The caller to a local radio sports talk show was sure he knew how to make the Bullets into an NBA champion.

"They just have to get themselves a dominating center," he said. "Bingo. That would do it. I guarantee it."

Of all the myths surrounding pro basketball the one concerning dominating centers is the most prevalent and the most misleading. Put a talented big man in the midst of ever four mediocre teammates, the myth goes, and suddenly a team will be an instant power.

It's a nice theory but don't talk about it too loudly around fans from Chicago and Detroit. Their squads have shown this season that a dominating center doesn't even guarantee, a winning record or a playoff spot, much less a championship.

Although it is usually true that teams don't win NBA crowns without a big man to rebound and intimidate underneath, he still must be surrounded by complementary teammates to be completely effective.

Bob Lanier has been with the Pistons for eight seasons, selected an all-star six times. They have made the playoffs only four of those years and just once advanced beyond the first round.

He is an intimidator on defense and a versatile scorer. But the Piston franchise has been in such disarray since his arrival, with internal bickering and coaching changes fouling up proper team development, that they probably won't finish with a .500 record this year.

Or consider the Bylls, the Bullets' 8:30 opponent tonight in Chicago. When they signed Artis Gilmore last season, their fans figured finally they had the player to take the club to world title.

Gilmore couldn't pull off the achievement last year, but Chicago finished the season so strongly - and came within eight points of knocking eventual champion Portland out of the playoffs - that hopes were higher than ever for this season.

Despite improved play form Gilmore, however, Chicago has slumped after a fast start and has a 34-35 record, not a playoff-qualifying pace. Coach Ed Badger's job is in danger, the Bulls' followers are puzzled and Gilmore, the 7-foot-2 giant from Jacksonville, is perplexed.

He doesn't think his talents are being fully exploited by the Bulls and, despite his complaints, things haven't gotten better. He personally is having a fine season - 22.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 2.2 blocked shots, a game, .559 shooting percentage, all among the best in the league - but the Bulls are losing.

"I think there are things I can contribute to this club," Gilmore said recently. "I am so much of a threat offensively that when I get the ball, I am going to have two or three guys on me. So there are a lot of options open for me to pass."

But the problem is, he says, his teammates don't get the ball to him enough inside. And when they do, they don't always cut and move in predictable patterns.

"If we could get the ball inside to me and then cut and move better, we can accomplish something," he said. "We have to get everyone involved because we don't have nearly as much talent as some other clubs in the league. Everyone has to contribute."

What Gilmore wants is to be used the way Portland employs Bill Walton. "He gets the ball 90 percent of the time in their offense," Gilmore said. "When they have problems, they call time out and gets it and he takes over."

"I wish I had that authority here. I don't want to hog the ball. What I do want is the responsibility.

"If they would work around me and let me control the game and use my talent, we'd be better. I'd have total responsibility for what happens. If we lose, it would be fault, but that's how I'd like it.

Another problems is Gilmore's supporting cast. Forward Mickey Johnson, whom the Bulls thought was on the verge of stardom, has had a disappointing season. Forward Scott May has been limited by injuries and his spot is currently filled by veteran Cazzie Russell. Chicago has no bench and with Tom Boerwinkle injured, no competent backup for Gilmore.

So Gilmore's superior season is being wasted. The former ABA player no longer is in awe of the NBA and its big centers, as he seemed to be early last year. When he is getting the ball down low consistently in the Bulls' offense, he is one of the league's premier players and perhaps the most successful going head to head with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.