Bullets: Thanks for the memories Tonight's game will be their last in Baltimore

March 29, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

Ask Phil Chenier for his most special memory of the Baltimore Arena -- then the Civic Center -- and he'll tell you about the night in 1972 when he scored 53 points for the Baltimore Bullets.

Chenier can recall the points he scored that night -- the most ever by a Bullets player in that building. He just can't recall much detail on what happened.

"It's funny, I was in such a zone that night that I can't remember many of the details of that night," recalled Chenier, now a television announcer with the Washington Bullets. "I don't remember the people guarding me, the change in lineups. Every reaction I made to my opponent was the right reaction. Every decision, every move."

From their first season at the Civic Center in 1963, the Bullets enjoyed some great moments in the building -- the epic battles against the New York Knicks, the NBA championship series in 1971. And there were great players: from Wes Unseld, to Gus Johnson, to Elvin Hayes, to Earl Monroe. The history will always remain, but the team's association with Baltimore will come to an end tonight, when the Bullets will play for the last time at the Baltimore Arena.

Since leaving Baltimore in 1973, the Bullets have played selected games here. But with the team's changing its name to the Washington Wizards next season and moving to the MCI Center in Washington, the decision has been made by the organization not to play any games in Baltimore.

"I'm going to miss the building," said Unseld, the Bullets vice president who still lives in the Baltimore area. "It's like your first girlfriend -- you have a lot of memories. Mine, fortunately, are good memories."

Unseld's favorite memory? He can't recall the game, but he does remember it came against the Detroit Pistons. The Bullets had trailed the Pistons by seven with 10 seconds remaining and had come back to pull to within one with one second remaining.

"We had the ball at halfcourt and had to throw the ball to the basket," Unseld said. "They placed Otto Moore underneath the basket to knock the ball away.

"When the ball came, I took two hands and pushed Otto in the back, and he went flying, out to Gage's men's store across the street," Unseld added. "I dunked the ball, and we won."

Unseld was a part of the team's best season in Baltimore, when the Bullets won 57 games during the 1968-69 season. That was the first winning season for the Bullets, who had five consecutive losing seasons before that.

Rod Thorn, senior vice president of basketball operations for the NBA, was a member of the Bullets (along with Walt Bellamy, Gus Johnson and Kevin Loughery) when they finished 31-49 in their first season at the Civic Center, 1963-64.

Part of Thorn's job with the league is to review fights and altercations. So it's no surprise that his biggest memory of the Civic Center was a massive brawl.

"It was during a game against [San Francisco], and the fight involved Wilt, Gus Johnson, Kevin Loughery, Guy Rodgers," Thorn said. "It's one of the biggest fights I've ever seen.

"I have some great memories about the place," Thorn added. "It was my rookie year, everything was new and the arena was relatively new -- although the locker rooms were small and dark."

Those locker rooms, located near the stage on the Lombard Street side of the building, are still small. And dark. There is nothing luxurious about the old building -- one of the funniest scenes there this season was Harvey Grant trying to watch a tape of an opponent before a game on a television that had no knob to change channels and had a vertical hold that wouldn't.

Most of today's players will be happy if the Bullets never return to the building. But Chris Webber likes the atmosphere.

"The fans in Baltimore are great," Webber said. "They really get behind the team."

That chance will not happen in Baltimore again.

"There was a closeness with the fans, and I'll always remember that," Chenier said. "For me, personally, it's going to be somewhat sad with the last game -- just like it was when we left.

"When I see my Baltimore friends, we still talk about the Baltimore days, the Baltimore Bullets," Chenier added. "There's a definite attachment that you have with your first team, and the first place you play in."

Pub Date: 3/29/97

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