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 3½ 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
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.