In a question and answer interview with Elvin Hayes in Wednesday's sports section, the word hell was incorrectly attributed as part of one of Haye's answers. Hayes actually said well. The Post regrets the error.
On the eve of the National Basketball Association playoffs between Washington and Cleveland, Elvin Hayes, the forward of the Bullets, discussed some of the issues and controversy currounding him. The interviewers were Washington Post staff writers Leonard Shapiro and David DuPree.
Q: Some people say this is the best year you've had. How would you assess your season?
A: Well, I think it's probably one of my greatest years ever, a total player. When I was with San Diego, and the next season with Houston, I was always a player who had to be a scorer or a rebounder at the same time. I think there's only two players in the top 20 in scoring and in the top 10 in rebounding that have done the things that I've done today - the MVP in the league, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and Bob McAdoo.
I wish I had it as easy as some players on our team. They can go out and they can average six points a ball game, and that's not the case with me. I go out and I'm expected to average 23 or 24 points a game and I have to lead the team in rebounds. I have to do everything. And yet I lead the team in blocked shots.
Q: Compare this season with last, in the league, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, from Dave (Bing), 13 from Larry
A: Well, I think that this is a good team. We're playing more players and I think that this team has a great chance of going a long way. I don't like to see a team get to where it relies on a player to take up all the slack. I wouldn't have any doubt about winning the championship if I knew that I could get 19 points from Tommy Henderson, I could get 20 from Phil (Chenier), if I could get 15 to 16 from Kevin (Grevey), if I could get 15 from Wes (Unseld), and if I could get 24 or 26 from myself, 14 from Dave (Bing), 13 from Larry (Wright) and Mitch (Kupchak) coming in to give me 17. I wouldn't even worry. I don't care who we're playing, that's all I would want.
If you get balance you don't have to worry about winning. If we could be promised that each and every night through this whole series all the way to the championship, we'd win.
Q: What about Dick Motta's statement that the Bullets are their own worst enemy?
A: I feel that way. I really believe it, because, in fact, I've seen it all year long. It wouldn't bother me if teams beat us, if I knew that team was better than us. I know that we beat ourselves. That's what really hursts you.
It's just like in Philly, we came back and beat them Sunday, because we stayed in our pattern, we stayed in the offense, we didn't turn the ball over. But when you give those guys a lot of turnovers, well, you're not going to beat many people. And that is the way it was all year long.
I think that if we go out and play the kind of ball we're capable of playing, stay in the patterns, run the offense, play a good solid defense, and do the things we should do, we should win.
Q: Do you look at the playoffs any differently than the rest of the season?
A: In the playoffs there's a big difference. In the regular season you have a chance to make up games. You might lose to a team, but yet you can try to get that game back because you have time. In the playoffs you don't have any time. Once you lose it, you can't get it back. If we go out and blow this game to Cleveland, you can't ever get it back because there's just no way, no matter what you say or what you do. The time is not there.
Q: What about presure on you as an individual. Does your life change during the playoff?
A: No. When I was rookie, stuff like that did bother me. But after nine years, I Know what is expected of me. I go out and try to do my best. I don't ever try to shortchange anyone. I go out and try to play my hardest. That's all I can do. Sometimes I wish I had a homing device on the ball to the basket. You shoot the thing one night and it'll go in, and the next night it won't go any place.
Buy I think that mentally you really psych yourself up. You take a totally different approach to the game.During the regular season I feel that you can be a little loose. You pressure yourself, but yet you're a little loose. But during the playoffs I think it's total pressure.
You pressure yourself all the time. You become very critical about yourself. You begin to watch yourself and what you're doing out there and you try not to make mistakes, you try not to commit fouls that you know might cost you later on. So it's always that you're trying to get yourself in a position to try to take advantage of the opponent the best way you possibly can.
Q: How do you respond to criticism that Elvin Hayes doesn't play well in the big games?
A: You know, when we're winning and we're on a big streak, I always hear Wes Unself is the key to the Bullets, that Wes makes the Bullets go. Then when we lose, it's Elvin Hayes who loses. But, hell, I accept it. I remember when I was in San Diego, well I don't think I could ever go through the agony of what anyone says about me more than I did then. It's the kind of thing where you're going to get credit and you're going to get blame.
It's just like the old Wilt CHamberlain syndrome. When Wilt would go out in the big games and his team lost, well, Wilt Chamberlain did it, he choked and just didn't come through. BIll Russell beat him. They didn't realize that Russell beat a whole lot of other folks. And it's just like the game we had with Houston (last week). I scored five points, and got 12 or 11, 10 rebounds, whatever. But they said I had a bad game. If the fans or anyone knew the kind of player I am they would see that I didn't have a bad game.I took 11 shots in that game. I'm the kind of player where if I get the ball, I can be prepared to operate on the ball. Early in the season, when I was scroring a lot of points, I knew I'd get the ball 26 times. If I get the ball 24 or 26 times a game, I'm going to score 30 or 40 point. But if I know that I'm going to get the ball in the first period two times, I take two shots in the first period, and in the second period, I take three shots, and then in the third period I take another three shots, and then I take another three shots. There's no way I can score that way.
And that's the way it goes. I don't try to look for any excuses for why I don't score. But I'm a rhythm player and I have to be in a groove.
It's easy for Kareem to score 30 points because he knows he's going to come down and he's going to get that ball. He knows he's going to shoot that ball 25 or 28 times.Pete Maravich, it's easy for him to score 34 points or whatever a game because he knows he's going to get the ball. But in the Houston game, I got the ball like three and four minutes apart.
Q: Was that just a game plan?
A: Well, I think that in a game like that a lot of the players try to take it upon themselves. I think that if we looked at the shot chart, a lot of players who normally wouldn't take a lot of shots, they took more shots.
