Standing in Philadelphia's Spectrum on Tuesday, Jeff Ruland smiled broadly and certainly looked happy as a new member of the Philadelphia 76ers.
And as he spoke -- "Elated . . . I'm on cloud nine," he said -- he certainly sounded positive enough about the draft day trade that sent him and Cliff Robinson to the 76ers for Moses Malone, Terry Catledge and two No. 1 choices.
All of which stood to reason, because after five seasons as the most visible, vocal and powerful member of the Washington Bullets, in effect the embodiment of the franchise, Ruland definitely was happy to be gone from the Nation's Capital.
"I am kind of excited about it, very excited," he said Thursday. "I'm going to a team with a lot of talent and a chance to win the championship. What kind of reaction should there be, outrage? Shoot, I'm glad. It was time for a change, I think, for everyone."
At 6 feet 11 and 275 pounds, he was the one constant throughout the assorted combinations the Bullets tried during their transition from the championship teams of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes. He is the all-time franchise leader in field goal percentage (.564) and fifth in rebound average (10.8). He averaged 18.7 points in 303 games with the Bullets.
In his first season in Washington, he and another rookie, guard Frank Johnson, were the youngsters among a group of castoffs -- Spencer Haywood and Jim Chones among others -- coached by a basketball renegade, Gene Shue. The team was expected to age very nicely in the Atlantic Division cellar but the Bullets finished the 1981-82 season 43-39 record, swept past the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the playoffs, then pushed the Boston Celtics in a hard five-game set.
The Bullets never achieved similar success after that year, only once finishing above .500 and never advancing beyond the opening round of postseason play, a fact that was not lost upon Ruland.
"That first year, playing with Rick Mahorn and Frank, that's my favorite memory," he said. "We played together as a team, more so than any other team I was on here. I guess that's why we had more success than any of the others."
That was not expected to be the case, especially during the last two seasons. A series of draft day maneuvering added players such as Robinson, Gus Williams, Dan Roundfield and Manute Bol. Yet the team still foundered, mainly because Ruland, who often had been among the league leaders in minutes played, suffered a series of injuries.
In 1984-85, he missed 45 games, mainly because of a shoulder ailment. Last season was more frustrating. In spectaular shape at the start of the season, he often dominated play. In a six-game stretch ending on Dec. 8, he had two triple-doubles and averaged 25.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and seven assists and was named NBA player of the week.
Three days later, however, in the last minute of a 108-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons, he landed awkwardly on someone's ankle after rebounding. The next day it was found that he had an avulsion fracture of his right foot.
He missed more than a month, but his haste to return led to more injuries. A sore ankle begat a bad back, which led to a bad knee. On April 1 he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee and missed the rest of the regular season, having played only 30 games.
The repercussions of his injuries rippled throughout Capital Centre. After failing to find success with a half-court offense, Shue was fired.
"Last season was easily the most frustrating time, because we had more talent than any time in the past," Ruland said. "Gene took the fall the first time around. I guess this time it was me and Cliff's turn.
"I knew I had been injured and I didn't know if they would be willing to wait another year for me to come around."
He said he was awakened Tuesday by a phone call from his agent, Bill Pollak. "He told me that something was in the works and I'd be going to either Philly or Boston," Ruland said. "I started to think that I was in a no-lose situation; if I went to one place Boston , I'd get a championship ring for sure and if I went to the other I'd get one if I worked a little harder."
Ferry, who said he was working on four separate trade possibilities just before the NBA draft, denied that the Bullets were actively trying to move Ruland. "We didn't want him to go, in practically every other deal we could have made, Jeff would have been on the team."
Said Ruland: "I guess he just hit on the one that counted, then, huh?"
A communications major at Iona College, his glib, acerbic wit made good copy for reporters, though the general public probably didn't laugh when it learned that he often shared beer with his pet Doberman pinscher, sometimes from even the same glass.
But any rancor people in the Washington area held toward him was more than reciprocated, especially when it came to the subject of the Bullets' often-woeful attendance at home games. Some of his most pungent comments addressed the empty seats at Capital Centre or the tendency of those attending to root for the visiting team.
"I don't think it was a case of me not being appreciated, but the whole team not being appreciated," he said. "Everybody on the team knew what the deal was. . . . They weren't coming for us, but they'd be at the Redskins' games on Sundays, wouldn't they?
"Now that they've got Moses, maybe they'll come out now. To the ones who came out when I was there, I thank them and wish them the best. To the ones that didn't, I just want them to check me out on the tube.