The gym at Bowie State College was better suited yesterday for making New Year's Eve ice cubes than for shooting baskets. So coach Dick Motta Canceled the Washington Bullets' practice on account of the cold.
"I wonder what's left after this," Dave Bing said as he hurriedly pulled on a warmup jacket.
Seemingly the only things the former scoring champion has yet to experience in 11 National Basketball Association seasons are slipping on a championship ring and retiring.
With the once mighty Bullets struggling to break 500, it might be wisest for Bing to consider the joys of the rocking chair. But he hints that he might be doing that only in terms that are as broad as Wes Unseld's back.
"This really isn't such an old ball club," Bing said. "The only people they have to worry about replacing are Wes and myself."
Moments later, he responded seriously to a joshing question that a contending team with a big heart might pick him up. "Oh no," he said. "This is the last place I'll ever play."
There are times Bing feels older than his 33 years. Tonight might be one of those times.
The Houston Rockets, leaders of the Central Division, are coming to Capital Centre to try at 8:05 o'clock to pad their five-game lead over the Bullets. Their weapons include Rudy Tomjanovich, finally playing up to his vast potential, Moses Malone and three guards who are younger and zippier than Bing.
Where Calvin Murphy, John Lucas and Mike Newlin are concerned, Bing tries to be philosophical. "Some nights I can stay up with them," he said. "Some nights I can't. I just have to accept that. It's part of getting older."
So are the discomforts of travel that he never noticed until the last year or two. "I can't sleep on planes and buses," he said. "When we have a long road trip, it's really hard on me."
The proof is in the record book. When the Bullets beat the Pacers in Indianapolis Tuesday, Bing played only 16 minutes and scored only two points. Two nights before, in New Orleans, he made only two of 10 shots from the field.
"There are still nights when I can play like I used to," Bing is quick to point out. But he is just as quick to admit that they are not as frequent as he would like, particularly in front of the people who remember him as the be-all and end-all of Spingarn High School.
"My only regret about coming here was that my friends wouldn't be seeing me play at the best of my skills," said the former Detroit Piston. "I wanted to repay them for how nice they've been to me and I haven't really been able to do that."
This is where the pro in Bing shines through. He has not complained when he has been replaced by rookie Larry Wright. He has not complained about having to become the Bullets' playmaker after spending nine seasons as the Pistons' chief scorer.
Indeed, the closest he comes to bemoaning his fate is to say that his best games this season have come when fragile Phil Chenier has been out of the lineup and he has had to assume shooting duties in the back-court.
So the natural impulse is to think of Bing when Motta says, "There are some guys who can fade out gracefully. They play a little and they teach a little and they help the team even though they aren't the athletes they used to be. I'm not going to mention any names, but I think we've got a guy like that on this team."
"I haven't talked to anybody about that," Bing said. "I'm only thinking about this season."
This season is not a very pleasant thought. The Bullets got off to that horrid start, and now talk of them winning the NBA title, which was all but conceded them in seasons past, sounds like wishful thinking.
Yet that is how Bing, usually a realist, insists on talking.He is not without reasons.
"I've only been on four teams that have even made the playoffs," he said, "and none of them got farther than the seventh game of the first round. Now time is running out on me, just like it is for some of the other guys on this team. It's not enough just to make the playoffs. You've got to think bigger or it's hardly worth playing."