WILMINGTON, N.C. - In his most definitive statement to date on the subject, Washington Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin has declared he will retain control of the club for the rest of his life.
Speaking to media members yesterday at the team's training camp, Pollin, who has owned the Wizards franchise for 36 years, dating to its days in Baltimore as the Bullets, said he will not sell the club under any circumstances.
"I've said over and over again that I'm not selling the team," said Pollin. "The good Lord has been good to me, health-wise. As long as I'm healthy, I'm going to be here. And when the good Lord takes me, that's when I will have no more control. But, until that point, I will control this team."
Pollin, 77, who has the longest continuous tenure among NBA owners, last year sold the NHL's Washington Capitals and a 44 percent share of his Washington Sports and Entertainment holding group, which owns the Wizards, the MCI Center and the Baltimore-Washington area's Ticketmaster operation, to an investment group headed by America Online executive Ted Leonsis.
Leonsis and his group have the right of first refusal to buy the Wizards, should Pollin choose to sell.
"I take a lot of pride in this team," said Pollin, a multimillionaire who made his fortune in construction. "It's a very important part of my life.
"If I were just in it for the financial aspect, I would be doing something else. I would be building buildings, which I used to do and did pretty well. This team is more important than the financial considerations."
The franchise, which won its only NBA title in 1978, has fallen on hard times in recent years, missing the playoffs the past three seasons and going 12 years without winning a playoff game.
As a part of the sale to Leonsis, Pollin turned over control of the Wizards' basketball operations to Michael Jordan last January.
Jordan made some initial changes last season, including firing coach Gar Heard in midseason, but has more clearly branded the franchise as his own since April, adding Rod Higgins, Darrell Walker and Fred Whitfield as assistant general manager, director of player personnel and assistant legal counsel, respectively.
Since the end of last season, Jordan's big moves have included dealing free-agent bust and center Issac Austin to the Vancouver Grizzlies for four players and moving the team's training camp to Wilmington, his hometown - moves that have met with Pollin's approval.
"Michael's brought in a lot of people that he has a lot of confidence in. I've told him that he has carte blanche to do what he wants to do," said Pollin. "I've given him the responsibility, and he's on the line, just like I am.
"He put himself on the line. What I've seen of these guys is terrific. They work together hard. They meld with each other, and they respect each other. And they're all pros. I'm pleased with them."
Pollin was similarly complimentary of Leonard Hamilton, the Wizards' new coach, who is making his NBA debut after stints at the University of Miami and Oklahoma State.
"There's a guy [Hamilton] that, everywhere he's been, he's taken things that weren't working well and turned them around. I'm impressed with him," said Pollin.
Ultimately, though, Pollin placed responsibility for the franchise's progress on the players, whom he said had "not played up to their capabilities in the past, for whatever reason."
"That's not going to happen any more," said Pollin. "I don't think, between Michael and Wes [Unseld, general manager] and the people we brought in, that's going to happen any more. They're going to play up to their capability.
"And we have a lot of talent on this team. We have three All-Stars [forward Juwan Howard and guards Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland] on this team starting, and we have some other guys that I think are really going to shine. They'll play up to their capability this year. And they'll be in better shape this year."