Elvin Hayes, who used to despise both Gene Shue and the Bullets, begins a reunion with Shue today, and it's difficult to tell who's happier.
Hayes, now 34, had the reputation of a moody, malcontent player when the Houston Rockets traded him to the Bullets nine seasons ago. Then a smiling Shue gained his confidence. When the Bullets moved to Washington for the 1973-74 season, Shue did not accompany them. Now he is back, the smile is still there and he will greet Hayes and eight other Bullet veterans at the Fort Meade training site today.
"The fact that Gene is the coach again makes it easier for me to come back to the Bullets this season," Hayes said. "When I came here the first time, I was having trouble and I was hard to get along with and all of that. Gene told me just to go out and do my job and not to worry about anything else. Eversince the first time I met him I respected him as a coach."
It wasn't always that way, though, and Hayes doesn't have a very hard time remembering how he used to feel about Shue and the Bullets.
"I'll never forget a game we played in Houston against the Bullets when I was with the Rockets," Hayes recalled. "They had already beaten us about 15 times in a row and they were beating us by about 90 points that game. Gene just stood in front of the bench and laughed at us most of the game. I hated him for that and I hated the Bullets.
"I wasn't the only one in the league who didn't care for the old Bullets, though. Nobody did. They were showboats. They had players like Earl Monroe, Wes (Unseld), Gus Johnson and Kevin Loughery. They would grab rebounds and throw behind-the-back passes all the way downcourt and that kind of stuff. They laughed at you a lot, too, while they were beating you. But, oh, were they exciting."
That excitement generated under Shue is perhaps the major reason owner Abe Pollin picked Shue to replace Dick Motta.
"There's no question we'll be exciting," Hayes said." That's the only way Gene'll have it. Players who have a certain knack to do something exciting will be encouraged to do it. He'll have KP (Kevin Porter) doing all kinds of wild stuff. The fans will love it. He'll probably have (Kevin) Grevey shooting three-pointers from all over, too. If you can do the fancy stuff, Gene will have you doing it. No question.
"He controls the situation, but he lets the player do what he does best within it. Whatever you do best is what he wants you to do."
Hayes balked at making comparisons between Shue and Motta other than to say that, while Motta was forward-oriented, "Shue capitalizes on the individual ability of every player, regardless of what position he plays."
With Mitch Kupchak and Bob Dandridge returning from injuries, management is expecting a successful year. Hayes warns that it is also a very critical year.
"Right now teams still respect us." Hayes said "But if we don't do well this year, they'll stop respecting us and we'll have to build that up all over again. If we lose our respect around the league we'll start having trouble with even the weakest teams. We can still scare some teams by just showing up. We have to maintain that and the only way we can is to have a big year this year."
Last season -- even though the Bullets barely made the playoffs -- was one of Hayes' best. He played in 81 of the 82 regular-seasons games and both playoff games.He was 10th in the league in scoring (23), fifth in rebounding (11.1), and fifth in blocked shots (2.33), making him the only forward in the league to rank in the top 10 in all three categories. He also played more than 3,000 minutes.
These types of statistics are not a typical for Hayes, who said he will try to improve on them this season.
"The Bullets could have another big forward, but I don't think they could win with him. I'll rebound, score, play defense, block shots and do a lot of things that don't show up in the stats. Sometimes I'll even play 48 minutes and two overtimes. I know the Bullets need my kind of player and I don't think they can find one anywhere.
"To win, the Bullets have to have a player who can get them at least 20 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots every night and that person is me.I love the game of basketball, I love to play it and I love to play here."
That is a turnaround from the position Hayes took shortly after the season ended -- that he didn't want to return to the Bullets and wanted to be traded to one of the league's three Texas teams: Houston, San Antonio or Dallas. tThe Bullets tried to accommodate him, but couldn't.
Hayes says he was sincere about wanting to return to Texas to finish his career. "I understand that it was too difficult for them to work something out, though," Hayes said.
Hayes added that it wasn't a desire to get away from the Bullets, but a longing to return to Texas that motivated him to ask for a trade. He wanted to be closer to home and start cultivating the already-planted roots in the area where he will settle when he does retire.
Hayes, with the help of a pair of 70-year-old gentlemen, built a 3,000-square foot house for his family in Brenham, Tex., in the offseason. "It was their brains and my strong back," Hayes said. He often worked on the house from 5 a.m. until midnight, starting work on it almost as soon as the last Bullet season ended. He finished the house Friday morning, then left for Washington that afternoon.
"Sometimes you just get tired of picking up and moving all the time," Hayes said. "I just wanted to go home and stay there, that's all."
Hayes, who has often been referred to as a bionic man because of his durability, he sput on a few extra pounds. He said he was going to run it off, but, after hearing that Dave Corzine and Kupchak have bulked up, he has thought twice about it.
He'll get his chance to run today when Shue times everyone in the mile.
"I hate practice, but I know I need it," Hayes said. "I'm a timing-and-rhythm player and it takes me a short time to get in shape wind-wise, but it takes me about three weeks to get there rhythm-and timing-wise. I wish I was like Dandridge because he doesn't have to practice. He can do everything so easily and naturally."
According to Hayes, whatever success the Bullets have this season will depend a great deal on Kupchak and Dandridge.
"we have to have them back and we need a strong rapport between the starters and the bench," Hayes said. "Last year the bench didn't complement the starters at all. A lot of guys on the bench were stabbing the guys on the floor in the back. People just weren't pulling for each other like they should have been.
"Last year was the first year that some of our players tasted defeat and it left a bad taste in their mouths."
"A lot of people are looking forward to this year and most of them will wait and see before they make any judgments.
"This is probably one of the most important years in the history of the Bullets. It should be fun."