Besides being the NBA's outstanding big forward, Elvin Hayes has acquired another distinction: he is the league's champion prognosticator.
It was Hayes along who predicted before last season that the Bullets would win the title. None of his teammates was so bold, and his coach would venture only that the squad would be among the best.
Hayes remains the most optimistic Bullet. He won't deny that he feels Washington can retain the title - "The first is always the hardest" - but this time around, there is more optimism throughout the rest of the squad.
"It's really too early to be talking about winning titles," said Wes Unseld, as cautious as he is strong. "But I do think we are capable of winning another. It won't be easy and a lot of things can get in the way.First, though, we have to worry about winning a lot of games and getting into the playoffs."
"What can we do as an encore? It's not unreasonable to think another title is in order," said guard Charles Johnson. "This league is so balanced that there aren't any favorities. And we have the same people back from last year and they were good enough to win it then.
"It will take luck, no big injuries and the right mix at the right time. Teams will come out after you every night, especially the ones like Indiana and Kansas City that aren't at our level yet. I know I always loved it when I beat Boston at their best."
Johnson and Bobby Dandridge are the only Bullets to experience the problems of a season after the championship. The year Johnson's Golden State club won the title in 1975, he thought the Warriors were on their way to establishing a dynasty.
"We played the season on enthusiasm and happiness," he said. "We won 59 games, the most in the team's history. We were the champs and the team played like it. Then we got knocked off in the playoffs by Phoenix and things fell apart."
Many of the bullets aren't sure what to expect this season. Greg Ballard, for one, says, "Although we know what we can do, you don't know how you will play over the course of a season. It hasn't been there in exhibition season so far.
"We also know the fans probably don't think we can do it again, that we were flukes. I bet they aren't expecting us to win it again, so probably there isn't any pressure on us, not like there would be if people thought we were a dynasty."
The Bullets shrug off the importance of being introduced before every game now as "the NBA champions." But that simple phrase, according to Kevin Grevey, could have a lot to do with the club's play this year.
"I think we have to put up a good show every night," he said. "Otherwise, we are going to here about how those chump champions stunk up the place. It won't be like other years.
"There is plenty of motivation. We've got a lot of young players who are pushing and wanting playing time. We can't sit on our laurels, I donn't think. We aren't going to overwhelm people, but don't overlook our depth. We are deeper than any NBA team and over the course of the season, that is going to win us games."
"I think everyone has practiced and worked like we never won the title," said Larry Wright. "No one has been loafling. We have confidence but I don't notice any overconfidence. Just because we are champs we can't fall down and expect to win. We all know that and everyone seems to be going at this thing the professional way.
"We all know something together at the right time. What if a team like Philly, with all that talent, has that kind of timing this year. That's enough to keep from getting cocky."
Guard Tom Henderson is troubled again with a sore ankle, an injury that plagued him most of last season. But he is expected to be ready for tomorrow's home opener against the new Orleans Jazz . . . Hayes, in a featured article in this week's Sports Illustrated, says that he feels he should have won the most valuable player award in the championship series against Seattle, but adds: "I don't think I'll ever get it because, I think, more than anything else, people want to see me fall." . . . The club ended two-a-day workouts at Fort Meade yesterday. They will practice there this afternoon and then break camp. During the season, practices again will be held at Bowie State.