When owner Abe Pollin hoisted the NBA championship trophy over his head moments after the Bullets had won the title last June, he was convinced his club also had captured for good the hearts of Washington-area sports fans.
"This is what we needed to put us over the top," he said them. "We've brought the fans a championship, the first for Washington in 36 years. We've earned our credibility. I see nothing but good days ahead."
Pollin had envisioned the Bullets becoming equals of the Redskins both in fan support and media coverage. But now, from his office in Capital Centre, Pollin admits things have yet to work out the way he anticipated. Even his normally optimistic nature is showing signs of erosion after the euphoria of those days of the summer.
"Things are better than they have ever been," Pollin said, "but not as good as I had hoped. Am I frustrated? No, I think disappointed is a better word."
Pollin thought that there would be a rush for season tickets, that his players were satisfied and happy and that early games would have trouble selling out. Instead:
Although season ticket sales have increased from about 4,000 to about 6,000, a team record, Pollin had anticipated a greater jump, perhaps to 10,000.
"From the people I've talked to in the league, no championship team has ever had such limited results after winning the title," he said. "We didn't even raise ticket prices."
One of his star players, Bob Dandridge, has not reported to camp while trying to persuade Pollin to make adjustments to his contract, Pollin has refused and now apparently will let Dandridge sit out the season, if necessary, even if it means sacrificing hope of another title.
The Bullets had difficulty signing their two first-round draft choices, Dave Corzine and Roger Phegley. And they have lost their four exhibition games going into a meeting tonight at 6:15 with the New York Knicks in Philadelphia.
Ticket sales for the club's annual preseason doubleheader at Capital Centre (featuring Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers) are lagging behind last year's sellout rate.
None of the Bullets' best-known players has received the national publicity tht, for example, accompanied Bill Walton or Maurie Lucas after Portland won the title in 1977.
Bullet official concede that the Redskins still are the area's dominant sports team. They already have complained that they deserve more attention from the local media.
There has been progress, however, in some areas. The club has been besieged by requests from sponsors to back promotion nights, group sales and requests for schedules are up, which the team feels indicates an increase in attendance, and players are in more demand for speaking engagements.
"There is no question that our position in the community is better than it's ever been," said Chip Reed, director of marketing. "We are getting into doors (of business) that had no time for us before. Now all they want to do is talk about the Bullets and the title."
Pollin says people are still coming up to him, sticking out their hands and asking if it is "too late to congratulate me for winning the title. I tell them, 'It's never too late for that.'"
But many of those people are not buying season tickets, which is a measure of how solid fan support is in a community. And club officials believe that if the team gets off to a slow start, much of the positive effect of winning the title will be lost.
"A lot of our fans became fams on June 7, when we won the title," said one player. "They got on the band-wagon and they will get off it the first chance they have. This is still a Redskin town."
Reed believes the fact that "Washington lacks a lot of large industries, other than the governemnt, "hinders season ticket sales."
Buying a season ticket involves a substantial financial commitment: $369 for the best seats in Capital Centre. Unlike Redskin season tickets, for only eight home games at a maximum of $20 each, the Bullet package covers 41 contests, including two games each against such league also-rans as Kansas City, New Jersey and San Diego.
"People apparently like to pick and choose games," said Reed, who also offers 10 and 20 game plans. "That way they don't tie themselves down as much.
"We all felt that people would be knocking down the doors, trying to get tickets. It hasn't happened that way. Our group sales are up and so is the demand, but it's nothing like what happened in Portland."
The Bullets have fared better selling championship mementos. The hottest item is the Fat Lady T-shirt, but also available are a long-play record, a pictorial history of the season, coffee mugs and pennants.
"We are going to have a 'championship corner' at home games this season," said Reed, "where people can see these items on display. We've found there is a big demand for some kind of reminder of what we did last season."
Pollin says he was stunned to find out "some people think we had sold out for the season. I've had people come up and tell me that. How that rumor ever got started, I'll never know.
"From what happened to us after the title - the parades, the celebrations, the awards - I thought we had won over the town. I don't know what else we can do. We won a title for them but, so far, the enthusiam (of June) has not turned into concrete examples of support. Others in the league are shocked and astounded at our situaiton."
Dandridge's holdout also has hurt Pollin, although he had shied from public statements on the problem until this week.
But Thursday he sid he would not trade his vetran forward and, yesterday, called The Post to correct what he called "mistakes that are being written about some aspects of the situation."
Pollin said that "contrary to what both Dandridge and his attorney, Scott Lang, have stated, Bobby is not the fourth-highest (paid) player on the squad. That is way out of line. I won't go beyond that, but he is closer to the top than that.
"Scott told me the same thing and I told him it was wrong. I don't know where they got their facts."
It has been Dandridge's contention that his contract should be changed so that he achieved income parity with Wes Unseld, Phil Chenier and Elvin Hayes, all of whom reportedly are paid more than Dandridge.
Pollin also said the first meeting he had with Lang and Dandridge to discuss the player's contract was Aug. 17, not "right after we won the title, as was written." It appears as if I was stringing them along, and I don't do those things in my business dealings.
"I don't want to be involved in a controversy with Bobby and Scott, because I like both of them. But some things are mixed up."
Dandridge has said he was still mentally fatigued when training camp started two weeks ago. His teammates admit the same thing: the days between the end of the playoffs and the beginning of camp raced by too quickly for them to get a proper break from basketball.
"I know I was tired when I reported to camp," said Hayes. "The summer wasn't very long. It was the shortest of my career."
But they add that the enjoyment they got from winning the title was better than most had anticipated.