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Travis best's mother says he sometimes slept with his basketball. That was when she knew he might be something special. He seemed to have that ball with him everywhere he went, sort of an inanimate pet dog, sort of an inarticulate best friend. Then again, sometimes Travis almost made that ball talk. He certainly made it move. He would come dribbling through the house as if he were being pursued by all of the Los Angeles Lakers.
"You'd better become an All-American," his mother says she would shout as he rolled past Magic Johnson and outwitted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and bounced into the kitchen, "because if you're not going to be an All-American, I don't want to put up with all this."
I laugh. I write down the information.
His coach says there was no plan to have Travis score 81 points that night against Putnam Vocational. Everything somehow seemed to be working. Travis made his first eight three-pointers. He was in the "high 20's" after only five minutes of the 32-minute high school game had been played. There had always been the temptation to just "let him go." Just once. Just to see what the numbers would be at the end. This wasn't some pituitary case playing against helpless schoolchildren. Travis was a 5'11" guard. Just let him go. Just once.
"He finished with 31 of 47 from the floor, 10 of 12 three-pointers," the coach says. "He was nine of 13 from the foul line. He also had nine assists, which easily could have been 15 if other kids had finished off the plays. I took him out with 51 seconds left, for the ovation. He was exhausted. He was running the offense, playing defense and scoring 81 points. His shirt was so wet at the end, it looked as if someone had poured a bucket of water over him."
I nod. I write down the information.
His mother says Travis is the youngest of five children. Her baby. She says she was seven months pregnant and had no particular name planned for him. One night she went to a movie that starred Sidney Poitier. He played a character named Travis who was involved in a scam. In the end Poitier escaped with millions. There was a good feel to that movie. There was a good sound to the name. Travis. Travis Best.
"That's my son," the mother says, "the boy who escaped with millions."
I smile. I write down the information.
His coach says Travis has brought attention to Springfield Central High and to basketball in Massachusetts that cannot be believed. A former coach at nearby Holyoke High asked if Travis was going to receive half the gate receipts for the Holyoke-Central game, because he really should. At Westfield High the officials had to open up the second set of wooden bleachers—something they rarely do—when Travis visited. In Springfield two weeks ago, Travis filled the Civic Center for the Massachusetts semifinals—7,457 people, doors closed, people sent home, first sellout there ever for a high school game. It has been a ride.