The NBA preseason opener between the Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers was called off 2 1/4 hours before tip-off tonight because of a potential safety hazard at the new 18,000-seat Alltel Arena.
The Wizards and Lakers were scheduled to christen the $80 million venue but during a pregame inspection, engineers and arena officials ruled that cracks in a beam that supported part of the upper level of seats was potentially unsafe.
At the time officials decided to call off the game, some players from both teams already were in the arena. A portion of the sellout crowd stood outside of several entrances as well.
"This is something we really worked toward to see where we stand at this point and to not be able to play at the last minute is kind of disappointing," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said.
After gathering their belongings, the Wizards flew to Kansas City, Mo., where they will start their exhibition season Wednesday against the Lakers at Kemper Arena.
Promoters of the game in Little Rock said they plan to reschedule the game between the Wizards and Lakers within the next three weeks. Neither team has committed to another game. Promoters are offering ticket refunds.
"I'm 90 percent sure we'll be able to reschedule this game--if the building is safe," said David Gardiner, marketing director for Dorna Sports Promotions.
Willard Reese, a spokesman for Garver Engineers, said inspectors from his company discovered the cracks three weeks ago. They added support but the event was still cancelled because of concern about the soundness of the structure.
No other structural damage was discovered. Reese said it should take roughly a week to repair the cracked beam.
"I was hyped to play," said Wizards rookie Richard Hamilton, who was scheduled to start in place of injured shooting guard Mitch Richmond. "I took a shower before the game, I was clapping and everything. I had all my clothes on. This just tells you that you got to be ready for any and everything."
Wizards Notes: Forward Aaron Williams made the trip with the Wizards and likely will play Wednesday. Back spasms caused Williams to miss three days of practice and Heard said Monday that Williams would remain in Washington. Michael Smith is listed as the starting power forward for the game against the Lakers.