"You had to do something to entertain yourself. Hammondsville had 150 people. Not much happening in a town with a gas station, a post office and general store. You looked forward to shooting baskets—every time you had a chance."
Clarence Franklin (Bevo) Francis, who turned 60 on Sept. 4, lives in the same seven-room, redbrick ranch house in Highlandtown, Ohio, that he bought with his wife, Jean, for $9,500 in 1954—the year the Harlem (Globetrotters signed him out of college, for $12,000 a year, to play with the Boston Whirlwinds, one of the white teams that barnstormed with the Globies. The Francis home is across the street from the firehouse and two doors down from the Orange Hall and just 20 miles down Route 39 from the plant in Carrollton where Bevo works these days on an assembly line, wearing earplugs and steel-toed boots while boxing rolls of plastic wrap for $10.10 an hour.
He putters at the workbench in his garage; he feeds and waters his six hunting dogs—four for rabbits and two for coons. He is as trim these days as he is tall. "I keep pretty fit hunting with the dogs," says Bevo. He surveys his dog kennels, his vegetable garden. "I'm very comfortable here," he says.
Bevo Francis has not played serious hoops in years, yet it is more than memories that keeps him tethered to the game. On summer nights he sometimes strolls to the outdoor court across from the Grange and watches his ball-hawking granddaughter, Sarah Francis, 5'4" and 14 years old, running and gunning with boys much bigger than she is. On this night, standing off to one side, he watches as she takes an outlet pass, races madly down the sideline, sweeps to the basket, then dishes it off, behind her back, to an open man in the middle.
"She can take on any one of these boys one-on-one and beat 'em," Bevo says. Moments later, leading a fast break up the middle, Sarah stops suddenly, rises straight and drills a 15-foot jumper. The old man grins. "She started when she was little. She could hardly hold the ball. I worked with her on different moves. Taught her how to dribble between her legs. She went to basketball camp last year and came back with all the trophies. The reason she's so good is she plays with the big boys."
Sarah is not so sure. "I think it's, like, hereditary," she says.
Bevo Francis was not much older than Sarah when the world began to turn for him. He was a teenage boy living in Wellsville, six miles east of Highlandtown; by then everyone called him Little Bevo, after the nickname his father had picked up during Prohibition. Bevo was the name of a near beer bottled by Anheuser-Busch. "My dad drank it all the time," he says. "They called him Bevo, me Little Beve. I finally outgrew that."
He had grown to 6'9" by his junior year, 1951-52, at Wellsville High. That season he had 776 points in 25 high school games, 31 a game; he scored a state-record 57 against Alliance (Ohio) High School one night, and the fans mobbed him at the free throw line before the game was even over.