If I go out and score 30 points and get 15 rebounds and we still lose, it's still a choke game for me because we lost. It doesn't matter. People look at the game diferently. And so I try not to let it affect me at all. I don't have anything to prove any more.I'm much better than the stats sometimes reveal.
I just try to go out and function under that pressure and I know what's going to happen each and every night. I know that when play Cleveland, they'll put all their efforts toward me, toward trying to stop me.
Q: What do you think about at the free-throw line late in a close game?
A: In a close game, sometimes I think that certain things happen that you lose your concentration. It's just like in the Chicago game last week. You think, 'I gotta make this first one.' You know you've got three shots and you're saying I've got to make the first one because the first one takes everything off of you. You go up there and you know what you're going to do with the ball, where you're going to put it. But now you say, 'Well, maybe I'll put it on the back of the rim to get more off the shot.'
If I shoot it off the back of the rim I know I'm going to have a good chance of having it go back in. So then, in the middle of the shot, all of a sudden you change your mind and the thing goes right off the lip of the rim.So now you're really thinking about it. You're saying this next shot is for the front of the rim and so you say, 'I'm gonna put it right in between' and you hit it a little too hard and it's going off. Now you've really got the pressure and you say, 'Now I'm looking at the hat trick.'
The thing is you should never think about it. You should just walk up there and just shoot them. I think that's one bad habit I have.When I walk to the line I begin to think about it. I try to correct myself. And I shouldn't. I should just go on and shoot. But I have that problem.
A guy once told me in college that I should really work on free throws because that's 500 or 600 more points right there. And I really shouldn't think about it so much.
Q: What about last-second shots from the field in close games?
A: If there's a last-second shot with two seconds on the clock - I want the ball. I'll always ask for the shot in a situatuin like that. I just love that kind of a shot. Because you don't think about it. You don't have time to think about it. It hits your hand, you gotta let it go. But with free throws you have that time to think about it - you try to correct it. You try to see what you want to do and I think that's what happens a lot of times.
Q: You and K.C. Jones were very close and you once said you were skeptical about whoever was going to replace him. How well do you get along with Dick Motta?
A: I think Dick is a fine coach. He had of a bad rap in Chicago about him being a racist, that he didn't like black players. I just think that stems from the fact the he was the general manager and he had to negotiate their contracts.Whenever you don't give a player, or any person, what they want, they'll always find an excuse for why. I guess that was the easiest and most convenient thing to say about him.
I don't think his coaching ability has ever been questioned. He made players like Chet Walker have two extra years in this league, players like Bob Love all-star forwards. He's a tremendous coach, especially for a big man.
One thing I thought was going out of the game but is now coming back with a lot of the new coaches is teaching. Sometimes I wish I had coaches like him, K.C. and Gene Shue my whole career. They really help players. Yound players like Mitch (Kupchak) and Larry (Wright), if they listen, can be super players. Dick's a very feisty guy. He's a guy who gets into the game.I like this.
If we could have gotten it together ourselves a little better at the beginning of the season, it wouldn't have come down to a game at the end to the season. We could have walked away with the Eastern Conference this year.
Q: Elvin, you're 31 years old, Wes Unseld is 31. Some people are saying that if the Bullets don't win the championship this year, they'll never win it because the team is getting too old.What's your reaction?
A: I don't buy it. Shoot. John Havlicek was 34 last year and Boston won. Don Nelson was on the team; Paul Silas was on the team. Russell, Wilt, Jerry West won theirs when they were 33, 34. I think we have a good basketball team and the nucleus to be a tremendous basketball team.
There's one thing I've always felt and I feel very strongly about it. In order to win a championship, we have to get one thing: scoring from the center position. Boston had it, any team that ever won had it. Phil (Chenier) and I can score all the points we can, but you still have to have it from the inside. I'm not trying to throw the pressure away from me. I like to score, and I like to rebound, I like doing the job I'm doing. But there's no sidestepping it. The forwards and the guards can balance it out but you have to have it from the center position.
Q: Do you think the Bullets have that capability?
A: I think we do. If it comes down to the point where Wes has to take more shots, he has to score, he has to bring the defense to him. He can't allow that center to come and double team and triple team that way. A center can't have the freedom to say, "I'm just going to go over here to Elvin.' You have to take those shots and put the pressure on the defense.
Our offense is run 95 per cent of the time off our centers. We'll spen four of five seconds trying to get the ball into me, and they're double- and triple-teaming me. Yet they're still looking for me when we have that wide open shot.
That's one thing we've really improved this year by getting Micth Kupchak. He's giving us that scoring. When he comes in there's a change in the game. He's running, he's scoring. This helps. It takes the pressure off me, so I can work more easily on the floor, do more things. You can't just get eight or nine points a game from the position. You'll win a lot of regular-season games, but you won't win the title."
Q: What about the Cleveland series and the playoff picture in general?
A: In the beginning, I really wanted to open up against Boston because we'd been so successful against them. But still in all, the Celtics are the Celtics and you get in a three-game series they can give you all that you want and you can never tell how that will come out.
I really wanted Cleveland because of last year. I felt we had an opportunity to do a lot last year, but you really want to play that team again. They're still basically a fine ball club. I think maybe they faltered at the end a little trying to play us. Up in Boston they had them down by 10 and it seemed like they said, 'Hey, we're winning, let's quit,' and Boston came roaring back. So maybe it's a thing where Cleveland is trying to get to us, thinking they can be successful against the Bullets. They have a lot of conifdence against us.
Q: What's the mental state of the team going into the first round of the playoffs?
A: Physically, we are ready. Mentally, we have to be ready. We better be prepared. If Cleveland wins this game, they're going back home loose and free. If we lose, we'll be pressuring ourselves, saying, "Oh, Oh." That's why it's a must game.