During his storied, 13-year professional career, George Gervin has seen and done many things.
However, tonight at Chicago Stadium, he encountered a pair of firsts. The 6-foot-8 guard found himself guarding the Bullets' 7-foot-7 Sudanese center, Manute Bol, and then trying to play peacemaker in one of the NBA's wildest melees -- one that took the attention away from Washington's 117-113 victory.
A crowd of 7,238 watched as the Bullets' back court of Jeff Malone, Gus Williams and Leon Wood helped the team overcome a 90-78 fourth-quarter deficit. Malone led all scorers with 26 points and Williams came off the bench to add another 22.
Wood, playing in only his third game with the team, was merely sensational. During one stretch in the fourth quarter, he scored 16 consecutive points for Washington, a run that included a pair of three-point field goals as well as two three-point plays. He finished with 22 points.
With just over a minute left, though, Bol and Chicago's Jawann Oldham became entangled. After they were disengaged, the Chicago center turned around and shoved Bol, then took a swing at him. Bol responded with a swing of his own, knocking down Oldham and prompting both benches to clear.
A short time later, the fracas seemed to have been quelled, with the biggest blow having been landed by Washington forward Dan Roundfield (20 points and 14 rebounds), who floored Oldham with a flying tackle early in the tussle. An announcement was made that Bol and Oldham had been ejected from the game, and while Bol was being led from the floor, Oldham came running after him.
This time, the fight spread from the sidelines into the official scorer's table and back onto the middle of the court. Bol, initially surprised but soon angry, landed more than one punch onto Oldham by reaching over two players trying to hold him back.
Oldham had showered and left the locker room by the time the game had ended. He had returned to the team less than a week ago from his home in Seattle, where he was visiting a terminally ill brother.
Since his return, Chicago Coach Stan Albeck said Oldham had played "inspired basketball." Part of that, teammates said, included rough play underneath the basket.
Oldham had been outplayed by Bol in a 98-92 Washington victory here Dec. 19. In that game, Oldham said he wasn't intimidated by Bol's shot-blocking ability and promised to dunk a ball over him into the hoop. But that didn't come to pass.
For his part, Bol said he felt no grudges coming into the game.
"When I play, I try to make friends, with my team and the other," he said. "If he don't hit me, I don't fight. If I wanted to look for a fight I'll go to Libya and join the Marines."
Bol said that throughout the game, Oldham was taunting him and just before the fight began cursing at him.
"I don't care," Bol said. "I'm thinking I just want my team to win. I tried to walk away. I had my hands down at my side, but then he hit me. I'm not a machine. When he did that, I had to fight back."
As things began to escalate, the stadium's security force emerged, not to break up the fight but to hustle the Chicago Bears' Otis Wilson, who was at the game, away from the melee.
For much of the game, it seemed as if the most exciting occurrence would be the sight of the Bulls' 6-8 guard Gervin playing Bol on defense. But that was quickly overshadowed by the fight and Washington's execution. The Bullets beat a Chicago trap by swinging the basketball across the court to the open man. Usually that was Wood, lost in the shuffle away from the trap.
"One of the reasons we lost the game was poor judgment on my part," said Albeck. "We were having difficulty stopping their post play, so we began rotating two men on Roundfield to stop him, and that left Wood wide open." And Wood did not miss often.
Wood's performance tonight followed his 17-point debut with the Bullets on Saturday in Houston, one day after being traded to the team from Philadelphia.
Wood, who has not practiced with his new team yet, showed that often, when all is said and done, basketball is a game of instinct.
"I'm just going out and playing. I still haven't had a practice yet, so I can't say I really know what I'm doing," Wood said. "I do know what it means, though, when people are yelling at me to shoot. They were giving me the shots. I was surprised I was in there so much, because Gus and Jeff were really playing good, but it didn't really matter. Everyone played well."
They also weren't bad when it came to self-defense, either.