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LeBron vs. Magic slips away from fans

TAMPA, Fla. - NBA fans in Tampa were literally in tears Friday night after slippery court conditions forced the cancellation of the 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. Many Magic players, and most of their equipment, were gone at that point.

"It would have been like playing on butter," Magic guard J.J. Redick said.

Carl Leibert brought his son, Christian, to the game for his eighth birthday. Christian had been an avid Magic fan but became a Heat fan this summer when Miami signed James and Chris Bosh to join Dwyane Wade. The boy, in James' No. 6 Heat jersey, was in tears. "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."

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy tried to inject some humor, saying, "I say we should go to an outdoor court, call your own and let's go."

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.

St. Pete Times Forum CEO Tod Leiweke 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."

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.

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.

Orlando and Miami meet next Friday in the Heat home opener, which will be attended by Commissioner David Stern.

New York Sports