Before the Bullet bandwagon began rolling, before the first thought of parades or a key to the city or a Presidential blessing, there were the Dyes, Emmett and son Chuck. Where they were - alone - speaks eloquently about how towns and teams react to championships.
Several hours before the Bullets lost game five of the NBA championship series to the Sonics in Seattle there were radio pleas for area fans to welcome the team on its early Saturday arrival at Baltimore - Washington International Airport. From Annandale, the Dyes heeded the call.
"We figured the loss would cut the crowd from 2,000 to 200," Emmet Dye said. "We got up at 4 a.m. and got to the airport at 5:30. Well, the 'crowd' wasn't 2,000. Or 200. It was two, my son and I."
And the Bullets were nowhere to be seen. Finally, their small charter appeared in the distance, but although the Dyes could see Wes Unseld, the Bullets could not see the Dyes. And the waiting team bus sped quickly from the airport.
"So we went to Capitol Centre," Dye said. "We got there at 7:10 - and nobody was there, either. We were just about to leave when the bus with the players got there. And as five guys, Henderson, Kupchak, Ballard, Wright and Walker, stepped off we applauded. Just the two of us, very early in the morning.
"We also were at Dulles, along with the other 8,000 people, on Thursday. But I couldn't help thinking: 'Where the hell was everybody when the team needed 'em?" I felt we showed our devotion at the same time it was most needed."
It may have been just such a scene, recalled from somewhere in his 10-year adventure in the NBA, that caused Dick Motta to say to his son, Kip, during the clebration of Bullet fans in Seattle: "Watch this, savor it - and also learn from it. Because in two or three years these same people might be booing us like crazy."
The lesson, of course, is that while fans who get too carried away with athletes might be sick, athletes who bask too long in the glow and fickle adoration of fans are fools. Washington reacted just as expected to its first championship in 36 years, with the same small-townish enthusiasm and political overkill we see from a Portland or Milwaukee.
That the Dyes were the only fans at BWI after game five is not all that surprising, given the history of area teams - the Bullets especially. Too often the faithful had given their hearts in anticipation of a title, only to have a Golden State - or Miami - or Houston - wisk in and cancel the party.
The Bullets beating the Redskins in the championship competition is appropriate, for they seem to have more of a sense of community, to be more willing to give of themselves without a price tag for each appearance. Elvin Hayes and Kevin Grevey leap quickly to mind in that regard.
While Goerge Allen kept trying to write a prominent place for himself in pro football history before that became fact, Dick Motta said just after meeting Jimmy Carter: "I hope somebody took a picture of me with the President, so the people in Utah will see it."
Because of the nature of their sport, with its killer schedule and intimacy with the customers during games, basketball players long have developed a laid-back style that ought ot be especially helpful to the Bullets in the immediate, giddy future.
And the joy is all the greater because the title was so unexpected. It is possible to argue that the NBA, like major-league baseball, has a season long enough to determine the best two teams. Eighty-two games allows factors such as injuries to balance out and there is no reason for two-month-long playoffs.
By that standard, neither of the finalists - the Sonics and Bullets - should have been in the playoffs in the first place. And the major hurdle for both, the Portland Trail Blazers, was cut down to step-over size the night Bill Walton suffered a broken bone in his foot.
Still, 21 games over two months is outrageously long for Washingtonians in most years, it was exactly right this one. It was enough time to see the Philadelphia 76ers exposed, again to see patience, in the form of Greg Ballard, rewarded; to see the Bullets, at last, having enough talent to win an important game without an important performance from Hayes.
"That's why I can't buy this "Cinderella-team" talk, said former Bullet Mike Riordan. "This is a team that's always had talent, that's just lived up to its potential now. It finally has enough players to give E the help he needs."
Ironically, Hayes was just playing himself out of another big-game daze, just starting to demand the ball, just starting to become dominant, when he was forced out of the final eight minutes of game seven with his sixth foul. Also, Tom Henderson played himself back into the good graces of Motta and Bullet fans during the latter stages of the playoffs.
Ultimately, the important matter is not how the town reacts to the Bullets but how the Bullets react to their championship. That sets a special standard, forces a special harsh glow on nights it is difficult for such as, say Bobby Dandridge, to become inspired.
As the Redskins' Pat Fischer once said: "Lots of times teams forget to do the things that got them the championship."
There will be more demand from more players - Ballard especially - for more minutes, more hints that Hayes continue his attitude of E as in we instead of E as in me . The ultimate irony, beyond Wes Unseld sinking free throws that assured the championship, was Hayes attracting infinitely more affection after the points he once coveted so fiercely became fewer.