Until Bill Walton returns from The Grateful Dead and Lary Bird proves he can do it for at least 82 NBA games a season, Paul Westphal remains the biggest white star in what many feel has become a black man's game.

Westphal does not like his label.

"I'm aware of it because people keep saying it," the 6-foot-4, 28-year-old Westphal said, "but I don't ever want to be in a position where I think it means something. There are differences in people and that's what makes life interesting, but I'm proud of what I've done just for what I've done, not because of my color."

Just as one thinks of the Doctor as being the Philadelphia 76er and the Iceman as the San Antonio Spur, Westphal is the Phoenix Sun.

If the Suns are to overcome their 2-0 deficit to the Seattle SuperSonics in the Western Conference final, Westphal will have to show the way.

The third game of that series will be played Sunday at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum (WDVM-TV-9 at 3:45 p.m.).

Westphal shook off a 13-point performance in the first game of the series to score 29 points Friday in Seattle, but the Suns still lost, 103-97.

Just as they did in the first game of the series, the Sonics controlled the boards, 59-38, prohibiting the Suns from running. The Sonics also had six players in double figures, led by small forward John Johnson's 21 points. Lonnie Shelton scored 18 points and had 15 rebounds.

"The boards are the bane of our existence right now," said Phoenix Coach John MacLeod. "That's been their strength all year and it's really hurting us."

The Sonics shot only 36 percent from the field Friday, but with all of those rebounds, got off 106 shots.

Despite that, the Suns still could have won had they made their free throws. They missed five in the last two minutes and made only 17 of 29 for the game while the Sonics converted 27 or 30 attempts to take a commanding lead in the best-of-seven series.

Westphal was the NBA's fifth-leading scorer this season with a 24-point average, making him the only white player among the league's top 30 scorers. Westphal and Pete Maravich (who averaged 22.6 but played in only 43 games) were the only white players to top 20 per game. Westphal also averaged 6.5 assists and shot 53.5 percent from the field.

Westphal's acrobatic one-on-one moves are often breathtaking and he is perhaps the most ambidextrous player in the league.

As signs of his versatility, two years ago he won the NBA H-O-R-S-E contest and last season was on the winning three-on-three team.

Westphal has all of the individual ability, but he has adapted it to the Sun's team concept. That is a major reason why Phoenix had the third-best winning percentage in the NBA this season behind Washington and Seattle.

Westphal makes a lot of difficult basket look easy because of a potent left hand. It was not always that way, he said.

"The first time I tried to shoot with my left hand, I hit the bottom of the backboard and it ricocheted back and hit me in the face. But by the time I was 9 or 10 I was using my left hand in close as wellas my right had."

Bostonhs Red Auerbach was not convinced Westphal could do all for the Celtics he wanted him to do, so three seasons after drafting him in the first round out of Southern California Auerbach traded Westphal and some draft choices to Phoenix for Charlie Scott.

As a Celtic reserve, Westphal's best season in Boston was in 1974-5 when he averaged 9.8 points.

He immediately became a star at Phoenix and has not averaged fewer than 20.5 points a game in his four seasons here.

"A lot of my one-on-one type things come off set plays," Westphal said. "It's just basketball. I've always tried to be able to do whatever the situation calls for.

"I think there's a big tendency to point to one-on-one matchups like mine with Dennis Johnson in this series, but I don't think that's what wins games anymore. It's team versus team now. Take the Atlanta-Washington series-there's no way the Hawks should have been able to compete with the Bullets, individually, but they went seven games because it is a team game. People just don't always understand that.

"I think we are in a transition period. If Truck (Leonard Robinson) hadn't been sick, I think we'd be functioning a lot better as a team than we are right now."

The Suns' weakness is known throughout the league - they have little muscle. That is why the trade for Robinson was made. The Suns were second in the NBA in offense and did it while being last in rebounds.

The last time the Suns got this far in the playoffs was in 1976 and they made it to the final before losing to the Celtics in six games.

"That was more of a rebounding type team," Westphal said. "Our forwards were Gar Heard and Curtis Perry and we used them for rebounding. Ricky Sobers was one of the guards and we had Keith Erickson and dennis Awtrey, so we were a much more physical team.

"This particular team has more talent and is more explosive but we knew we needed more muscle and that's why we got Truck."

Robinson made his first start Friday since contracting a viral infection in February. He scored 10 points and had nine rebounds, but the Suns still were beaten on the boards by the Sonics.