What Wilt Chamberlain said was: "I always said the only players who could score regularly from that position (close to the basket in an NBA traffic jam) were Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and myself. Now there are three."

The third is Adrian Dantley.

"I can't figure out how a guy 6-5 can score inside like that," the game's all-time scoring machine continued gushing to Scott Ostler of the Los Angeles Times. "Elgin Baylor didn't do that. Elgin had great hands. He'd score off the break, or drive. But he'd never do like Dantley, stay inside and grab balls, go up two or three times and score.

"That's incredible, especially with all those leapers around. Scoring under the basket, if someone's guarding you, that's gotta be the toughest shot in basketball . . . there's no way to fake your guy out. He ain't going nowhere but right there. He's right where he wants to be."

In every way imaginable, on the court and off, Adrian Dantley has been right where he wants to be these last few days: home. Washington's latest magnificent man-child in basketball's promised land thrives where his job is toughest.

Living low is a compliment in hoops. A stump among trees, Dantley will take anyone to the basket. Moses Malone or Bobby Jones; Wilt and Russell in their prime. Lots of players hunger for points; Dantley starves. He'll leap and lean, spring up and down as many times as it takes to score over, under or around much larger defenders. And usually sink the foul shot that follows his mugging.

"How he trains is like what a boxer does," said Utah Jazz Coach Frank Layden.

He must push himself so to survive, having been among the league leaders the last three years in the areas that most define basketball work: minutes played, scoring and free throws.

Lately, the Jazz have provided Dantley what amounts to a vacation by using him several minutes a game at guard. The Bullets may find him there as much as five minutes a half tonight in Capital Centre.

"At the end of a game," Layden said, "we'll clear out and give him the ball at the top of the (free throw) circle; he never gets it taken away from him. A very underrated player . . . I think only the coaches and players understand how good he really is."

Only those closest to him, who watched him on the playgrounds and at De Matha, can fully understand how Dantley could be living the fantasy of anyone who ever seriously laced on a sneaker and still find his athletic life incomplete.

Thousands of youngsters his age dreamed as Dantley did; hundreds experienced extraordinary high school success; dozens were exceptional in college; Chamberlain suggested how close to peerless, offensively, Dantley is at times.

Still, listen to him after a Jazz workout at Georgetown yesterday, a man six days shy of his 26th birthday being paid a breathtaking salary to play what for him has been an obsession saying:

"I can't say I'm all that happy, because I'm a competitor. Some people say I take (basketball) too serious. Lotta times I lose games I get upset, because I'm a competitor. But what can you say? You just have to go out there and do your job. Everybody can't be on a winning team."

His Jazz lose about two of every three games. They are weak in the pivot and the pocketbook, going nowhere in the standings and rumored to be going everywhere as a franchise. Merged or moved. Or both.

Although Layden insists otherwise, Dantley may be traded or sold. Although Dantley bravely talks in public about the Jazz playing sweet music soon, some close to him believe he covets a contender, that he would dearly love to play for the Bullets.

"Won in high school," he said. "Won in college (and returned to Notre Dame and earned a degree in economics after turning pro before his senior year); won in the Olympics. Like some people say, I could be working from 9 to 5. But that's a copout."

Thoughts other than basketball have played on his mind lately. Being home, however briefly, means Dantley can spend more time with his grandfather, Charles Robinson, in Washington Hospital Center.

"My first experience (with serious family illness)," he said. "He probably was my closest father figure when I was growing up. He suffered a collapsed lung in January. He's been in the hospital six weeks and probably will be there another three or four months.

"I used to wait for him on the front porch every payday. He'd bring me a box full of candy bars. He's always been pretty strong, and I can't wait 'til the end of the season so I can some home and spend some time with him every day."