Wet court ices down game, fans


LANDOVER -- Abe Pollin is right. The owner of the Bullets and Capitals indicates the USAir Arena is in big need of repair and, yes, a spiffy new arena in downtown Washington (at someone else's expense) would do just fine, thank you.

Thing is, Abe's construction outfit built the Capital Centre just 22 years ago. And it has problems already?

Maybe the joint is failing, because for two decades the basketball and hockey teams have shared space, playing numerous same-day doubleheaders and, now that there's no hockey . . .


Put that one in your scrapbook. The Bullets' game against the Phoenix Suns had to be called off last night because little pools of water kept appearing on the court, the result of a sheet of ice underneath.

No, the lockout of players by NHL management isn't over and hockey isn't in vogue again. There's a big figure skating championship show in the building Saturday night, the competitors will be in town to practice tomorrow and they've been complaining about the quality of the ice since promoter Dick Button had the remains of a hairline. So a sheet was laid down Sunday.

Anyway, with the home team's seventh straight sellout crowd on hand, everyone involved tried mightily to get this one in. About 90 minutes they waited before referee Paul Mihalak declared the surface "too unsafe" for play. Too unsafe? Are there degrees of unsafe?

Gee, the Bullets had looked terrific during the warm-ups, too. This is part of a new policy the media is sworn to by Chris Webber. The recently acquired star wants only positive thoughts and total support from all those attending games -- even if the game isn't played.

The biggest dread of covering baseball on a daily basis is the rainout. Nothing happens, of course, but still there's this gaping hole in the paper that has to be filled, so it's customary to discuss ad infinitum what course the manager is going to take with his pitching rotation. Shakespeare covered it quite nicely in his "Much Ado About Nothing."

With an NBA "condensation out," though, it's a whole new ballgame. It was a pretty good show during the delay if only spectators knew where to look.

I'm an expert on the subject. First NBA game I ever went to, the game was held up for the same reason: water on the court. The Rhode Island Auditorium had a hole in its roof that defied repair. It didn't matter, Jim Pollard's autograph was obtained and George Mikan sank 24 straight foul shots (underhanded), a record.

When it was apparent last night's 7:35 start would be missed by a bunch, the Bullets retired to the locker room. Dan Majerle and several Suns shot around. Big Dan must have bombed a hundred three-pointers, twice running off strings of seven straight. Guess which team is 11-5 and which is 5-8?

Finally, the Bullets came out of hiding. At 7:45, an 8 o'clock start was half-promised. The gang started working on specialty shots: Rex Chapman was launching one-hand set shots with a 40-foot arc on them. Ideal if a 30-footer is guarding you.

One of the Suns was tossing 'em up two-handed from behind his back at the foul line. Injured Gheorghe Muresan fired away while sitting down on the bench. Juwan Howard was doing quite well putting the ball in the hoop on one bounce. Several Bullets tried hitting "nothing but net" from behind the backboard, extra if it ricochets in off the 24-second clock.

At 8:10, they announced "15 more minutes." At 8:25, it was "as soon as possible." It was accompanied by the announcement everyone in the house was entitled to a free Coke. Free pizza at 9?

At 8:40, "5:00" was put on the scoreboard as though that was when the game might start. Might is the operative word here. Moments before, Mihalak had noted, "the situation isn't getting any better," but as the squeegee gang dug in, he said, "maybe we should try it." See, Phoenix doesn't get out this way very often, this being the only trip this season.

Figuring all fans on hand had made at least two trips to the concession stand and they weren't about to go for a third, the command to disband was made. The revenue from parking had long since been tucked away safely.

Phoenix coach Paul Westphal, with four games down on a seven-day, 12-day road trip and not big for a day off on the road, suggested a makeup date this afternoon. Charles Barkley said: "I'm going out in New York City [tonight]. I have better things to do."

That settled it. Sir Charles had spoken. The Bullets, who leave on a four-game swing through the West today, said they'll have an announcement on the makeup date tomorrow.

The Suns, to a man, said this was a far better postponement than their last one. That was due to rioting in Miami in 1989.

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