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A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR FORT ZACK
Frank Deford
December 19, 1977
Pro basketball superstar 'Double T' Townsend injures his hand on Santa Claus Night. Thereafter, in this fictional tale of a holiday miracle, he and his team are transformed
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December 19, 1977

A Christmas Gift For Fort Zack

Pro basketball superstar 'Double T' Townsend injures his hand on Santa Claus Night. Thereafter, in this fictional tale of a holiday miracle, he and his team are transformed

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"His name is Dickie, but I forgets the last name."

"Dickie?" she said, puzzled. "I don't think—" She stopped herself and took out the patient register. "You know, at Christmas we never have that many children here. No, no. There's no Dickies, no Richards."

"Well, maybe that be a nickname, like," Double T said. "You know, he be 12,13 years old, a little white boy, pale boy, but smart little dude. Cough all the time. Real skinny, you know. Always rigged up to that bottle."

Mrs. O'Reilly cocked her head curiously. "Not Dickie Parr," she said.

"Yeah, Momma!" Double T cried. "That little dude."

Mrs. O'Reilly dropped her eyes, and when she raised them, she looked not at Double T, but toward Sanford Parker, turning to him for some kind of help. Double T caught her anxiety and took a step toward her. "Where that little dude?" he asked sharply.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Townsend," Mrs. O'Reilly said. "Dickie Parr died."

There was not a word from Double T. Instead, involuntarily, he relaxed his arms and the presents fell from them, clattering on the floor. One was not wrapped. It was just a brown box, and when it fell, the top sprang open and Mrs. O'Reilly could see a Santa Claus costume inside. The hat tumbled partway out and lay there. Double T did not appear to even notice that he had dropped the packages. He raised his huge hands to his face and held them there. "Oh, the little dude!" he cried. "Little Dickie dude!" He shook his head and backed away from the packages on the floor. Parker and Mrs. O'Reilly watched him without a word. Double T said nothing to them. He only brushed at his tears, and then walked around the corner to the visitors' room.

He went in. There was no one there, but someone had left the television on to the game. Brent Musburger gave the score as Double T came into the room, but Doubs did not hear it. He did not even bother to glance up at the screen. Gently, he closed the door, and he stared at the place where Dickie's wheelchair had been. There was nothing there now. "Little Dickie dude," he said, but the words only formed on his lips; there was no sound, really.

And then, in the rear of the room, Double T spied something. It was to one side of an old maroon sofa and was partly covered by the folds of a frayed drape that fell to the floor. He went over, and he picked up the autographed ball, and he held it softly in his hands in a way he had never handled a basketball before. The fresh leather gave off that familiar tart aroma of newness, and in the murky dark of the visitors' room, Dickie's basketball almost seemed to glow orange. Outside, it was snowing even harder.

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