In the week before the first practice they began checking into the small motel near the base of Mount Hood in the small suburban community of Gresham, Oregon. They were rookies and free agents, and the odds were already against them; their motel rooms were paid for, and there was daily meal money, but in a profession where more and more things were guaranteed, they were still at a point in their careers where the only thing guaranteed was a return airplane ticket back home in the likely event they were cut. The veterans, the young princes of the sport, who all owned homes in the swank upper-middle class sections of Portland, were not required to arrive until the last moment, as befit their superior status. In contrast to the rookies and the free agents, the anxiety level of the veterans was relatively low; they had made the team before, many had even played on a championship team, and most important of all, the money in their contracts was guaranteed. For the rookies and the free agents in was another thing. Now, in the fall of 1979, they were at the very brink of their dreams, which was to play under contract in the National Basketball Association.
It was an odd and unlikely collection. Steve Hayes was white and very tall, at 6’11”. He also shot well, and once upon a time in this game that had been enough, to be tall and have a light shooting touch; but the game had now become one of speed and muscle, and Steve Hayes was lacking in both categories. He knew the coaches thought he was slow (intelligent but very slow was in fact their precise definition of him) and that in contrast to many of the muscular young blacks with whom he would be competing his body lacked muscle tone. What he did not know and what would have given him some momentary cause for optimism, was the fact that the team’s consulting psychologist, who had just tested him, was very impressed, not by Hayes’s jump shot or court intelligence but by his psychological coherence. The shrink had become, because of that, a secret Hayes booster, mentioning Hayes’s name frequently to the coaches, prefacing his remarks with the disclaimer that he of course did not know basketball, but then adding very quickly that psychologically Hayes was sturdy, very sturdy indeed, a good bet for the NBA, psychologically speaking.
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