One of the Washington Bullets' most avid spectators the past two seasons has been someone who would rather not be spending his time merely watching the team play.
Jeff Ruland, the club's burly center, has had front-row seats for more than 75 Bullets games through last season and the first three-quarters of this season, sidelined by injuries.
Ruland, recovering from his third injury of this season, reportedly has been told by his agent, Bill Pollack, to sit out the remainder of this season rather than risking permanent injury.
The five-year veteran missed more than half of last season with a nagging injury to his right shoulder.
This season, Ruland missed two games in November with a bruised left shin, 22 consecutive games in December and January with a chip fracture and sprain to his right ankle and five games in early February with a sprained right ankle.
He then sustained what team doctor Stephen Haas has diagnosed as a strained left knee and has missed every game starting Feb. 25. No one is quite sure when he'll be back.
Ruland has been undertaking a rigorous rehabilitation regimen to try to bounce back some time this season from his latest ailment. The rehabilitation includes stimulating the knee electrically, icing it down, applying heat and bicycle riding.
Ruland thinks the injury is worse than has been diagnosed.
"No one knows my body better than I do, and I know that something's not right with the leg," Ruland said recently. "I'm beginning to think it's something more than just a strain."
Ruland's absence subtracts his 19.5-point and 11.1-rebound average from the team's statistics.
But Ruland's injuries are not the only ones that have hampered the progress of the Bullets, a team fighting to emerge as something more than a .500 squad routinely sacrificed to an Eastern Conference power in the first or second round of the NBA playoffs.
Playmaker Frank Johnson, who supplanted Gus Williams as the Bullets starter in early December, has not played since he broke his fourth metatarsal in his left foot Dec. 28th. It was the third time in less than a year Johnson had suffered the same injury.
With the absence of the starting center and point guard, it is something of a surprise the Bullets have been able to field a team that hovers near the .500 mark.
Manute Bol, the Bullets' "gamble" in last year's draft, has to be credited with some of that success. The 7-foot-7 rookie from the Sudan has developed into the No. 1 shot-blocker in the NBA--and is one of only four Bullets players this season who have not missed a game this season due to illness or injury.
In a strange twist of fate, Ruland's injury led to Bol's emergence. Bol has started more than 40 straight games in Ruland's stead, averaging 7 rebounds and 6.37 blocks during that stretch. Over the entire season, his 5.08 blocked-shot average is still tops, although he has averaged just 25 minutes of playing time.
Bol, the former Dinka tribesman and current darkhorse for NBA rookie of the year, has well over 300 blocked shots this season--and more blocked shots individually than 11 NBA teams.