NOVEMBER 18, 1987
With apologies to World B. Free, Shaquille O'Neal and, yes, even God Shammgod, when it comes to staking a claim to basketball's alltime name, Fennis Dembo enjoys Jordanlike distance from the pretenders. "I'm always a bit stunned that people still remember me," says Fennis, whose mother, Clarissa, selected his name, along with that of his twin sister, Fenise, as a declaration that after 11 children, her childbearing days were finis. "I tried to set up an E-mail account, but two other guys—basketball fans, I guess—were already using my name in their address."
Dembo, a native of San Antonio, and his unforgettable appellation moseyed onto the sports scene more than a decade ago when he established a national profile at Wyoming. A burly 6'6" forward with a penchant for flamboyance, a predilection for chaps and Stetsons and—one almost forgets—a decent outside shot and fine low-post moves, Dembo, as a junior, helped the Cowboys reach the Sweet 16 of the 1987 NCAA tournament. His most memorable game came in the second round, in which he torched UCLA for 41 points while bombarding the Bruins' Reggie Miller with verbal shrapnel. The next fall Dembo was a preseason All-America. After a lackluster senior year (Dembo only made All-WAC, not All-America, and Wyoming lost in the first round of the NCAAs), he was selected by Detroit in the second round of the NBA draft. In his lone season in the league, he was little more than a cognomen in the Pistons' machine, a tweener who was too slow to play small forward and too small to play power forward. After Detroit won the 1989 NBA title, Dembo was released, and he embarked on a dizzying basketball odyssey. His travels included two stints in the CBA, a stop in Spain, three years in France, a year in Italy and a stretch last year as the designated American ringer on an Argentine team. "One of the hardest things about playing overseas is that clubs don't like the players to have too much personality," he says with a chuckle. "I had to calm it down."
Having unofficially retired and settled in Birmingham with his wife, Joy, and their infant daughter, Kailyn, Dembo, 31, hopes to work with troubled teens as a coach and counselor. "There are lots of kids who need help," he says. "I've had a great time playing basketball, and getting a championship ring with Detroit, I wouldn't trade for anything, but it's time to move on."
Nevertheless, as a visit to the Internet will attest, his name won't easily be forgotten.