It was as if time had stood still. There was Kevin Porter in Capital Centre again, doing all those dazzling things that brought the Bullets to the brink of the NBA title three years ago.
But yesterday afternoon, Porter was in a New Jersey Nets uniform and his 30 points and 17 assists sent his old teammates down to a 106-95 defeat that left the small gathering of 5,744 in a state of shock.
The Bullets, leaders in the Central Division, aren't supposed to lose to a team like the Nets, which had won just four times in 26 tries entering the contest. But neither is a 6-foot, 180 pound guard supposed to be able to dominate this game of giants like Porter did in this one.
Playing all but four minutes, he controlled the tempo by dishing out no-look passes, hanging in the air before handing off to wide-open teammates and penetrating the lane for one of those flip layups that wave no right to go in but usually do.
The Bullets tried to stop him with Tom Henderson, their Phil Chenier and finally Larry Wright but Porter played as if he had no defender opposing him.
That was especially true in the fourth quarter when the Nets threatened to fold, just like they have so many times this season after holding a lead through the first three periods.
Porter wouldn't let them collapse this time, not here in the town that he says he "never wanted to leave and still loves." So when the Bullets scored 13 straight point to wipe out what once was a 12-point Nets lead, Porter put on a display Washington won't soon forget.
After a Bernard King rebound, Porter drove the middle for a layup. Then he fed King for a fast-break basket on a hanging, no-look assist. Next, he penetrated and popped in a running six-footer. Then he mingled among the big men underneath and somehow found Jan Van Breda Kolff open for an easy jumper. And then, after another King bucket, he swept past Wright and dumped in another flip shot to complete a string of 14 unanswered points that wrapped up the victory.
"When he gets in a groove like that, he's hard to stop," said Wright, who was playing despite a sprained ankle. "But he sure hit some tough shots, didn't he?"
The "whys" behind this Bullet defeat include 40 per cent shooting, a rebounding disadvantage of 13, only one point from Mitch Kupchak (who also sprained and ankle) and just 19 points on seven-of-27 shooting from Chenier and Kevin Grevey.
But the biggest reason was Porter, not negative statistics or a lackadisical approach for an opponent that hasn't done much to earn anyone's respect this season.
Just 19 games ago, Porter was buried on the Detroit Pistons bench, suffering through "the most miserable time of my life," and just hoping he would be traded although the Pistons told him they'd never let him go.
He came to the Nets knowing that "the bad vibes about me around the league said I couldn't control myself and that I lost my temper. I knew that stuff between (Detroit coach) Herb Brown and me didn't do me much good.
"But I felt I had to be a man and stand up and say what is on my mind. I wasn't worried about minutes but when you sit there and see 30 turnovers a game and you aren't playing, you have to ask why not?"
The Pistons, he said, never gave him an answer. "They just fined me." Then they finally dealt him off to the Nets, "where I feel comfortable and people are treating me with respect. That never happened in Detroit."
The Nets made him comfortable by immediately turning over the floor leadership role to him. He has responded with some of the best basketball of his career, including a best-ever 40-point output against Milwaukee and a steady 18 points and 10 assists a game.
"They are letting me do things that they had set up for Tiny Archibald," said Porter. "They clear out and let me go down the middle and we run a lot of two-man plays.
"The team is accepting me. It's not easy coming in and immediately becoming a leader. That's different than directing things. You need their respect to be a leader."
Porter is getting more respect every time out. He said things were made easy for him yesterday "because Tom Henderson was pretty easy to go around and I was able to penetrate. I just felt good."
This is slightly different Porter than Bullet fans once saw. He has recovered completely from a knee operation and now isn't hesitant to shoot when left open," something you learn after five years in the league."
But he says he still thinks about the trade that sent him from Washington to Detroit after the Bullets lost the 1975 NBA final to Golden State in four straight games. "I was blamed for those losses," he said, "but they haven't done a whole lot better since then, have they?"