THE PERFECT MONUMENT – column

Washington’s Uline Arena was built by Dutch immigrant entrepreneur and co-founder of the NBA Mike Uline

By Jelte Posthumus – 19 October 2016

 

Standing at the dike that separates the farm lands in the South of the Netherlands from the waters of the Maas river, it is not hard to imagine how teenager Mike Uline once lived here at the end of the 19th century, in a very simple house in a small world which seemed to end at the horizon.

Although the house where he once lived is gone, his school is still there. And so are the fields, the farms, the river and the sounds of the wind and the birds.

It is quite harder though to imagine what it might have been like for him – being sixteen years old – to leave everything behind for good, cross the Atlantic with his family, arrive in the harbor of New York City, travel through the Northeastern United States and start a new life in Cleveland, Ohio.

It must have been amazing. It must have been a thrill.

But it certainly must also have been very hard. Immigrants who were willing to work extremely hard were welcome in America. But they were starting at the very bottom. For Mike Uline this meant working in a quarry, cutting stones.

But like so many other immigrants, the poor Uline family managed to turn the tables by emigrating to the land of seemingly endless opportunities. And Mike himself became a successful entrepreneur and a well-known citizen of Cleveland and Washington, DC, the city where he moved to in the 1930’s. At a certain point he owned tens of ice plants in Cleveland and the wider Ohio region alone.

Little Mike had made it in his new homeland – big time.

In Washington, he built the Uline Arena, which from 1946 housed the NBA’s Washington Capitols, coached by the now legendary Red Auerbach. Uline did not have a clue about basketball. But that did not prevent him from co-founding the NBA – then called the Basketball Association of America, the BAA – in the summer of 1946.

Uline died in 1958 but his Uline Arena is still standing. After serving as a parking lot and a trash transfer station, among others, it is now even being renovated. After the makeover is done, the original basic concrete building will be transformed into a stylish, modern multifunctional office building full of ambitious, hard-working entrepreneurs.

As if it were designed to be the perfect monument for its original builder.

 

Mike Uline is one of fifteen NBA pioneers who were (descendants of) Dutch immigrants in the United States and who will be featured in my forthcoming book ‘Dutch Pioneers in the NBA’. (Read more)