Before a preseason game, several members of the New York Knicks sat in front of a television set watching tapes of the Washington Bullets.
"Who are these guys?" one of the Knicks said in all sincerity.
It's a different story now, with the trade last week for Chris Webber and the signing of first-round pick Juwan Howard. In one day, the Bullets went from a team of slow overachievers (they started the season 4-1) to one of the more promising teams of the future and a probable playoff team this season.
Forty-eight hours after one of the biggest days in franchise history, the Bullets had their second sellout crowd of the season. A new rap song, featuring Webber and Howard, was unveiled. The entire team will participate in a music video to be shot among the monuments and museums in Washington.
And be prepared to see kids start wearing Washington Bullets jerseys, not a common sight with a team whose sales were among the worst in the NBA. But look for Webber's jersey with the No. 2 on the back, instead of the No. 4 he wore at Golden State. That number already is taken by Scott Skiles -- who's not willing to negotiate with a player who next year will be among the league's richest.
"My number's not for sale," Skiles said.
No worry. In a matter of days, Webber practically owns Washington. Teammates already are looking up to him -- amazing when you realize Webber's just 21 years old and grew up admiring guys he's now getting dressed next to.
"I went to the McDonald's All-America game at Cobo Hall [in Detroit], shook Rex Chapman's hand and asked him for his shoes," Webber said. "I looked up to most of these players."
Never seen a Continental Basketball Association game before? Ever wondered what John Starks and Anthony Mason looked like before they got to the bigs? Want to see what basketball is like one step from the NBA?
Now you have the chance -- just wait for the Los Angeles Clippers to come to town.
There shouldn't be a problem getting tickets: The Clippers are by far the NBA's worst team. With a starting lineup that includes Malik Sealy, Elmore Spencer and former Maryland forward Tony Massenburg, the Clippers have started the season with nine straight losses, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they fared even worse than the record-setting 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers of 1972-73.
The Clippers are averaging a league-worst 92.4 points. They're not quite as bad defensively (106.7, seventh-worst), but they did allow 76ers center Shawn Bradley to record 28 points, 22 rebounds and nine blocks -- all in one game.
Is it a wonder that an announced crowd of 8,188 showed up for the Clippers' home opener at the L.A. Sports Arena against the Atlanta Hawks -- a crowd thought to be much smaller than that.
"The last exhibition game I saw more empty seats than any tailor in the United States," said Clippers coach Bill Fitch.
Danny Manning was happy to get out of Los Angeles. So was Dominique Wilkins, having spent a scant few months there. The Clippers have what a lot of NBA teams would desire, the highest available salary slot in the league ($3.5 million). Webber's agents were seeing if there was any interest before his trade to the Bullets, but the Clippers felt that Golden State quickly would match the offer, so they didn't even bother to offer a contract to the restricted free agent.
So the Clippers remain what they have been for some time -- bad. And Fitch will sit on the sidelines wondering why he ever came back to coaching.
"The same people that say we're not going to be very good can't come to a ballgame and expect a miracle,"
Blowing the whistle
In the NBA, players are held accountable for their actions. So are coaches, who often receive fines when making comments in the heat of the moment. Maybe it's time the league makes officials accountable as well.
Recently, the Chicago Bulls played host to the Dallas Mavericks, and Hue Hollins, who made the controversial foul call against Scottie Pippen in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with the Knicks, was calling the game. It was the first game in Chicago for Hollins since the call, which was termed "terrible" by Darrel Garretson, the league's chief official.
Garretson made the comment to Melissa Isaacson, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune. Before the game, Hollins asked a security guard to get Isaacson, who said she was cursed out.
Later, Jamal Mashburn scored 50 points against Pippen, considered one of the best defensive players in the league. Bulls coach Phil Jackson criticized Hollins, suggesting he "took it out on Scottie." Last Wednesday, Jackson was fined $10,000 for his comments.
If Hollins did, indeed, make those comments to Isaacson, he should be fined as well. If Hollins had a beef with anyone, it should have been Garretson, who was unprofessional in his comment on the call.
Chances are Hollins won't be reprimanded. Or if he is, it won't be made public.
Wilkins' first return to Atlanta since leaving in the middle of last season attracted a crowd of 10,376 to The Omni last Tuesday. Next door at the Georgia Dome, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones were attracting 60,000-plus. . . . The Houston Rockets became the first defending champion since the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson era began in 1979 not to sell out its second game. . . . Seattle, which finished with the league's best record past season, is off to a disappointing 4-4 start. "We can't be the same team every year, but we have to find out who we are, and we're not sure right now," coach George Karl said.