The Bullets' season clicks to 99 games here Sunday - or roughly the number Elvin Hayes played during his entire college career. Scarce wonder then that the athletic world beyond Washington East and Washington West is greeting the NBA final with rampant apathy.
One of the major reasons is the NBA. It offers too much for too long, a season that begins in early October and figures to end in early June. Before the fat lady sings, she can sleep through much of the opera without missing its essential story line.
And unless the league gets its priorities in order, NCAA basketball in appeal, at almost the exact moment gobs of fans are beginning to sour on the college game.
The enthusiasm, on and off the court, the variety and even the errors make college basketball uniquely attractive - or did until coaches began to intrude too heavily on the game in the last few years.
Stallball, or the delay game, is becoming increasingly popular among coaches - and making the sport increasingly unpopular. There were three reasons for the latest NCAA final-four tournament being viewed with such interest: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the fact that each coach refused to throw a four-corner lasso around his team in the last five minutes.
The hoops purist, or anyone not overwhelmed by pom-pons, ought to be tilting more and more toward the pros, because they still offer the fastest pace with the strongest and most graceful players at their positions. But the NBA fights that at every turn, by forcing these splendid players to endure too many performances that mean relatively nothing. It is not quite as bad as hockey, but then the auto industry at the moment is not quite as greedy as Big Oil.
How active is the national pulse about the NBA finals? Of the 20 non-competing cities, only newspapers in eight bothered to assign reporters to the entire series. Could you imagine that for the Super Bowl? Or the World Series?
What the NBA leaders must do, to assure any healthy slice of the atheltic financial pie, to keep from being a regionally oriented road show with only brief bursts of countrywide passion, is to answer one question:
Do we want to emphasize the regular season or the playoffs?
The sporting public will not allow them to have both, or to be widly successful playing 82 games to eliminate fewer than half the teams from the playoffs.
If the regular season is to be weighted more heavily, no more than eight teams - two from each division - should make the playoffs. Four teams - the best two in each conference regardless of division - would be ideal, providing almost the ultimate in credibility.
If priority is given the playoffs, the regular season should not be more than 62 games. That would be home-and-home twice against each conference team and home-and-home once against each non-conference team.
The season could begin later and end earlier, with the natural periods of relative disinterest coinciding with the showcase events of pro football and college basketball. This also would encourage a more rational for instance, playing at home one night and in San Antonio the next, or at Los Angeles the last night of an exhausting road trip and at home two nights later.
It is not unreasonable to assume, given the greater importance of each game, that teams would attract more regular-season fans in 31 home dates than they now do in 41. Provided they promoted each game properly, emphasized in Washington the one appearance of Phil Ford, or the SuperSonics or Truck Robinson versus Elvin Hayes.
Some basic changes in the game also should be considered. At the moment, the best players and coaches are not given a chance to fully utilize their skills.
Enough teams play zone defense already for it to become legal. But not without two counters; the 24-second clock should be increased to 30 seconds and a three-point play adopted. That would give teams chance to keep every inside route to the basket clogged.
Also, more authority - or at least support - should be given to officials. Either the fines or the number of free throws - or perhaps both for a while - ought to be increased, to stop the appalling abuse the officials take each game. Much of it comes from the sidelines.
If players and coaches can get away with crying excessively after each foul, it follows that a Doug Moe can overstep the boundaries of reasonable criticism after an especially galling loss.
There was at least one call against San Antonio in the final moments of Game 7 that even some Bullet fans questioned. And Moe's frustration was understandable.
"That's our only release," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said. "The officials understand this."
But Moe went too far - and Commissioner Larry O'Brien's $3,000 fine was correct.
One additional suggestion might be a surprise, because it just became a sin this seasson. That would be hand-checking, which thoughtful NBA watchers agree ought to be made allowable once again.
Hand-checking does not immediately lead to fights of the Kermit Washington nature, as many insisted. Nor does disallowing hand-checking elimiate fighting, or discourage it much. Mostly, Wall Jones jabbing at Earl Monroe was unsighly.
But hand-checking, within reason, might be the only way to keep many NBA players from scoring at will. They are that good - when the league allows them to be. CAPTION: Picture, Jack Sikma, passing over Dennis Johnson to Paul Silas, has been used by the Sonics in double-teaming Bullet forwards. UPI