*DALLAS, Feb. 7 -- The plane from Baltimore-Washington International Airport to Dallas, site of this season's NBA All-Star Game, had been delayed for three hours because of a combination of snow and sleet in Maryland and a rainstorm here. What should have been a 3 p.m. arrival was actually 8 p.m. I had been looking forward to a break from reporting on the Washington Bullets, game in and game out, but now I'm too exhausted to participate in all the parties that kick off the league's biggest weekend.
I'm not alone in my fatigue. Bullets Coach Gene Shue and guard Jeff Malone had an 8 a.m. flight that didn't leave until noon. When my flight finally left, I sat next to reserve guard Dudley Bradley, traveling to Dallas for a meeting of the league's player representatives.
The NBA Players Association's contract with the league expires after the 1986-87 season and the group wants to get a head start on educating members about issues to be dealt with in the next contract.
Those issues range from possible changes in the free agency system to whether players should get credit for the mileage in frequent-flyer programs. Right now, though, Bradley only wants to sleep. The night before he played 31 minutes in a 111-109 overtime loss to Detroit. This after playing a total of 37 minutes in the previous five games.
"I was surprised to play so much ," he said. "But that's why you always have to be ready."
*DALLAS, Feb. 10 -- The dreary weather continued throughout the weekend, culminating today in an ice storm that has severely snarled traffic. All the roads are icy and by 8 a.m. there already have been a number of accidents. What should be a 25-minute drive to the airport takes close to an hour and a half, but there's no hurry. The flight to Portland, site of the Bullets' next game, is scheduled to leave at 9:45 but doesn't take off until 11 because of mechanical problems. This trip hasn't been very much fun so far.
Malone and Shue are on this flight, as are David Falk and Bill Strickland of the ProServ management corporation. Falk and Strickland are going to Oregon to meet with Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, one of their most important clients. Jordan has missed all but three games of the 1985-86 season because of a broken bone in his left foot.
Now the guard, voted the NBA rookie of the year last season, is eager to resume playing but the agency would prefer that he sit out the remainder of the year. However, according to Strickland, their pleas to Jordan have fallen on deaf ears.
"We've certainly tried to get him to change his mind but he won't budge. I walked up to him once this weekend and he told me to get away, he didn't want to talk about it anymore," said Strickland. (Less than a week later, Jordan announced he would sit out at least another month.)
*PORTLAND, Feb. 11 -- Another dreary day has been brightened considerably by rookie center Manute Bol. In a television interview yesterday, he professed anger with people who ask, "How's the weather up there?"
"What do they think I am, a weatherman?" he asked. "I just want to be a basketball player. I don't want to take anyone else's job."
On the team bus to today's shoot-around (an hour-long session to get a feel for Portland's Memorial Coliseum), the rookie center talked about his native Sudan, a conversation spurred by the sight of some cows in a nearby field.
"In Sudan they have a contest every year to see who can become the fattest person. The people just sit around and drink milk, gallons and gallons of it every day," says Bol, who owns 150 dairy cows in Sudan. "It's very thick and you gain a lot of weight. The people just sit at home and drink it, they don't go out, they don't sleep. By the time the contest comes they're so fat they can't even walk."
Bol relates that since coming to the United States, he has gained about 30 pounds, but adds that "if I went back to Sudan in May and started drinking the milk, I would be 250 pounds by the time I came back for next season. Maybe I'll do that, no one would know who I was."
*SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 12 -- Making a slight detour from the Bullets' northwest tour, I travel here to gather material for a story on 5-foot-7 Spud Webb of the Atlanta Hawks, the new NBA slam-dunk champion. It'll be interesting to see how the fame from his victory at last weekend's all-star festivities affect him. According to Hawks' public relations director Bill Needle, Webb is the "most remote person I know."
"I've tried to get a grip on it but I can't," Needle said. "I think what it is is that for so long so many people have told him that he's too short to do this or that, that he doesn't want to hear any more and just keeps to himself. I don't know if there's anyone he trusts."
*SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 14 -- A traveler's nightmare. The region is buffeted by severe wind and rain storms. When the team arrives at the airport at 6:15 p.m. for a 7:45 flight, they find out that it's being delayed until 10. However, an airline employe who used to play professional basketball in Europe recognizes Shue and pulls some strings, getting the team on a 4 p.m. flight that was delayed until 7:45.
The Bullets were fortunate. Their original flight didn't leave the airport until close to midnight. And, because of the storms, some passengers were bumped to lessen the plane's weight so it could take off from a shorter runway. Those unlucky travelers don't arrive in Seattle until 5:30 Saturday morning.
*SEATTLE, Feb. 15 -- Their fatigue doesn't seem to come close to matching that of Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. Although his team has just defeated the Bullets, 112-106, the man who was a Washington assistant for 12 years is so slumped in his office chair his legs practically drag on the floor.
"This is just a tough business," he said. Despite being warmly received in the northwest and widely praised for his coaching and communication skills, the SuperSonics are a game behind their pace of last season.
"That's all right," Bickerstaff said, waving off the record. "We're going to get it done. We just need some athletes and some consistency. These guys play hard, but they want to do so much they're always tight."
And their coach? "He's all right," said Bickerstaff. "I used to wonder earlier in the season, but I don't anymore. I know I can do this job."
*INGLEWOOD, Calif., Feb. 16 -- Another side trip, this time to view two paragons of consistency, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. Boston has more than adapted to the temporary loss of all-star forward Kevin McHale and easily defeats the defending champions. As has been the case over the past three weeks, a key factor is the play of center Bill Walton, acquired in the offseason just to help the Celtics regain the title from the Lakers.
The Lakers, also not content to stand pat, acquired Maurice Lucas, a bruising power forward -- just to help ensure that Boston didn't physically overpower them. Today, Lucas plays only six minutes, all in the first half, and can only watch his squad's dismantling.
"It's disappointing, you want to be here to play in games like this and then you can only watch," he said. "But those are the decisions that coaches are paid to make."
*DENVER, Feb. 18 -- The schedule says the Bullets still are away from home but you wouldn't know it from the reaction given to Bol from the nearly 15,000 at McNichols Arena. There are chants, pennants and posters unfurled throughout the game. The highlight is a cluster of people in the mezzanine who tape a capital B onto the wall each time Bol blocks a shot.
"He just brings an entirely different aspect to the game," said Washington General Manager Bob Ferry. "What other player would people react this way about?"
Bol is nonplused by all the fuss, which has been a constant on the trip. "People are just very, very nice," he said.