When Kevin Porter was reacquired by the Bullets last summer he had to strain to control his excitement.
Now, Porter seldom even smiles. The little drum major is a forgotten man. He no longer figures in the Bullets' plans.
Porter showed Sunday in Kansas City that under the right circumstances, he can still play basketball. Porter had three assists in less a minute after stepping onto the floor, as the Bullets went from a 68-66 deficit to a 72-68 lead.
The Kansas City media at the press table started buzzing. "Why doesn't he play more?" one writer asked. "He's good."
In the fourth quarter, Porter was even better. He made three 3-point plays and scored 11 points Kevin Porter was back. He was feisty, he was shouting instructions.
Porter finished with 15 points and three assists for 17 minutes work. That's the most he has played and the most he has scored since he lost his starting job Dec. 19.
The Bullets eventually lost to the Kings, 108-106, in overtime, but it was not Porter's fault.
In the 26 games he has been on the bench before Sunday's games, Kevin Porter didn't play in 10 and averaged only nine minutes, 1.8 points, 2.1 assists and one turnover in the other 16. He was never on the floor when it mattered. He was -- and still is -- the 11th man on a team that looks like it's going nowhere.
Despite his heroics against Kansas City, Porter most likely will return to anonymity Tuesday night when the downtrodden Bullets face the Denver Nuggets (WDCA-TV-20) at 9:30.
Porter would rather not talk about his nightmarish season. He is not a star anymore and at times he doesn't even look like he belongs.
Porter wanted to do well so badly. He wanted to show everyone that it was a mistake to have traded him in 1975. But all he hears now is that it was a bigger mistake to get him back.
Porter's confidence is so shot that when a rumor about him getting traded to San Antonio for Mike Evans surfaced a few weeks ago, he said he knew it wasn't true, "because nobody wants me."
He spends most of the game on the bench, a towel around his neck, his legs crossed.
On the road, he usually keeps to himself or plays backgammon with Larry Wright. He minds his own business. He's the first to leave practice every day and the first one dressed and out of the locker room after the game.
Porter says he doesn't like the "negative press" he's been getting and finds it best not to talk to the media at all.
After the Kansas City game Porter said: "The only reason I played was because our other guards were in foul trouble."
After playing 17 straight minutes, Porter could barely breath and had to ask to be taken out of the game with the Bullets on top, 106-105, with 1:26 left in overtime.
"I just didn't have the endurance," Porter said. "I haven't played much and I'm not in good shape. I thank the Lord for what I did today."
Afterwards, Coach Dick Motta said Porter had played well, but he wasn't all that impressed and that Porter's performance wasn't going to alter the present state of things.
Porter probably wouldn't have been used at all against Kansas City if it weren't for a strange set of circumstances.
The Bullets started the game with Bob Dandridge back home with a pulled calf muscle and Mitch Kupchak back at the Crown Center Hotel sick in bed.
That meant that the Bullets had a bench consisting of three guards -- John Williamson, Wright and Porter, none taller than 6 feet 2, and center Dave Corzine.
Williamson has a pulled groin muscle, so he wasn't effective; Wright was not playing well and the starting guards, Kevin Grevey and Jim Cleamons, both under the weather, got into foul trouble.
Motta, reluctantly, called on Porter, who almost won a game for the Bullets, a feat many people felt would never happen again.
The season is slipping away, ever so quickly, and the Bullets' playoff chances are growing dimmer. They have lost four in a row and 11 of their last 14. Their 23-32 record is better than only seven other teams in the entire National Basketball Association.
If the playoffs were to start today, the Bullets wouldn't make it. They are 4 1/2 games behind the New York Knicks for the sixth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Indiana Pacers are also between them and the Knicks.
The plight of the Bullets, just as much as not playing, is hurting Porter.
There are those in the Bullet organization who feel the Porter situation will come to a head soon. He is going to have to either play or be moved. A $200,000-a-year unhappy player sitting at the end of the bench isn't something the rebuilding Bullets will want to look forward to.
The trading deadline is Friday.
Dandridge flew to Denver today and will play Tuesday night."We sure can use him, I know that," Motta said. "We need all the help we can get" . . . The Bullets say they made the Roger Phegley-for-Williamson trade because they wanted Williamson for this seven-game road trip. They felt the season and their playoff hopes were on the line and they had to make a move then. Williamson has contributed little in the three games he has been a Bullet so far. Playing with that groin pull, Williamson has played a total of 44 minutes, made nine of 23 shots and scored only 18 points . . . After Tuesday's Denver game, the Bullets will play in San Diego Wednesday, Phoenix Friday and Los Angeles Sunday . . . Elvin Hayes played the entire 53 minutes against Kansas City, marking the first time this season any Bullet has played an entire game. Hayes scored 27 points and had 22 rebounds.