A successful and well-known alumnus, Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, died Nov. 24. He was 85.
Pollin, most famous for owning local sports teams, was an accomplished businessman, generous philanthropist and a benefactor of the District. Wizards’ spokesman Matt Williams said Pollin struggled with the rare brain illness corticobasal degeneration, which has symptoms similar to those found in Parkinson’s disease.
Pollin had served on GW’s Board of Trustees, joining in 1974 and participating for 20 years. He was inducted into the GW School of Business Sports Executives Hall of Fame in March.
“He was a truly great man. You will not see many like him if you live to be 120,” said President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who worked with Pollin when he served on the Board of Trustees.
“He helped everyone he knew: family, friends and strangers. He made D.C. a better place than he found it. A lot better,” Trachtenberg said.
University President Steven Knapp said in a statement: “We at GW are proud of his accomplishments, and he will be greatly missed.”
After Pollin graduated from GW in 1945 he worked for his family’s construction business for several years. In 1964, he bought the Baltimore Bullets which, to discourage violence, he later renamed the Washington Wizards. When the new stadium he had financed was completed in 1973, Pollin moved the team from Baltimore to the Capital Centre in the Washington suburbs.
A year later, Pollin bought the Washington Capitals when they joined the NHL in 1974.
The Capital Centre remained operational for 20 years, until Pollin’s company, Washington Sports and Entertainment, financed the construction of a new arena in the Chinatown area of Washington.
The Verizon Center opened in 1997 under the name of the MCI Center, and is often credited with revitalizing a struggling neighborhood of the nation’s capital.
In 2007, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty renamed F Street NW between 6th and 7th streets as Abe Pollin Way in honor of the long-time philanthropist who funded the construction of the arena in Chinatown. Pollin is also credited with saving the Sixth & I Synagogue, now a vibrant cultural and religious center in the area, from becoming a nightclub.
“Abe believed in Washington, D.C. when many others didn’t – putting his own fortune on the line to help revitalize the city he loved. He was committed to the teams he guided, generous to those who needed it most, and as loyal to the people of D.C. as they were to him,” President Barack Obama said in a White House news release.
Pollin often donated to philanthropic organizations including the Salvation Army and the “I Have a Dream” Foundation. He later donated $3 million to the Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
“My philosophy is that those of us who are on the giving end rather than the receiving end are very lucky,” Pollin said, according to the NBA Web site.
After 45 years, Pollin and his wife Irene are the longest standing owners of any team in the NBA.
A public memorial will be held for Pollin at the Verizon Center Dec. 8, according to a statement made by Wizards officials.