Shades of Dr. James Naismith. If ever a basketball game started from scratch, it is the Washington Bullets preseason contest against the Miami Heat this afternoon at Carnival's Crystal Palace Resort in Nassau, Bahamas.
The first National Basketball Association game played on this resort island will be staged before a sellout crowd of 4,500 in what is advertised as "the biggest tent in the world."
More a year in planning, every item needed to conduct an NBA game -- balls, a portable floor, glass backboards, electric scoreboards, clocks, sound systems and bleacher seats -- had to be imported at considerable cost from the United States.
"How much it cost us to import all this equipment will remain a corporate secret, but I will tell you that it all weighed an estimated 250 tons," said Peter Aaronson, vice president of entertainment at Carnival's Crystal Palace.
"We feel like pioneers," said Aaronson. "When we first considered holding a game at our resort, no one had the full logistical idea of physically building an arena from the ground up. It's been an unbelievable project."
It began with Ted Arison, a managing partner of the Miami Heat, who also owns the Carnival Cruise Line, parent company of the Carnival's Crystal Palace Resort.
Arison envisioned the Heat-Bullets game as the first of a series of sporting events to attract more media and tourist interest to his hotel and the island.
But even though the people of the Bahamas and Freeport have a strong kinship with the NBA through native son Mychal Thompson, a longtime Los Angeles Lakers forward, no one considered the costs and problems inherent in staging such an event.
"When you have your own arena, you tend to take a lot of things for granted," said Mark Pray, Heat publicity director, whose expertise proved invaluable to the basketball novices in the Bahamas. "The amount of work entailed has been astronomical compared to being involved in a preseason game in the States."
Even the Bullets, as the visiting team, discovered unusual problems in an otherwise attractive trip.
"For tax purposes," said Pray, "the Bullets team trainer, John Lally, had to make a complete inventory of all the equipment they were bringing to Nassau. Almost all the island revenue comes from tourists and duty on goods. The customs inspectors want to make sure none of the equipment is resold.
"I know it was a real headache, but I think Lally could hear the agony in my voice," added Pray, who got his NBA start with the Bullets in 1972.
Meanwhile, Aaronson went to the phones. He found a tent manufacturer in southern Florida who led him to a company that supplies bleachers,lighting and sound equipment. A Midwest firm supplied the scoreboard, and the portable court was borrowed from the West Palm Beach (Fla.) Auditorium.
But the tent won't come down after the Bullets and Heat finish their game. It will be used to cover a traveling three-ring circus the next two weeks.