Players Say That a New Arena Can Symbolize Team's New Era
By Richard Justice
But it was appropriate.
The Bullets, after examining facilities from Phoenix to Chica St. Louis, have settled on Gund Arena as the model for the one they hope to move into for the 1997-'98 season. It has 20,562 seats. It has luxury suites. It has club seating complete with waiter service. It has wide, breezy concourses and dozens of food stands and other amenities.
Tonight, as the Bullets prepared to play the Cleveland Cavaliers, the organization's vice chairman, Jerry Sachs, strolled through Gund Arena, taking a peek at what he hopes will be the Bullets' future.
"I've been here a couple of other times," Sachs said. "I wanted to see it from every angle."
Reaction in the locker room was mixed. Some players, such as guard Scott Skiles and center Kevin Duckworth, don't even know if they'll be around for the 1997 season. Others say that 1997 is too far away to get excited. But others obviously were looking forward to a time when the Bullets will have a facility that compares with those in Phoenix and Orlando. And with new arenas being built in Boston and Portland, it seems almost every NBA team is in a building phase.
"I think it would be great," Bullets swingman Mitchell Butler said. "Right now, you have a bunch of teams around the league starting to play in new arenas. They're nicer and can accommodate more people. I think it changes the feel of the team. It gives the team a place to go into and establish a new identity. You can start a winning environment and winning tradition when you make a move like that. I think it would be exciting."
It might be particularly exciting for the Bullets, who play in USAir Arena, which is far from the excitement of downtown. They have the league's smallest locker rooms and some players who've played elsewhere have been critical of the quality of the Bullets' facilities.
Butler, for one, is looking forward to the day when he'll be playing his games in downtown Washington.
"It matters," he said. "You want to be treated well. You want to be treated like everyone else. You don't want other people to think you play for an organization ... that doesn't care about its players."
Guard Rex Chapman said a new facility could be particularly important for the Bullets, who are the NBA's second-youngest team.
"Wherever you play, you want to play in front of a lot of fans," he said. "I think a nicer building will bring more fans out. I played in Charlotte in a great building. I played at Kentucky in a great building. A nice place kind of becomes a central location for the team. You practice there. You have your weight room there. It potentially can help a team like ours."
Guard Calbert Cheaney pointed out that arenas are mainly for fans.
"It shouldn't make any difference to a player," he said. "The basketball court is the same. The height of the basket is the same. It'll be nice, I'm sure, but it won't matter to me. I don't think we can complain about what we have now. It wouldn't bother me at all to finish my career at USAir Arena."
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