Pro basketball is
traveling, all right. But not from country to country or even city to city. It
is traveling from locker room to locker room. And dressing rooms all come to
have that same stale smell about them after a while. It is sweat and sneakers
and soaking wet uniforms and wrinkled clothes, and there is the steady hiss of
showers. Listen, you kids out there. Listen, Lew Alcindor, for one. Defeat and
victory all smell exactly the same in a pro basketball dressing room alter a
while. You get so you don't feel elation. You just feel beat. And there is no
crowd of beautiful girls waiting outside a dressing-room door—nor much time for
dating, anyway. Last week I was sitting all lonely in the Sheraton Hotel in
Philadelphia—the rooms there are like little bitty boxes—and pawing through the
stuff in my bag. I came up with the phone number of this girl—I mean, she is a
dish—and called her for a date. When the phone started ringing I suddenly
remembered that I hadn't called her in, like, four years, and what would I say
if her husband answered the phone? (It turned out she wasn't married. Whew. But
it also turned out that she had another date that night. See what I mean?)
What I'm telling
you—you, Alcindor, and all you long-armed kids out there—is that basketball
burns you out. And if you make it in the pros you had better save your money
and be ready to retire at any hour. It can all end like snapping your fingers.
Pro basketball burns you faster because you play a faster game than anybody
else and pretty soon—zap! You start to lose your desire. It isn't always
playing the game that gets to you—the real pros love the game and, man, they
love to play it—it is some of the bush things that will finally nail you. They
have nailed me. And sometimes I don't want to retire tomorrow; I want to retire
yesterday. You follow me? Let me put it this way.
You can play
baseball until you're 45 (if you can stand the lack of real action and that
162-game season) and you can play football until you're pretty well up there,
too. But not basketball. The saddest thing about this is that there are some
remedies close at hand for all this. Put them all together and they don't spell
mother, baby. They spell money.
Pro basketball is
still the most exciting thing going on. But it is sadly over-exposed. Man, by
the end of the season the public has got basketball up to here. Since it got
going good, the game has been dominated by some owners who have got big money
worries and little reserves. Know what I mean? They're forced to be competitive
and too businesslike about this game, and they can't let up and relax for long
enough to give it the help it needs. In the National Football League the owners
can go first class all the way and not worry about the right-now revenue. Can
the owners look for a long-term, five-year gain in basketball? Why, in five
years many of them won't be around.
I'm in my seventh
year, and I guess I'm lucky to have held all of me together this long. It's at
the point now where I lose eight to 12 pounds during each game, and sometime my
stomach hurts so bad out there under the basket that I sort of have to lean on
the guy guarding me and gasp to catch my breath. I used to drink a half gallon
of milk right after every game and about seven other quarts of milk during the
day. But now Dr. Lorber has got me cut down to one bottle of milk a day and has
me on a diet so bland that it doesn't even have hot dogs on it. Man, I have
lived on hot dogs for years. So now I sit in the locker room after coming off
the floor, and I start to polish off a quart of ginger ale or Seven-Up, and Ike
Richman—Ike is a very dramatic small guy—comes in and sort of staggers
back-ward and slaps his hand to his forehead.
will kill you!" Ike says. "Will you for once stay on your diet?"
And he snatches the bottle away from me and splashes it on his hands and the
floor and all over my bare feet. "Look here," he says, rubbing his
hands together. "This stuff is so strong it will even clean my hands. No
wonder you've got a sore stomach. What am I going to do with you?"
Ike, I don't know what you're going to do with me or what I am going to do with
you. But whatever it is. you'll be the first to know.
First I am going
to get well. I don't know, maybe I'll go to the Mayo Clinic—if they've got a
bed out there big enough for me—and get this stomach all fixed up. Then I will
go back to my apartment and sit there and play my electric guitar (I don't play
melodies too well, but I can chord like crazy) until it drives the neighbors
out of their minds. I will put on my Day-O! hat (you know, "Day-O! Daylight
come and me wanna go home") and my dark shades and take my big conga drum
and go over in Central Park and sit there and play it and figure out the
psychologically punchy over the years I've played basketball. People have been
snatching and pulling at me since I was little...well, since I was a kid, not a
little kid. I've been stared at, laughed at, insulted, investigated and
generally turned inside out.
Man, the FBI
grabbed me while I was still in Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, and word
was getting around that I was getting some pretty fabulous offers from colleges
around the country. Like tens of thousands of dollars under the table and
hidden away in caves and secret funds. Offers of big cars and like that. There
I was, still a young, impressionable boy who didn't want to do anything in the
world but just plain play basketball. And they were on me like I was the
biggest criminal in the country. From that day on, basketball got better, but
my life got tougher.