We were drenched in sweat as we trudged into an Atlanta Buckhead restaurant with tennis rackets in hand for lunch and a refreshing drink.
We’d just completed a couple seats of doubles tennis in the Georgia heat during an off day during the opening round of the 1991 playoff series between the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks.
I was enjoying an afternoon with my road dogs at the time. Later that night we’d create some devilish times also. Free Press sports writer Drew Sharp and Washington Post columnist Mike Wilbon sat across the table from Detroit News columnist Byron Burwell and myself.
I must have loved these guys because I never called any of them by their given names. Wilbon was “Bubbles” for reasons I can’t remember. I called Burwell Home Box Head because he had a gigantic head and appeared on HBO. Drew was Boodini.
We swapped NBA and newspaper stories and I’m sure Wilbon told Charles Barkley tale or two, which always cracked us up. Wilbon and Chuck were boys and worked on a couple books together. I’d had my funny moments with Barkley, including the time he allowed me to stay in the dressing room after the media was kicked out before a game at the Palace.
And there was the time Barkley went on a 20 minute filibuster on Manute Bol’s feet and ashy legs. I bent over in laughter as Bol, who stood a helpless 7-foot-7, tried to get Barkley to stop.
Between every joke Bol would raise his arms and say: “Come on Chuck. Stop it Chuck. Oh Charlie. You are not funny.”
Back to lunch. Wilbon, Sharp, Burwell and I ordered lunch and cold, refreshing home made lemonade. This was not Country Time or powdered lemonade. This was the real stuff with real pulp and real taste just like momma made.
The real lemonade was $1.25 a glass, which was worth every penny. After we sucked down our first glass Wilbon asked if we wanted refills. We all shook our head yes.
We flagged down the waitress and told here we wanted four refills. A petrified look flooded her face before she nervously told us it would cost 75 cents for a refill. We thought her reaction was strange but Wilbon quipped: “I think we got the money so fill us up.”
The Washington Post, Free Press and News were paying for these meals and lemonade.
“She probably thought four brothers were going to riot over a 75 cent glass of lemonade,” Burwell quipped.
That might have been the case. She later apologized for her reaction and said we seemed like good guys. If only she knew.
I miss those days of hanging with my boys on the road. And I miss my boys period. We could never recreate that championship doubles match. Burwell died at age 59 of skin cancer. Drew died at age 56 of a heart attack.
Wilbon is alive but suffered a heart attack in 2008 and I was downed by a stroke in 2016. We all had major health setbacks before the age of 60.
Being a sports writer is an exciting and rewarding profession. But the lifestyle is hazardless to your health. The food is too good, the drinks too plentiful and you don’t feel like working out at a Seattle hotel after flying in from Los Angeles that morning. Wilbon is still on the road for ESPN and admitted during the NABJ conference in Detroit that he has not been able to take care of himself like he wants because of it.
I miss my friends. I miss my life. However, I am grateful because I am alive, walking and talking without assistance. I want to write again but you can have the road.
I’m just fine here in Detroit.
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