John Lucas was holding an impromptu basketball clinic outside Scoma's, one of San Francisco's finest waterfront restaurants. His voice rose, attracting the interest of a group of tourists. It was no accident; he always performs at his best in front of a crowd.
"They say, 'Luke, how do you make that one-motion off-the-dribble, underhand pass?'" he said, finding his arm like a softball pitcher. "I tell them it's easy. Tennis. That's the answer. Just like a forehand."
He nodded, satisfied with the explaination. Only one thing bothered him: he knew that his audience probably didn't recognize him to realize that their minute of enlightenment had come from the star guard of the Golden State Warriors.
"Haven't been around here long enough for people to recognize my face," he had explained earlier after declining to namedrop his way past Scoma's 90-minutes waiting list. "Got to give me time."
Lucas is a combination of P.T. Barnum, Muhammad Ali, Norman Vincent Peale and, yes, Lefty Driesell. He's such a hot dog he should be endorsing mustard. Put him in front of a firing squad and he'd probably talk his way into giving the order to shoot - at someone else, of course.
He will tell you he's still a little North Carolina country boy at heart, dazzled by the big city and fast living. And Bill Walton has shot hair and eats meat three times a day.
There may be a jock who is more aware than Lucas of where he's been and where he hopes to go, but Lucas hasn't found hom. At 25 - his birthday is today - he has parlayed marvelous athletic skill, a dynamic personality and a lot of moxile into a sports career that has no parallel in this era of the specialized athlete.
He's considered a good enough basketball player to have been taken by Golden State as compensation for one of the game's reigning superstars, Rick Barry. He also is the only black playing World Team Tennis, where he and Rence Richards formed the league's best mixed-doubles team.
"They call us the odd couple," said Lucas, not trying to hide a widening grin. "they are right. But maybe they should say we are the smart couple, too. We showed we can play the game and not just be sideshow attractions. Hey, people finally were talking about our ability not just who we are."
He is playing one of the two sports 50 weeks a year, and teaches at Maryland Coach Driesell's basketball camp one of the other two weeks. He is perpetual motion at work, with enough time to slow down for a pretty lady.
He drives around town in a $15,000 car, has a closet full of leather and fur coats and wears a chain around his neck carrying the words "Cool Hand Luke" surrounded by a cluster of diamonds.
He has invested the $1 millionplus he signed for three years ago after leaving Maryland. Through the guidance of agent-adviser Donald Dell, he could be financially independent for life within two years.
"Then I can do whatever I want with my future," he said. "If I want to play tennis full time, I can. It's been tough sometimes; they put me on an allowance and a couple of credit cards and I can't go crazy spending, but this is where I want to be with my life."
He won't retire. Lucas leaving the crowds and the adulation they shower on their heroes would be like Jimmy Carter refusing to smile. Lucas gets his energy from the spotlight; his glow is fuelded by applause and compliments.
From the moment he stepped onto the baskeball court at Maryland as a freshman and made his first eight shots to gain equal status with veterans Tom McMillen and Len Elmore, Lucas has been something special.
He was mature beyond his years, an athlete who could dazzle reporters and delightful conversation and who could calm his volatile coach with a grandfatherly pat on the shoulder.
Freshman don't start in the ACC; Lucas did. College players can't be big scorers without a jump shot; Lucas, who relies a one-hand push, scored big. Guards aren't chosen first in an NBA draft; Lucas was, by Houston.
You also aren't supposed to make big money in pro basketball by letting others score most of the points. But don't tell that to John Lucas, the Pete Rose of the NBA. He purposely will pass up a shot in order to pick up an assist. And he expects to be rewarded handsomely for his benevolence.
As always, Lucas, who can milk cheers for a well-thrown pass better than anyone in the league, has a well-thought-out reason for his assista. "If someone else can score better than you, then he should get the ball and I should do the passing," he said.
Lucas views basketball as a great ego sport. He has tailored his self-esteem in a manner to "complement what the others on the team do. It takes court savvy to do what I do, and I get that from tennis.
"I don't have the ability of others in tennis; I'd have to play full time to really develop. But I raised by own eyebrows last year in team tennis the way I played. I have to outhink the other guy. If I know by forehand is my best shot, I have to maneuver so I can make sure I hit more forehands.
"I'm certainly not in it (tennis) for the money.But I get bored ith basketball, I start playing tennis. Then when tennis is getting old, it's time for basketball."
Lucas, who is leading Golden State in every category except rebounds and postgame silence, survives on both the tennis and basketball courts with his eye-catching quickness. Off the court, a quick mind that can grasp the uniqueness of every opportunity is his strength.
Take, for example, his pairing with Richards, the controversial transsexual. Her doubles partner logically should fear being constantly overshadowed by the publicity and attention Richards attracts wherever she plays. Lucas, however, approached their partnership with the idea that he would benefit just as much from their performances.
He was correct. Fans came out to see them play doubles and, in the process, found both could survive as bonafide athletes as well as celebrities. They won three times as many matches as they lost during the team tennis circuit, and made it to the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open despite Richard's ailing Achilles tendon, which had to be repaired with surgery.
"I called her 'No-Way Renee,'" said Lucas. "She told me she'd get (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar to come in and quiet me down.
"I think team tennis did wonders for her. She finally gained recognition as a player and not a sideshow. We both did. I wasn't in the game strictly for publicity. I want to win in whatever game I play.
"We got along great. And she is something. I was going into a redneck bar in Lakeland, Fla., for a beer and she told me that she better go in there with me.
"Somebody in the bar said, 'Look at the nigger.' She just stopped and yelled out, 'The next one who says something, I'll clean out this bar.' Nobody said a word. Hey, it's a true story. Really."
Lucas claims his nonstop life can be lonely, although he doesn't give himself a chance to contemplate boredom very long. He visited 92 American cities last year, gave out hundreds of interviews and autographs and broke a few hearts along the way. He's sure of one thing: "I haven't got time to get married, not yet, but they keep on trying to tie me down."
Behind the glibness, however, is concern. Lucas frets that his life is so free from worry - his bills and his money are handled by Dell and his associates - that he won't be prepared properly to eventually cut the unabilical cord from pro sports.
"I want basketball to use me," he said, "but I want to be able to say that I've used basketball, too. I'm not trying to be rich, but I want to use basketball as a stepping stone to a higher life.
"I look at some of the players who have gotten out and how they are struggling. I mean, everything is done for you. Ex-athletes think they are still important, but they aren't. I get leary about others paying my bills. I don't have time to it now, so it's fine, but I know I can do it if I had to.
"When I'm 35 and I'm done, if I can't pay my own bills, you better put me in a baby carriage and fee me."
Lucas constantly is searching for new avenues in which to use up his boundless energy. His life has been so goal oriented that he isn't content with present accomplishments.
He talks of starting a youth sports foundation in the Bay area that would concentrate on teaching the fundamentals of both basketball and tennis. And participants would be rewarded by being able to keep the proper equipment in both sports. Every time someone tells him it can't be done, he pushes even harder for the idea.
"Oh, yeah, they told me I couldn't make it in the pros because I couldn't shoot a jump shot," he said, his voice rising in glee. "Oh yeah, they forgot about my quickness. If they can't catch me, how can they block me? People are always underestimating what I can do."