The man known as the Legend stepped onto the basketball court at the Downtown Athletic Club, accompanied by generous applause.
He acknowledged his fans in the usual way -- a nod, a modest smile and then, down to business.
"Is that some sort of celebrity?" asked an aerobics dancer.
People standing nearby shook their heads in disbelief.
"Don't you know who that is?" exclaimed Eddie. "Why that's Wiley. The Wizard of pick-up basketball!"
"Ohhh," breathed the dancer. "He's not at all like I expected him to be."
Wiley: Older and cannier than Michael Jordan. Younger and more spry than Kareem. Agile as Magic. Mean as Barkley. Handsome, witty and wise.
Some called him the Wizard. Some called him the Legend.
But, typical of the man, he preferred to drop the superfluous letters and combine the two: "Wi- le", with a "y" on the end for symmetry.
Whatever you call him, he is the acknowledged king of pick-up ball: Poetry in motion.
"You should do shoe commercials like all the other superstars," said Mike.
"No," answered Wiley in his manly baritone, "I've taken a vow of poverty."
Word has it that NBA guard John Stockton has been hurt and that the injury may open up a spot on the so-called Dream Team, that conglomeration of professional players that will represent America in the Olympics.
Speculation is rampant on who might be chosen.
Now, the high ethical standards required by this paper compel me to confess that what follows is not how that speculation actually ran yesterday at the D.A.C.
=1 This is a story about how it should have run.
The Wizard. The Legend. The man known as Wi-le (with a "y" on the end, but don't ask why) took a few practice shots, yawning as he squared his body and hoisted the ball.
Inevitable, of course.
Sycophants scurried to retrieve the balls. "Don't crowd him folks, let the Great One shoot," shouted members of his road crew, forming a protective picket line around the court.
Each roadie wore a sports jacket with "Wizard" printed in great block letters on the back. Vendors sold official "Wizard" T-shirts, the proceeds of which went to worthy causes.
On the sidelines, players of lesser stature presumed to question the Legend's chances of representing the U.S. at the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
"Wouldn't work," opined Greg. "He'd eclipse the better-known players and upset the chemistry of the team."
"And I question his desire, his dedication to the game," put in Lenny. "After all, the man has never played even a second of organized ball in his life."
"Not only that, he's short, overweight and he's getting old," groused Jim, a notorious nitpicker.
Others, however, were able to look at the question objectively.
"He's great! He's tremendous! He would be a bigger hero than Michael Jordan," shouted Mike.
"He'd be the perfect addition," agreed John. "He could sub for Magic or Michael on the outside, or muscle up inside for Scottie Pippen, Karl "The Mailman" Malone, or even Barkley."
"Surely no one would ask the Wizard to sit on the bench?" cried George, looking horrified.
The others reassured him that it could never happen. There'd be an international outcry.
Out on the court, Wiley (the "Wi" for Wizard, remember, the "le" for Legend, with a "y" on the end to represent the curiosity that separates man from beasts) worked on a few lay-up drills. Lithe as a leopard, he faked this way and that, before kissing the ball off the backboard and into the hoop.
Jeff tried to copy him, but the ball clanged against the rim. "Remember son," Wiley said kindly, "a rolling stone gathers no moss." Encouraged, Jeff tried again and scored.
"Ah yes," noted Pete, "the Legend's real benefit to the Dream Team will be his sagacity. He has a way of saying just the right thing at the right time."
"And they need him, too," said Tim. "The NBA superstars seem to lack cohesion. They've been beating their international competition in the Tournament of the Americas by a mere 50 to 60 points."
"But, but do you really think Wiley, the Legend, the Wizard of pick-up basketball, actually has a chance to play with the Dream Team?" asked Ronny.
"Why not," said Jimmy, "Wiley's an Olympic-class dreamer if ever I saw one."