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December 22 was Santa Claus Night at the Fort Zachary Memorial Coliseum. At halftime of the game between the Fort Zachary Rapids and the champion Portland Trail Blazers, Santa Claus and his helpers came and gave little vials of perfume to the ladies, after-shave lotion to the men and team pictures to all the children. The crowd was exuberant and the place was packed, which was important, because Sanford K. Parker, who owned the Rapids, had said that he didn't think Fort Zachary was properly "supporting" the team and he might have to move it to a more grateful city. He had in mind Miami or San Diego.
The game was exciting, too, close all the way. But then, midway of the third quarter, Taylor Townsend, "Double T," the superstar of the Rapids, took a cross-court pass from Alex Creel and cut diagonally toward the key. Double T got a half step on Bobby Gross, but the other Fort Zachary forward, Toby Larrabee, drifted into the lane, and in the process he brought his defender, Maurice Lucas, into Double T's path. It was all Double T could do to avoid crashing full force into the big Blazer forward. Instead, in one motion, he tried to pass the ball out to a guard and skip out of Lucas' way, but even so agile a player as Townsend could not pull off that maneuver. He grazed Lucas, tripped over Larrabee and fell awkwardly to the floor. Referee Richie Powers called traveling, which was charitable; it might well have been a charging foul. As a consequence. Powers was not disposed to banter with Double T when he heard him call, "Hey, Rich," from the floor.
"Come on," Powers said. "You know you walked."
"No, man. I'm hurt. Gimme time," Double T whined. He began to struggle to his feet, cradling his left wrist in his right hand, and the Coliseum fell fearfully silent. On the Rapids' bench, Coach Joe Mullaney and his trainer, Bevo D'Angelo, jumped up and ran to their fallen hero, while Spider Brown, the backup center, slammed a towel to the floor and moaned out loud, "There goes the season."
The Rapids had drafted well—they were competitive everywhere except in the pivot—but any chance they had for the playoffs, let alone for the championship, lay with the brilliant Double T, the young forward now approaching the height of his powers. His average hovered around 30 points a game, and he also led Fort Zachary in assists. At 6'6", he could handle the ball like a guard and outjump most centers. Because he had forgone his senior season at Kansas State to sign with the Rapids, he was only 23, but it was his third pro season and already he played like an old hand. He was captain of the Rapids in both name and spirit.
"What is it, Doubs?" Mullaney asked.
Double T just shook his head in pain, muttered a bad word and gave his arm to D'Angelo for inspection. He winced as the trainer touched it here and there and pulled at the fingers. "I comes right down on it off of Lucas," he said. "What'd I do, Bev?"
"I don't think you broke it, Doubs," D'Angelo said. "But it could be. Anyway, Joe, we gotta get it X-rayed."
Mullaney sighed. "O.K., you take him to St. Luke's," the coach said, and as D'Angelo led Double T off the court, the crowd—already anxiously on its feet—cheered sadly for their star. Of course, here and there, some of the fans groused that for the $500,000 a year Townsend was asking of the Rapids to renegotiate his contract, he should play 48 minutes a game, with broken arms and legs, too, if need be. Just two days before, Double T's Los Angeles agent, Eddie Razor, had announced that negotiations between his client and Parker had broken down. Razor called Parker "a cheapskate" for refusing to offer Townsend more than $400,000 a year, and he urged the owner to trade him immediately to the Knicks or the Lakers instead of forcing him to endure the purgatory of a full season in Fort Zachary.
D'Angelo helped Townsend dress, bundling the star up against the cold. The snow from last week's blizzard still lined the streets. It snowed a lot in Fort Zachary. It was not a fashionable place. There were not a lot of tourists or expense accounts to "support" the Rapids, there was only real paycheck cash-and-carry. It was a blue-collar town and a lot of fans were out of work.