Bullets fans left dry by wet court

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LANDOVER -- At a time when the Washington Bullets and the Phoenix Suns should have been well into the third quarter of last night's scheduled game at the USAir Arena, Charles Barkley was in front of his locker feigning disgust.

"It should have been called a half-hour sooner," Barkley said. "I'd have a six-pack in my system by now."

A funny guy, that Barkley, making light of the situation when the game between the Bullets and the Suns was postponed after a 90-minute delay because of condensation on the arena court.

A makeup date was not immediately announced.

The moisture was the result of yesterday's unusually high

temperatures and the ice beneath the basketball court. The ice was put down on Sunday for an ice show scheduled for Saturday. With the mild temperatures, condensation resulted.

The court was constantly wiped as the sellout crowd of 18,756 waited. But a joint decision by the league, the officials and the Bullets led to the game being called just after 9 p.m.

"These guys are special, special athletes," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "I remember watching a preseason game at The Forum [in Inglewood, Calif.] when, unfortunately, they tried to play it. Walter Davis ended his career."

Davis tore ligaments in his knee when he slipped on the wet court that night in 1984.

It was the first postponement in the NBA since Jan. 17, 1994, when a game between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings was postponed because of an earthquake in the Los Angeles area.

Washington's last postponement was on March 13, 1993, when a snowstorm forced the rescheduling of a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the Baltimore Arena.

Phoenix's last postponement was on Jan. 17, 1989, the result of the riots in Miami. That game against the Heat was replayed on March 13.

When the announcement was finally made last night, the fans, who had grown impatient, booed loudly.

"No matter how we tried to clear it up, the moisture reappered in three or four minutes," lead official Paul Mihalik said. "The conditions as they are, it's just unsafe. There's no way that we will jeopardize the safety of any player out there, of the referees. It's just too unsafe."

That was echoed by the players, who spent much of the delay shooting jumpers, joking on the bench or in the team locker rooms.

"They told us when we got here there were bad conditions," Bullets forward Don MacLean said. "There were slick spots. You just never know. A guy can rip his knee up on this stuff."

Rex Chapman, who jokingly announced, "I didn't miss a shot tonight," as he left the locker room, said had the game been played it would not have been entertaining.

"You could have just messed around out there and played," Chapman said. "But you couldn't cut at all."

Mitchell Butler agreed.

"It was pretty slippery, and we definitely didn't want to take any chances of anybody getting hurt," Butler said. "You had a lot of marquee players, and you would have hated for something silly to happen just because you wanted to satisfy the fans."

A similar problem arose before the Jan. 29 game last season, forcing a 45-minute delay against Orlando.

"There seems to be a film on the floor this time that we didn't have last time," said Bullets president Susan O'Malley. She spoke with Rod Thorn, the NBA vice president of operations, and Matt Winick, the league vice president of scheduling and game operations, before making the final announcement.

Both teams are off today, but there's a game scheduled at USAir Arena tonight between Georgetown and Providence. The rescheduled date for the Bullets-Suns game may be announced as soon as tomorrow.

Fans can use their ticket stubs from last night to attend the rescheduled game, or may exchange their stubs to attend either the following games: March 11 against the New Jersey Nets, or March 14, against the Chicago Bulls.

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