RAPID CITY, S.D.
LIFE in the CBA is low-budget compared to the NBA.
But CBA player's lives are not Spartan. They are paid $10,000 to $20,000 for an 18-week season.
In Rapid City, they live in an upscale Hilton Hotel. With meal allowances, living expenses are minimal. In addition, each of the city's Thriller has the use of an Oldsmobile, courtesy of the local dealer. The Hilton's parking lot is dotted with shiny Cutlasses in bright red or teal.
For some players, the problem is confinement. NBA veteran Russ Schoene complains, ``I don't like living on my bed.''
Schoene is nearing the end of a 12-year career in the NBA and in Italy. Then, too, Schoene is beginning to plan for his life after basketball. He's put down roots in Seattle, where he's investing in real estate. And he hopes for one more stint in the NBA: ``One more year in the pension plan,'' he says.
In the meantime, Schoene has decided to make the best of his South Dakota hotel room. ``As far as the community goes, it's far bigger than the town where I grew up in Illinois,'' he says.
For Greg Grant, the adjustment to Rapid City has been harder. Schoene is single; Grant is married with two children. Schoene is white, Grant is black. ``It's kinda hard here,'' Grant says of Rapid City. ``I've always played around home, near my family in New Jersey. I miss my family. And I didn't know what to make of South Dakota. It sounded kinda country and western to me. I could have stayed home and waited for a call from the NBA, but I need to work on my outside shot, and I want to play basketball.''
Billy Thompson has a more complicated story. A member of the University of Louisville's 1986 NCAA championship team, Thompson has ridden the Ferris wheel of basketball fortunes up and down. He was a No. 1 draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks and played five years in the NBA. Now he hopes his career will take one more upswing.
Thompson is a deeply religious man who succumbed to problems with drugs and debt while in the NBA. He was a good friend of Len Bias, the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft who died of a drug overdose shortly after being chosen in the draft.
Bias's death had a deep effect on Thompson because he, too, had almost died of cocaine. He had given up the drug only a short time before Bias died. Returning to his religion and struggling to find a new direction in his life, Thompson gave up basketball as well. Last year, he served as the assistant pastor at Jesus' People Ministries, a Pentacostal church in Miami. It's a job he might resume.
But this year, he felt ``called to play again. I believe that God has opened a door for me - perhaps to minister to other players in the CBA or maybe the NBA. Whatever God wills for me, I'll do. Meanwhile, I'll be faithful here. I want to show that you can be a good basketball player and a good person.''
* Life in the CBA is a transitory experience. The Rapid City Thriller's have 25 players on their roster. Of 16 teams in the league, 30 players have been called up to the NBA this year. Schoene just signed a $300,000 contract with an Italian team. Thompson's season was cut short by an injury just before he was likely to be called up by the Washington Bullets. Grant is still with the Thrillers.