An Excerpt from Fluffball!
The story of the Foam Basketball Association is also the story of no small number of kooks, weirdos, flakes, freaks, bullies, punks, knuckleheads, chuckleheads, and guys who just didn’t have a lot going on upstairs. Carl and Ralph Schrelkendorf, the multimillionaire owners of Schrelkendorf Brothers Brewery, knew a lot about making beer but not a lot about running a professional Foam basketball team. This, however, didn’t stop them from buying the original Oakland franchise and moving it to Seattle in 1983. The Schrelkendorfs were famous for saddling their teams with more restrictive rules and regulations than a Catholic girls school. One of the players who came over from Oakland was a guard named Joe DeVega, who happened to be lactose-intolerant. The Schrelkendorfs somehow thought it was thus only fair to forbid any player from consuming dairy products within 24 hours of the opening tip-off. In 1986 they decreed that players who wanted to be reimbursed for new athletic supporters had to prove that the old ones were no longer effective. A year later came the rule that made it a violation for players to have sex with their wives on the night before a game, though of course some players considered the word “night” the loophole in that rule and others considered it the word “wives.” No turtleneck sweaters on road trips. No autographs before or after games. No playing bridge in the clubhouse. And of course the infamous Mustache Rule: The only style of mustache allowed was the British General, which exposed a good quarter-inch of skin between the bottom of the ’stache and the top of the upper lip. The Schrelkendorfs’ reasoning was that styles like the Fu Manchu or the Sonny Bono made it difficult for deaf fans to read the players’ lips.
When it gets right down to it, the Schrelkendorf brothers didn’t know that much about making beer either. But someone at the brewery must have.
The list of FBA free spirits, eccentrics, and oddballs is taller and wider than Lloyd Palmer himself. Journeyman center Pepper Knight never took the floor unless he was wearing two mismatched socks. Forward Phillip Ward had a pretty solid eight-year career despite spending every minute of playing time humming the theme from The Munsters. The aforementioned Joe DeVega claimed to be a direct descendant of the 17th-century Spanish playwright Lope DeVega, and nobly told reporters during his rookie season that he didn’t want any special treatment because of his name. (The reporters gamely agreed.) John Windsor of the New York Nighthawks believed the spirit of his late grandfather would guide his errant shots toward the hoop, which perhaps accounted for his scoring average of 1.7 and his unconditional release at the end of the 1978 season. (Coach Don Q. Ellis said in mid-season that it was apparently taking Grandpa some time to find the stadium.) Bobby Hai had a somewhat ordinary career as a player, but when he started his coaching career he decided to speak to the press only in verse. (Typical example, after his Detroit Sparks finished a game behind Minnesota in 1992: “The Sparks had a hell of a season/Despite what the pundits envisioned/If the ’Eighters had gone oh-and-ninety/We’d have mopped up the Central Division.”) New Orleans center Raven Ferguson always looked about 30 years older than his actual age, largely because of his prematurely white hair. Ferguson explained his appearance with a rambling yarn about a voodoo priestess back home in the bayou, who dipped him in a magic alligator potion guaranteed to make him impervious to pain and to give him an eternally-youthful appearance. When the listener inevitably pointed out that his appearance was far from youthful, Ferguson would deliver the punch line: “Yeah, she kinda sucked as a voodoo priestess.”