Ballard isn't trying to prove anything, except perhaps that the 19th-best scorer in the league (19.7 points per game) can remain invisible. Ballard is a gentle soul who embroiders every chance he gets and whose big ambition for 1982 is to get one of his neighbor ladies to teach him how to do the counted cross-stitch. "A lot of people don't know about me," he says, "and that's the way I want it. It's fun being known, but it's also fun to be mysterious." Naturally that means Ballard is enjoying the Bullets' role as this season's upstart team. "It's been like stepping into an ice-cold shower," he says. "People expected us to be like an expansion team."
Another reason the Bullets have performed more like a playoff qualifier than an expansion team is the surprising play of Mahorn, a 6'8" second-round draft pick from Hampton Institute, an NAIA school. Mahorn played four years of football in high school and got more scholarship offers as a defensive end than as a pivotman. Until the 10th grade he was 5'11" and weighed about 210 pounds and went out for football because he loved the contact. "You know, that's all fat people are good for—playing football," Mahorn says.
Though he jokes about it now, Mahorn says being overweight "was more humiliation than anything else. I used to sit home quite a bit." It wasn't until the summer before his junior year in high school that Mahorn grew from 5'11" to 6'6". "Being fat just made me strive harder," he says, and he was determined to master basketball. He was still awkward for a year after he had sprouted, but by the time he reached Hampton his coordination had improved. He became a three-time NAIA All-America, but he never overcame his fondness for contact. That was evident earlier this month when Mahorn extracted one of 76er Guard Lionel Hollins' front teeth and fractured four others with an elbow and then knocked Forward Bobby Jones silly with a forearm.
"They don't mind putting their elbows to you," says New York Knick Assistant Coach Butch Beard. "And Mahorn's an animal." Sixer Forward Caldwell Jones concurs: "Every Washington team I've ever played against has been physical. With Mahorn and Ruland, these guys are no different [from Kupchak and Unseld]. I don't know if they breed them down there or what."
If they do, they make them just slightly off center. "They're a weird team when you look at them," Beard says. "I think they kind of like being renegades. Maybe they are a bunch of misfits, but they're misfits who can play."