In the morning the flagsticks had thrown their long shadows toward the sea like fishermen casting lines. Now in the midday sun, the pins reeled their shadows back onto the greens. On the veranda of the Paradise Island Golf Club, a set of wind chimes answered nearby church bells, and a voice chirruped like a cicada from the shrubbery.
"Sweet Bells, what it is, mon?" said the onlooker. "A big fella like you, Bells, you gwan tear dat course up today?"
"Yes, mon. I think today is the day."
"Oh, Bells, tell me de truth now. Do Moses Malone play golf? Dat big fella, he must hit de ball a long way, unless he miss it and fall on his boongie. Ho, ho, Bells! What a boongie dat Moses has got. And tell me, mon, which of dem devils is harder to play de basketball—Moses or Jabbar? Such big fellas, Bells!"
"They're both tough, mon. Hard to choose."
"Now Moses, dat's a workin' fool, Bells. But I think Kareem, he gotten lazy from all dem years in de NBA. Magic Johnson, dat's my mon. And Darryl Dawkins, Bells! How big dat mon is!"
The wind chimes sounded again, and they were the last sound 6'10" Mychal (Sweet Bells) Thompson heard above the purring of his golf cart as he punched the accelerator and sped off, his laugh ululating up the fairways.
Thompson has returned to Nassau every summer since he left the island a decade ago. Even when he is in faraway Oregon, playing center for the Portland Trail Blazers, his heart and soul are never far from the Bahamas. There have been nights in his four-season NBA career when it appeared that his mind was in the Bahamas, too, which has caused some to believe that he lacks intensity.
As the golf cart approached the fourth tee, Thompson began talking about the relaxed life-style of the Bahamian people, product of a culture that would have to lean forward before it could even be described as laid back. "Like everybody else down here," Thompson said, "I'm so laid back it seems like nothing ever affects me. I think it has a lot to do with my background. In the islands, everybody is really mellow and they don't let things get to them. I don't like to get too upset, and that shows on the basketball court. I know sometimes it bothers Jack Ramsay [the Trail Blazers' head coach] because it seems like I'm not really trying. But I just keep it all inside of me."
Thompson was lying eight—he'd lost two balls—when he took his first shot from a sand trap near a lagoon. The next shot sliced into another lagoon. When his next stroke carried only five feet, Thompson heaved his five-iron and nearly clubbed a duck. His next shot struck a tree and went out of bounds, the ball followed in short order by a thrown eight-iron. After he had holed out, Thompson ambled back to the cart and laughed. "When you grow up with the sea breeze blowing through the palm trees," he said, "there isn't much that bothers you." And with that he was off again, terrorizing ducks and ringing with laughter. Sweet Bells.