"This is the fun part of the season," said Jack Sikma, the Seattle SuperSonics center, looking past basketball legend Willis Reed, Catholic University's Rev. Gilbert Hartke and FBI Director William Webster, who all thought the NBA All-Star Banquet was the best social shot on Saturday night.
A few steps away, taking care of the autograph business, Earvin (Magic) Johnson, the Los Angeles Lakers guard, echoed, "This part of the job isn't bad. In fact, the whole social aspect is pretty good."
Throughout the halls of the Washington Hilton, the gussied-up constituents of an NBA all-star weekend -- the players, the owners, the sponsors, the wives, the fans and the groupies -- all kept insisting that it was great fun. But the collective had none of the slam-bang on-court electricity of rookie Larry Bird or still-sensational Moses Malone. It was a long-slow evening.
George Gervin, the San Antonio Spurs guard, was busy taking pictures of everyone in the room. "I guess I'm not really showing my excitement because I'm showing my gratitude at being here," he said. Kermit Washington, the Washington-bred forward of the Portland Trail Blazers, sized up the evening's solemnity. "I'm just in awe of being a spectator," he said.
He had the choice of watching social satellites cluster around stars like the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or of watching Oscar Robertson throw invisible baskets or Sonics owner Sam Schulman discuss the vote on the Dallas franchise with Andy Ockershausem, the executive vice-president of WMAL.
Inside the ballroom, the band played "April in Paris" and a battery of adults ran around getting autographs on the table centerpieces, Wilson basketballs. Art Buchwald, the emcee, joked about NBA Commissioner Larry O'Brien, and pop stars Peaches and Herb paved the way for the after-dinner disco.
The most poignant moments of the evening came during the remarks of Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin, who had quadruple-bypass heart surgery three weeks ago. In a strong but quavering voice, Pollin thanked God, his family, his housekeepers and many others for assistance during his recovery. The evening was a benefit for the Special Olympics basketball program, and a demonstration by a local team brought the audience to its feet.