Pollin: 'Bad situation' had to end

Updated: October 22, 2003, 6:00 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Abe Pollin knew the decision would be unpopular.

Just thinking about it the night before kept the 79-year-old Washington Wizards owner from sleeping. But there was no other choice: Michael Jordan had to go.

"It was an atmosphere on edge," Abe Pollin explained in his first in-depth interview since dismissing Jordan five months ago. "It was not a healthy atmosphere to produce a happy organization or a winning team."

Jordan essentially ran the basketball side of Pollin's organization for 3 losing seasons, including the last two as a player, until the morning of May 7.

Having retired again from the court, Jordan arrived at Pollin's office that day expecting to regain the title of president of basketball operations. But discontent with Jordan and his hand-picked coach, Doug Collins, had become evident through comments from players and staff.

"I could sense the sense of unhappiness, the sense of even maybe a little dissension in the whole organization," Pollin told The Associated Press in the interview Tuesday. "I sensed that it was a bad situation."

Although he had given a speech to his employees a week earlier hinting that Jordan could be gone, Pollin said he didn't make up his mind until the night before. He even had his communications manager draft two press releases -- one announcing Jordan's departure, the other announcing that Jordan was rehired.

"I agonized over it for days and nights, thinking, 'What is it that I have to do?' " Pollin recalled. "I'm going to think very hard about these decisions and make the best decisions that I think are best for the franchise."

Given Jordan's lack of success in Washington, the actual decision to get rid of him didn't prove as unpopular as the means.

At the meeting, Pollin didn't give Jordan a chance to make a case to stay or outline any plans for the team. It ended acrimoniously after about 20 minutes, and Jordan later termed Pollin's actions as "callous."

"I had made my decision ... and that was it," Pollin said. "I felt by sticking to my decision, I would have less embarrassment for him because if I had made him lay out some of his plans that he had maybe in mind that he was going to do for the team, and then I would say, 'I'm not accepting them,' I thought I would hurt him worse. So I tried to be as gentle as I could with Michael because I have great respect for him."

Pollin also defended his decision to announce Jordan's departure by e-mail rather than face reporters.

"I don't deal with the public face," Pollin said. "I just deal with human beings."

The public backlash was severe, so much so that a few weeks later Pollin offered to refund season-ticket deposits to anyone not happy with his offseason moves.

As it turned out, Pollin had a good summer. He hired Eddie Jordan from New Jersey to replace Collins as coach, then lured Ernie Grunfeld from Milwaukee to replace Michael Jordan in the front office.

The Wizards have always had a difficult time landing premium free agents, but Pollin signed Gilbert Arenas to a six-year, $65 million contract and gave Jerry Stackhouse a contract extension.

As a result, Pollin said he's had only a "few takers" on his refund offer, mostly from ticket brokers who made a living off Jordan's name and fans who had hoped for a Jordan-led playoff.

The franchise-record streak of 82 consecutive home sellouts Pollin enjoyed while Jordan was playing will almost certainly come to an end this season. In that context, Pollin made an extraordinary comment for a professional sports owner: He welcomes the fact that his team will have a lower profile this season.

"I'd like very much to have sort of a lower profile," he said.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press