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Long Tall Salley

Former NBA Big Man John Salley makes a play for stardom after basketball.
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Michael Douglas, May/Jun 98

The Women's NBA Finals game blares out of the bar television at the Havana Club in Los Angeles, but no one's watching. Pictures of the stars and the humidors of the stars dominate the perimeter of the room. But Los Angeles has emptied out for the Labor Day weekend. The waitresses outnumber the smokers. Former pro basketball star John Salley has draped his 6-foot-11-inch frame into a chair near the bar. A waitress arrives to take cigar orders.

"What month were you born," Salley asks her. "July," she says. "July what?" he continues. "July 11th." "How old are you?" comes his next query in what is shaping up as a scintillating probe into sun sign astrology. He tells me, "I have to see if she's the right year for me to even talk to." But of course. The waitress giggles. "If she's the wrong year, I'm not even going through with it. I was born in the year of the dragon."

"What sign are you?" the waitress asks.

"I'm a Taurus," says Salley. "I know affection."

"Tauruses and Cancers get along," comes the waitress' penetrating observation about celestial connections.

"I know, my mother's a Cancer," Salley confirms. "I didn't give her any problems during pregnancy, nor when I was growing up. When is your birthday, July what?"

"July 11th, 1971," she says.

"If you were 1970, I couldn't talk to you. That's the year of the dog," he tells her, "and dragons don't get along with dogs." What is the significance of 1971, she wonders. "Snake or ox," he says. "I can tell you in a second....I used to know it by heart. Can you give me a lighter?"

John Salley likes to gab. A former member of the World Champion Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls (as well as the Miami Heat), current NBC basketball commentator and cigar store owner, Salley is a kind of walking chat room of interests, not the least of which are television, basketball and cigars. Salley clips and lights a La Gloria Cubana. "There've only been three cigars I smoked to the label," he says. "Fuente, Padrón and Don Melo. If I could swallow a Padrón, I would. I'm getting a cigar with all three of my championship rings on it, and I'm gonna hold it like this," he says with a smile, holding the La Gloria off to the side, imitating how he'll pose for the camera.

Cameras have been finding Long Tall Salley a good deal of late. With NBC Game of the Week host Hannah Storm (the best woman in the business by a country mile), analysts Peter Vecsey and Salley enjoy themselves, providing observant, amusing commentary on the NBA's featured games. After a New York-Houston game in February, Salley noted that several Knicks--notably Larry Johnson--had raised their level of play since Patrick Ewing's season-ending injury in December (the Knicks won 15 and lost 11 with Ewing and had gone 16-11 without him). He then kidded Vecsey, saying that Pete's criticism of Johnson's lackluster play earlier in the year had spurred the New York forward to play better in recent games.


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