Hundreds of outstretched hands, thousand of smiles and the day-long serenade "E!" left forward Elvin Hayes limp with emotion midway through yesterday's parade to honor the Washington Bullets.
"I love you!" he shouted at an obese woman in curlers.
"We ain't No. 2, man, we're No. 1," a young boy told Hayes as he passed by. Hayes replied, "In the world! Number one in the WORLD!"
When the car passed through a tunnel, Hayes let out a yell, much the way a youngster would to hear his own voice echo. He shouted, "Here come the Bullets!"
"I used to watch parades when I was a kid, Christmas parades, all kinds," said Hayes. "I never thought I'd be in one. But I love it. Oh, boy, this is nice."
He signed a map of Seattle for a youngster nearby, who demanded. "Sign right on its face, man."
"You know," said Hayes, "I watched the parade Portland had (when the Trail Blazers won the NBA title last year) and you wonder what it feels like. You wait your whole career for this. This is what it all about.
"Now I know how the astronauts felt when they came back from the moon."
Riding along with Hayes for three hours in a parade in which the participants walk right up to the cars, spurting emotion is an indescribable high. It is a riot of affection, a 15-mile-an-hour love affair. In some sections of Prince George's County Where the crowds were particularly thick and boisterous, it is almost frightening.
"You always think of Washington as a political city," said Hayes. "To see the city so excited, to see this is totally unreal. Wow, this is out of sight."
Charles Johnson, the Bullets' expert in cool, wore a black T-shirt and cordoroys on a day he would meet the President. He sat in the car with Hayes, acting casual as usual. After 10 minutes, Johnson shouted with a seriousness in his voice, "Hey E". Hayes looked over. "I love it," Johnson blurted out, his mask unfurled.
Of all the players, Hayes was the one most earnest in mingling with, touching, blowing kisses to the people. Wes Unseld may have been more emotional, breaking into tears during a speech at Capital Centre.
But Hayes was the one who sought autograph seekers at every stop, who leaned out of the car almost until he fell out to touch a toddler's waiving hand.
"People love me," said Hayes, "and I love them.
"I'm not afraid to go to the people, to be within them, to show them I appreciate them. Maybe that's why they do what they do when I ride down the street.
"I never held myself back from people, kids, grownups can look into my face and they know what I have for the people is real.
"I'm just so happy for the people. A lot of times you promise people something and this time we delivered." The thought stirred him to yell to no one in particular. "We brought it, brother!"
Soul music played on the FM car radio station, and, if it is possible to dance while sitting down the shaking both hands, that is what Hayes did. The celebration was in his veins. People tossed flowers, confetti, beer, T-shirts and even telephone numbers into the cars, and sweat dripped down the big man's face.
His first celebration, immediately after the seventh-game win in Seattle, had been different.
"I tell you when I had the most pressure was in the seventh game," said Hayes. "People had written that I was a quitter, that the team would never win a title with me, and I thought of every bad thing that had ever been said about me. Now was the opportunity to put all that to rest, to bury it.
"To know that the championship was within our grasp is something I could never really describe to you. In those last 12 seconds, I became happy with basketball again, the way I was when I first got into it 20 years ago.
"After the game, we all went out to eat, and most of the players wanted to be in big crowd to celebrate. But what I wanted was to be by myself.
"I finally was, at 1 o'clock in the morning. It had taken me 10 years to get there. I just kept thinking, we're the No. 1 team in the world."
Hayes did not sleep that night. He sat up until morning, alone, laughing.
"I just kept laughing, all night long," said Hayes. "To crown a career takes for every player a certain thing. I've accomplished so many things statistically. Now to get that championship just makes my whole career kind of complete."
What a bunch of bull," roared Johnson. But Hayes continued, as serious as before.
"After the Philadelphia series was over, my eyes hurt for three days. My mind was tired. You just really can't imagine the pressure. But I was at peace. I just knew we would win. If we hadn't no matter what I would have done in my career, they would have said. 'They never won with him.'
"Now, all they can say is that Elvin Hayes is a winner. Elvin Hayes is one of the greatest players in the league. I have my championship to prove it. Great players play from the heart. I play from the heart."
When Hayes emerged from the White House, after having met the President, he was not as moved as he had been when riding through the streets. Asked how the President was, he said, "Fine. He's nice. I'm really not a Carter man. I voted for Ford."
From the White House, the caravan headed for the Capitol. The dome came into view, crisply accented against a blue sky, and Hayes said, "this is the greatest country in the world."
A woman motorcycle officer, riding alongside the car, gave Hayes a dollar bill to sign. A troop of cyclers, including a youth on a unicycle, biked alongside.
Hayes stood on the Capitol steps, a long way from his roots in poor, rural Louisiana. While senators spoke, the crowd became restless and started yelling "E!"
He came to the microphone and said, "It's really wonderful. Thank you very much."
On the way back to the car, Hayes was confronted by Jonathan Schwartz a curly-haired 7-year-old with dollar-sized eyes. He felt it was perfectly okay to walk up to Hayes and say, "can I go with you?"