His ample belly suspended over the table, Danny Basavich stared at the configuration of balls as though peering into a microscope. The game was nine ball, and his shot verged on the impossible: a 90-degree "cut" to hit the 1 ball into the corner pocket, as the cue ball hugged the opposing rail. It was nearly 2 a.m. in the converted ballroom of a nondescript hotel in Toledo, and in a quarterfinal match of the Glass City Open, Basavich was "on the hill"--as they say in pool, only one game from defeat--his opponent up nine games to six in a set to 10. � With an authoritative crack that pierced the chatter and the clinking of beer bottles, Basavich fired the cue ball, garnishing it with the perfect amount of draw--a violation of physics for any other player hitting a ball on the rail. It sped through the cluster of balls and collided with its intended target. The 1 ball fell into the corner pocket with a sharp ka-tunk. It was a brilliant piece of shotmaking, and the railbirds on the makeshift bleachers whistled and shook their heads. "Dee-licious," the tournament's abundantly tattooed security guard said aloud.
With that shot Basavich--a.k.a. Kid Delicious--entered the zone, that blissful state in which nothing distracts him from running racks. Not the stakehorses in satin baseball jackets who'd bet big bucks on him in the Calcutta. Not the young blonde hottie in the red sweatshirt a few rows back, conspicuously tossing her hair. Not the dark clouds of depression that, for years, had rolled in with little advance warning, once keeping him in bed for six weeks. Not the awkwardness he occasionally feels about tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds.
Shrouded in gauzy light, sweat dripping profusely from his forehead, Basavich potted four straight racks with a brilliant flourish to win 10-9. After the 9 ball had disappeared from view, his vanquished opponent, 2003 U.S. Open champion Jeremy Jones, smashed his stick against the table in frustration. Basavich, a 5'10" butterball of energy, accepted a round of handshakes, high fives and backslaps before repairing to the crowded hotel bar for a few rounds of beer and tequila shots.
"I'm buying," he announced in a voice that sounds like Wolfman Jack's with a New Joisy accent. By then the sun was nearly up.
Basavich slept into the afternoon, returned to the tables that evening and won again. In the Glass City final the following day, Nov. 14, with television cameras following him around the table and the bleachers packed, he finally had an off-day, falling 10-6 to Charlie (the Hillbilly) Bryant, a square-jawed Texan. But it had been a hell of a tournament for Basavich, who, in every sense, is fast becoming professional pool's biggest sensation. Playing against 95 of the premier players in the world, Basavich, 26, had finished second and earned one of his heftiest professional purses.
He was too thrilled to dwell on the reality that his week's earnings of $5,000 would've made for a mediocre night a few years ago, when Kid Delicious was among the most successful high-rolling hustlers that pool has ever known.
they say that aptitude in pool is a sure sign of a misspent youth. But pool was the salvation of Danny Basavich. A portly kid often beset by the depression that ran in his family (Danny's paternal grandfather is in a mental institution), he had it rough his first year in high school. He was harassed by classmates and didn't get much sympathy from teachers. "When he started giving me his possessions--his tennis rackets, his bowling balls--that's when I got the most shaken up," says his father, Dave. "I didn't let him out of my sight for two weeks." Fearing that their son might commit suicide, Dave and his wife, Doris, enrolled Danny in counseling and psychotherapy, but those sessions did little good, according to Dave.
At 15 Danny's sanctuary was Elite Billiards, a 25-table hall near his house in Milltown, N.J. Everything about the place appealed to him: the sound of maple cues colliding with hard plastic balls, the stale smells that lingered in the air, the menagerie of characters with faintly menacing nicknames like Frank the Exterminator and Neptune Joe. Danny had a native talent for the game, an inherent grasp of the geometry and possibility in every shot. But beyond that, cracking balls and winning games and speaking the lingo all imbued in him the ineffable quality that every teenage boy seeks. It made him feel cool.
At first he rode his bike to Elite on weekends and played for hours, winning enough to take a cab home. In the early 1990s, after he dropped out of high school in the first week of his sophomore year, he became an Elite regular, spending as many as 16 hours a day refining his skills and, just as important, picking up the finer points of the hustle.
Kid Delicious--that marvelous nom de felt--was coined when Danny was 17. Late one night he sauntered into Chelsea Billiards in New York City, looking as clueless and slovenly as he could, both his gut and his money hanging out of his pants. It was all a hustle, of course. He put down $1,000 to play Kid Vicious, the best player in the house. Then he bet $3,200, the rest of his stash, with the railbirds. As he ran rack after rack, one of the vultures whooped, "That boy ain't Kid Vicious, but he's Kid Delicious!" Basavich assumed it was just another crack about his weight, but he didn't much care, not when he strutted out of the joint at 6 a.m. with those 84 C-notes. Kid Delicious it was.