Burtt's stay with Bullets welcome stop on journey Greek drug bust season's nadir

January 29, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

BOWIE -- Making an NBA team on the basis of a 10-day contract is strictly a long-shot proposition. But after guard Steve Burtt's harrowing experience in Greece last fall, his current tryout with the Washington Bullets is a welcome challenge.

Burtt, 30, has journeyed among the NBA, CBA, USBL and the Greek Basketball League since he was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1984. He practiced with the Bullets for the first time yesterday and will be in uniform for tonight's game against the 76ers in Philadelphia.

"Just to be back in the NBA is a blessing," said Burtt, whose Greek odyssey ended Nov. 11, when he was arrested at the Athens airport and charged with carrying hashish and cocaine in his luggage on a return trip from his hometown of New York. At the time, Burtt said the drugs were planted on him.

"It was a nightmare, and, the day after it happened, I was determined to put it out of my mind," said the former Iona College star. "All I can say is I didn't do anything."

Burtt, who averaged six points for Phoenix last season as a backcourt replacement, had chosen to play in Greece rather than accept a non-guaranteed contract with the Suns this season.

"I was really looking forward to playing with Charles Barkley," said Burtt. "He was the missing piece to the puzzle. But I've got two kids to support, and I needed a bigger guarantee than $25,000."

So Burtt signed with Iraklis Thessalonika, a team situated 30 miles north of Athens. He was leading the Greek League with a 28.2-point scoring average when he was arrested.

Held for three days by police, he tested negative for drugs and was released. He even participated in two more games for Iraklis before being cut. A wire story quoted Iraklis owner Kostas Haitoglou as saying, "We got rid of him [Burtt] because we don't want any druggies on our team."

He returned to the United States and was courted by the Oklahoma City Cavalry of the CBA. But the Cavalry could not sign him until the CBA conducted its own drug investigation.

To prove his innocence, Burtt agreed to go to John Lucas' rehabilitation clinic in Houston. It was before Lucas became coach of the San Antonio Spurs.

"After Steve's first day at the clinic, Lucas called me and said, 'Why is Burtt here? He's clean as a whistle,' " said Cavalry owner Chip Land.

"This whole episode with Steve in Greece was so sketchy, no one could reconstruct it. Mr. Haitoglou later denied accusing Steve of using drugs," Land said.

Burtt joined Oklahoma City after the CBA cleared him, and was averaging 24.2 points when the Bullets called his agent, Tom Ansgulsakis, on Wednesday and offered a tryout.

"Steve was not only a leader for us on the floor, but he was a role model in the community," said Land. "This Greek experience was tough on his psyche, but he is so strong-willed and motivated to make it back to the NBA, I know he'll succeed."

In the past, Bullets coach Wes Unseld has been reluctant to give players on 10-day trials significant minutes.

But Burtt's ability to play both guard positions and his strong offensive performances in the minor leagues might lead to a more serious test while Doug Overton recovers from thumb surgery. Overton is expected to be out another six weeks.

"I was rebellious my rookie year in the NBA," said Burtt. "I thought I deserved more minutes. It was a rough year, and I was already sick of basketball at 23. I decided to go back to school and work toward my graduate degree."

Burtt did not play anywhere for two years, but now he is hungry for the game again.

"I learned I wasn't as great a player as I thought I was," he said. "Now all I'm asking for is a legitimate chance."

Bullets tonight

Opponent: Philadelphia 76ers

Site: The Spectrum, Philadelphia

Time: 7:30

TV: Channel 20

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)

Outlook: The Bullets halted a five-game losing streak Tuesday by beating the Lakers in overtime. Washington has lost six straight to Philadelphia, including a last-second 119-117 decision at the Capital Centre on Jan. 8. The 76ers have gone 11-8 since coach Doug Moe made Manute Bol his starting center on Dec. 19. Bol received a $3,500 fine for swinging at Knicks forward Anthony Mason on Sunday. Jeff Hornacek leads the team in scoring (21.0) and assists (6.9). Rookie forward Clarence Weatherspoon is averaging 14.4 points and 7.0 rebounds, but is listed as day-to-day with a knee contusion.

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