The mistaken impression about Bob Dandridge's refusal to report to the Bullet's training camp is that he would be especially useful by being there. If Dandridge is not the cosummate professional, he is close. He frustrates purists by avoiding practice and often seems uninspired during games. But with something like the NBA championship on the line, there are few who play to his level.
This strike by Dandridge seems designed to remind everyone how the Bullets became champions last season, to force management - publicly and with its pocketbook - to admit that he is at least as vital as Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
How long the impasse remains will offer clues about the Bullet's long-range future. A tough stance by owner Abe Pollin will be a subtle message to the other players - and Hayes, Kevin Grevey and Tom Henderson are in the final year of their Bullet contracts.
Bullet customers can only regard this as wonderful news. Already, there are eager and seemingly talented young players anxious to hustle during their brief appearances. Now ther is incentive for the entire team not to coast during those large portions of the season everyone knows are meaningless.
Hayes long has been on the record as saying athletes, himself included, are overpaid. Yesterday, he said of free agency: "I don't buy it, but if a guy can get it, if an owner is willing to pay it . . ."
He paused, ten said: "There are only to places I'd like to play - here and Houston. I know the guys there (Calvin Murphy and Rudy (Tomjanovich), 'cause we came into the league together.
"But going somewhere just for the money doesn't mean that much to me. I like it here, and Abe's always been fair. But nobody has said anything about an extension or anything."
Hayes said Dandridge "wants to do right by himself and his family" and then volunteered: "last year, Abe lived up to every obligation of his part of the contract, every pay day.
"No one wants to be forced to do anything. I hope he (Dandirdge) doesn't put Abe in that situation.I don't think he'll go for that. What they probably should do is get the attorneys out of this, set up a meeting and put air between them."
If yesterday's morning workout was an indication of his mental and physical state, Hayes will a tiger this season. He was remarkably fit and aggressive, and once whipped a length-of-the-court outlet pass to Unseld for a layup during a scrimmage.
"We've got a great chance to repeat," he said. "We had too good a season to spoil it in any way." (This was in response to a rumor that had Hayes joining Dandridge as a holdout.)
Grevey spoke of the risks of free-agentry, for a player as well as management, and then insisted that no year the rest of his career could be as important as the last one.
"I finally got the chance and the confidence I needed and never had," he said. "Nobody had given me a chance until last year - and even that might not have happened if Phil (Chenier) hadn't been hurt.
"I made my own breaks. I went out and did it. Now I want to build on that good year, try to improve every day. If I play the best I know how, I'll be compensated. But to say I've got to do it this year is just putting pressure on me I don't need."
Dandridge puts pressure on himself with a philosophy that seems to say, "Whatever is necessary, I'll do. But no more." If much of the season means little - and the Bullets had the eight-best NBA cord and still won the world title in the playoffs, why give a lick about training camp and the exhibition games?
And if the NBA regarded training camp as more than helpful exercise for anyone beyond marginal talents, its fine for a player refusing to report would be more than $100 per day. That would get an ordinary human back to work within the hour, but it amounts to tip money for a Dandridge.
Part of what irritates Dandridge might well be as simple as the ad that ran in Tuesday's paper, the one hyping that "sensational NBA double-header" Oct. 4 at Capital Centre. The Knicks play the Nets and the Bullets play the 76ers.
"SUPERSTARS Dr. J. earl Monroe, Elvin Hayes, Marvin Webster, Bob McAdoo, Kevin Porter, Mitch Kupchak, Wes Unseld, and many others," the ad screams. Dandridge was the major reason the Bullets upset the 76ers in the playoffs. He is beyond "many others" status.
Just as Coach Dick Motta has a finite number of minutes to distribute during a game, owner Pollin has a certain number of dollars to spread among the players. Dandridge has a contract with two years remianing - and the sort of leverage he may never have again in his career.
There is a feeling here that Bulletmania has not infected the area as deeply as management had hoped. The Dandridge full will not help. And around the league, Bill Walton is feuding with Portland, George Gervin wants out of San Antonio and Truck Robinson is angry in New Orleans.
In the NBA, nobody lingers in Camelot.