"The little fella," as Bernie Bickerstaff is prone to call his boss, Bullet Coach Dick Motta, wasn't listening despite the most urgent pleadings of his assistant.
"I told Motta that this guy wasn't playing worth anything and we should take him out," said Bickerstaff. "I kept it up and he never would acknowledge he heard me.
"Then, about 10 minutes later, he turns to me and asks me if I thought he should take the guy out. I didn't say anything. He was getting madder by the minute. He asked me again and I didn't say anything and he started storming around on the bench, saying 'So you want to be an assitant coach?'
"I just looked at him and said: 'He's been in there 10 minutes too long already.'"
Motta laughed, the player came out and another episode in the story of one of the best attractions in town, the Dick and Bernie Show, was history.
Every Bullet game really has two parts: the action on the floor and the interplay on the bench between Motta, the sometimes stormy veteran coach, and Bickerstaff, his independent-minded, gifted assistant.
They argue, they laugh, they yell, they complain and, occasionally, they vie for the right to receive the game's first technical foul. In the process, they also have become perhaps the most formidable coaching combination in the NBA - another season the club is defending champion and currently the hottest team in the league.
Even without Motta, who is recovering from knee surgery, on he sidelines Tuesday nigh in New York, the Bullets didn't miss a beat. Bickerstaff said afterward he was "just implementing Motta's system" but there was no noticeable difference on the bench: the players were equally attentive to his instructions are they are to Motta's and they played just as flawlessly as they have in their previous victories during the eight-game winning streak.
"It doesn't matter who is coach, Dick or Bernie," said Elvin Hayes.
"We have the same respect for both and we go about our business the same way.
The Knick game marked Bickerstaff's debut as an NBA head coach, even if in a temporary role, and Motta is convinced that he eventually will wind up in charge of his own proclub. Bickerstaff, who is 34, enjoys his role so much with Washington that unless what he calls "the right job where I can win right away" comes along, he would rather stay put.
"I think this is an ideal job for an assistant," he said. "I've got Dick's respect and I've got the players' repspect. I have input into what the team does and my ideas and opinions are treated seriously."
Not that Motta and Bickerstaff agree on everything. Their disagreements on the bench are legendary. Bickerstaff, a strong-wiled man who feels it is best to say what is on his mind, never hesitates to speack up if he thinks Motta is remiss in his strategic moves. And Motta, as self-confident as any coach could be, will just as quickly tell Bickerstaff he isn't right.
"We both speak and it's over said Bickerstaff, who needles Motta relentlessly on road trips. "We are intense and open and you are going to have disagreements in that type of situation. But if he didn't want to listen to me, I would have left a long time ago."
That Bickerstaff is in his sixth season with the Bullets is in itself amazing. He came to Washington in 1973 as an assistant to K.C. Jones after resigning as head coach at the University of San Diego and was expected to leave along with Jones after the 1975-76 season when the latter was released by the club.
But, with Jones' blessing, he talked to Motta about retaining his position - "I needed a job" - and was surprised when Motta kept him. Now the two are close friends. "We found," said Bickerstaff, that our personalities and interests were similar. Things couldn't have worked out better."
Under the quieter Jones, the gregarious Bickerstaff was more visible. He also was credited for much of the team's on-the-court success. Under Motta, he has accepted more of a behind-the-scenes role, although his views are valued just as highly.
Motta has grown to rely on Bickerstaff's scouting reports, which he called "the best I've ever seen" during the finals against Seattle last year. Bickerstaff does his best to protest Motta's income by shielding the tempestuous coach from as many technicals as possible.
"Coach, we need you more on the bench," Bickerstaff will tell Motta in the heat of a debate with a referee. If that techinque fails, Bickerstaff tries his trump card:
"Hey, could you please sit down. You're blocking my view of the game."
More times than not, Motta will laugh and return to his seat.
Sometimes, however, both coaches will erupt at the same time.In what could be a scene from "The Wizard of Oz," Bickerstaff, the long and limber scarecrow, and Motta, the puffy lion, prance along the sidelines, screaming at the villainous refereess. It's a performance no other team in the league can duplicate.
"Hey, Motta likes to be difficult," said Bickerstaff in his best deadpan fashion. "He'll disgree just to test you. It's his nature. I just don't think he wants people to get to know him too well. But I try to help him out." CAPTION:
Picture, Dick Motta and Bernie Bickerstaff: minds in tune, By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post