Let us not ask how these Bullets run, lest they try to tell us and fall into a ditch somewhere south of Philadelphia. For now, enjoy, enjoy. Did you ever do a thing better than you had any reason to expect you could do it? Was there a moment of mystery when you thought about what you'd done and said, "Me? I did that? Wow." These are wow times for the Bullets, who suddenly are the best basketball team going.
In winning Wimbledon, Arthur Ashe said he played in "the zone . . . the twilight zone." Every shot Jimmy Connors sent at him, Ashe knew its destination instantly. The racket became part of him, Ashe said, and the court became the universe. Before he struck a shot, Ashe could see it flying, another winner. In this "zone" where reality becomes mystery, Ashe was more than he seemed, and so now are the Bullets, who only two weeks ago seemed mediocrites.
They have beaten Atlanta and San Antonio in the NBA playoffs and are up, three games to one, over Philadelphia 76ers. A victory tomorrow night at Philadelphia would send the Bullets into the NBA championship round against Denver or Seattle. Can it be then that the Bullets are now favorites to win it all?
Charlie Johnson recoiled. "The last thing I want," said the Bullet guard, "is to be a favorite."
Against San Antonio, the Bullets were to have been run breathless. Against Philadelphia, the Bullets were judged inferior at nearly every position.
"When you're dealing with human beings, favorites tend to hold back," Johnson said. "They think all they have is to do is to play the game and they'llwin. God will help them, because that's the way it's supposed to be. That's what happens to a lot of favorites."
"Me, I want to be an underdog all my life. You're not given anythinh in this world. You have to work for it."
Remember the 1969 Mets? They were a joke - until they won the World Series. Memory yet retains an image of the Mets' right fielder, Ron Swoboda, diving flat-out to catch a line drive. Here was an outfielder of leaden feet who often confused running with falling down, and in the World Series he made two or three diving catches. Who is to say his motivation was of a different kind than now is moving Elvin Hayes to work beyond compare?
Ah, but we are trying to explain the inexplicable. John Kennedy said, "Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan," and now we may find a thousand reasons the Bullets are winning when experts said they would lose. Let us go, instead, into the "zone" and see how it is there, see how it was for the Bullets two days ago when the court became their universe and a basketball game became a beautiful mystery.
Floating toward the basket, in violation of all fundamental, Kevin Grevey made a 15-foot jump shot for the Bullets. Next time down, fouled as he started up, Grevey made another 15-footer.
Something was happening here and the 19,035 spectators knew it. They filled Capital Centre with cheers, urging their heroes beyond their capabilities. Now it was 48-46, the Philadelphia lead reduced from 11 points to two in barely two minutes. The Bullets were magic, more a team than seems possible, each player's energy shared by another, all to one purpose.
In the zone, selfishness dies. What one man does enlarges his partner rather than diminishes him, and the team grows mighty. Here, at 48-46, Elvin Hayes was colossal.
In other times, other places, when fame meant more, when money was all, Hayes would not have made the play he made at 48-46. But now, 60 feet from his basket, near midcourt, the giant stole the ball from George McGinnis - one of those favorites, left standing by God to watch Hayes spirit down court, doing little man's work . . .
And the 19,035 spectators knew what Hayes would do. At the end of his sprint, he would leap high and slam the ball down through the basket. They knew it, and they ran each stride with him, and when he rose, they rose, and when he slammed the ball through, they sent a tidal wave of noise crashing against the arena floor.
Of all games, basketball is the sweetest. The highs never stop coming. From Grevey's sailing 15-footer to Hayes' monster dunk to a Johnson fast-break layyp with a stolen dribble, the Bullets did more than anyone thought they might. Each play, as unexpected as it was beautiful, took the team deeper into Ashe's zone. The Bullets won, 121-105.
"Here is my man, World," a radio interviewer said as he sat down next to Lloyd Free, a Philadelphia guard who calls himself All-World. "Hey, man, you cats are down three games to one, what's happening?"
Free said, "We reached down to pull something out, but it didn't come out . . . And the Bullets are playing over their heads."
Which is what they said about Arthur Ashe and the '69 Mets.
The Centipede was happy quite, Until the Toad in fun
Said, 'Pray which leg goes after which?'
And worked her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in the ditch
Considering how to run. Mrs. Edmund Craster, died 1874.