at a charity event once again. Sure, she's on the Skins payroll, but, she showed up.

Though maybe Czarniak went to FedExField so Snyder would give her the Friday after Thanksgiving off.


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  • Rick Mangus

    This city lost a great man.

  • DS

    I'm not sure it would be paying "tribute" to Pollin to undo one of the things (changing the name) that was most meaningfully symbolic to him in his life.

    I'm pretty sure that all fans -- especially the ones nostalgic for Bullets (and I count myself as one of them) -- would settle for a return to the awesome old uniforms.

  • Dan Steinberg

    You know, enough with the Czarniak cheap shots, in my opinion. There were 15 media members there, Lindsay asked the first question--about what he'd say to fans losing faith in his product--and he answered. Her follow-up was whether fans can expect changes in the organization, and he walked away. I'm not sure what she could have done better, no matter how much work she does for the Redskins.

  • Dave McKenna

    The Great Dan Steinberg wants to Play the Feud, Celebrity Edition™? Fab! But wait a sec: I think you said Lindsay Czarniak works for the Redskins, TGDS. Where'd you hear that? I mean, WRC says Lindsay Czarniak doesn't work for Dan Snyder. WRC also says Dan Hellie isn't on Dan Snyder's payroll. I'm amazed how stupid WRC thinks everybody is, so every seventh paragraph or so I write that Lindsay Czarniak and Dan Hellie work for Dan Snyder. Cuz they do! And you call harping on conflicts of interest that the WRC news department and the Redskins and you don't think folks should know about "cheap shots." I love that! Sure, I could also occasionally say something nice, like maybe point out that Lindsay Czarniak's sports reports are the most entertaining in DC news, which they are. But I almost fell asleep typing that sentence just now...ZZZZZZZ!

    In any case, TGDS, great of you to take time to rage against our machine. Always an honor. I can head into the holidays with that much more to be thankful for. Now I'll let you get back to Steinographing "Zany and Wacky's Morning Zoo" or whataver radio shows you listened to today.

    Thanks once more for Playing the Feud, Celebrity Edition!

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  • Chris

    Hey McKenna,

    Why would Abe want the name to be bullets? He decided to change the name after Yitzhak Rabin, a close friend of his, was assassinated. It was also in response to the cities infamous murder rate and tag "Murder Capital".

    Also, Dan Steinberg is a funny and entertaining writer.


  • Dave McKenna

    Hey Chris: if you believe Pollin changed the name only because of Rabin and violence, you probably also fell for the line that "Wizards" won the popular vote over "River Dogs" in Pollin's name-the-team contest.

    But, you're dead on about Dan Steinberg! one out of two ain't bad!

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