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What's Wrong? Never Seen A Basketball Game Rained Out Before?

Feb. 22, 2008

By JACK WILKINSON
RamblinWreck.com

We all have our Kodak moments, the times of our lives we’ll savor ’til the day we die. For me, it’s two afternoons: one wintry day in Manhattan in ’83, the other in summertime Atlanta in ’86, when my daughters Katharine and Ali were born. And it’s always my wife Janet’s birthday, February 20. Or is it the 19th? Whatever. And it’s that October eve when Francisco Cabrera swung and Sid Bream slid safely home and all heaven broke loose.

And, of course, there’s the first time I saw the incomparable, the incandescent Catherine Zeta-Jones on the big screen at the Fox Theatre. CZT, as the beautiful Elena in “The Mask of Zorro.” CZT, in a stable full of hay, and she’s dueling with Antonio Banderas, and he deftly slices one, two slits on the white blouse she’s wearing, and you’re thinking, “Why can’t Olympic fencing be like this?” And then, uh, and then…

But I digress. Where was I? Ah, yes, Kodak moments. Like the latest momentous moment I had Thursday night. February 21, 2008. The night I went to a basketball game and it was rained out. And you thought this sort of stuff could only happen to the Atlanta Hawks.

In 35 years of sportswriting, I’ve seen a lot of strange things: A 10,000-meter runner on Long Island who suddenly ran off the track and ducked behind a tree to answer nature’s call — “a physiological pitstop,” I wrote — then sprinted back to catch up to the field.

A minor-league baseball game in Miami that was delayed by an infield inferno. The daily late-afternoon downpour had left much of the dirt around second base underwater. So the groundscrew for the Miami Orioles — the Baby O’s! — poured kerosene on the puddles and lit ’em on fire ’til the water evaporated.

Of course, the 2000 Georgia Tech football season opener at Virginia Tech, when a hellacious storm hit Blacksburg. The game was cancelled that night not solely due to rain but lightning that zapped Lee Corso’s rental car in the media parking lot. As a trombone player in the Virginia Tech band proudly told me afterward, “We’re the Marching Virginians, 300 lightning rods strong!”

And while playing lacrosse at Hofstra University (forever the Flying Dutchmen, never the…Pride), I once helped shovel snow off a quarter of the field in order to play in a four-team doubleheader. And then the guys from Adelphi, Brown and someplace else — C.W. Post? MIT? Same thing — each shoveled a fourth of the field, too.

But until Thursday, I’d never seen a basketball game rained out. Yet there I was, sitting in Alexander Memorial Coliseum, awaiting the 7 p.m. tipoff of the Georgia Tech-Virginia game. And while the teams should have been warming up, instead there were all kinds of people on the court — none of them in basketball uniforms, much less in a layup line.

They were milling around the lane at the east end of the court, staring down at a spot just above the second C in the ACC logo. The C that on this night stood for…condensation.

It was a puddle. Actually, one fairly large puddle, with a couple of smaller wet spots. It was pouring outside, and there was a leak in the domed roof atop Alexander. And a small body of water was taking shape in the lane. Forget the water level in Lake Lanier. The problem here was Lake Lawal.

Here we are, in the midst of an historic drought, and here they are — coaches, referees, administrators, some managers with some towels, a couple of cops, and is that a cabana boy with a mop? — and they’re trying to answer two questions: Who’ll stop the rain? (Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1970) And, at an engineering school, how can the roof leak?

Must’ve been one helluva, helluva engineer who designed the Thrillerdome, whose roof was last repaired in 1983. There are chemical engineering majors at Tech who might study, among other things, the drip, drip, drip of amino acids. On Thursday, the quandary was the drip, drip, drip on Aminu’s head. When Alade Aminu ambled near the moisture, the forward got dripped on. So did his teammates. So did everyone in the paint. Watercolors, anyone?

Not since the Florida Marlins’ last rain delay, when the slapstick groundscrew tried to cover the infield with the tarp, has there been a more perplexed group of guys huddling around a wet spot. And then, just before the stroke of 7:30, came the announcement that left the crowd and both teams high and dry:

Game called on account of rain.

A rainout? Yup. The equation goes something like this: GT + UVa x BB – H20 = DNP

And you thought the natatorium was on the other side of campus. This was not what Jeremis Smith had in mind after the Miami game, when that one-point heartbreak saddled the Jackets with four ACC home losses by a total of six points. The senior forward smiled sadly and jokingly suggested Tech needed to play its remaining home games elsewhere: the Georgia Dome? Philips Arena? Among the Olympic fountain in Centennial Park? Just kidding about that last one.

Not to worry, Jeremis. The powers that be Thursday night made the right decision. For the safety of the players, and also issues of injury, insurance and liability, they postponed the game. No one was sure, though, when the rainout could be rescheduled.

On Friday, the schools announced they’d agreed to play Monday, March 3rd (7 p.m.). That night, Tech will warm up in its new gold-and-white slickers. Just in case. The Cavaliers will be resplendent, if not swift, in their stylized orange-and-blue galoshes.

And me? I’ll come prepared once again (see attached photo of forlorn sportswriter, sitting glumly in the press box, beneath umbrella). Yes, Thursday was a watershed moment in Georgia Tech history, if not for all of college basketball. But you never know when another Kodak moment may happen.

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