Phil Chenier's basketball future grew dimmer yesterday when it was learned that chronic back and leg problems that caused the Washington Bullet guard to miss much of the past season will prevent him from resuming play this week in summer basketball league.
Chenier, who planned to play Friday night on the Bullets' team in the Urban Coalition League, said, "right now, I just can't play."
Chenier, 27, played in only 36 games last season and averaged 14.1 points a game because of back and leg injuries. His last game was Jan. 8. Before the season Chenier had a 19.2 per-game career scoring average since signing with the Bullets out of the University of California in 1971. He has appeared in three All-Star games.
"My back doesn't hurt, but my leg is just too weak. I can't even run," Chenier said. "When I feel it come around and respond I'll play."
Chenier, who rejected surgery, has been waiting since January for his leg to "come around" and now is beginning to have doubts if it ever will.
"I tried to play around here with some of the high school guys in the neighborhood and I couldn't do much," he added. "I guess I'm not any more depressed than I should be, but I'm startin to wonder about things. I'm in limbo."
Chenier's problem basically is a disk problem in his back. Because of the pain, Chenier favored his right leg and muscles in that have weakened and deteriorated.
He does exercise and has other treatments, but the leg has not responded enough to enable Chenier to play.
"That one leg is just smaller than the other, and weaker, and it isn't reacting to anything I do," Chenier said.
"All I want to do is go out and start playing, but I just can't do that now.
"It was discouraging not being a part of the championship team last year, but nothing would be more discouraging than not being able to play this September. I just have to see what happens."
Chenier signed a seven-year contract for about $1.7 million four years ago. The 6-foot-3 guard oringinally signed as a hardship in 1971 and immediately became one of the more promising young guards in the league.
"I've thought a little about what I would do if I couldn't play but not much. Between seeing doctors and working on the leg, I haven't had much time to dwell on my future.
"I can still shoot now, but that's not the same as playing the game; you know what I mean?"
The Bullets hadhoped Chenier would be able to test his leg during the summer so they would have some idea of his chances for returning next season.
General Manager Bob Ferry acknowledges that the Bullets won the NBA championship without him, but Chenier is a valued player.
As a precaution, in case Chenier can't return, the Bullets drafted 6-6 Roger Phegley, a sharpshooting guard, in the first round of the draft. In addition to Chenier, they have five veteran guards on their roster: Tom Henderson, Kevin Grevey, Larry Wright, Charles Johnson and Phil Walker.