TAMPA, Fla. — Slippery court conditions forced the cancellation of Friday night's preseason finale between the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat, after arena officials said an oil-based cleaning solution was mistakenly applied.
Some fans reacted angrily, and one Heat player was nearly struck by an object thrown from an upper deck of the arena while the cancellation announcement was made about an hour before the game's scheduled tip-off. Many Magic players, and most of their equipment, were gone at that point.
"It's unfortunate," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, "and a highly unusual circumstance."
The court conditions had been a concern for several hours, after the Magic arrived to practice at the arena — which hosted a Tampa Bay Lightning game Thursday night — and found the court was wet and slippery in several spots. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said the court was unplayable in the morning, though expressed confidence that arena officials would solve the problem.
They did not.
"It would have been the longest game of my life to watch a game like this played on a court that perhaps wasn't safe," said St. Pete Times Forum CEO Tod Leiweke.
He said the floor had been loaned to another arena several months ago, and the cleaner in question was applied when the wood panels were returned.
"It was simply the wrong solution used on the floor," Leiweke said. "It had an oil content, and it shouldn't have been used."
Later, in a release issued to fans, Leiweke said the decision to not play was not unanimous. "While some felt the court was indeed playable, our sole focus was player safety and leaving nothing to risk," he wrote.
The game will not be rescheduled. Miami opens the regular season Tuesday in Boston. Orlando plays its first game at home against Washington on Thursday.
Van Gundy sent a text message to Spoelstra in the morning about the problem, and the teams were in constant contact with arena officials throughout the day, told often that conditions were improving.
"It would have been like playing on butter," Magic guard J.J. Redick said.
Magic guard Vince Carter and Heat forward LeBron James have seen this before. A game between their old clubs, the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers, was canceled in October 2003 — part of James' rookie preseason tour — after condensation formed on the court in St. John's, Newfoundland.
The arena in St. John's, though much smaller than the one in Tampa, used a similar setup, installing the court over hockey ice. The Tampa arena has hosted basketball several times before, including NCAA men's tournament games and a women's Final Four in 2008 — plus will host men's tournament play again in March. The floor had not been used for months, arena officials said.
With the regular season starting next week, Carter thought conditions were particularly risky.
"More than anything, the season's right around the corner," Carter said Thursday morning, as a few of his teammates did some shooting — something he watched from the side because of his safety concerns.
When the Magic arrived to practice Friday morning, the court was still wet and slippery — though it was unclear then if the moisture was from the ice below or the process of cleaning the court — and the NBA 3-point lines hadn't been installed. Workers were on the floor with mops and brooms, and fans were brought in to help circulate air and speed up the drying process.
Some Heat players noticed there were both slippery spots and spots with too much grip when they were on the floor warming up about two hours before the scheduled tip-off. Guard Dwyane Wade, returning to practice from an injured hamstring but not scheduled to play Friday night anyway, said he thought it was too risky for the teams to take the floor.
"I felt that the floor wasn't really a good floor," Wade said. "Just walking on the floor, you could tell."
Ticketholders were told they would receive full refunds at their point of purchase, and Leiweke, who started his job at the arena three weeks ago, said the arena will also try "to make this right" to fans – some of whom flew in from Dallas and Albany, N.Y., for the game.
Carl Leibert brought his son, Christian, to the game for his 8th birthday Friday night. Christian had been an avid Magic fan but became a Heat fan this summer when Miami signed James and Chris Bosh to join Wade. The boy, in James' No. 6 Heat jersey, was in tears after the cancellation was announced.
"We don't get to see NBA games here in the Tampa Bay area, much less two of the best teams in the NBA," Carl Leibert said. "It's more than disappointing for it to end this way."
Van Gundy tried to inject some humor into the proceedings.
"I say we should go to an outdoor court, call your own and let's go," Van Gundy said.
Orlando and Miami meet next Friday in the Heat home opener, which will be attended by Commissioner David Stern.