The limelight has dimmed around Spencer Haywood.

In fact, he isn't even the biggest star in his own family anymore. That distinction goes to his wife, Iman, one of the world's top fashion models.

Haywood said he has adjusted to being the second most famous person in his household. What he hasn't been able to adjust to so easily has been this nightmarish season that has, at times, shaken his confidence and even threatened to end his career.

An assortment of ailments, beginning with a strained calf ligament in the first week of the season, has made Haywood primarily a part-time performer. He is averaging only 9.4 points per game and is shooting 42 percent. Both are career lows for the 12-year veteran.

Rarely has Haywood, 33, looked like the Haywood of last season, who averaged 13.3 points in helping the Bullets to the playoffs. He was runner-up as NBA comeback player of the year.

A sensitive person, Haywood became frustrated enough after the calf injury to contemplate retirement.

"I wasn't able to do the things I wanted to do and felt I should have been able to do," said Haywood. "I talked about retiring because I felt I wasn't helping. I feel I can help now and I'm trying to get myself back together so I can. It just seems, though, that every time I start to feel good, something else happens and I have to start all over again. It's frustrating, but I'm a positive person and I'm just going to keep working hard and everything will fall into place."

Haywood started well after training camp this season. He scored 19 in the opener, 20 in the second game and 21 in the third, and then--pop.

Coming down after a shot against New Jersey in the fourth game of the season, Haywood felt something snap in his right calf.

He was in and out of the lineup the next five games, but wasn't effective.

"I wanted to play and help the team so badly that I never told (Coach) Gene (Shue) how badly I was hurt," Haywood said. "I told him I could play, so he expected me to perform like I had been performing in those first three games. When I couldn't he criticized me and then I reacted to the critcism."

The situation came to a head at a game in Philadelphia Nov. 14 when Haywood threatened to retire.

After meeting with Shue and General Manager Bob Ferry, the seriousness of his leg injury was ascertained and Haywood was put on the injured list for 13 games.

He returned for nine games and then missed a week of practice and two games with an eye injury. He's missed two of the last four games because of the flu and he played only eight minutes Sunday against the Indiana Pacers. He has played in only 30 of the Bullets' 47 games, compared to all but six last season.

Still not at full strength, Haywood is expected to start tonight when the Bullets face the Boston Celtics at Capital Centre at 8:05.

"Spencer just can't seem to get into shape because all of his ailments," said Shue, "and we need him. Without him, it throws off our substitution rotation and everything. He's also one of our best inside scorers."

Haywood's being in and out of the lineup and his resulting ineffectiveness are reasons the Bullets (22-25) have struggled, although they have won five of their last seven.

"Spencer is just a very proud individual and he takes care of his body and when anything goes wrong with it, he gets very concerned," said Ferry. "We need Spencer healthy to be effective. It's that simple."

Said Shue: "Spencer has had so many setbacks that he just hasn't been able to come up to where he was last year. He can't get into a rhythm. Every time he gets over one thing, something else happens. We've had trouble scoring points all season and a reason for that is Spencer not being able to help much."

To make up for Haywood, Shue tried starting Jeff Ruland, but that left little firepower among the reserves. Rookie Dave Batton has started a few games, but he isn't ready for full-time duty. Shue has tried Greg Ballard at power forward. What he is saying with all those moves is that he needs Haywood.

Haywood said he needs the Bullets, too, and has put all thoughts of retirement out of mind.

"When I was on the injured list, I had time to think and I realized that I really loved the game," he said. "The three most important things to me right now are God, my family and my ball. I don't know how long I will play, but I'm not thinking about retiring this year or next.

"I'm just going to concentrate on basketball and try to get this team to the playoffs and maybe from there we can go someplace. I'm sure we will. If we didn't break during that nine-game losing sreak, we won't break now. That was just a test to see if we could deal with it and we showed we could."

Last season was, for the most part, injury-free for Haywood.

After being released by the Los Angeles Lakers, following their NBA title in 1980, Haywood spent the following season playing in Italy. The Bullets signed him as a free agent last season.

Haywood was an Olympic hero at 19 and an American Basketball Association rookie of the year and most valuable player at 20. He has also been an NBA all-star four times.

Haywood, through a court case, made it possible for undergraduates to play in the NBA.

Before Haywood, a college player was ineligible for the NBA until four years after his high school class graduated. The ABA had no such rule, so Haywood played with Denver in that league, but when he wanted to jump to the Seattle SuperSonics, he was blocked by the NBA. Haywood went to court and the result was the hardship rule, which allowed undergraduates to apply for the NBA draft.

Stars such as Magic Johnson, Mark Aguirre, Buck Williams, Terry Cummings, Dominique Wilkins, Isiah Thomas, Jeff Ruland, Reggie Theus, Adrian Dantley, Maurice Lucas, Bob McAdoo and Phil Chenier have taken advantage of the rule.

"I just did what I thought was right," said Haywood. "That's what I've always done, and that's the way I want to be remembered.

"I want people to look back and think of me as a person who stood up for what he believed in. People have criticized me for various things my whole career, but I can't worry about that. I don't care how people feel about me anymore. I only care about my life and my family and the people I work with and work for."