"Cardinal Mooney wore them for the last confirmation he performed," says Scarano. "Then he went to Rome for the election of John XXIII. He died there, never came back. That was in 1958. Those shoes sat in a closet for all that time—till four days ago. I burned them, too."
In the house, plasterers are busy on the third floor. Lucile is cooking in the kitchen. Quivari and Michael are doing maintenance work. Sabrina is doing paperwork. Jill is making the beds. Jo-Jo, an umbrella cockatiel, is flying free. Sixty-two rooms can contain a lot of activity. The house has an elevator and a chapel with eight rows of pews. Sun filters through the chapel's stained-glass windows and onto the eight carved heads of angels on the walls. The house also includes a wine cellar, a conference room, 12 fireplaces and seven porches. What appears to be the biggest Oriental rug in Michigan is on the sitting room floor. The Steuben glassware is locked in one of the four vaults.
Salley wants to make a telephone call. Scarano hands him a cordless phone. Salley punches out the numbers. "Hello, gorgeous," he says from the middle of the garden to somebody's secretary somewhere. The Cardinal's house, in the Palmer Woods section of Detroit, now belongs to a professional basketball player, the happiest, talkingest, funkiest member of the world champion Detroit Pistons. The basketball player is 25 years old.
"I was looking for a big house," says Salley, who at 6'11" can make an argument that he needs one. "I was with my brother Ron. We looked at another house in the neighborhood. The man said he had sold that one but that he knew about a bigger house. He gave us directions. I remember Ron stopped the car. He said, 'John, do you think this is it?' "
The conversation is being held in the dining room. Salley is eating a health-food lunch. The table seats 20. A marble fireplace looms at one end of the room. The andirons are approximately the size of Willie Shoemaker. A bas-relief of a bishop's hat is sculpted into the marble. The three Latin words ABUNDARE FACIAT CARITATUM are engraved below the hat. They translate to, "Do all things abundantly with love." A portable TV set is turned to a video channel. Prince is singing a song from the score of Batman.
" Stevie Wonder was the first person to look at the house," says Scarano, who has been its caretaker for two years. "Is that the right thing to say? That he looked at the house? His people took him here. He wanted to go through and feel the vibrations. There was a moment—this is amazing. There was a statue of Jesus on the second floor. Stevie Wonder was walking down the hallway, and he stopped. He turned. He put out his hand and touched the statue's shoulder—Jesus' shoulder. Whoa. Everyone just sort of stood there. It was quite a thing to see."
The house went on the market after the death of 80-year-old Cardinal John Francis Dearden, who had been retired for seven years, in August 1988. The present Cardinal, Edmund Szoka, was already living in a much more modest house, next door to the Cathedral of The Most Blessed Sacrament. He did not want to move. The Archdiocese of Detroit decided that owning the house was impractical, considering the upkeep, so it decided to sell.
Palmer Woods is one of the last pockets of residential elegance in the city. Trouble can be found only six or seven blocks away, on Seven Mile Road, where the proprietors of variety stores make change from inside Plexiglas cells. But Palmer Woods has retained an imitative touch of the English countryside.
"I wanted to buy a house in the city," says Salley. "I grew up in Brooklyn, and of all the players who went away, only World B. Free and Sid Green ever came back. I wanted to be in the community. No one else on the team lives in Detroit. I wanted to be here. It's like Malcolm X said. If you take money from the community and don't put anything back, you destroy the community. Everyone should have a hero. Malcolm X is my hero."
Home in Brooklyn was an eighth-floor apartment in the Bay View Projects. Salley was the low man on the bunk bed. sharing a room with an older brother, Jerry. The entire apartment could probably fit inside the dining room of this house. The two other brothers, Ron and Will, already were grown and gone. Salley's father, Quillie, worked as an installer of acoustical ceiling tile. His mother, Mazie, had an assortment of jobs.