Two violent incidents cast a shadow over the game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar punched Milwaukee rookie center Kent Benson, breaking his hand and drawing a $5,000 fine from Commissioner O'Brien. Abdul-Jabbar missed 20 games, hurting the Lakers chances in the Playoffs. Benson missed fewer games, but he never fulfilled the promise he'd shown as a collegian at Indiana. An even more serious incident occurred in December. Kermit Washington, a powerfully built forward for the Lakers, got into a fight with Houston center Kevin Kunnert. As Houston's star forward Rudy Tomjanovich ran toward the combatants, Washington turned and swung his fist, inflicting massive injuries to Tomjanovich's jaw, eye and cheek. Washington was fined and suspended for two months, costing him more than $50,000 in salary.

Portland had won a league-high 58 games during the season, but saw its Playoff chances dwindle with injuries to several players, most notably Bill Walton. Instead, two Cinderella teams, Washington and Seattle, neither of which had won its division, advanced to the Finals. The Bullets franchise, which had been to the NBA Finals twice before without winning a single game, rebounded from a 3-2 deficit to defeat Seattle in seven games.

Hard-driving coach Dick Motta and 10-time NBA All-Star Elvin Hayes were vastly different personalities, but in 1978, the two compromised their different basketball philosophies enough to secure the only NBA title in Bullets history. It proved to be the only NBA Championship for Hayes, who played in 1,303 NBA games, and Motta, who coached in 1,719 NBA games.

"We had such diverse talent on that team," Hayes said. "We had Mitch Kupchak, Larry Wright, Charles Johnson and Greg Ballard all coming off the bench. Any one of those guys would have been a great starter on another team. For starters, we had Unseld, (Kevin) Grevey, Tommy Henderson, Bobby Dandridge and myself. From the bench to the starters, we had great balance."