Across the top, in bold, capital letters, it says Contintental BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION; UNIFORM PLAYER CONTRACT.
It begins: Agreement made this 16th day of February 1981 between Rochester Professional Basketball Inc. (hereinafter called the "Club") and David DuPree (hereinafter called the "Player").
I signed it.
I'm a pro now.
I signed for $1 and unnamed "other considerations." I'll be with the team for 11 days and will dress for four games.
My regular assignment for this newspaper is to cover the Washington Bullets.I'm used to first-class treatment: United Airlines, Hyatt Regency hotels, room service, big crowds. That's life at the top. That's what most of the guys I'll be playing with are chasing. Some have been there, most never will be. But the dream is still there.
This is the CBA, life in the slow lane. I live at the 111 East Avenue Hotel. That's the name of the hotel, and its address. Clever, huh?
Two teammates, Jim Bradley, a 6-foot-8 forward from Nothern Illinois, and Wayne Abrams, a 6-6 guard from Southern Illinois, also life there. The seven other players live in apartments in other parts of town.
The team is called the Rochester Zeniths and its offices are in the 111 East Avenue Hotel, too. They are about as spacious as my hotel room. Not plush, but cozy.
We travel by land, not air, on such exotic trips as next week's 11-hour van ride to Bangor, Maine. Per diem in the big league is $38. Here it's $15. In the NBA some players make as much as $1 million a season; in this league there is a $38,700 ceiling. Not per player, per team. A team can pay any player any amount, just so the total payroll for the 40-game season does not exceed $38,700. That's an average of $3,870 per man.
The Bullets' popular rookie, Carlos Terry, now on the injured list, played in this league last season and two present Bullets, Andre McCarter and Anthony Roberts, started the season in the CBA.
I was curious. I decided to try joining a team to see what it's really like to be a professional basketball player down here.
I called CBA Commissioner Jim Drucker at league headquarters in Philadelphia. He liked the idea but cautioned that, because it was late in the season, it might be difficult to find a team willing to take me. "If there's a team that'll go for it, it's Rochester," Drucker said. "They're the best team in the league and they've already clinched the Eastern Division regular-season championship."
"Who should I call?" I asked. "The owner, the coach or the general manager?"
"It's all the same guy," Drucker said.
Mauro Panaggio is a 53-year-old former high school and college coach who looks a little like Paul Newman and acts a lot like Telvision's Lt. Colombo.
"Can you play?" he asked me.
"Sign me and find out," I said.
That exchange took place on a Monday. "Be at practice at 10 a.m. a week from today," he said.
After swallowing my gum, I said I'd be there.
Practice was at The Dome in Henrioetta, a 15-minute drive from Rochester. It has a cement floor with carpet laid over it. The carpet isn't even wall to wall. A real basketball floor was too expensive, so they went for a throwrug. When the ball bounces it doesn't make any noise.
The Zeniths play half their 20 home games in this 3,200-seat arena.
I felt loose at the first practice. I play racquetball and basketball regularly, do Nautilus weight work and take aerobic dancing, so I'm in shape. rBut I'm used to playing basketball with gym rats and has-beens and now, all of a sudden, I'm out there with real players -- guys who do this for a living.
I'm 6-2 1/2, 175 pounds, not small by normal standards. The only guy on the Zeniths shorter than me is 6-foot Glenn Hagan, a former all-America from St. Bonaventure. He's leading the league in assists and steals and averages more than 22 points a game.
After the usual warmup drills, three-on-two fast breaks, shooting drills, layups and running through plays, we went five on five.
I was matched against 6-5 Larry Fogle.
The same Larry Fogle led the nation in scoring when he played at Canisius. He is seventh in the CBA in scoring with a 26.4 point average.
I told him I wrote a story about him once when he was in school.
"I bet you said bad things about me, didn't you?" he replied.
"You were a helluva a player then," I said. "I don't write bad things about people who can play."
He grinned and posted me.
I had dislocated the little finger on my left hand and sprained the ring finger on my right getting ready for the Zeniths. Early in my first practice I sprained my right thumb trying to stop Lee Johnson's jam.
Johnson, 6-11, was the No. 1 draft choice of the Houston Rockets two years ago. He averages 3 1/2 blocked shots, 11 1/2 rebounds and 22 1/2 points a game.
He made the jam, smiled and said, "Is that going to be in the story?"
Later I got a nice pick from 6-9 Tim Waterman, took a pass from Abrams and had a clear drive down the middle.
Johnson dropped off and was waiting for me.
No problem. For years I've watched Kevin Porter loft balls over the big men for easy layups.
It looks easier than it is. I threw the ball 20 feet straight up and Johnson still smacked it away.
That's when it hit me that this league is no joke, that it's no place for someone with no game.
These guys are serious. They are all much better than I am. Everybody can dunk. I can dunk if I start on a trampoline. They do 360s; I do 180s. c
The only way I can hold my own for 11 days is to play smart and not make mistakes, because this isn't the Howard County Recreation League. It's an close as you can get to the NBA and it shows, especially on this team, at 29-5 the best the CBA has.
The fine print in my contract says I have to appear at all promotional appearances the team selects.
There was one my first day, an autograph-signing at Smitty's Birdland. Smitty's specializes in barbecued chicken, ribs and shrimp, mild, hot or extra hot.
Since I hadn't played a game yet, I had to ask Coach Panaggio what my number was going to be so I could put it under my autograph, as i had noticed the other players doing.
"How about 11?" Panaggio said.
Since that's the number Elvin Hayes wears I wondered if it meant I could shoot turnaround jumpers falling away from the basket.
I signed programs, torn pieces of paper, napkins, even a dolllar bill.
I wrote things like, "To Delorie, Best Wishes, David (Dr. D) Dupree, No. 11."
A little boy grinned when he saw me write "Dr. D" and asked me to write "Dr. Chapstick" on his paper.
Practice is easier Tuesday because I am starting to grasp the offense. The Zeniths run a basic passing game, a 1-4 open offense.
Panaggio rants and raves, mostly about the lack of defense.
"You don't play defense is why you guys are stuck in this league," he screams.
My first game is Wednesday against the Maine Lumberjacks. One of their top players is former Maryland star and one-time Bullet Lawrence Boston.
I thought I would be more nervous than I am, but the game is more than 24 hours away. There's still time.
I'm relaxed partly because I know I'm with the best team in the league, a close-knit group that cares about each other. They've accepted me for what I am and what I'm trying to do. They've made me feel a part of their team; there's not much more I could ask for.
I'm wondering, though, if after the first game they'll still love me in the morning.