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"Remember the old days?" asks the man. "Remember Monroe? Good gosh, was he something to see, Coach? He was like Muhammad Ali, that's what he was like."
Hill and Monroe were the alpha and omega of Gaines's career as a college basketball coach. A few of those in between and before and since haven't turned out as well. Carlos Terry, class of '78, made the Washington Bullets for a few years. But he became a victim of crack, the drug trade and himself, and ended up dead in an automobile accident in March 1989 in the streets of Prince George's County, Md. But then there were the members of the 1972-73 team that won Gaines's 500th game and went 16-0 through a CIAA regular season. There were Stinson Conley, now the women's coach at Winston-Salem; George Gibson, a minister in Philadelphia; Donald Helton, an insurance agent in Charlotte; and James Pegues, from Elm City, N.C. Monroe is a successful businessman, handsomely turned out, with a nice portfolio. And Hill? Did the foreshortening of his career ruin his life? Not if you know Gaines and the kind of steadiness he inspires. "The only regret I have," says Hill, "is that I'd like to have played with or against Michael Jordan. He plays my kind of game."
After Hill was through playing basketball—he dabbled in the American Basketball League and the Eastern League, the forerunner of the Continental Basketball Association—he became a coach; he has coached the team at Essex County Community College in Newark for 19 years and has been the athletic director for 14 years. His lifetime record is 386-106. "In 1973, me and Earl and Jack DeFares and some of the guys put together a little celebration for Gaines at the Playboy Club in McAfee, New Jersey," says Hill. "We called it A Night for Bighouse Gaines. I worried Gaines and McLendon for two days, milking all the knowledge I could.... Tom Paulin? The guard? Well, Tom Paulin belongs to me. I sent him down there. I coached him. Gaines even gave him my old number, 14. Wonder what old Tom Paulin is doing now?"
They all leave, eventually. Only the gypsy stays.
"Why has he stayed at Winston-Salem for so long?" asks Lisa Gaines McDonald, from her Minneapolis office, where she's the assistant director of marketing and planning for the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic. "Persistence. My father has a great endurance level. He's just kept going."
Back on campus, Clara walks briskly around the running track beneath the Gaines Center while, upstairs, Bighouse wrestles with the Valvano Rule, which was created in the wake of the recent academic and other embarrassments at North Carolina State, where Jim Valvano served as both athletic director and basketball coach until he resigned his AD duties in October 1989. Bighouse, Jeff Mullins at UNC-Charlotte and Jeff Capel at Fayetteville State of the CIAA were the only basketball coach-athletic directors threatened by the state ruling earlier this year, which barred one person from being both the athletic director and a head coach at a state school. This was a fine time to tell Gaines, after 44 years. This summer he gave up his athletic director's position to Al Roseboro.
"Not too much question about that," says Clara. "Like he said I tricked him into marrying me all those years ago? Well, he had a chance to get out of it if he wanted to. He didn't choose to. I came here from Pittsburgh in the late '40s to teach Latin. We married in 1950. We just never decided to leave. Winston-Salem sort of grows on you. He's never taken a day's sick leave. Says it doesn't feel like he's ever had a job. We've been plenty of places, but we like Winston-Salem. I think it's just as good as any other place. I think a place's value is in the friends you make, really."
To understand Gaines, you have to understand the difference between being a gypsy in spirit and being a gypsy in fact, between staying and leaving, between being helplessly buffeted by the winds of chance or being able to help forge fate.
"My father always encouraged independence," says Lisa, who was educated at the University of North Carolina. "And Lisa is a kindred spirit to my father," says her brother, Clarence Jr., 32, who went to William and Mary and is a scout with the Chicago Bulls. Clarence Jr. works with the Bulls in part because his father is an old acquaintance of Jerry Krause, Chicago's vice-president of basketball operations.
"My father has seen the world. He never seemed to think his job was work. The new college coaches don't have to teach. My father always has [taught various physical education courses]. When I grew up, I not only saw coaching plaques on the walls, I saw master's degrees [in physical education]. He let us know we had to go get our own. He's the only man I know who would be just as comfortable sharing beans with the homeless as at a presidential state dinner."