Asbestos fear prompts postponement

Updated: November 3, 2010, 8:06 AM ET
By Chris Sheridan | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Dwight Howard and his teammates received an unusual text message Tuesday afternoon: Report to the team bus at the usual time, but don't bother getting ready for that night's game at Madison Square Garden. There won't be one.

Fearing that asbestos had fallen from the rafters at the building known as the World's Most Famous Arena, the New York Knicks postponed their game against the Orlando Magic.

A spokesman for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection said two air-monitoring systems detected potentially dangerous fibers, but secondary testing by an independent contractor showed the fibers were not asbestos. The Knicks released a statement saying maintenance was being performed following Monday's New York Rangers game, which included "cleaning asbestos-related materials in the attic above the ceiling." Some debris fell into the arena.

After consulting with the NBA, the Knicks decided to postpone the game for safety reasons. They said they will work with experts to determine when the arena can reopen, but a Garden spokesman would not speculate on whether the building would be deemed safe in time for the Knicks' next home game, Friday night against the Washingon Wizards.

"As the safety of our customers and employees are our top priority, we will not reopen the Garden until we are absolutely assured the arena is safe," the team said in a statement.

No makeup date for the Magic-Knicks game has been set. MSG said it would announce information about future events once details are finalized.

New York City Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Farrell Sklerov described the debris as "dustlike" and said it was dislodged as part of cleaning work unrelated to the extensive construction renovations taking place at MSG.

"There are air monitoring stations set up throughout building, and two of them in the seating area indicated slightly elevated levels of fibers that could potentially contain asbestos. They did further secondary testing with equipment that can differentiate those fibers, and those tests showed that no asbestos was released and everything is safe," Sklerov said.

It's the second recent arena-related postponement for the Magic. Their final exhibition game against Miami that was scheduled for the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., was canceled because of slippery court conditions after arena officials said an oil-based cleaning solution was mistakenly applied.

Magic spokesman Joel Glass said the team planned to arrive back in central Florida around 9 p.m. Tuesday evening following a charter flight. Orlando has a home game Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Postponements of NBA games are not unusual, but ordinarily they happen because of weather-related conditions. The last postponement even remotely related to falling debris happened in March 1985, when accumulated snow and ice caused a partial collapse of the roof at the Silverdome, forcing the Pistons to move two home games to the Joe Louis Arena and Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit.

In 1978, three Celtics games scheduled to be played in Hartford, Conn., were rescheduled for arenas in Providence, R.I., Springfield, Mass., and Boston because of the collapse of the roof at the Hartford Civic Center. And in 1968, the 76ers had to move their playoff games to the Palestra and the Philadelphia Convention Center because of ceiling repairs at the Spectrum.

Chris Sheridan is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com and covers the Knicks for ESPNNewYork.com.

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