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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Struck Strikes Out: Trippin' with Kevin & the boys

Monday, May 16, 2005

With several faithful readers intrigued about my visit with retired Denver Bronco and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, John Elway a few years ago at the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota's Black Hills, I thought I'd tell of another chance meeting with professional athletes.

This occurred in 1992, in the large upscale mall (I forget the name) adjoining the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Minneapolis, Minn.

I was staying for a few days at the Marriott with my wife, who was attending a seminar for her then-employer.

It was a good gig. Darla would go to seminars all day somewhere in the Marriott and I would hang out in the mall after sleeping until noon. Then, at night, we would go out and enjoy pricey food and drinks on her company expense account.

Sigh. Where have all the flowers gone?

At any rate, I was sitting in a comfy chair at a cozy table enjoying the scenery, morning newspaper and my second Swiss mocha lattÈ when this frizz-haired, blond yuppie dude walked by, followed by several real tall and skinny black guys, all dressed in designer wind suits and carrying funky gym bags.

That's Miami Heat coach Kevin Loughery! I exclaimed to myself. And I bet that's his team! I alertly surmised, awed by the incredible size of their feet.

Pretending to read the newspaper, I trailed the NBA team with one eye as it filed to the food court's yogurt stand where, one by one, the players ordered these giant yogurt desserts and settled at the nearby tables. I watched coach Loughery pay for all of it and then walked over to his table, where he sat with a couple of his assistant coaches.

I introduced myself as a small-town sports writer and told Loughery it was a pleasure to meet him and that I always liked his style.

"Sit down, Paul," said the NBA coach. "We play the Timberwolves in a pre-season game at the Target Center tonight and I was just schooling some of the guys at raquet ball. The loser buys and I guess you saw who paid," he joked. "Forty-seven dollars and 80 cents worth of yogurt. You want one?"

Full of lattÈ and a cold $9 omelet (ever eat in a Marriott?), I agreed to a small yogurt just for the opportunity to sit and visit with the NBA coach. I lied and told him I played a lot of racquet ball. He said he was impressed with my knowledge of the league and many of its players and coaches, and said he had the best job in the world - coaching in the NBA.

He was charming, witty, friendly and sincere. His players were quiet and very well behaved, and he even introduced me to some of them as they trickled out back to their rooms to rest for that night's game. Their hands are as big as their feet.

The yogurt party broke up and I retired to the room. When Darla returned with some friends from the seminar, they asked me what I did all day. Kiddingly, I told them I worked out with the Miami Heat in the hotel fitness center, went a little one-on-one with some of the players, and won the team raquet ball tournament.

They didn't believe me.

Later that night, as we rode the elevator down to ground level to go out to eat, the elevator stopped at a floor and in walked Kevin Loughery, his coaches and a couple players.

"Hey, Paul, how's it going?" asked Loughery. "I forgot to give you some tickets for the game." With that, he reached in his coat pocket and handed me four tickets. Darla and her friends stood there, mouths agape.

But what really got them was what Loughery said as he exited the elevator - "Maybe we can play raquet ball on our next trip to the Cities."

I agreed as we shook hands goodbye.

Sitting right behind the scorer's table, we watched the Heat lose to the Timberwolves that night and, as I recall, Loughery was fired the following off-season.

And I'm still here.

(Readers: E-mail me at pstruck@ncn.net if you've had brushes with the rich and/or famous in your life and wish to share them with our readers.)

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