If one of its executives, say Vice President Wes Unseld, is not immediately able to come to the phone, Capital Centre provides a service called "fun on hold." Innovative and entertaining, it includes such Bullets' minutiae as trivia question No. 96: "When was the first playoff appearance?

"In 1965, only their fourth season in existence."

But nobody, not even Unseld, whose job is to be bullish about the team, predicts when the Bullets' next playoff appearance will be.

To anyone sitting on the other side of his dark-wood desk, to those who fight through his secretarial picks and wonder over the phone why they should buy season tickets to watch two Kevins, a possibly misplaced Greg Ballard and a half-dozen oversized question marks, he says:

"You'll have fun. I think it's going to be a fun team. I think it would be wrong to promise a set number of wins. I never even did that when I was playing."

His is a new office, not as spacious as one might imagine but certainly befitting a man anxious to learn an unfamilar job, to see if this is an interlude in his life, as basketball was, or an avenue toward athletic administration.

Besides, he says, that great stone face breaking into a smile, "It still beats working."

In a three-piece suit he has had for years but wore only to church, Unseld is an even more imposing figure than he was on the court. The work duds seem to stretch some, for the knee that was surgically repaired a few days after his April retirement still is not mended enough to accommodate more than swimming and light jogging.

As yet, Unseld has suffered no basketball withdrawal pangs, no sudden urge to slink down to the dressing quarters, rip off that vest and those high-gloss shoes and slip into something more familiar and comfortable: the No. 41 jersey and sneakers.

"Still waiting," he said. "Everybody says it'll come. But it hasn't bothered me at all. Maybe it will when I go out and watch the veterans (who started training camp yesterday). But I can't see it. I had enough. At least that's the way I feel now."

What he is learning now is a bit of everything, from marketing to promotions to operations, realizing "how hard it was to promote me all those years." Specifically, he is helping coordinate Georgetown's appearances at the Capital Centre later this year and hyping the Bullets' season-ticket sales.

He considered photography and a few other job offers before Abe Pollin sprung the vice presidency on him during the retirement announcement. Candidly, he admits to a deep interest in urban studies, child education and learning disabilities. He has done postgraduate work in those areas.

His first few hours on this job, Unseld was taken aside by one of the Centre's free spirits, Hymie Perlo, and taught the essential lesson of corporate business: how to write a memo.

"To, from, subject, date," Unseld repeated, still amused, as though he had mastered a new dance step. More shy than you'd imagine someone so frequently in the public eye to be, he no longer is crushed when the answer to one of his presentations is no.

"I also have a tough time learning to laugh at something that just isn't funny," he said. "It happened the other day. Somebody said something and I looked around and everyone but me was laughing. Couldn't bring myself to do it."

He has no trouble at all bringing himself to brag about such Bullet unknowns as Jeff Ruland and Charlie Davis, calling Ruland "a bit more polished (Dave) Corzine, with more ability around the basket." Davis, a "wiry-strong type," gets Unseld thinking about a former teammate, Gus Johnson.

"And Rick Mahorn can play," Unseld said of the man presumed to be taking over his position. "He still doesn't know how good he really is. Sometimes that can be a problem."

Unseld clearly had given considerable thought to what I'd considered a slice of spicy irony: only two of the nine men who played in the NBA-championship victory over Seattle June 7, 1978, figure to be with the team this season. Unseld is gone, Elvin Hayes is gone, as are Tom Henderson, Charles Johnson, Larry Wright and Mitch Kupchak. Presumably, Bob Dandridge soon will be.

A nearly 70 percent turnover in three years seems astonishing. Unseld scarcely blinked.

"That's about right for the league," he said. "The life span of a player is like only 2 1/2 years. As of last year, there were fewer than 30 guys in the whole league who were around in '76."

Throughout his rich career, Unseld's skills as a scorer nearly always were hidden. His build and unselfish attitude made him ideal to pass and set picks near the free-throw line. When all other options fizzled, he would rattle the rim now and then with the hardest 15-foot jump shot in history.

His first retirement commercial for the Bullets, the one now making the rounds on television, was Unseldean in the highest sense. Filmed on the Cap Centre court, it has Unseld catching a basketball and offering his best verbal shot for season tickets.

Near the end of one rehearsal, Unseld suggested what he considered a boffo finish: him taking a hook shot from half court. Cameras rolling, he tried one, then another, and so on through eight or nine shots. The 10th went swish. In a business suit, Unseld arched in a 45-foot hook. All Bill Russell did for the phone company was flick the ball over his shoulder a few feet.

It's all on film, the ball leaving Unseld's hand, soaring out of camera range and then back in, and through the hoop. It's somewhere in living color, but not on the commercial, because it took several seconds too long to execute. The choice being business or art, it was an easy one to make. Snip. Onto the floor went the part we'd watched the rest of the pitch to see.