It was June, about the time James Edwards and Scott Wedman made their $1 million hits with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Otis Birdsong was becoming a millionaire in New Jersey, when Washington Bullet owner Abe Pollin surveyed what was happening and took a deep breath.
"Now is not the time to be an owner," Pllin said, in one of his few public comments since the end of the 1981 season.
Not making the playoffs for the first time in 14 seasons was tough for Pollin and the Bullet front office to accept. But equally difficult for Pollin to swallow had been the drastic moce upwards in the salary structure by some clubs in this, the first year of free movement among the players.
In the four months since Wes Unseld's farewell night at the Capital Center, Pollin has gone into virtual hiding, refusing to discuss reports that he is seriously considering selling the Bullets, the Capitals hockey team and, perhaps, his beloved Capital Centre.
While Pollin is behind closed doors, the Bullets have traded Elvin Hayes to Houston for two No. 2 draft selections, put Bobby Dandridge on hold in much the same manner he put the Bullets on hold for the last two years, and are about to lose popular five-year veteran Mitch Kupchak, wither by a $900,000-a-year default to Los Angeles or a trade (if the Bullets can find a team willing to deal with them if they match the Laker offer).
Few Bullet fans would argue with General Manager Bob Ferry's postseason assessment: "I guess you could say we have hit the bottom," or question Pollin's indecision about the future when they see the Lakers' Jerry Buss sign Magic Johnson for $1 million a year for 25 years, then take the dead aim on Kupchak.
"Abe has said that he is reevaluating his entire commercial life," said Jerry Sachs, president of the Capital Centre, executive vice president of the Bullets and one of Pollin's closest associates and friends.
"He's accomplished an awful lot in sports and now he's sitting back and evaluating what he wants to do. Right now, he hasn't made a decision. He's evaluating what courses of action are open to him. It's a very deep and traumatic decision to make and he doesn't want to make it without a great deal of thought.
"The odds," Sachs added, "are no more than 50-50 he'll sell. So it's business as usual for us."
Pollin, a financially conservative man, has never been able to bring himself to tilt his organization's money structure for one ball player. Not even for a Julius Erving, who earns $1 million a year from Philadelphia, or Moses Malone, who is paid $1 million a year by Houston. Hayes was the highest-paid Bullet, earning about $400,000 a season.
To compete in the NBA, or NHL, Pollin knows he will have to alter his philosophy.
The average salary in the NBA is more than $160,000 a year and skyrocketing.
"Now is the time to be player," said Larry Fleisher, head of the NBA's player association who is also Kupchak's representative.
Nevertheless, Larry O'Brien, the commissioner of the NBA, says his league is in good shape. He would get an argument from some owners and some fans who would have enjoyed seeing the league championship series on national television.
The Bullets, who have few players, apparently have no desire to jump into the free-agent sweepstakes; they also have no No. 1 draft choice next season, having traded it to Detroit for Kevin Porter.
For 14 seasons, the Bullets have been considered one of the most, if not the most, physical teams in the NBA. The current Bullets -- Carlos Terry, Don Collins, Rick Mahon, Jeff Ruland and Frank Johnson head the list of new players -- get their jobs done more with finesse. They aren't role players, but athletes.
Of the teams in the Eastern Conference, the Bullets were better last season than New Jersey, Detroit, Cleveland and Atlanta. But these teams all improved themselves tremendously through the draft, by signing free agents or through trades.
All the Bullets have done is draft a potentially talented 6-2 guard -- Johnson -- and lose four of their top players, and five if they don't re-sign Kevin Grevey.
Attendance was off about 2,000 a game at Capital Centre last season.
"It's getting more and more difficult to make a profit, because salaries are rising faster than our sources of income," Sachs said.
There are four major sources of income to the Bullets, which is usually the case with NBA teams -- home-attendance revenue, local radio and television revenue and cable television revenue.
"Winning is the most important thing," Sachs said, "because the product on the floor determines everything -- attendance, television and the works."
The Bullets have a long-term agreement with WDCA-TV-20 and are negotiating with WTOP radio about extending their radio contract.
"We're compounding for the entertainment dollar," said Sachs, "and we've had two years where the team didn't measure up to the past.
"We're trying to develop the most entertaing product possible to compete for that dollar, and we also have to look at other sources of income. Cable TV is the most likely."
For the first time in 14 seasons, the Bullets failed to make the playoffs last season, but Sachs says that did not greatly affect the Bullets' image of themselves.
"Just making the playoffs is meaningless. It's how far you go that counts with us," Sachs said. "We'll either make a few bucks or lose a few bucks. That isn't that big a swing.
"Cable TV could play a role."
The NBA is already selling a weekly doubleheader to the USA Cable Television Network, and teams such as the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets have individual contracts with local cable companies that bring them additional revenues. The Bullets have no such contracts.
The attractiveness of cable TV is that it concentrates more on a team's home games while selected away games are still available on commercial television.
"Cable TV probably won't make an impact on the Bullets for four or five years yet," Sachs added, "But when it does, it'll be significant."
That doens't help the Bullets now.
Staring them in face is a prospective starting lineup of Mahorn at center, Greg Ballard and Terry at forwards, and Porter and Collins at guards, with Johnson and Ruland the big men on the bench.
It could be a long season.
"The inevitable caught up with us," Ferry said. "Because of retirements, injuries and the other stuff, we are under major reconstruction, and all teams go through it. It's a critical time for a team needing fan support.
"We don't know that it's going to be there, tough. We've won for so many years, and support was only moderate to good then.
"The next few seasons could be exciting and thrilling as our young players improve and learn the game. A lot of people who have never played will get a chance, but the bottom line is still to win."
"Let's face it, this team wsa built around Wes Unseld -- his strengths and his weaknesses -- and now, all of a sudden, we don't have him anymore, and so the whole concept has to change. Centers like Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland have exciting talents, but it takes time for the talent to become winners," Ferry said.