"Dexter's good, but we've got a dozen Dexters around here," said Johnston, who is a pretty fair athlete himself. He rowed varsity crew and played intramural hockey and football at the University of Toronto and is a member of the Eleuthera volleyball team. He came to Briland in 1987 after answering a Toronto newspaper ad for teachers in the Caribbean. "I'd already applied for a job in the Arctic," he said, "but this sounded better."
Johnston teaches several subjects and coaches every sport at the school, from softball to volleyball to track and field. But basketball, he said, is king. Both his boys' and girls' teams were undefeated in regular-season play last year—perhaps inspired by the 15-seat van donated to Briland's sports teams the previous summer by singer/songwriter/author Jimmy Buffett, a regular visitor to the island.
"He heard we had a problem," Johnston said. "He wanted to do something to help—quietly, you know. No big deal." A Briland team road trip—which always begins by boat—often ended with no transportation waiting on the other side of the water. Now the van sits parked by the dock on Eleuthera.
Most Brilanders—including such local basketball legends as Marty Saunders, who, Johnston told me, "schooled Dexter every time they played, absolutely schooled him"—rarely leave the island once they finish school. Some quit early, as Saunders did after 10th grade. "A lot of these kids leave school earlier than that," said Johnston, "to go pump gas or carry bricks." Some, according to Briland police chief Ellis Miller, are eventually done in by drugs, notably cocaine. "A lot [of cocaine] comes through here," said Miller, "and some of it stays." But the main reason most Brilanders never move beyond their small island is the same reason so many tourists come to visit it. "Look around," said Johnston. "This is paradise. And this is home to these people."
The Friday I arrived—and that Saturday and Sunday as well—as the sun sank below the coral-colored horizon, the throbbing beat of steel drums and reggae rose from a tiny courtyard at the center of the island. A sign nailed by the courtyard's doorway read VIC-HUM CLUB AND MUSEUM. Inside its banana-yellow walls, under an open sky and the fronds of overhanging palm trees, I found six boys going three-on-three on a half court no larger than a living room. Its surface was a checkerboard of black and white ceramic squares. By nightfall the floor would become a disco, drawing dozens of locals and a handful of tourists.
But now those tiles were splashed with sweat from the basketball players. The players were teens—some students at the Briland school, others already dropouts. One, a slender 16-year-old who told me he was not good enough to make the Buccaneers, cradled an alley-oop pass and threw down a vicious dunk. He then disappeared through a doorway into the "museum" for a soft drink.
There was a pool table inside, surrounded by walls plastered with ragged 1960s record album covers ( Janis Joplin, Tom Jones, James Brown, Marvin Gaye) and with vintage posters and photos of American athletes ( Magic Johnson, Marvin Hagler, Jackie Robinson) as well as a life-sized foldout of Michael Jordan. A Bulls- Knicks game was on the television. Behind the bar stood a man called Hitler.
His name is actually Humphrey Percentie Jr., but everyone on the island knows him as Hitler. Locals say the name comes from the fact that everyone knows not to mess with him. He reminded me of a downsized James Earl Jones, clad in a khaki jumpsuit. He filled me in on Briland's political history (in a nutshell, there is none) as he poured drinks. Other than the school's, his key-sized court is the only basketball arena on the island, and it stays busy every day. I wanted to ask Hitler why he had built it in the center of his patio, but he wasn't interested in answering questions. Instead, he insisted that I guess the circumference of the coconut he keeps on a shelf behind his bar.
"It is allegedly—allegedly, mind you—the largest coconut in the known world, mon," he said, setting the coconut on the counter as he popped open two bottles of a Bahamian beer called Kalik.
It was a big coconut. About the size of a basketball. I pointed this out to Hitler, but he was busy shooing the kids off his court and setting up the sound system for the evening crowd that was already drifting through the door.