Averitt never played a game for the Celtics. In fact, after leaving Pepper-dine, he put in only two undistinguished seasons in the NBA, following three decent ones in the ABA. But when John Y. Brown and Irv Levin pulled off their bizarre franchise swap in 1978, Averitt's contract, a shrewdly drafted document with lots of cash deferred, went from Buffalo to Boston. Even as his pro career sputtered, Bird became one of pro basketball's Merger Millionaires, set for life.
That life is now shared with his girlfriend, Monica, and their eight-year-old daughter, Moneisha. His parents, Julian and Mary, live nearby in the house where he grew up. It's hard by the vacant lot where, playing touch football on a hot day, little William once stripped off his shirt to cries of "Birdchest!" The lot isn't vacant anymore, but Averitt still has that avian torso. He could be 18, might be 25, couldn't be a day over 30.
"I'm a grandfather," he says, grinning. "Three times." Averitt has an impossibly even temper and ready smile. But then he got on with the most difficult of coaches (the Kentucky Colonels' Hubie Brown) and the most genial ( Pepperdine's Gary Colson). As he flips through a scrapbook, you stop him at the photo of himself on the couch of his college dorm room, with room-and teammate Budweiser Hawkins seated beside him, Budweiser has a brother named Falstaff and a sister named Virginia Dare (after a brand of wine), and thus at first he got most of the suite's press notices. Then Bird, as a 6'1" freshman, twice went for 44 against the UCLA frosh team that included Bill Walton and Keith Wilkes, and even Bud couldn't match that.
The next season, 1971-72, Averitt broke most of the conference's varsity scoring records, only to be exiled to second-team all-league. "They said I was erratic," he says. "Could only go to my left." He averaged 39.1 in conference games as a junior, and the coaches realized he could hardly be faulted for not going to his right when he had no reason to. Chastened, they voted him MVP in 1972-73.
Late in '83, when Averitt was settled in California, his father had a stroke. Bird went home for the first time in seven years. A second stroke persuaded him to stay in Hopkinsville.
"After playing so long, I really don't miss the game that much," he says. "Figure I started when I was six, so I've got my 30-year pin. I liked the attention, but it was the competition I liked more than anything. And I don't miss out on that at all because I'm doing other things." Without workday worries, he keeps busy haunting Hop-town's softball fields, bowling alleys, tennis courts and pool parlors. A game's a game.
Such is the merry life of the Bird, home to nest—for now, anyway.
Exactly what took place 11 years ago on that November afternoon in Italy is subject to varied recollections, but this much is certain: Johnny Neumann was playing his usual incendiary game. He had scored effortlessly and often for his team, Cant� of the Italian League, which led handily in the second half. He was shooting free throws when, according to Neumann, someone in the rowdy crowd insulted his mother.
At this point Neumann, never one for tact, hiked up his shorts and patted one of the pearly white cheeks of his derriere. He played for a few more minutes and then was removed by his coach. As he left, he pointed toward the scoreboard, rubbing in his team's advantage.
Italian sports fans have rioted at less, to be sure. And Neumann—the original Rebel Without a Conscience, the first collegian ever to go hardship—has done many audacious things in his time. His entire life changed in 1971, his sophomore year at Mississippi, when he scored 40 points a game. With two games left to play that season, he went pro, ostensibly to help his family. His father, Robert, a truant officer in Memphis, had suffered a heart attack. Signing an ABA contract with the Memphis Pros for a reported $2 million seemed the right thing for Johnny to do.