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  Sonics at a Loss to Criticize Arena

By Gene Wang
WashingtonPost.com Correspondent
Tuesday, December 3, 1997; 11 p.m. EST

Post.com Exclusive
Seattle SuperSonics center Jim McIlvaine spent two seasons playing in Landover for the Washington Bullets, and last night, after his current team lost in the opening of MCI Center, his review of the new downtown facility was terse and to the point.

"Horrible," McIlvaine said of the state-of-the-art building after the Sonicsí 95-78 loss.

Then McIlvaine added: "Because we didnít win."

Despite McIlvaineís critical assessment, the rest of the Sonics seemed impressed by MCI Center, comparing it to United Center, home of the NBA champion Chicago Bulls.

"Itís a nice facility. Itís got to go right up there with United Center and Bostonís FleetCenter," Sonics center Vin Baker said. "Itís a great arena, and obviously theyíre going to have a lot of excitement.

"Hopefully for Chris [Webber] and those guys, theyíll be able to get the kind of excitement and the kind of stuff that they had tonight in the arena because theyíre going to win a lot of basketball games if they can keep that crowd like they were tonight."

Included among the 20,674 was President Clinton, who Baker said played no small part in the Sonicsí demise.

"Iíd be lying if I said we werenít caught up in the whole thing," Baker said. "The president came in. I mean he came to the locker room, so that threw us off right there."

Veteran Sonics guard Hersey Hawkins, not as shaken by the presidentís visit, praised MCI Center as an entire level above US Airways Arena, the Wizardsí former building in Landover.

"Itís a lot better than US Airways Arena. Itís not even close," Hawkins said. "I think you have to be glad for the people of Washington. Itís good to see them out. It was a nice sellout for the team."

"It reminds me of the United Center," Hawkins continued. "I mean, I havenít gone up in the concession area or anything like that where supposedly it really separates this arena from the others. As a basketball arena, theyíre all getting pretty much the same. Theyíre all getting more spread out."

The visiting locker room certainly has grown, compared to the tiny quarters Wizardsí opponents used at US Airways Arena. In addition to the more spacious visiting lockers, there is also a private office for the visiting coach, where Sonics Coach George Karl was sullen after his teamís less-than-inspirational performance.

But he too lauded MCI Center, citing its proximity to D.C. night life as a major draw for the league.

"I think itís exciting to have a building in downtown D.C. I think thatís exciting to me," Karl said. "D.C.ís a great town, a great city. Now it has the facility to help keep people around it, to energize the community. I think all the NBA people will be happy to hang out in Georgetown."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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