This was the gang on the floor when the Bullets started pulling away from the Nets in the fourth quarter Friday night in Capital Centre: Spencer Haywood, Charles Davis, John Lucas, Jeff Ruland and Kevin Grevey. Three NBA nonfactors until a few months ago, a guy who needs a bodyguard--for protection against himself--and a shooter whose tummy wouldn't let him shoot less than a week ago.
There they were. Frank Johnson's Detonator Dunk had come a few minutes earlier. He had blown the minds of everybody who saw him, this hoop twirp who had dunked all of twice in his NBA life climbing a stairway of space from just inside the free-throw line and jam-slamming over the seemingly cowering 6-foot-9 James Bailey.
It's a unique moment one basketball generation passes to the next, when a son frankly familiar with Frank raises an eyebrow and says: "He did what!" Believe it. Savor it. Call it symbolic of the Bullet season, if you wish, one more example of an undervalued player performing as no one thought possible.
But appreciate also what happened later. Fantastic Frank became Frantic Frank, figuring he had enough hoop helium to glide over giants forever. Literally, 6-10 Len Elmore brought him to earth, taking an open-court charge--chest high--on the final play of the third quarter.
Johnson needed a rest. And here came, heaven forbid, John Lucas. Once as slick a guard as ever graced a court, a player with pro savvy as a freshman at Maryland, Lucas has been a sad and sorry figure of late. Irresponsible. A pouter. Unable to cope with the first bout of athletic failure.
Lucas had spelled Johnson earlier in the game and had been awful. Paunchy fans could have been bolder and more creative. Now, with the game and possibly the playoffs on the line, on trotted bad John. Surely for no longer than an armful of seconds, until Johnson got his fifth wind.
He stayed 6 1/2 minutes. Lucas didn't sparkle. Probably, he never will again. But he was useful, helped instead of hindered, even showed a bit of flair. Scored once, threw a terrific in-traffic pass to the unguarded Grevey, who was going into shooting orbit himself.
When Lucas entered the game, the Bullets were ahead by three points; when he left, that lead had tripled. Coach Gene Shue, who not long ago said he would not speak to Lucas unless it were absolutely necessary, went to him on the bench and said he'd played well.
Maybe Lucas was as symbolic as Johnson. Maybe somebody ought to design a Bullets' poster, with Shue posing as the Statue of Liberty, a basketball instead of a torch held high over his head and a caption: "give me your maligned masses . . . "
The Bullets are a basketball melting pot. Rookies and renegades. As they go higher, some other player becomes a former outcast. In his 14 minutes Friday, Davis was four for seven from the field and took a charge from riotous Ray Williams. Haywood was seven for nine and had six rebounds.
Which means, of course, that the Bullets must juggle their roster even more to be absolutely certain of defeating the Boston Awesomes in game one of the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday.
Can anybody find Sly Williams? He'd be perfect. Or bring in Marvin Barnes for some more stability. Or Tom Kropp to shore up the guard line.
"Most people didn't think I'd be around now," Lucas said. Actually, many of us weren't sure anyone who misses work reguarly for the alibis Lucas had should be around now. But he gave six quality minutes when the Bullets couldn't afford less, so he's earned the right to a public opinion about the Celtic series.
"We can beat Boston," he said, "in six games."
Ah, John, these are the Awesomes, not the Nets. None of the Awesomes will bust a shooting spring, treat the ball as though it were a grenade the way Williams often did. The Awesomes' coach will not bench a player after he has just made four shots in a row, as Larry Brown did with Albert King. Twice. The Awesomes have a whole stable of horses instead of one, Buck Williams.
"(Rick) Mahorn and Ruland will have to carry us," said Lucas, sounding sensible. "This won't be a guard-oriented series; it won't be a (small) forward-oriented series. If (Robert) Parish gets 20, Rick had better get 20; If (Kevin) McHale gets 20, Ruland must get 20.
"And we can't let guys like (Gerald) Henderson and M.L. Carr score a lot."
It also would be helpful if Johnson and Grevey could continue to play extraterrestrially.
"Gonna try to imitate exactly what I did today before the game Sunday," Grevey said Friday. He was four for four on three-point tries, and showed more fist-throwing, mouthy emotion than perhaps at any other time in his life. He was both elated and embarrassed.
"You can't wait to get the ball," he said of a fourth-quarter scoring streak, "because you know it's gonna go in." His smile turned sheepish when he talked about his oncourt gloating.
"It's something I don't like," he said. "Showboating. But I couldn't help myself. I felt so good. Last week had been so frustrating. Big games (at the end of the season) and I couldn't play. I'd almost forgotten how good all this felt."
He glanced about the dressing room. The owner, Abe Pollin, was shouting "fantastic" every other second; the general manager, Bob Ferry, was hugging everyone in sight; the coach, Gene Shue, was giving dumb answers to dumb questions: "What did I say to Luke (Lucas)? I told him to (do something impossible)."
They were talking about the Awesomes, but the next challenge had not really hit them yet. Young and innocent Frank was agog that the photographer who captured the play of his life, Richard Darcey, had been thoughtful enough to give him a print.
Some NBA players aren't moved when given $10,000; Johnson was gleeful over a picture of himself.
"For me?" he said. "Oh, my."
Johnson walked back into the dressing room shortly after Mahorn left. Bag slung over his shoulder, hat at a jaunty angle, he turned toward those teammates still celebrating and said: "Later, freaks."