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But while Bassett is proud of all his kids, the older two in a sense have not reflected their father's restless urge to do, to accomplish. At the start, they were Bassetts through and through, competitive whirlwinds who even had boxing matches with each other. Bassett built a hockey rink for Johnny in the backyard and stayed up nights icing it over. Later he arranged for Johnny to play in a couple of exhibition games with the Birmingham Bulls, Bassett's team in the WHA. And Vickie could do everything well: hockey, soft ball, cross-country. Her father still thinks Vicks, as he calls her, could be better at tennis than Carling. But the older kids declared their independence. Maybe it was the difference in generations, but they got tired of being pushed and sat down in the middle of the road.
Now, on those infrequent occasions when Johnny and Vickie go down to the family tennis court behind the Toronto house, they realize that back up the hill he's itchily watching them. Soon the door will open, and out he'll come, a silly look on his face. He'll walk down the pathway, feigning lack of interest, like a cagey dog about to do something he shouldn't. He'll stop to examine some bushes, poking around with concern, and then linger at the swimming pool, peering thoughtfully. Finally he'll arrive at the court and stand there silently. A few minutes later, he'll be behind his kids, telling them earnestly, "Hit up on the ball.... Get your racket back.... Step into it...."
"Dad," one of them will yell, "will you shut up?"
He can't help himself. Faced with unused potential, he's like a bird dog around feathers, but when he starts in with his spiel about how practice makes perfect, Vickie or Johnny will mock him.
"You guys have no concept of reality," Bassett will tell them irritably.
"Yeah," Vickie will say. "But who needs it?"
Yet she admits she has lain awake nights thinking about things she ought to do with her life. And Johnny talks with pride of the 87-hour work week he put in preparing a rock concert for CFTO. Neither has really gotten away from father.
Over Bassett's desk in "North Fork" there's a large painting of a goal-tender, the last line of defense, the masked man called upon when all else fails. It was his position as a kid, and the painting represents the career his father squelched. It also represents one of the last times the old man was able to make a decision for his headstrong son. Since then Bassett has spent a large portion of his life getting out from under the considerable shadow of his father, who is still likely to telephone CFTO late at night with a caustic complaint if a technician has slipped up for a moment. About 25 years ago father and son were a doubles team in some inconsequential tennis tournament. The father was keyed up, thinking he and his world-class son had a lock on winning. But young John was then at the top of his game and hardly interested in country club doubles. He played indifferently, and they lost. His chagrined father sulked and complained. Fed up with the old man's carping, the son hauled off and socked him in the eye. Big Dome was flabbergasted. "He went out and got drunk for three days," the son recalls.
Nowadays when The Rebel plays, he plays to win. When he and Eby pair up to play high-stakes golf, they often don't bother to collect, even if they win. For Bassett, the winning is the important thing. Last April, when Carling lost to Evert Lloyd, a female friend made the mistake of turning to Bassett and saying, "Maybe it's the best thing." To Bassett that was loser's talk and an insult. "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard," he snapped. "If you were a man, I'd belt you."
Lone men, lone women. Stand up for what you believe in. That sort of determination caused a lot of misery—but helped set the stage for Carling—a decade ago. Two years after the WHA was launched in 1971, Bassett persuaded his father, his brothers and the Eatons to invest and a year later got them into the fledgling WFL. Things went bad from the start. Bassett's WFL Toronto Northmen never got off the ground, and his WHA Toronto Toros blew $4 million in three seasons. Newspapers had made the Bassetts powerful. Television had made them rich. Now it looked as though sports would do the unthinkable: cut them down to the size of ordinary people.