The Bullets' past achievements and future hopes will be on display tonight at Capital Centre when they open the NBA season against the New Orleans Jazz.
Pregame activities will be devoted to a celebration of last spring's triumphant march to the league title, the first in the franchise's history. And then the expected crowd of about 15,000 - short of owner Abe Pollin's sellout dreams - will get a chance to judge how this year's team will shape up in the struggle for another championship.
For the first time in a regular-season game, Washington fans will hear their team introducted as "the world-champion Washington Bullets." The players say those words still thrill them, even though the title was won four months ago.
Pollin hopes the long list of pregame ceremonies and presentations, which will delay the tipoff until at least 8:15, likewise will thrill Bullet partisans.
Highlighting the festivities will be the presentation of championship rings to the players and the raising of the title banner above the Centre floor.
Early arrivals will be treated to a replay of the second half of the final-game victory over Seattle last June that warpped up the crown. A band will entertain and participating in the ceremonies will be NBA Commissioner Lawrence O'Brien.
Nine members of the Bullets' title club still are with the team; only Joe Pace (Boston) and Phil Walker (San Diego) are gone and their spots have been taken by two rookies, center Dave Corzine of De Paul and guard Roger Phegley of Bradley.
For Pollin and many Washington-area fams, winning the title was a culmination of a longtime dream. Yet the Bullets now find themselves faced with a credibility gap - their championship is being labeled "lucky" in many quarters and they don't even rate as favorities in their new home, the Atlantic Division. They also realize no team has repeated as NBA titlist in a decade.
"That's something we just have to live with," said Coach Dick Notta, who finally is being recognized as one of the league's top X and O men. "If we are flukes, what is Philly? Yet people keep picking then every year.
"I feel good about this team, just as I felt good about it last year. We know what we are capable of doing: we just have to prove it. People will be gunning for us every night. That will be something none of us (is) used to."
Injuries decimated Washington last regular season and the Bullets limped to the playoffs with a 44-38 record before catching fire to win the title. No previous NBA team had played so many games (103)u over such a long period (to June 7) enroute to the crown; nor had any previous champion finished with such a poor winning percentage (.537) or had to win as many games on the road (11) during the playoffs to stay alive.
"After doing all that, how can anyone just shrug off our accomplishment?" asked guard Kevin Grevey, who had an outstanding preseason and could emerge as a league star this season, his second in the backcourt.
Grevey and second-year forward Greg Ballard are expected to contribute heavily to the team's play this season. With the development of Ballard, Motta can turn to a marvelously deep and talented front court, which also includes the veteran trio of Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld and Bobby Dandridge, plus versatile Mitch Kupchak.
Dandridge, who ended a three-week training-camp holdout Monday, will play tonight, but the bulk of the small-forward minutes are expected to go to Ballard and Kupchak. The holdout was the only training-camp disruption, but Dandridge has blended in well since his return and Motta is convinced there will be no lingering effects.
Guard Tom Henderson is hobbled by a sore ankle but is expected to start. He will be relieved by Larry Wright, and Charles Johnson can play either of the guard spots.
Motta realizes he has nine veterans who expect playing time. Keeping them all happy throughout the course of the season probably will be his biggest problem.
He also needs improvement from his back court, especially on defense, where the Bullets were burned consistently during the regular season. Until Phegley develops, he has only one big guard (Grevey) and could be forced to use Dandridge occasionally at that spot, as he did in the playoffs.
Washington's depth, however, also gives a Motta versatility that few other teams enjoy. The Bullets proved in the playoffs that they can unleash an overpowering fast break set up and execute Motta's precise-patterned offense. And he can substitue to either pick up or slow down the tempo.
The game will mark the return of Pete Maravich to the New Orleans lineup. He was sidelined at the end of last year with an injured knee and underwent an operation to repair ligament damage.
Maravich missed the last two preseason games with back spasms but is expected to play tonight. He's backcourt mate will be Gail Goodrich, while Truck Robinson, an early camp holdout, and Aaron James are the forwards. Rich Kelley, who averaged 13 rebounds a game in the exhibitions, is the center, backed up by Joe C. Meriweather.
The Jazz just missed a playoff spot last season with a 39-43 record. Their only new additions are forward James Hardy a promising talent from San Francisco, who could eventually help Robinson on the boards, and guard Tommy Green from Southern University.