He would watch the men on the platform, lined up, waiting for a train. None of them smiled. Their breath billowed into the chilly Long Island morning, and to him it looked deadly, as if a bit of life was leaking out of them each day. He'd be walking across the parking lot to the door of his high school. Soon his father would be on that platform.
That was as good as it got for most of them in the New York City suburbs: a life spent waiting for a train, commuting an hour each way, a long day in a Manhattan office, home and bed. And Billy Donovan knew it wasn't going to get that good for him. When Billy would bring home his report card, his father would shake his head and wonder how Billy would like being a truck driver. Billy knew what he lacked and knew what he didn't want. His father told him the first and showed him the second.
He was short, slow, inclined to chunkiness. He was a junior and still hadn't cracked the starting lineup of the varsity at St. Agnes High in Rockville Centre. But Billy decided basketball was going to be his one way out. He chanted to himself, Do more. Do more.
His father, Bill, had played ball at Boston College in the early 1960s before going into sales, and he told Billy that his game was dime a dozen, that he had to distinguish himself the only way he could: Take more shots than everyone else, run more suicides, play more pickup games. Do more. "A lot of what I did was out of fear," says Billy. "Fear of someday looking back on my career and seeing I hadn't done the best I could. Fear of knowing I wasn't overly talented. It came from my dad. He made me realize who I was."
It took him only a month to wear out a ball. He broke into gyms, drove himself to the edge of exhaustion, refused a social life. He didn't drink, he didn't go to parties, he didn't date. Nights would find him on the backyard court, shooting hundreds of jumpers. Neighbors would yell out the window, "Billy, it's 11 o'clock, stop bouncing the ball!"
Bounce, bounce, bounce.
His mother, Joan, would shut off the floodlight, leaving the court in darkness.
"Billy, you can't do this anymore," she would say.
"Just two more."