It probably happened in Houston, though travel in the NBA tends to meld one city to the next. It did happen at an airport -- and Gene Shue was the coach of the Philadelphia 76ers when he discovered how goofy ordinarily sensible people can be for a $50 dare.
Shue was stretching after another interminable flight, not totally aware of who was what or where as the Sixers waited for their bags to be loaded onto a rubber-coated conveyor belt and move toward them through a passageway scarcely wide enough for two basketalls stacked one atop the other.
In his semistupor, Shue noticed the conveyor begin to move -- and in an instant shook the fog from his mind. For there, sputtering on that runway, squeezing through that rectangular hole perhaps a third the size of a door were, in order, the Sixers' luggage and the Sixers' trainer.
Al Domenico was called Al Demented for a while after that. But too many miles in too short a time makes fools of us all too often. If this is morning in the NBA, we must be on a bus. If it is shortly before or after noon, it must be a plane -- and then another bus.
An athlete never outgrows a bus. It usually is the first wonder of his athletic life, what carries him into the unknown world beyond his own gym. Nobody sleeps during that first bus trip. The scenery is never more than a blur. Nerves are strung tighter and tighter, the fear that somebody etter might be waiting at the end of the trip.
Few NBA veterans stay awake more than a few minutes on a bus. Having proven themselves time and again and having played in most of America's gyms worth seeing, they program their bodies to click out of order almost as soon as the engine turns on.
Most of them do not get basketballs drunk, as Kevin Grevey once did.
"I was a rookie at the time," Grevey said on the ride from Washington to Philadelphia the other day. "Those days a rookie carried the bag of basketballs. And a projector. We never watched a second of film when K. C. Jones was coach, but a rookie, Tom Kropp, carried a projector almost everywhere we went.
"We were leaving San Francisco, hurrying to catch a plane, and beer, in bottles instead of cans, was available in the locker room. So I grabbed a bottle or two and put a few more in the sack with the basketballs. We flew home and I tossed the bag in my car. I took it out next day and, as always, laid it unopened at midcourt (of the practice gym).
"That's the way K.C. wanted it, so he could unzip the bag and distribute the balls himself. Except that when he opened the bag, what he found was the basketballs almost floating in broken glass and beer. No way could we practice with them. So we look around and around and end up practicing with an old, rubber-coated thing that was awful."
Darcey's Law is proven almost daily in pro sports. Formulated after years of wearisome journeys to lost-and-found departments in airports by Post sports photographer Richard Darcey, it states: "Baggage entrusted to an airline tends to stay with that airline."
Bernie Bickerstaff, the assistant Bullet coach, checked his bags to San Diego on the first leg of a two-week, several-cities road trip a few years ago -- and saw them again when he arrived back at his home. They had gone to Pittsburgh.
Every Bullet bag managed to get misplaced when the team hopped from one airline to another during another West Coast trip. The players and officials were without their uniforms and most of the necessities of life on the road. When trainer John Lally almost demanded a shopping trip for supplies with captain Wes Unseld, Unseld joked that the bags would have been found by the time they returned.
He was right.
Lally was a minor-league baseball trainer in the mid-'60s and said the sport had some curious priorities. One player kept his career going for years, it was whispered, not because he could throw or hit very well but because he was the only man in the organization who could repair the team bus.
"Once our bus driver got drunk during one of our games," Lally recalled. "We were going on a several-hundred-mile trip right after it was over -- and a short distance out of town the driver was weaving all over the road, first one side and then the other, like you see in cartoons.
"So we grabbed him, managed to bring the bus to a halt and laid him out on the long seat in the back. One of the outfielders, who'd never driven more than a pickup truck in his life, took over the wheel and did all right. Got so cocky at one point he even put on the driver's hat."