These Atlanta Hawks ain't bad. Some typists need to be knocked in the head before they sit down to the machine to tap out The Truth. That way, maybe an insight will fall off a shelf in the typist's cranium and land on the machine's keys. This is to report that two such rappings upside the head have dislodged, if not The Truth, at least An Idea.
The idea is that we have undersold the Hawks. Twice now they have beaten the Bullets at Capital Centre in their second-round playoff series. The Bullets still lead, three games to two, but Game 6 is in Atlanta tonight and the typist, his head ringing from the knock-knocks, will not be surprised if there is a Game 7 here Sunday.
Rather than being a ragtag collection of bargain-basement rejects, as the Hawks have been characterized in some circles (blush), they must be considered a first-class professional basketball team. The Hawks have beaten the Bullets twice in a row on the world champions' home court-and only once all season had the Bullets lost two straight at Cap Centre, in late March to Philadelphia and Portland.
Hubie Brown, the Hawk coach, is beyond compare and by his screaming ubiquitousness comes off as Svengali with a whistle. His contribution is mighty, indeed. Yet a check of the box scores reveals that Brown has not scored a point in five games now-seven if you count the miniseries victories over favored Houston-nor has Brown blocked a shot. He hasn't even been defiled by Kevin Grevey, the Bullets' guard.
By nature, Grevey is a charmer. But in defeat the other night, he whined. He pouted the most about a charging foul assessed him for plowing into a trio of Hawks. The frailest of the trio, Tom McMillen, also is the brightest. He took Grevey's charge as excuse to go sprawling onto the waxwork. At 6-11 and 210, McMillen is captain of the All-Bony team. When he falls, it looks like someone throwing down a pick-up stick.
Grevey couldn't stand the sight. Give him the Oscar, Grevey said. Bush league, he said. The same play by a Bullet would have earned praise for its cleverness, for its my-body-for-my-team toughness. But on a night when a charmer would whine-on a night when Elvin Hayes wouldn't even speak to the media after hacking his way to FIVE fouls in two ridiculous spells totaling less than a minute's time-on that kind of night, the world of which the Bullets are champions seemed to shrink. If this keeps up, the Bullets' world will fit nicely on a golf tee.
Meanwhile, Atlanta's grows. Ted Turner, the Hawks' owner, once said he'd like to be president but first he'd be governor of Georgia, just for practice. Some of Turner's inspiration is brewed in Milwaukee. A beer can was attached to his right hand in the Hawks' locker room the other night. His tie was loose, his shirt unbuttoned two buttons, his coat collar turned up on one side.
"I wish to hell somebody would punch me," Turner called out to McMillen, who at that moment was about to have stitches taken in a cut above his right eye.
"I want some scars to take back to Atlanta," Turner shouted, hefting his beer can the way Sherman must have held high his sword. "I want to be lifted off the airplane a hero. I tell you, McMillen, if I could play, I'd be out there."
Someone asked Turner if the victory over the Bullets meant the Hawks were moving up in class.
"Hell no, they're up there now," Turner said. "Whatever happens, they're up there. I love 'em."
McMillen played the best game of his life the other night. When he went to the bench with his sixth foul, the sold-out Cap Centre filled with applause; the customers were glad to see the villain out of there. The sound was sweet. Never had McMillen scored 19 points against the world champions in the playoffs.
At 26, a pro four years now after his undergrad days at the University of Maryland, McMillen is the NBA's successor to Bill Bradley, a Rhodes Scholar marking time by shooting a ball into a little hole. As Bradley moved into the U.S. Senate, McMillen will find a nice spot in life's larger arena. For now, life in Ted Turner's locker room is joy itself.
"Ted Turner last year gave us stock in the company," McMillen said. "So we own ouselves. The guys feel a part of management. That's one of the reasons we wanted to win tonight. As Hubie said before the game, it means another $100,000 to $150,000 at the gate to go back for one more game in Atlanta."
What Atlanta does best is pester you to tears. Its defender are relentless. Most every time Elvin Hayes touched the ball, he first had to fend off Tom McMillen's ensnaring arms and find a path around McMillen's eight spider legs. It is not happen-stance that Hayes scored only two of his 26 points in the decisive fourth quarter of Game 5. By then, McMillen had won the battle of nerves; he wanted to keep Hayes away from the ball more than Hayes wanted to get to it.
McMillen wouldn't say anything like that. Rhodes Scholars don't need a knock upside the head to say the right things. He praised Hayes as "probably the greatest forward in basketball . . . I can't ever let up. If I let up for a minute, he's got five points."
McMillen never let up. "He'll fight 'em," Brown said. McMillen spoke of his team's injuries, but he might have spoken of its grit when he said, "We're like veterans of World War II."
McMillen is a shadow of what an NBA forward ought to be; he isn't strong or fast and he doesn't jump well. All the Hawks seem to have deficiencies that would keep them out of the NBA were Ted Turner not such a bargain-basement buyer. Yet they have beaten the Bullets twice in a row at home-the first time on a bad day for the champs, the second time when both teams played well.
"I don't want to get too corny," McMillen said, "but I have to go back to Oxford to a poem by Rudyard Kipling on the law of the jungle. He said, "The strength of the pack is not in the wolf, the strength of the wolf is in the pack.'" CAPTION: Picture 1, Tom McMillen, who has given the Hawks a boost, dives over Larry Wright to corral a loose ball in fifth game of playoffs. By Richard Darvey-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Kevin Grevey charges into Tom McMillen of Hawks. By Richard Richard Darcey-The Washington Post