"Anchorage," mumbled Ted Turner as his Atlanta Hawks fell steadily behind the Bullets, "may I ought to move this team to Anchorage. We're in a cold spell, for sure, so what better place for a team in a cold spell than Anchorage?"
This was in the third quarter Wednesday night and Turner, the Captain Outrageous of America'c Cup fame, was in rare form at Capital Center. And why not? He had proved that every now and then in sports a man gets much more than he plays for.
Six months - or six weeks - ago no rational human would have picked his Hawks to make the NBA playoffs, for Turner had spared every expense to create a winner. Yet the Hawks somehow won as many games as they lost - and that gets you into postseason competition in these inflated athletic times.
It was impossible not to see Turner. He was the raspy-voiced fellow in the open-necked sport shirt who kept jumping up and down and yelling "aaaaawwwww riiiiiiight" after every Hawk hoop. Jerk-in-the-box is how one of the flock of Bullet faithful who surrounded him described Turner.
The byplay between Turner and the Bullets' very own superfan and nonstop referree-baiter, who is all-obnoxious everywhere in the NBA except Washington, Jack Skloff, was so animated in the first half a reporter was drawn to a vacant seat near them. As we join them, Skloff is yelling:
"Walk. Elbow. What's that guy (Hawk Eddie Johnson) doing shooting a foul?"
And Turner replies: "Aaaawww, sit down. We need this playoff more than you. We need the money. Pollin owns everything, anyway." He smiles. "I'm just kidding."
Turner clearly enjoys this relatively inexpensive toy that Coach Hubie Brown managed to get working better than anyone imagined. At 38, the little boy in Turner escaped throughout the game.
Once he forgot the Bullets' capacity for missing free throws without assistance and yelled "Boooooo" as Tom Henderson stepped to the line, Henderson missed.
"I scared him," Turner said, almost gigling. "He's not used to getting booed at home." He paused, then said quietly, "We get booed at home a lot."
Turner also got teased a lot by the Bullets' fans. When the 5-foot-l refugee from the Eastern League, Charlie Criss, missed a foul shot, a fan said to Turner, "If you'd pay him anything, he'd have made that."
The owner snapped his head around and replied. "He's making 40. That's more'n you make. You make 40?" Turner stood and shouted: "Anybody here make 40?"
For the final 24 minutes, at least, Turner, unaware a reporter was near his left albow, was wildly enthusiastic about his team without denigrating the Bullets.
Turner once took over as manager of his other pro team, the baseball Braves. But he did not so much as second-guess Brown this night. Once this season, after the Hawks beat the Boston Celtics by 30 points, Turner sang "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" to his coach.
"This New York Yankee style is not out style," he insists. "We have quality people. We don't have people who go around hitting other people with tire irons."
How much of an impact Turner has had on the Hawks during his slightly more than one year as owner is debatable. Before his - and Brown's - arrival, the Hawks were rivaling the NHL's New Orleans Saints for uninterrupted incompetence.
The Hawks' No. 1 draft choices from 1972 through 1975 were Tom Payne, Dwight Jones, John Brown, Mike Sojourner, Tom Henderson, David Thompson and Marvin Webster. Payne never played in the NBA and Jones was traded for another player not playing with the Hawks, Joe Meriweather.
Brown and Sojourner are with the Hawks but not playing. Henderson was traded to the Bullets for Truck Robinson, who was allowed to escape to New Orleans. Part of the compensation for Robinson's signing with the Jazz was Ron Behagan, also no longer with the Hawks.
In 1975, the Hawks had the first and third picks in the draft. Thompson and Webster, and lost both to the ABA's Denver Nuggets. But the top choice in 1976, guard Armond Hill. is the team's floor leader and the first-round choice in '77. Tree Rollins. is the backup center at the moment.
"Aaaaaawwwww riiiiiiight!" Turner suddenly yells again as the Hawks manage to narrow an 18-point deficit to six with two minutes to play, with little Criss scoring several points.
"That man is 5-foot-7," Turner shouts to a nearby Bullet fan. "How tall are you?"
"I'm 5-7," the man said.
"My man is in the NBA."
But Turner's men get no closer than six points, and with the Bullets up by 10 with 32 seconds remaining the owner puts his head in his hands and says, "It's impossible now."
As Turner left his seat, a Bullet fan moved toward him, grabbed his hand and said, "Nothing personal, but I hope I don't see you here Sunday."
"We'll be here," Turner retorted.