Today, the soul of the pro sports in Washington, D.C. passed away with the death of Abe Pollin at 85.
In 1968, race riots tore through Washington, D.C., devastating the urban core of the city. The riots had a lasting negative impact on the city and Eleanor Holmes-Norton, the city’s representative in Congress, has said it took almost 3 decades for DC to recover. By no coincidence, almost 3 decades after those devastating riots, Abe Pollin opened the MCI Center, a new downtown arena he built for the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals — with his own money. Where many pro sports owners were fleeing the city for the supposed safety of the suburbs, Pollin moved from the suburbs into the city. Where many owners were/are fabulously wealthy men demanding that middle class people buy them fancy new buildings, Pollin opened his own wallet and built the thing himself. A quarter century earlier he had built another arena, the Capitol Centre, also with his own money.
For decades the downtown of Washington, D.C. didn’t really exist. Buildings, entire neighborhoods emptied out once people left their offices. There were no quality restaurants, no hip night spots, no life or vitality downtown. The Verizon Center, in the city’s Chinatown district, changed all that. The Gallery Place area is now buzzing night after night with young and old [especially young] strolling the streets and moving in and out of restaurants, night clubs, lounges, movie theaters and, of course, the Verizon Center. It was Abe’s arena, now 12 years old, that is the single biggest reason for all this. Particularly after Michael Jordan’s presence on the court guaranteed sellout crowds for every game, Chinatown became a popular place for people to be after dark in DC. Now, the area is crowded even when the Wizards and Caps are not playing.
Any number of stories could and will be written about the many philanthropic enterprises of Abe Pollin, who was very careful with his money and just as careful to spend much of it on worthy causes. The real lasting legacy of Abe Pollin, though, will be what he did for the city’s downtown and what he was to DC-area sports. Washington, D.C. is often misnamed as a football town. That’s wrong. DC is a Redskins town, but basketball is the most popular sport for the people of the city. Whether it is the Wizards, the Georgetown Hoyas, the Maryland Terrapins, the George Washington Colonials, the George Mason Patriots or any of the city’s many first rate high school hoops teams, basketball is the sport that courses through the veins of the city.
Read it all at
The Abe Pollin Way