On such occasions, Turner exhibits a childlike naivet�; it is as though one part of him hasn't caught up with the other. Dee Woods says Turner flew in from a trip recently, rushed in and blurted out, "Dee, a taxi driver in New York recognized me! Can you believe that?"
On another evening, while Turner was sitting courtside at a Hawks game, Rick Barry came over and congratulated him on the America's Cup defense. Minutes passed. Then Turner said to a companion, "Gee, wasn't that amazing of Rick Barry?" More minutes passed. Then Turner said, "Is Rick Barry a forward?"
Turner's ignorance about both baseball and basketball is a matter of public record as well as the basis of many jokes he tells on himself. After two years as owner of the Braves, he thinks he finally knows what a balk is. But much of pro basketball has him stumped.
He is forever calling NBA coaches "managers" and officials "umpires." Although Turner knows his Hawks are "not too shabby" but rather "strawwwnnnng" (two of the more annoying expressions in the terrific Turner lexicon someone once called "Southern bebop"), he does not seem to know their names or what positions they play. For instance, former Hawk Ron Behagen was always "Ber-hagen" to Turner. When the hulking, 6'7" forward, John Brown—whose name Turner appears to have less difficulty pronouncing—fouled out of a game, the owner jumped up and yelped, "Golly! Now we've got only three guards left." Later in the same game, after the Hawks were warned for using the illegal zone defense, Turner was bewildered.
"What the hell was that?" he said.
"A zone warning," he was told.
"Awww for Chrissakes, forget it," he concluded, angrily giving up.
Turner has no better command of the facts of his own life. "Was I married both times on the same date?" he said recently, repeating a question. "Dee?" he screamed at his secretary. "Do I have the same wedding anniversary twice?"
Turner has little trouble recalling profit and loss statements, sailing results and his favorite passages from literature, but when he tries to remember whether he has three sons and two daughters or is it three daughters and two sons, he often has to resort to prayer. By the same token, Turner seldom negotiates the 30-minute drive into downtown Atlanta from his modest, magnolia-trimmed home near suburban Marietta without getting hopelessly lost. He has been making this trip for four years. "Someday I know I'll end up in Tennessee," he says.
Turner even has taken to scrawling the names of new business associates on his wrist with a Magic Marker so he won't forget them. Still, last year, while negotiating the contract of rookie guard Rich Laurel, he kept referring to the player as "Rich Little."