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Leonsis goes public in dispute over Wizards sale

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ted Leonsis says he offered to buy the Washington Wizards at "one of the highest prices ever paid for an NBA team," an amount that was apparently far short of satisfying the family of late owner Abe Pollin.

The former AOL executive wrote on his Ted's Take blog Thursday that he remains "very confident" he will be the next owner of the Wizards, even though he and the Pollin family are at odds over the process for selling the team.

A person involved in the process said Leonsis and Pollin's family were "several hundred million dollars" apart in initial negotiations earlier this month. The person also said the Pollin family has started marketing the Wizards to other potential buyers, even though the sale process is still in a stage in which Leonsis has an exclusive right to purchase the team.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the delicate state of the negotiations.

Pollin died in November, setting in motion what was expected to be a smooth transfer of the NBA team, the Verizon Center and the rest of Pollin's Washington Sports & Entertainment empire to Leonsis. Pollin anointed Leonsis as his heir when the two became partners in 1999, selling Leonsis the NHL's Washington Capitals and a stake in WS&E that has risen to 44 percent over the years.

"I am very confident this process will move forward in the manner Mr. Pollin and I agreed to in 1999," Leonsis wrote. "The last thing the Wizards need now is more uncertainty."

At issue is the Pollin family's apparent decision to approach other prospective owners while Leonsis still has first dibs on the purchase of the team. The matter surfaced Wednesday in an internal e-mail to employees by WS&E president of business operations Peter Biche, who wrote that there is nothing to prevent Pollin's family from marketing the team "at this time to other potential buyers."

The e-mail has become public, and Leonsis wrote in his blog that he was surprised to read it because he feels his group retains the exclusive right to buy the team during an ongoing appraisal process. The Leonsis group has chosen an appraiser to value the team, and Pollin's family is in the process of doing the same. If the two appraisals fail to yield a mutually agreeable sale price, then a neutral appraiser will be chosen — and the Pollins have to sale if Leonsis' group offers that amount.

"That's what the Agreement says, and I'm willing and able to hold up my end of the deal," Leonsis wrote.

A person close to the Pollin family, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity because of a confidentially clause, said the family had not read Leonsis' blog yet, but: "They disagree with his reading of the agreement." The person declined to elaborate.

Deciding the value of the Wizards, the Verizon Center and Pollin's other sports properties is hardly an exact science, especially during an economic downturn. Leonsis said in his blog that the Wizards are losing money this season. Washington has the second worst record in the Eastern Conference, and a guns-in-the-locker-room incident involving franchise player Gilbert Arenas has badly damaged the team's image.

In his blog, Leonsis was emphatic that he expects the Pollin family to live up to the agreement.

"My partners and I are confident in the rights we have," Leonsis wrote, "and will make sure to protect them."