It was Newton or Rupp or Motta, one of those deep thinkers, who after writing the first law of hoops --get it to the big guy inside -- said: "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." That means more than charges and blocked shots, as the lives of two young Bullets illustrate.
Just past noon Friday, after a one-on-one workout in near-empty Capitol Centre, Mitch Kupchak was having the tape cut from his injured thumb when Coach Dick Motta yelled from his office:
"Tuesday? Think you'll be able to play then?"
"For sure," said Kupchak.
"Maybe Sunday?" said Motta.
"Maybe tonight," said Kupchak
Tonight it was. Kupchak did in fact return to the lineup during the Bullets' victory over Phoenix Friday, as aggressive and inspirational as ever. But his elation surely was equaled by what might be nearing anguish for Greg Ballard. What it did was move him one seat deeper on the Bullet bench, slow and almost stagnate his NBA growth rate even more.
Lately, Ballard must feel an almost - constant full - court press around him. He can scarcely pick up a sports sheet without bumping into puffery about players he either was judged better than or in fact outplayed a year ago but who now have all but eclipsed him as NBA rookies.
There is Marques Johnson swooping inside for another basket in Milwaukee. There is the wire service lead that said, "Bernard King scored 35 points for the Nets . . ." There is Walter Davis, with more magazine covers than Suzanne Somers, taking all the important shots for the Suns Friday while Ballard spent all but six minutes on the bench.
The whispers are growing louder. Some are coming from within the Bullet family. Ballard is one of those in-between players, and not in the positive sense of an Adrian Dantley. Where Dantley is too powerful to be held in check by small forwards and too quick to be contained by big forwards, Ballard is said to be too slow to play small forward and not large enough to play big forward.
The truth is no one knows much at all about Ballard; not the Bullets, who made him the fourth selection in the '77 draft and did little to lift his spirits thereafter, not the snipers who fail to appreciate the curious chemistry of the NBA, not even Ballard himself.
"What all this amounts to is playing time," he said. "And I'm playing the patience game. Nobody can make much of an evaluation until you get legitimate playing time over a long period of time.
"Anything under 20 minutes a game really isn't enough, because you're coming in at different times. Twenty-five minutes would be right. If I knew I'd be either in the starting lineup or the first sub and told I'd get 25 minutes every night for two months -- then you would know about me."
Ballard is resigned to his role, if not content, well aware that his competition -- Elvin Hayes, Bobby Dandridge and Kupchak -- is severe and covets playing time as much as he does.
"I think he's suffered from the trade (for Dandridge)," Motta said. "But he'll be better off if he has patience, because he can go to school every day on Bobby Dandridge, in practice and watching him in games."
Why did the Bullets draft Ballard? Well, why not? Nearly everyone in the league, including the Phoenix Suns, had him rated ahead of such as Davis and King, and nearly even with Johnson. And before the draft, who would you have preferred: Davis or Dandridge?
Put Ballard in Davis' position, allow him to use his intelligence, Kupchak-like flair for hard work and enthusiasm and his ability to hit the open jumper in a pattern offense, let him average 32 minutes per game and it says here the Suns still would have a prime candidate for rookie of the year.
Ballard has played 647 minutes in 54 games, but it was not until the 23rd game -- at Portland --that he played more than 15 minutes in one game. That certainly was more than enough time for his confidence to plunge to unimagined depths.
And the Bullets, or at least the present Bullets, are less than ideally suited for Ballard's style.
"Our team, Philadelphia and several others are one-on-one teams," he said. "I feel the type of program I came out of (at Oregon) didn't hurt me, but I have to adjust my skills here.
"Portland, San Antonio or Phoenix would have been a bit more in my favor. I think I can go one on one. The problem here is building my confidence so I can find an opening to go one on one --and then doing it."
It is a harsh fact of pro sports that Ballard-like players must almost force teams to give them more playing time. Because there was no Dandridge and Kevin Grevey still held Ballard-like status, there was playing time available last year with the Bullets. Kupchak earned it, and then pushed for more.
Kupchak often was not satisfied with his minutes last year, but he had more than 500 more at a similar point than Ballard has. Also, he did more with his playing time. But he had much less competition.
The irony so far is that Kupchak came into the NBA with less than overwhelming credentials and has played splendidly; Ballard was more highly touted but has been unable to make any impact.
This illustrates another law of sports: Nobody can judge future success of more than a few special players. Had that not been the case, LaRue Martin would not have been the first player chosen in the 1972 NBA draft and Ricky Marsh, a starter now for Golden State, would have been chosen before the joke phase of the '77 draft.
Yep, you could look it up, and Marc Splaver of the Bullets did. Marsh was chosen in the eighth round, behind a woman, Lucy Harris, and Wheaties salesman Bruce Jenner.
On hindsight, all but four NBA teams at the moment have reason to give themselves at least a mild kick for troubles that began even before this year.
And everyone tells the Ballards of the NBA to get experience but, sorry, there are no minutes available.
"That's part of the waiting game," he said. "Yes, it can be an awful long time. But remember, the first season is almost over." What?For the guys with big minutes, the season hardly has begun.