Abe Pollin was born on December 3, 1923, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His family to Washington when he was 8-years old. He attended George Washington University and began working for his father’s construction company when he graduated, staying for 12 years.
In 1957, he started up a construction company of his own. He began his business constructing office buildings and apartment building and continued to grow his business each year.
His first foray into sports ownership began in 1964 when he and his wife purchased the Baltimore Bullets for $1.1 million dollars along with two partners (Arnold Heft and Earl Foreman). The Baltimore residents were not happy in 1973 when he moved the team, along with his recently purchased Washington Capitals hockey team, to Landover, Maryland, which is located north of Washington, D.C.
In 1996, he made the controversial decision to change the name from Bullets because he thought it had too many negative connotations. Fans were asked to submit suggestions for the new name and Wizards was chosen. Some African American groups criticized the change, however, arguing that a “wizard” is a high rank in the Ku Klux Klan.
As an owner that also had knowledge of construction and business, he was a pioneer in developing his teams. He used many of the same personnel to handle both sports. He was the first person to add modern skyboxes when he built the Capital Center in 1973 and incorporated new technology into the sports venue when he built the MCI (later Verizon and Capitol One) Center in 1997. The new arena was a rarity in sports because it was built entirely with private funds as opposed to the typical government-funded facilities. By locating the building in downtown Washington, in an area that had previously been unattractive, he revitalized the surrounding blocks, which became the site of restaurants, hotels, and a vibrant night life. The block of F Street NW where Capital One Arena is located was named “Abe Pollin Way” in his honor.
In 1979, Pollin was the first NBA owner to fly his team to China to help spread the game internationally. He even owned the local Ticketmaster, so the team could control its ticket sales. He also creating an in-house marketing department for both of his teams.
Known as a tough negotiator, Pollin fought against raising player’s salaries – especially during the 1998 lockout.
In 1999, he began to sell off pieces of his sports empire; however, he kept control of the Wizards until he died, stating that he would not sell the team until they won another championship. Unfortunately, he passed away without ever seeing that second championship (the Wizards reached the NBA Finals four times under his ownership, only winning the 1977/78 championship; the Capitals only made one Stanley Cup appearance, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in 1999). He and his wife hold the record for owning a sports franchise longer than anyone in the United States – an unprecedented 48 years.
Pollin was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. He was also inducted into the George Washington Hall of Fame in 2009.
Pollin was a noted philanthropist, donating large sums to multiple charities. A few of the many honors he received were the Duke Ziebert Capital Achievement Award, the Distinguished Civilian Service Award, and the Jewish Leadership Award. Beginning in 2002, an award called "The Pollin Award" has been awarded annually in his honor. People are chosen for the Pollin Award based on their dedication to the Washington, D.C. community and the impact they have on it.
Pollin married Irene Sue (née Kerchek) on May 27, 1945. The couple had four children.
Abe Pollin died on November 24, 2009.
[Last Updated: 4/21 by Aryeh Lev]
Sources: Jon Sorensen, “Abe Pollin: The Man Who Started It All,” Nova Caps, (August 20, 2015).
“Hal Richman to Be Inducted into Jewish Sports HOF,” Strat-o-Matic.com.
“Pioneer Moved Bullets: Wizards Owner Able Pollin Dead at 85,” Baltimore Sun, (November 25, 2009).
“Washington Wizards Owners Irene & Abe Pollin,” NBA.com.
“Abe Pollin,” Wikipedia.