It’s too bad Abe Pollin missed this
There goes a great Bullet, er, Wizard.
Even if the whole world abandoned Gilbert Arenas, who had the misfortune to become perfectly inconvenient and vulnerable at the same time, there was one man who would have remembered all he meant to the Washington Wizards and the “legacy of Abe Pollin” the late owner’s family keeps talking about.
That man, of course, was Abe Pollin.
If Pollin was different, it wasn’t for being wildly successful as an NBA owner, because he wasn’t.
It was for his generosity that was expressed in everything he did, including his day-to-day operation, such as clinging to General Manager Wes Unseld, whom he loved, long after Unseld had become inconvenient.
President Obama marked Pollin’s passing in November, noting, “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.”
Pollin’s death made the op-ed Page of the New York Times, where sharp-tongued Maureen Dowd wrote:
“I’ve seen some people who were fierce in the face of mortification and death. But none as fierce as Abe Pollin.”
As if to prove it, mortification reappeared within weeks in the form of a nationwide scandal, and no one was fierce in its face.
Only Arenas could have pulled this off, taking childish behavior all the way to a level that was criminal, but I can’t see Abe doing that “I’m shocked, shocked!” number from “Casablanca.”
Abe knew Gilbert, it was what he did.
Nor can I imagine it occurring to Pollin to use this to void Arenas’ $111-million deal --which Abe gave him, despite Gilbert’s year off following knee surgery and the challenges he posed for the coaches.
Now Pollin is gone and his heirs care only about keeping this from splashing on their patriarch . . . who would have waded in up to his neck.
Arenas, the wild and crazy guy they adored, is now an un-Wizard.
As steadfast a defender as the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon put the Wizards’ fall on this incident, writing:
“The events of the last month have killed what was and what might have been . . . Eddie Jordan coaching Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood.
“But it’s over now.”
Actually, it keeled over before that. The Wizards were 8-17 before the incident, already looking for takers for their big contracts, starting with Gilbert’s.
Arenas’ contract is part of a bigger, seamier picture as the Pollins negotiate the sale of the team, insisting for the first time that it can go to anyone, not just minority owner Ted Leonsis.
At this point, we may be leaving the area of farce and moving into cosmic joke.
Shorn of the furor after the erroneous New York Post report that the players drew on each other in the locker room, this was what remained of the story on the “SportsCenter” crawl:
“Arenas and Crittenton suspended for season for bringing guns to Verizon Center.”
Arenas, suspended for 50 games, and Crittenton, for 38 are now in Major Outlaw company, Nos. 3 and 4 on the all-time list with:
1. Ron Artest -- 73 games for starting the Auburn Hills melee, wading in the stands to punch (the wrong) fan.
2. Latrell Sprewell -- 68 for choking Coach P.J. Carlesimo.
5. Stephen Jackson -- 30 for following Artest into the stands and flailing away.
6. Kermit Washington -- 26 for the punch that caved in Rudy Tomjanovich’s face.
In the precedent the Wizards would have to explain away, Jackson, then an Indiana Pacer, fired a handgun in the air -- four or five times, he told police -- to break up a fight outside a strip club in 2006.
Still on probation for his actions in Auburn Hills, Jackson pleaded guilty to felony recklessness . . . and was suspended by the NBA for seven games.
It was clear all along Stern had a problem, with all the furor created by a report that didn’t turn out to be true.
Gilbert being Gilbert, he made it easy, or made up Stern’s mind, with his pregame skit, pretending to shoot his laughing teammates.
This can’t go on any further, can it?
Oh, it can?
With collective bargaining 18 months out and the NBA seeking givebacks, the atmosphere remains cordial. Union head Billy Hunter even appeared with Stern at last season’s All-Star game, agreeing the players had to do their part in hard economic times.
Cordiality will go out the window the moment the Wizards void Arenas’ deal as players wonder how ironclad their contracts are if they’re pulled over during a bad season.
Oh, and the Wizards probably would lose. Even league people say there’s a high legal bar to surmount.
Of course, everyone has been mad at everyone else before. On the other hand, after several years of pleasant developments, the NBA is nearing a tipping point.
After years of West domination and yawner Finals, the conferences are balanced with a Lakers-Celtics revival and an emerging Lakers-Cavaliers rivalry, not to mention Cavaliers vs. Celtics vs. Magic.
On the other hand, the Celtics might not last long and who knows where LeBron James and the other big free agents will be in a year?
And, of course, wouldn’t it be fun to have a real lockout in 2011?
So, just in case this saga turns into a black hole and sucks everyone in, everyone will have had it coming.