IT WOULD START Bullets games and often end them: a high-pitched sound -- "EEEEEE." That was the fans' tribute to Elvin Hayes, the star forward whose spectacular body -- he is 6'9" and perfectly proportioned -- and spectacular talent were key to this town's basketball team since he came here in 1972. The Bullets traded Mr. Hayes to the Houston Rockets last week, fulfilling No. 11's desire to finish his career in his hometown. Houston is also the city where he gained fame as a college athlete, in memorable battle with Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar. No matter what memories Mr. Hayes may have of Houston, he leaves wonderful memories right here for people who find magic in athletic beauty.

Most often the Elvin Hayes style seemed that of an efficient, steady machine, preparing for a sudden, electric moment, a slam dunk or a blocked shot that would bring down a blanket of "EEEEEE" from the stands. That efficiency in motion could be seen in the the turn-around jump shot from the left side of the basket that Mr. Hayes did time after time. His opponents knew what he was going to do and where he was going to do it. They would stand behind him and bump him or double-team him. All for naught. Mr. Hayes would come down the court, go to his spot, turn around and, raising an arm, call for the ball. Then one dribble and swish: the turnaround jumper had clicked again.

Despite this masterful performance in a Washington uniform, Mr. Hayes was not an extremely popular personality here. He was known for moodiness, griping and not being particularly quotable for the press. This was in sharp contrast with Bullets team captain Wes Unseld who, though he said little, was a standard of strong character in the face of adversity. Mr. Hayes did not do well in the competition to be a model of athletic virture. Then, too, some said he did not perform in tense situations, losing his head to pressure.

That should not lead anyone from the central point: night after night the Big E was there and ready to play. And Mr. Hayes took this city's team to the playoffs every year he was here but the last. The Bullets won the world championship with him in the lineup and went to the finals two other times. Elvin Hayes made his team a winner.