Professional basketball players basically do five things-shoot, pass, rebound, handle the ball and play defense. It's difficult to make it in the NBA if a player can do only one or two of these things. It is the All-Stars who can do three, four or all five.
But there is also another set of skills involved in basketball, and it is players like Paul Silas of the Seattle SuperSonics and Wes Unseld of the Washington Bullets who have mastered them. There skills are the intangibles, the little things that often go unnoticed by the fans-like the pick, the outlet pass, defensive help and the pass that leads to someone else's assist.
The players who work hard at these things are invariably the ones, likde Silas and Unseld, who have made their teams winners.
Silas and Unseld are godfather figures to their teams, working behind the scenes but always in control, doing things necessary to make sure everything runs smoothly on the court.
There are no statistics to measure thheir worth but neither Seattle nor Washington would be playing for the NBA championship if it weren't for Silas and Unseld.
"Usually, the real strength of a team is something you can't see and Wes isn't very visible in terms of scoring or doing flashy things," Silas said. "Not taking anything away from E (Elvin Hayes) of Bobby (Dandridgea), but if the Bullets don't have Wre, they crumble. He's the rock of that ball club."
Silas has been in the playoffs 13 times in 15 NBA seasons and he has survived by concentrating on the intangibles.
"Early in your career, you feel like you can do it all, but the older you get, you find out that there are more important things than scoring," Silas said.
"Winning is a mental attitude. You gear yourself mentally to try and keep your opponent a little off balance. You can call it intimidation or whatever, but your younger players see it and they do their jobs better."
An illustration of the types of things Silas does came in the seventh game of the Sonics' Western Conference final series with the Phoenix Suns.
Silas had just come into the game and was standing near the free-throw line. Dennid Johnson was to the left of the lane with the ball. As he started to drive to the basket, Silas went undernealth the hoop in the path of two Suns who were trying to get over to help out on Johnson. Silas leaned his body against them just enough so they couldn't get around him and Johnson was able to make an easy layout.
"Those are the little things that win games," Silas said, thinking back to the play. "Most guys think only about scorng and they just aren't willing to do some of the other things. If you have the guys who will make the sacifice, you'll always have a winning situation. I like to do these things anf I like to think that that's why I have always played on a winner."
Silas, 35, has played on six NBA teams and two championship teams, the Boston Celtics of 1974 and 1976. He says that the current championship series is nothing compared with the others.
"The old Boston teams I played on would have run right through this thing, against either team," he said. "It was tougher then than it is now. "We studied each individual more then. Now, the preparation is oriented toward the team. We don't go into so much detail."
Silas said he is expecting a much more physical game tonight and also said that the Sonics will probably press the Bullets more on defense.
"They didn't handle our pressure very well in the first game," Silas added, recalling that his team made up an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit in the first game, only to lose on two free throws by Larry Wright with no time left on the clock.
"No team likes pressure," Silas said. "It's designed to make you hesitate, and when you hesitate in this game is when you get into trouble."
That first game ended bitterly, with the Sonics stridently objecting to the foul called against Dennis Johnson that sent Wright to the foul line.
"All that ref stuff has gone on too long now," Silas said. "After the game, you say a lot of emotional things that you wouldn't normally say. Refs neither win nor lose ball games.
"It happens all the time. The winners jump and shout and the losers talk about the ref," Silas added. "And I don't want to be no loser."