You have to live in Old Deecee

To know what the Bullets mean to me.

- Lyrics to a Community Anthem.

Interviewed at half time during a Bullets-Atlanta Hawks play-off game at the Captial Centre, Jimmy Carter, never one to lie to us about important things candidly admitted he was rooting for the visitors. They were, after all, his hometown team. Whatever the politicial future holds for the president he simply is domiciled in Washington. He lives in Georgia legally and, as his half-time interview revealed, spiritually as well.

Thus has it always been in the Nation's Capital. For all but a relative few - the legendary cave-dwellers - Washington has traditionally been a city made of, by and for tourists. A nice place to visit. Some stay for a few days. Others for a few decades. Yet others for a term or two. But "home" is the place we left, the city or town that holds our loyalties.

That was the way it was for this tourist until a moment of self-discovery 12 months ago when if finally struck me, after 20 years of domiciling in Washington, that I actually live here. For better or worse, this is home. My town. After two decades, as of that moment, I was no longer a transplanted Alabamian but a Washington, rooted and rooting.

It was a unique experience - the conversion of a middle-aged transient into a local booster - but one, I found out not exclusive to me. On the morning after my self-discovery, I traveled downtown to find that a city of transients had, by the alchemy of a single sports event, become a community; that is a place where the inhabitants shared not merely the common travail of inadequate Metro service and an insufferable climate, but a common pride as well.

Recall, if you will, the magic moment. Oddly, it didn't take place in autumn - despite the fact that for years the closet thing this town reflected in the way of community spirit was a passion for the Redskins. Instead, the moment came in early June and, wonder of wonders, the ball was round, not oblate, handled by a transient from Louisville playing for a team transplanted from Baltimore.

No matter. In the catalytic instant when West Unseld dropped it through the hoop on that second free throw in the final minutes of the seventh game in Seattle, we came together, we Washingtonians - from Chevy Chase to 14th and U to Fairfax - as one. There had never been anything like it here. Not even - forgive me, George Allen, wherever you are - not even when the Redskins beat Dallas and qualified for the Super Bowl.

Finally, we had a world championship to call our own. Our Bullets had brought it back to our town.

True, there were those few among the furrow-browed to point out that what we were celebrating was success in a boys' game played by men. Undeniably. But it is also undeniable that in bringing harmony to a city where disharmony has been a way of life, Wes, Elvin and Bobby, Kevin and Tommy, Mitch and C.J., Larry and Greg had succeeded in doing that which any number of furrow-browed politicans, civic leaders and essayists could not do: Bullets fever transcended mere differences in region, political affiliation, economic or social status, race, age, sex even GS rating. It was universal and euphoric.

Naturally, I thought again aboutthat magic moment when, last Friday night, the ball went through the loop on a free throw in the fourth quarter, this time to take away our championship. Moments later, Abe Polin - looking as forlorn as you'll ever see him - telling an interviewer that despite this year's second place finish, he hoped the city would appreciate what his team had achieved. Then there was Wes Unseld, saying much the same thing, in his own laconicway.

"In Seattle," said the Bullets' captain, "when you come in secondyou get a parade. In Washington" - he shrugged and gave his interviewer that patented Unseld half-smile - "You get out of town."

Not quite, Wes. Maybe in the old days, back when the Bullets were a transient team playing for a city of transiens. But all that changed a year ago, almost to the day. That standing ovation at the Capitol Centre when you left the court Friday night said something about what the Bullets have giventhis town since the moment in Seattle when you made that foul shot. This year, as last, we were cheering our winners.

Take a Washingtonian's word for it, the Bullets will be back. CAPTION: Picture, Elvin Hayes after NBA championship last year. by James A. Parcell - The Washington Post.