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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Ha-ha—ah...was that a joke?
"Depends on who's telling it."
Of all the places you've been....
"You mean like Abidjan, Taipei, Bahrain, Singapore, Bangkok, Tunis, Munich, London, or like Greensboro, Durham, Richmond, Charlotte on game night places?"
All of them. Was there a favorite place?
"Well, guess I've got to take you to this one particular place. Bobby Knight's got his place. Dean Smith's got his place. John Thompson's got his place. Come on. I'll drive the van and show you one of mine."
This turns out to be Mama Chris's place, a greasy spoon a few miles from campus where you can get a plate of hot food slammed in front of you without much trouble—a place quite unbecoming a legend. Gaines finds a table as if he had been born there.
"It's rare for a person from the era of segregation to become politically active in the mainstream, go across cultural and economic and racial barriers. But Gaines did that," says John Thompson, the coach at Georgetown. "I first heard of him byword of mouth, on the playground. Later, I read about Adolph Rupp."
Mama Chris is not in, but many of her regulars are: construction and factory workers at Hanes, or RJR Nabisco, or any of the many factories tucked away in the surrounding hills; retirees; the disabled and unemployed; and an occasional ne'er-do-well. As Gaines picks over a light plate of greens and onions and listens as a man explains how he's getting his act together, a thin woman enters. Unhappily, she is drunk or getting there. She peers at Gaines: "Ain't you Gaines?..."
The diners laugh among themselves while cleaning their plates and emptying their glasses. Ain't he Gaines? Ain't he Gaines? Who else?