Of all of sport's artists, Bobby Dandrige paints the brightest picture with the fewest strokes. He is elegant and also economical, the consummate proffesional during special shows such as a 17-minute one here today.
"It was a clinic," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said. "Any young man studying basketball just needs to review films of Bobby D. today to see how the game should be played."
Like Reggie Jackson's self-portrait, Dandrige is the straw that stirs the drink in pressure games for the Bullets. But he stirs gently, without making waves. No player in the NBA scores and passes with more grace and fewer frills.
"He's a playoff player and we are the playoffs," said Charles Johnson. "Let him stay home for 82 games. When the playoffs start, call and tell him to come and work. At the critical points, the fourth quarter and overtime, when you need points every time down court, he gets them."
This was vintage Dandridge. He did not take one more dribble than necessary for his 31 points (19 on the fourth quarter and overtime) and five assists. He did not shoot one inch higher than necessary, even to clear a Tree. Nor, for that matter, did he work one second longer than necessary.
"I went along with the flow, like I have a tendency to do," Dandrige said. "But today that was beneficial, because I wan't tired in the fourth quarter (having missed most of the third quarter with four fouls).
"I have the ability to do certain things - and they needed to be done. I can score and I can give the ball up. And the others are comfortable with me having the ball. Yes, I wanted it.
"And when I'm in the air, I can make changes. I can lean back, if I have to; I can lean forward (to draw a foul), if I have to. Or I can pass. I have this ability at an old age."
At 31, Dandridge either scored or threw the pass that led to 17 of the bullet's final 20 points in regulation. When he slipped around or jumped over every Hawk directly in his path, he challenged the biggest one of all, Wanye (Tree) Rollins.
And on Tree's turf.
"You see somebody that size (6-foot-6) posting (7-1) Tree and you figure he must be crazy," said Mitch Kupchak. "But I knew Bobby was going to score on him. I think everybody knew."
This was in the final minutes of regulation. Earlier in the series Rollins had been dominant enough for T-shirts with "Tree-fense" to be seen here and there in the Omni. So here was Dandridge with the ball, down low, dribbling once and turning to his right, floating high and away from the basket - and the Tree.
"His arms are so long, that's one of his keys," Kevin Grevey said.
That and waht the football coaches call hang time. In the air, he bent backward, arched his back some and lofted the ball just high enough to avoid Tree's Branches.
"I had adjusted pretty well to Tree by that time," Dandrige said. "I'd step in toward him once, then step back from him the next time to get the shot off. And another time (when Rollins moved on him) I passed to E.
Score and dish off, that's the key."
"In victory, the Bullets unearthed a Redskin phrase, "taking what the defense gives us." The Hawkins gave them a pass to Dandridge - and Dandridge made the Hawks rue their charity.
"He's so easy to blend with," said Grevey. "That's the biggest thing about him. He complements all our games. He's even got West cutting to the basket, 'cause he knows he'll get the pass.
"If you double-team him, he hits whoever's open. And if you single-cover him, he'll get his points on anyone in the world."
"My all-star," said Tom Henderson. "This is my second year with him - and I'm still learning to appreciate him. He's very underrted. Look at his salary."
That was the recurring needle that jabbed about the Bullets' dressing room. Bobby and his money - or lack of it.
"Abe got himself a bargain there, " said Grevey, refering to owner Abe Pollin. In the NBA, $250,000 or so is regarded as a pittance. And Dandridge has growled about being merely fourth on the Bullet payroll, perhaps $200,000 per year behind Hayes.
Dandridge missed training camp in a public snit with Pollin. Later, He hinte d he might allow the higher paid players to take the important shots in important games. He is for at least one witness yesterday to huddle, Motta diagramming a play and Dandridge interrupting with:
"Let me talk to Abe first."
Dandridge was dominant for his regular wages, later smiling slyly and saying: I'm not worrying about money now, I think that'll fall into place."