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Friday, May 16, 2008

From NBA glory to homeless shelter

This article is via Newsalert.

Gentlemen if you're looking at a sports career I would advise you to consider other means of making living beyond basketball in case your career doesn't turn out the way you thought it would. If you're not careful and you don't save your money you might not be living the high life you thought you would. In an extreme case you could be homeless.

When I saw this story I first though about former Chicago Bulls player Bob Love. Of course his only disability was his stuttering. His wife didn't want to be with a man who can't talk. He went from a basketball player to working in a cafetria. Of course both the man in the article and Mr. Love comes from an era before NBA players were signed to millionaire contracts.
Once the tables have been moved out of the way and the floor has been mopped, Joe Pace grabs a tan mattress off a stack, slides it into a corner and beds down at the Family and Adult Service Center on Third Avenue.

His feet hang over the edge of the mat, so he rolls up a blanket to support them. He shares the room with 60 people. He pays $3 a night for this privilege.

Thirty years ago next month, Pace slept in one of Seattle's finest hotels, though he can't remember which one, as a visiting pro basketball player for the Washington Bullets, sharing in an NBA championship won in this city at the expense of the Sonics.

A snack bar, room service and chocolate left on the pillow are no longer an option for this 6-foot-10 man, who is homeless in Seattle.

"Sometimes I don't want to wake up, I'm so sad," he said. "Sometimes I wake up crying and say, 'What did I do to be like this?' "

Instead of becoming a millionaire, Pace, 54, frequents the Millionair Club, another downtown facility for the destitute that provides meals and job leads. He sits at the front door as a security guard from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., wearing a gold badge and clutching a black walkie-talkie. He performs this chore more for something to do than as a source of income, regularly limping outside for cigarette breaks.

Pace spends the rest of his afternoons riding on buses, using a disabled passenger pass he bought for $8. He is afforded this right because he has degenerative disks in his back and is in need of surgery he can't afford on both knees. He takes trips to Woodinville and Tacoma, simply to kill time.

Then it's back to his homeless shelter. Pace usually is asleep by 8:30 or 9 p.m.

"NBA players are all looked at as millionaires, but a lot of guys back in those days didn't make it, and Joe is one of them," said Zaid Abdul-Aziz, a former Sonics forward. "The image of them as big, opulent people isn't always true. They take a fall sometimes."

Of all the things Pace longs for, the simple pleasure of soaking in a hot bathtub ranks near the very top. There have been the rare moments when he has paid for a hotel room just to turn on the water and give his aching, middle-aged body some needed relief. It beats the homeless shelter showers he considers risky at best in regards to good hygiene, especially when barefoot.

For that matter, he doesn't shake hands or exchange high-fives anymore with people he encounters in a similar situation, and he's friendly enough. Repeated colds and congested lungs have forced him to adopt this policy. Fist bumps are much healthier.

"That hand could have 5,000 germs on it," he said unapologetically.
Go read the whole thing and then look at the young man at your life and bring him back down to earth with this story.

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