There seems to be no better way to begin this celebration of Elvin Hayes than by getting personal, so purists are warned to prepare for the dredded vertical pronoun during a mental trip back to Seattle that historic night of June 7, 1978.
In their dressing room, the Bullets have been NBA WORLD CHAMPIONS for perhaps an hour. The air still is expensively misty; words still flow in loud gushes; Abe Polin still hugs nearly everything that moves.
I have just heard Wes Unseld reflect on 10 years of frustration, Charles Johnson promise not to touch anything round for several weeks and Mitch Kupchak quote Tom Henderson as saying a few minutes before the title game: "Tonight's big. I might even dive for a loose ball."
Suddenly, there is reason for my pen to screech to a halt, for my eyes to dart quickly upward and meet those of hayes, who has set a pick right there in the middle of the party, His joy seems to have escaped.
"My man here," he said, just forcefully enough for a few heads to turn, "said the Bullets couldn't with Elvin NBA championship with Elvin Hayes." That was not entirely correct, but close-and now vengeance as Elvin's.
Few athletes have been maligned as mightily as Hayes during their careers and-at last-he was the ultimate winner. This was no accidental collision-and this man of God did not seem to have Christian thoughts dribbling through his mind. Highly strung horses kick after an emotional performance, highly strung athletes sometimes punch.
Okay, I thought, will it come from the left or right? Will the palm stay open-or will he be serious. Anyone in his position would relish the chance to pay damages.
Then he melted. As I prepared to be prone, by now assuming this would be what Billy Kilmer, Lefty Driesell, George Allen, Wilt Chamberlain and some others had stopped just short of doing, Hayes stooped and threw his arm around me. And laughed.
He was free.
Had I the wits to look at my watch, as he quickly turned and moved away, the exact moment Elvin Hayes flicked the proverbial monkey from his massive shouders would be known. No longer could he be called one of life's losers.
In the future, any vulnerability under pressure could be dismissed as a mistake, not as CHOKING. Hayes had fouled out early during game seven against the Sonics, but as a teammate, recalling Hayes' history, said: "This time he was trying." He went out as E rather than e.
Hayes has played with that same inner peace throughout this season. He has been majestic at times, carrying the team when that was necessary and playing within the team when that was appropriate.
He would be a worthy choice as the NBA's Most Valuable Player, even though he has had statistically better seasons. But because players, with memories, award that honor, Moses Malone probably will win it.
In truth, Hayes may not be the most valuable Bullet. Coach Dick Motta has been doing a public shuffle-step on the subject lately. To The Post's Paul Attner the other day, he said: "He (Hayes) should win the MVP award. No one else in the league deserves it more."
For the Sporting News this week, Motta said: "I'm not sure he (Bobby Dandridge) isn't the most valuable player in the league."
But the Bullets and serious Bullet watchers realized that the nicest change in Hayes has little to do with numbers, or even with what happens during games. This season there have been no public pouts. He has not complained of having to do everything himself.
That always was what angered so many. Hayes would dominate the glamor areas, then criticize Wes Unseld or somebody else who had been sacrificing glory to do the difficult and unnoticed work that made Elvin Hayes look good. literally, he was biting the hands that fed him the ball.
For a man so graceful with his body, he had atrocious mental timing all too often. When a sensitive player blundered and needed encouragement on the court, he would get understanding pats from everyone else-and an evil look from Elvin.
"Those are fewer now, almost rare," said one Bullet. And a player who could scarcely tolerate Hayes at times in the past has had dinner with him this season. No, it was not Unseld. The off-the-court ice between him and Hayes probably is too thick ever to break.
Hayes has made splendid play after splendid play this season. His most profound play-or at least the one that best illustrates the latest New E-very likely came against the Celtics Wednesday, when a long pass bounced off his hands and out of bounds.
He turned and looked at the passer, as always. But this time there were no scowl, no why-don't-you-throw-the-ball-where-I-can-catch-it. This time he said: "I'm sorry." I was the most eloquent moment of his career.
If numbers are not what has made Hayes so special this season, they are what he needs to keep his name alive long after his final turnaround jumper. And he is making a passionate run at history.
After 11 years, Hayes is among the top few players in most of the significant career areas. If his enthusiasm and body hold, he can become the most durable player in the history of pro hoops-and the leader in field goals made and attempted as well as the second-most productive scorer and third-most productive rebounder.
Hayes is eighth in career minutes played. Three thousand minutes for another five years will put him far ahead of the leader. Wilt Chamberlain.
Hayes and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are among the elite in the fields goals and points. Only Chamberlain seems beyond the reach of both-and Hayes in his 11th year seemed to have much more zest for the game than Abdul-Jabbar did in his 10th.
Probably, Hayes will have to be satisfied for third in rebounds, or at least until Malone ends his career. But being behind Chamberlain and Bill Russell-and several thousand ahead of everyone else-is not too bad. Hayes also should pass leader John Havlicek in career field-goal tries.
And now, at age 33, his position among the game's immortals secure and a championship ring to ease his mind, damned if Hayes isn't working on making a few all-human teams. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, Elvin Hayes gathers in an alley-oop pass from Bob Dandridge and makes a dunk against Boston. Hayes is a solid contender for the Natonal Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Prize. Photos by Richard Darcey-The Washington Post