It's crazy, I know, to feel this way. But I'm so excited, I just can't hide it. I'm about to lose control . . . and I think I like it.
(Tony, you're quoting The Pointer Sisters again. The last time you did that was when you went wild about Ralph. You swore he was going to revolutionize the NBA. You only missed by one letter -- he might still revolutionize the CBA. So who is it now?)
(Tony, they're 13-18. They're Rick Mahler.)
Look, I'm not saying they're going to win the title, or even make the playoffs. I'm saying for the first time in a million years the Bullets are genuinely exciting to watch. It's not just that they're so much better than everybody expected them to be -- which isn't that tough, since most of us expected them to win less games than Bob Welch -- they're really, truly, no kidding around, worth watching. They never, ever stop trying. They max out every night. How many NBA teams can you say that about? Mention the Knicks, and do not pass go, do not collect $200.
(You're writing a love song, aren't you? A puff piece.)
The puffiest. You'll have to tie this one down to keep it from floating up to heaven.
(Who is it specifically on Les Boulez?)
First and foremost, Bernard King. He is, without a doubt, The Story in the NBA this season. He's second in the league in scoring -- one/10th of a point per game behind Charles Barkley -- which is remarkable considering King was washed up and left for dead, done, finished, never play again, no way, five years ago with a terrible knee injury. And he's 34 years old! Nobody ever led the NBA in scoring at 34. Or 33. Or 32 for that matter. West and Chamberlain each led the league at 31; 34 is Methuselah.
The Bullets haven't had a player as compelling as King since The Pearl 20 years ago, a player who can bring you to your feet just by putting his hands on the ball. Having remade his entire game -- changed from an explosive, thunder-jumper who scored almost exclusively within five feet of the basket, to a reckless driver and finesse jump shooter who'll play the angles off the glass like Minnesota Fats -- King has become, once again, unstoppable. It's a visceral thrill watching him play. He's given the Bullets something they lacked through the stolid years of mechanical competence from Jeff Ruland and Moses Malone: a rooting interest. Finally, there's a passion, an urgency, to watching the Bullets. You can stand up and say without embarrassment, "I want to see Bernard King."
And it's not just King. Harvey Grant has suddenly become a good player. The trading of Jeff Malone created a vacuum for scoring. Grant rushed in. He's scored 20 points or more 13 times this season; he may be the most improved player in the league. The aptly surnamed Haywoode Workman -- whoever he is, wherever he came from -- is a find, a real NBA player. True, Workman got his shot blocked in the closing seconds against Milwaukee, but he took the ball right to the hole, trying to make something happen at that time in the game when rookies prefer the comfort of a front-row seat on the pine.
Ledell Eackles is a scorer. If he wasn't lugging around that inner tube, he might be able to play 15 consecutive minutes and scare somebody. Pervis Ellison faces a similar dilemma of minutes. For short bursts he looks like the steal of the century. But he accumulates fouls like Mitch "Blood" Green piles up traffic tickets. You certainly don't want Pervis hoisting up a three to tie a game, as happened against Milwaukee, but his skills are so obvious that if he could bulk up and give the Bullets 35 minutes a game, dreamers might compare him to Kevin McHale.
(Tony, you're getting out of hand.)
Sorry. I told you I was excited. Darrell Walker is so good defensively, such a savvy rebounder, and such an overall positive influence that I'm willing to overlook his, shall we say, imprecise, jump shot. . . . And I'll deny this on the record, but I'm even beginning to like Charles Jones.
(That's it. You've gone over the side. When did this feeling overcome you?)
The Milwaukee game, Tuesday. The Bullets won me over by going up there and nearly beating a team that was 17-0 at home. And what was intriguing about that game is Milwaukee is precisely the model for what Les Boulez should hope to become -- a team of mostly fungible overachievers, who generate offense from their defense and self-sacrifice. There's no doubt the Bullets need better shooters -- they're crying for a three-point threat -- and a deeper bench. But think what they might be if the current John Williams returns as the former John Williams.
(Come on. They lost twice to Sacramento. Sacramento's so bad, Ralph plays.)
Okay, they started 2-8. Since then they're 11-10. They've beaten Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Golden State. They always beat Boston and the Lakers once. They're better now than the Knicks. How many of you dared imagine that? Before the season began, I figured Les Boulez for the fifth-worst team in the NBA, ahead of Orlando, Minnesota, Sacramento and, barely, Charlotte. Now, I count 11 teams behind them, and I make the Knicks No. 12. If the playoffs start today, Les Boulez are in!
(That's progress, right?)
Yes and no. The good news is, the Bullets are totally lovable. The bad news is, it's self-defeating. This could be the smartest year ever to free-fall. If the right underclassmen come out, the lottery is worth imploding for. We could be looking at Shaquille O'Neal (two years is all anyone stays at LSU; Dale Brown's running a JuCo feeder to the NBA), Alonzo Mourning, Billy Owens and Kenny Anderson joining seniors Larry Johnson, Dikembe Mutombo and Stacey Augmon. At least five of those players are going to be all-stars for 10 years. Unfortunately, none of them is going to be there at the Bullets' annual draft pick from hell, No. 12.