James Gary Joseph Kennedy Jr., age 20, is a forward on the University of Missouri basketball team that recently went to the finals of the NCAA Midwest Regional playoffs after winning the Big Eight Conference championship, the school's first outright title in that league since 1930, when it was composed of six teams. Technically, therefore, it is Missouri's first Big "Eight" championship. Jim Kennedy is the team's second leading scorer and its most aggressive offensive player, which is to say he is not afraid to get his nose bloodied going to the basket. On defense, he is not as aggressive.
Kennedy is a marketing major, a junior "getting by" mostly with Cs. He has blue eyes, a somewhat fleshy nose, lank brown hair he fears he is losing, and is good-looking enough at 6'6", 209 pounds to attract signals of interest from various Missouri coeds. Some of these signals are untimely and get him into jams with his regular girl, a symmetrical and well-favored brunette named Terri. Holding what is known in the NCAA lexicon as a "full scholarship" (value: $1,879 a year), Kennedy is given tuition, books and supplies, meals, laundry money, a housing allowance and an allotment of Missouri game tickets in return for his basketball services.
His friends characterize Kennedy as a bright, unassuming young man too straightforward to talk from but one side of his mouth. He drives a 1966 Mustang convertible, lives in an off-campus two-bedroom apartment with three teammates and aspires to play pro basketball. Two years ago Kennedy's father, a furniture salesman, suffered a fatal heart attack while attempting an overhead smash in a tennis match in North Carolina, where he was on business. Kennedy and his father were close. Kennedy wanted to quit school and return to St. Louis to help the family, which includes three sisters, two older than he. His mother was insistent. She told him to "get your fanny back in school."
Kennedy asked for $3 worth of gas and went around to watch as the attendant at the cut-rate pump plunged the nozzle into the Mustang. "It might not know what to do with that much," Kennedy said. "I usually get a dollar's worth. They hate to see me come in here. I dollar 'em to death."
Kennedy wore cotton pants and a flannel shirt and desert boots, and his 2-year-old tapioca-colored cashmere coat, bought in a closeout sale at Boyd's in St. Louis, was unbuttoned, the weather being unusually mild for February in Missouri. He had retrieved the car from a parking lot outside his girl friend's apartment on the outskirts of Columbia. It had sat there for three days while he used her Mustang convertible, a 1968 model. "Hers had gas," he explained.
There were other qualitative differences. Hers was blue and his was white and had less paint—or more rust—and his included the residue of his life-style: peanut shells, broken pencil stubs, a screwdriver, a crumpled letter with the greeting "Dear Foul-Up," and two dusty tapes of the rock groups America and Bread. The fragrance lingered from the time he had left the top down and rain soaked the cushions. And for a radio antenna he had substituted a coat hanger bent double; a friend had grabbed the antenna and snapped it off while falling from the hood in the aftermath of a party.
The Mustang was a family hand-me-down, he said, that he had helped pay for by painting houses in the summer on the west side of St. Louis. "My dad put money down, then gave the car to my sister. She gave it to me. One of these days it's going to be worth a lot of money. A collector's item."
He got into the car and pulled the tails of his cashmere coat around him and fired the engine. "Always starts right up," he said, and fired it again, "...on the second try." He twirled the wheel with two fingers and stomped the gas pedal and, coming out of the station, stuffed a cartridge into the tape deck he and a roommate had installed. The deck's wiring hung down from the dash like whips of licorice. He said he wished he were heading for the river instead of the campus.
Bay-be I'ma want you...