Originally created 01/30/05

Atlanta barely makes it to game



MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The travel-weary Atlanta Hawks finally arrived in Memphis about an hour before Saturday night's delayed game against the Grizzlies, after being stranded for nearly 24 hours by a winter storm that paralyzed Atlanta's airport.

The Hawks were stuck on a chartered plane for seven hours from late Friday night to nearly dawn on Saturday, then returned to the airport and got a flight out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport late Saturday afternoon.

They arrived in Memphis just before 6 p.m. CST, an hour before the game had been scheduled. The NBA delayed the start of the game an hour, giving them a little more time to get to the FedEx Arena.

Hawks guard Tony Delk said he listened to music early Saturday morning on the plane until the batteries ran down on his personal music system, then played games on his telephone until the battery gave out on that. There were many times when he wondered if the game was worth it after repeated deicing.

"You have to be mentally tough," Delk said. "I'm not going to say anybody has been through this. This was my first time since I've been playing (eight years). It's our job, so you have to treat it as a professional and go out there and play."

The Hawks left for the Atlanta airport immediately after their 106-96 loss to the Miami Heat on Friday night. They didn't get there quickly enough. The storm already was sweeping through Atlanta with freezing rain and sleet, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The Hawks wound up stranded on their chartered jet until 6 a.m., when it became apparent they wouldn't be able to get out anytime soon. All hotel rooms around the airport were booked, so the players and staff were taken by vans to a downtown hotel - about 10 miles away - to await word on the fate of their game in Memphis.

"We were sitting on the plane, sitting through the deicing process," said team spokesman Arthur Triche. "When they were finally done, they wouldn't let us take off."

At mid-afternoon Saturday, the Hawks headed back to the airport, having lined up a different charter for the one-hour flight. After going through the tedious deicing process once again, the Hawks finally took off.

After landing in Memphis, the team drove 30 minutes to the arena.

"We've got a police escort," Triche said by cell phone from the team bus. "It's like we're going to the Super Bowl."

It marked the third straight week Atlanta has encountered travel problems. They were stuck en route to Boston for a Jan. 14 game with the Celtics because of fog, and in Chicago after a Jan. 21 game when the flight crew did not have enough members.

"We've bonded probably more than any other team in the league could have for this year," Triche said. "Thankfully, no one has gotten on anyone's nerves."

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AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this report.