On another occasion he asked a sportswriter friend if he could get into a banquet. "Sure," the friend told Thurmond, who was nearly seven feet tall, black and practically bald. "Wear a red carnation so they'll be able to identify you at the door."
He lived high as the highest-paid player on the team. His apartment was supposed to be a showplace. He had girls by the score. He dressed not so much as a modern athlete—gaudy jump suits and such—but as a striped-suited international banker.
One night a few years ago, while we were all whooping it up at Perry's Bar on Union Street, Thurmond invited some of us over for a nightcap at his lush Russian Hill apartment. I had never been there and was anxious to go. I wanted to see how this giant pooh-bah lived. I liked his style.
With directions scratched on a cocktail napkin, I drove off with a friend for the nightcap. We had some trouble parking the car—almost as much as we had driving it—but we finally did locate ourselves near the building. "Nate is supposed to live on the 12th floor," I remarked to my friend in the lobby, "but this elevator only goes to the 11th."
"He lives on the roof," said my friend, attempting to sound knowledgeable through the blur of his diction. "In a penthouse."
We got out on the 11th floor and ascended a flight of stairs to the roof. It was a spectacularly clear, moonlit night. We could see the bay shimmering beneath us. What we could not see was anything resembling an apartment.
In the adjoining building, however, a party was going on in a magnificently appointed apartment. We could see through the open windows scores of pretty women, well-dressed men and all manner of food and drink. The laughter penetrated the cool, crisp night air. We watched, like two waifs pressing faces against a candy-store window. Swaying there on the roof, we were captivated by the opulence and gaiety. It was the sort of party we had always wanted to be invited to.
Then, suddenly, our view was gone, obliterated by a giant figure in front of the window. We Peeping Toms cursed his rudeness. When he finally moved away, we could see he was nearly seven feet tall, black and practically bald. He was wearing a striped suit.
"Wrong building," said my friend.
"Oh, what the hell," I said.