Oh, the tribulations of a rookie.
Playing time, or PT as they call it, is the lifeblood of a pro. I got none in my second game as a Rochester Zenith. There were extenuating circumstances, though, and nothing to do with my basketball ability. My prowess in that department already has been established.
There is a rule in the Continental Basketball Association that says only eight men are eligible to play in away games. We tried to get a waver to allow me, the ninth man, to play in Sunday's game here against the Maine Lumberjacks. But it didn't come through in time.
I'm still trying to get eligible for tonight's game against the same team. Ten men can play in a home game, so no matter what happens here, I plan to close my CBA career in style Thursday in Rochester when we play the Lehigh Valley Jets. A league record crowd of 7,500 is expected to see the Zeniths, the San Diego Chicken . . . and me.
Even without Dr. D, we buried Maine Sunday afternoon, 137-121. Larry Fogle scored 39 points and Glenn Hagan had 28 as we pulled away in the final quarter to win our 11th straight, a team record. For the season, Rochester is 31-5.
Even though I didn't know if I'd be allowed to play in the two games in Maine, I wouldn't have missed this trip. Life on the road in the CBA is an experience almost beyond comprehension.
Welcome to the real world, Dr. D.
"How far is Bangor?" I asked innocently.
"Just drive until you drop off the edge of the earth. Then go a little farther and you'll come to it," said Hagan.
He was telling the truth.
I rode in a car with Hagan and Al Smith, the two players I'd gotten closest to in my tenure as a Zenith. Coach Mauro Panaggio drove a cramped van carrying the other six players -- Lee Johnson, Pappy McTaw, Jim Bradley, Tim Waterman, Wayne Abrams and Fogle. There wasn't much room for anyone to stretch out, so the plan was to stop every three hours. The trip took 11 hours.
Hagan knows to travel in style. We left at noon Saturday, which meant the team had to pay us only half our per diem for that day -- $7.50. So Hagan brought his own food, enough to feed half of Rochester.
Hagan put his bag on the floor and, for the next 11 hours, he grabbed the goodies, never hitting bottom. He had six pears, six oranges, six tangeloes, four apples, five triple-decker sandwiches, three quarts of fruit juice, "and in case my sweet tooth gets to calling," a sweet potato pie and a bag of root beer barrel candy.
Hagan is 6-feet tall and so skinny that be barely weighs 155 pounds. He religiously reads the NBA box scores and is amazed at what he sees. "Silky," he says to Smith, "guess how many Mike (Mitchell of Cleveland) got last night against Ice (San Antonio's George Gervin)? Forty-two and Ice stuck him for 46 . . . Shoot, I know I can play in that league.
"Lookee here, Phil (Ford) made a long jumper to win for K.C. He can't shoot and he knows it. That should be me up there winning games."
Our first stop on the road is Schenectady. We gas up at a place with no restrooms so we scatter to find one. Fifteen minutes later we're back on the road, Hagan at the wheel.
He slides the seat all the way back, turns the radio to WABC, New York, and puts the pedal to the metal. The radio is blaring songs by the Temptations, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Pat Benatar and Barry Manilow. Hagan knows every word to every song. He just changes a few of them, like the "I love you baby" parts to "I love you Glenn."
We eat the main meal of the day at a Burger King somewhere in New Hampshire, I think. "Where do you think we were going to eat for $5 a meal?" said Bradley.
We made it to Bangor at 10:30 p.m., a half hour before the others.
Soon after arriving, Hagan reappeared in the lobby of the Bangor Holiday Inn Wearing nothing but a pair of burnt orange boxer shorts, bedroom slippers and a nylon stocking cap. "Just making myself at home," he said.
The Zeniths are a great road team. In midseason they played seven games in 10 days, all in different cities. Even after driving all night and playing the next day, they won all seven.
The Bangor auditorium is right across the street from our hotel and Sunday's game is at 2 p.m. "Be in the lobby at 1 with blue on," Hagan says as everyone casually stops by his room.
We get dressed in our rooms and walk to the arena. The home team trainer tapes the visitors so they don't have to bring their own trainer on the road. Our guys all wear their street shoes and carry their basketball shoes.
As Fogle takes off his printed black dress shoes to have his ankles taped, Abrams asks him, 'Where'd you get those shoes?'"
"Hey," say Fogle. "Leave my shoes alone. I didn't want to bring my Coochies to Maine."
The locker room erupts.
"That's Guccis, Foge."
"Whatever. I didn't bring them either."
The court here is about a yard too short and two feet too narrow. "I know it because I never get tired here," says Waterman. One rim is crooked so we take that basket for the first half. The floor has so many dead spots you have to bounce the ball so hard when you dribble it either goes 10 feet over your head or lies there like a broken egg.
Lawrence Boston, Maine's top player, failed to show up for the game, which left Maine with only seven players. Then they lost Cheese Johnson when he suffered a concussion after a collision with Abrams. That left only six Lumberjacks.
Three of them picked up fix fouls each. There is a no foul-out rule in the CBA, so they continued to play. Each time one of them committed another foul, the Lumberjacks were assessed a technical foul, too.
The game was stopped once because a child wondered onto the floor.A 400-pound organ player boogied under one basket all game long. Smith was having a rare off game and his frustration got to him. He and Panaggio started yelling at each other on the bench and the coach sent Smith to the locker room early in the third quarter.
"I ca't let one of my players curse me," Panaggio said. "It's that time of year, though, and he was having a bad day. I have to take that into consideration, but he'll have to pay something."
The game was very physical, but the officials let everyone play. Abrams got fouled under the basket and one referee said, "I know you got hit, but you're far enough ahead."
Lee Johnson, our 6-foot-11 center, leaned over to me during the game and said, "You're getting a taste of what my NBA life was like -- a lot of sitting."
We'll leave for home (my heavens, I'm calling Rochester home now) right after the game. We'll drive all night and get back about 9 in the morning. There's a rare day off Tuesday, practice Wednesday and our big game Thursday.
I'm already starting to dread the end of my life in the CBA. The real world is beckoning, but I'd love to put if off as long as possible.