After a day-long series of phone calls, discussions and wrangling, the Bullets and Seattle SuperSonics finally agreed yesterday on dates for a possible NBA championship series between the teams.
When the rhetoric eventually cleared, it was decided the Bullets would host games two and three in Capital Centre, with games one and four scheduled for Seattle.
This would be only the second time in NBA history that two of the first three games in a final series would not be played on the home court of the team with the superior regular-season record.
Ironically, the first was in 1975 between the Bullets and Golden State. The Bullets had the home-court advantage but a schedule conflict in Capital Centre forced games two and three to be played on the West Coast. The Bullets wound up losing the series, 4-0.
Of course, Seattle still must beat Denver in one of the two remaining games of the Western Conference final to bring yesterday's work into fruition. If the Sonics prevail the championship series would procede as follows:
Game one - Sunday at Seattle (3 p.m. EDT); game two - Thursday, May 25, at Washington (9 p.m. EDT); game three - Sunday, May 28, at Washington (1:30 p.m. EDT); game four - Tuesday, May 30, at Seattle (9 p.m. EDT)* game five - Friday, June 2, at Seattle (9 p.m. EDT); game six - Sunday, June 4, at Washington (1:30 p.m. EDT); game seven - Wednesday, June 7, at Seattle (9 p.m. EDT).
Game five would be played in the Kingdome, the roofed stadium used by Seattles pro football, baseball and soccer teams. It will be the home of the Sonics next season.
All the confusion about the dates was caused by a mobile home show that is occupying the Seattle coliseum, where the Sonics play their games this season, from May 21 through June 1. The Sonics could not get the show to give up any of its early dates, nor could they get into the Kingdome because of a baseball game. So the next alternative was to move game two to Washington.
"These things (shows) were scheduled in October and November," said a Sonic spokesman. "We were struggling along hoping to make it to the end of the season. We weren't worrying about the playoffs and dates at the end of May."
Seattle felt early in the day that the Bullets had agreed to the schedule change. But Washington officials say otherwise.
"I never agreed to anything because I hadn't talked to (Coach) Dick Motta yet," said General Manager Bob Ferry. "He was flying home from Denver all day after scouting the game there Sunday and we couldn't get a hold of him."
The Bullets apparently were hesitating for a couple of reasons. First, they had won the last two playoff series by splitting the first two games on the opponents' home court and that pattern would be impossible in this series. And second, if they lost three of the first four games, they were risking dropping the series without coming back home again.
"I don't really see a whole lot of advantage overall, though," said Ferry. "Whether you play games one and two out there or two and three here, you still wind up playing two of the first four away.
"And for us to win it we still have to win on game out there. The home-court advantage doesn't change."
What it does do, however, is set up the possibility of Washington taking a 3-0 lead in the series by winning game one away and games two and three at home, just as Golden State did against the Bullets in 1975.
"Now, I wouldn't mind seeing that happen," Ferry said with a smile. "But I don't think the game dates had anything to do with us losing to Golden State. When you get this far, the players win it, not things like date changes."
Which is what the Bullet hierarchy finally decided at 6 p.m. last night. Ferry let the NBA office know that the Bullets agreed to the tentative dates and the league announced them publicly.
"I think that Washington should be pleased as anything with what they got out of this," said one NBA source. "They won't have a long road trip at the beginning of the series, which is good. And now they also get a game in the Kingdome. There will be more people in there, sure, but Seattle has never played a game there either. It has to be as foreign to them as to the Bullets."
Date problems weren't the only headaches confronting Washington yesterday, however. While the players took another day off - they will watch films today and resume practicing tomorrow - team officials struggled with travel and hotel plans.
With Northwest Airlines on strike, they were unable to get any nonstop flights to Seattle Friday at the time of day they wanted. And the hotel the team normally uses in Seattle has been booked up two years in advance with a convention.
At least one headache was cleared up, however. Under the NBA's contract with CBS, no game in the final round can be blacked out on local television. So all the Bullet home games will be televised on WTOP-TV-9 and owner Abe Pollin will not be caught in the middle between ticket holders and living-room fans.
If Denver wins the last two Western Conference games and pulls out that series, games one and two will be played in Denver and three and four in Washington, the usual NBA final format.
But there is a Bob Hope concert scheduled in Denver the same day as game five and that problem is unresolved. For now, though, the Nuggets have much more important things to worry about.