Coach Dick Motta of the Washington Bullets and Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee are one and the same person. I wish to make that statement at the outset, for it is my experience with journalist colleagues that if they can possibly steal a story from you, they will. And this is my story, my scoop. At the same time I realize that there is a greater burden of proof on me than merely to point to the photographs here shown. And though I intend to make my case on other, more substantial grounds, nevertheless I draw your attention in each picture to the intensity of the eyes, the shape of the nose, the hairline, the mouth, the angle of the ear.
Let me begin with the biographical evidence-of which there is considerably more concerning Sen. Baker than the elusive Mr. Motta. Sen. Baker was born Nov. 15, 1925 in Huntsville, Tenn., the only son of Howard Henry and Dora Ladd Baker. At the age of 11 he won first place in a public speaking contest. After a Navy tour in the South Pacific, he completed his college education at the University of Tennessee, where he went on to take an LL.B. In 1964 he ran for the Senate, and has been there ever since (at least during the days, and parts of weekends). He gained national prominence in 1973 as the ranking Republican on the Senate Watergate committee. Described as "boyishly handsome," he stands five feet, seven inches tall, weighs 155 lbs., has green eyes and brown hair, plays tennis and golf, "pilots a small plane," and is an avid photographer. Of his darkroom he says: "The public person never goes down there."
In contrast, here's all we have on Mr. Motta: 47 years old; five feet, nine inches tall; lives in Gambrills, Md.; began coaching career at Grace Junior High in Idaho; led Washington Bullets to NBA championship last year; before that coached the Chicago Bulls; and before that coached Weber State in Utah, where he was born in the town of Midvale.
Not much to go on-which is, of course, to be expected when you're dealing with a professional basketball coach. No one is ever the slightest bit interested in a coach's past, the only question being: Is he winning? When Sen. Baker decided to double as Mr. Motta, therefore-a decision which he had plenty of time to ponder in the South Pacific-he chose an ideal alter ego. All he had to do was to set up house in Gambrills under the name, Motta; call himself five feet nine instead of five feet seven (as if anyone would measure); make up some nonsense about Idaho, and go to work. (Needless to add, I have discovered no such place as Midvale, Utah, although I'm sure there is one, just as I'm equally sure that Sen. Baker has persuaded its pixilated residents that they remember little Dickie Motta.)
You're thinking: What about Chicago? Sen. Baker coached Chicago for eight seasons, evidently commuting on the sly from Washington (he "pilots a small plane"). It is my feeling that he never meant to stop coaching Chicago, but, unable to win a championship there, and posting a 24-58 record his final year, he had to go; and so reluctantly took the job with the Bullets. This must have been troubling for him, for while it was unlikely that anyone in Chicago would connect their coach with a U.S. senator, Washington would be another story. He could have quit the act then and there, of course. But by that time the idea of being a professional basketball coach had probably become an obsession. He made a telling remark to a Post reporter when he took the Bullets job, however, saying of his dual role in Chicago as both director of personnel and coach: "I learned the hard way that you can't hold both positions."
I do not believe that Mr. Motta actually existed until Sen. Baker decided to coach the Chicago Bulls in 1968. There is an autobiography attributed to Mr. Motta, with the deliberately, and thus falsely aggressive title, "Stuff It," that recounts several ordinary anecdotes that are patently fabricated, such as the time in Grace, Idaho, when Mr. Motta suspended his players for drinking on New Year's Eve, and was subsequently scorned by the town. A parable of the Watergate hearings, perhaps. But the point is that Sen. Baker had to invent a past for Mr. Motta, while at the same time giving no indication that he, as Baker, knew a basketball from a fishing rod. He mentions tennis and golf exclusively.
Which brings us to the why. Why would a successful, busy, nationally-admired U.S. senator take on the life of another successful, busy, nationally-admired figure, specifically a coach? Not salary, surely; Sen. Baker has plenty of money. Rejuvenation, perhaps. By calling himself 47, Sen. Baker buys 7 "boyishly handsome" years; and it probably feels good to bounce around during practices, and to punch the scorers' table and yell at refs. There is also the possibility that Sen. Baker is mad as a hatter, and, like Dr. Jekyll, has become a character out of his own control, as down in his darkroom, night after night, on go the sneakers. But I doubt this, I think he simply, and understandably, can't take the Senate day in and day out, and since the congressional and basketball seasons are roughly contemporaneous, he might as well enjoy himself.
I wanted to ask him if in fact he was enjoying his double life the other night, when fortuitously we were seated together at the Kennedy Center, watching "Carmen." I didn't want to alarm him unduly, so I sat quietly throughout the evening, up till the final aria, when I felt he was ready to talk.
"Senator," I began, but immediately he shushed me.
"Senator," I said again. This time he turned away.
"Senator," I insisted. And here his boyishly handsome face reddened. "Don't you know," he hissed - "Don't you know that the opera isn't over 'til the fat lady sings?" At which he gasped, and turned to me with a terror in his eyes I shall never forget, and a mouth as big as Unseld. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, no caption