My career as a professional basketball player has ended. For the time being, at least, Dr. D has retired.
I didn't go out the way I had planned, however. I sat on the bench for the Rochester Zeniths' last game Thursday, against the Lehigh Valley Jets. I almost got in twice, but never made it. It was a strange feeling because I was so ready to play. I expected to play, and oh, how I wanted to play.
But once a pro, always a pro, so I'll accept it. I know now how Ken Houston must have felt when he didn't get to play in his last home game as a Redskin.
Coach Mauro Panaggio wanted to use me. And the fans, 4,891 at War Memorial Auditorium, chanted for him to do so. But circumstances dictated that I sit, and I had lots of company. Three teammates didn't get in, either, and Wayne Abrams played only eight minutes.
We were tired and sluggish and struggled all right, barely holding on to defeat Lehigh Valley, 118-116, for our 13th straight win to improve our record to 33-5, by far the best in the Continental Baskeball Association.
I was a Zenith for 11 days. I dressed for four games, but played in only the first. CBA rules prohibited me from playing in two games on the road in Bangor, maine. But I'm part of the history of the CBA now. I'm in the record book -- barely, but i'm there.
My career statistics say I played in one game for a total of three minutes. I made one of two shots from the field and had one rebound, one steal and one turnover. My career average is 2.0 points a game.
What the record book won't show is that my 48-minute projection made me a CBA superstar -- 32 points, 16 rebounds, 16 steals, 16 assists. Not to mention 16 turnovers and 32 shots per game.And the record book also won't show how the expericence affected me. Nor will it reflect any of the feelings that made my 11-day professional basketball career so rewarding.
I know now what it's like to chase a dream and almost catch it. I also came away with a grasp of what the CBA is all about. This is as close as a player can get to the National Basketball Association without actually being there. The caliber of CBA play is almost superb. The players are big and strong. The league is no place for imposters. I had to hustle every second I was there just to keep up. One local writer said I wasn't a George Plimpton.
The pay is bad, the travel is tough and the life is not glamorous, but it's a chance to play basketball for pay, so the bad things don't seem to matter to most.
I probably got as close as an outsider can get to 10 strangers in 11 days and nights. We played, traveled, ate, slept and laughed together. I was never made to feel like an outsider. And when I didn't get to play in the final game, my teammates and coach felt worse about it than I did.
"I'm sorry, Dave," said Panaggio. "I had planned to play you a lot, but. . ."
"We tried the best we could; maybe we tried too hard for you," said Tim Waterman.
"It's okay, Du," said Glenn Hagan, the player to whom I got the closest. "You're still one of us."
The strangest thing about it is that I wanted to win each game more than anything else even more than playing myself. I was part of a team -- the best team in the league, in fact -- and my job was to do whatever I had to do to help it win, even if that meant sitting there and keeping my mouth shut.
I have nothing but fond memories of the entire experience.
I think back to calling Rochester and the 111 East Ave. hotel "home." I think about doing my laundry every other day in the washers and dryers down the hall from my room. I even bught a box of all-temperature detegent and washed the dark clothes separately.
I remember giving the colorful Hagan the nickname "Yoda" because he resembles the character from the "Empire Strikes Back." "Maybe that's why I'm so good," said Hagan, "because the Force is with me."
I remember the daily arguments between Panaggio and Jim Bradley and the never-ending string of little injurries to Larry Fogle. The zeniths don't call 20-second injury timeouts; they call 20-second "Fogles".
I remember getting stuffed into the basket along with the ball by 6-11 Lee Johnson and marveling at the fluid moves of Al (Silky) Smith.
I remember playing crazy 8's (a card game you don't want me to expain if you don't know how to play) in the Bangor Holiday Inn, driving all day, playing two games in less than 36 hours, then driving all night to get back home.
I remember my shyness and embarrassment when women would try to pick me up. I'm not used to that.
The only injuries I sustained as a Zenith were minor.I sprained a thumb and lost a pound of flesh on the carpet that serves as Rochester's part-time home floor. I played hard, I listened and I learned. I came to practice early and I stayed late. Seldom did a five-minute period pass when I didn't laugh heartily.
Because i didn't want any special treatment, I acted as much like a player and as little like a reporter as possible. I never interviewed anyone. I talked, I listened and I experienced. At the end of each day, I'd lay in bed with a yellow legal pad and write down everything that happened.
Life is fast here, even if it's considered the slow lane. I had to say "no, thanks" to a lot of women, but I made a lot of friends in Rochester.
I probably signed more autographs and made more radio and television appearances than anyone else on the team those 11 days. But all of that attention bothered me more than it did my teammates. That's the kind of people I was dealing with.
In short, I loved it all. But now it's time to say goodbye to the Rochester Zeniths and hello again to the real world.