Twenty-five years later, two former star basketball teammates wonder why only one of them is in the University of Richmond Athletic Hall of Fame.
Aron Stewart is mugging. The invisible tether between the basket and his ball finally is jerking it cleanly, invariably, like a self-retracting vacuum cleaner cord, through the net: Thwoop!
It's about time. For a while they'd been pulling up short, dinging the rim, but now they're going in. All of them. He knows it the moment they leave his hand, if not before.
"Is the bank still open?!?" Thwoop!
"One more." (He sets, he shoots.) "Butter!" Thwoop!
He capers outside the three-point line and dribbles between his long legs.
"My range is deep!" his voice echoes in the dim cavern. "Butter!"
And they keep going in, then spinning off the floor and bouncing along back into his waiting hands.
For about a minute and a half Stewart's pliant face loses its habitual, hangdog dejection and assumes something lighter than its 47 years. About a minute and a half. Then the mystic string snaps, his mortality returns, and the ball thuds lifelessly against the rim.
It had to be just the least bit strange to a good native of the Garden State.
All those Southerners standing in line to give him proclamations, trophies, honors, etc.
But there they were, the focus of 5,300 in the University of Richmond's Robins Center and a regional television audience yesterday.
The mayor of the former Capital of the Confederacy read the proclamation that officially made it Aron Stewart Day; the UR president presented an impressive trophy; a letter from the governor was read; and UR's only breathing institution and Southern Gentleman, Mac Pitt, eloquently told one and all that No. 30 would never be worn by another Spider basketball player.
Aron Stewart collects the article, a poor photocopy he has underlined and scribbled question marks on, from across the table.
He says two players have worn his jersey number since that day, his last regular season game as a Spider, when before fouling out he got 15 rebounds and 28 points, with teammate Bob McCurdy contributing 25 points, in an 88-81 victory over William and Mary.
But the jersey's not the half of it. It's that now McCurdy, a worthy though lesser player, is in the University of Richmond Athletic Hall of Fame, and Aron Stewart isn't.
There are lies, damn lies and statistics. Then there are college sports media guides. Here's what UR's says about Stewart and McCurdy.
They were remarkably similar. Both were transfer players from much larger, public schools. They both spent their junior and senior years at UR. Big fish in a small pond.
Stewart played 44 games and amassed 1,237 points, for a 28.1 point average, still the school record. He earned a degree in sociology. McCurdy played 54 games and racked up 1,347 total points, for a 24.9 point average (second behind Stewart). He majored in English.
Stewart was named Southern Conference player of the year as a junior. He was captain of the basketball team his senior year, when McCurdy was a junior. Then McCurdy was captain as a senior.
The season they played together, 1973-74, was some season. It was coach Lewis Mills' 11th and last, but at least he went out on top. Finally.
The Spiders' last winning season had been 1957-58. Sixteen long years. The gratitude the school and much of the city felt was enormous: Aron Stewart Day.
Then Stewart and Mills left. And UR went back to losing, even with McCurdy.
"In my opinion he was a better player than I was."
Bob McCurdy sounds nothing like you'd expect on the phone. You're looking at a 25-year-old picture of a 21-year-old hotshot with long hair and a mustache. But the man with whom you are speaking is a senior executive at one of the largest radio station holding companies in the country. He commutes every morning from his house in Connecticut, from his wife of 20 years and their four kids, to his office in Manhattan.
Life went on for McCurdy. But of course he remembers Aron Stewart.
"Terrific, terrific basketball player. He was as good as anybody I saw or played against."
As good as Johnny Newman, UR's star of the '80s and NBA journeyman? No one thinks that. But "the second-best player who ever played at that school was Aron Stewart."
So when McCurdy was told he'd be inducted into the UR Athletic Hall of Fame last January, he assumed Stewart had preceded him.
McCurdy hadn't been back to UR in 10 years. It would be a long trip just to pick up the award. And he didn't want to miss his son's big basketball game.
So he started calling old teammates in town to see if one of them would accept the honor on his behalf. He called Aron Stewart.
They had a "fabulous conversation," and McCurdy promised to send Stewart his commemorative Aron Stewart Day basketball because Stewart couldn't find his.
It was great catching up. But Stewart begged off about the ceremony, had a prior engagement. Couldn't make it. Sorry.
"He called up gloating," Stewart says. "He acted like he didn't know. 'Didn't you get in?' I mean, he had to know that. Why else would he call me up after all these years?"
McCurdy is taken aback by this, says it's the last thing he would do. He has a life. But he understands how Stewart could see him now as one with the enemy.
When pressed, Stewart admits McCurdy sent the Aron Stewart Day basketball.
Aron Stewart is bitter. He says UR can't justify not putting him in the Hall. He talks about an old-boy network he's not part of, about money he doesn't have to donate. He plays the race card. He keeps asking if you agree with him.
Is Stewart's attitude keeping him out?
McCurdy had an attitude: "He was a little bit of a character in college ... as was I. I look back and I say, 'Oh, my God, did I really say that in the newspaper?' He was no angel just like I was no angel."
McCurdy, too, was nonplused about the long wait to get in: "I'd be less than honest with you if I wasn't feeling the same thing prior to this year. I think it's just human nature to want recognition for what you've accomplished."
But that was then. Now: "I think Aron is letting his tongue cut his throat."
Is it money?
McCurdy says he's never been a big contributor: "I should have done a lot more. I haven't done much at all." He says he still doesn't really know why he got in before Stewart: "I have no clue. The only thing I know is I got a phone call and I was in."
Is it racism?
Ask former NFL running back Barry Redden, inducted in 1990; Newman, 1992; Atlanta Braves star Brian Jordan, 1995.
What is it?
Chuck Boone doesn't need this. The UR athletic director is retiring next June. That means just one more round of Hall of Fame inductions.
Boone chairs the secret committee that makes the picks. They're already made for January's ceremony. "We'll announce something for the '99-2000 class in the next month or so."
From his voice it's clear Aron Stewart will not be among them. "It's more than just athletic ability and what you did in school," he starts to explain, then detours. "It's a relatively young hall of fame. We've gone back and tried to get every one in" who's deserving from the school's 80-odd-year basketball history, not to mention other sports.
There are 100 members. Founded in 1976, that works out to about five inductees a year. Boone says UR plans to keep it at four to six.
About the jersey thing, Boone says from what he understands, it was never supposed to be permanent. Only three UR athletes have had their numbers retired: Mac Pitt, Warren Mills and Johnny Newman. All were associated with Spider basketball.
What about the Hall of Fame? Is Stewart hurting his chances by complaining?
Not with Boone. But then, he's not the only member of the committee.
Aron Stewart was drafted by the ABA Virginia Squires when he graduated. He got cut. Then he played overseas for a while, but "didn't like it." He came back to Richmond and got jobs in sales, from vending machines to insurance. He worked at Philip Morris.
In the late '80s, he joined the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, where he counsels those suffering from long-term mental illnesses, such as depression.
"I'm going to be fine. I'm OK with it," he says of the Hall of Fame. "It's their thing. They make their own rules."
He'll just deal with it the way he dealt with never really turning pro: "At some point you got to let it go."
And the way he deals with the lack of recognition, intentional or otherwise, he gets from school officials at the few Spiders games he attends each year.
"I'll keep going," he says. "I'm just another face in the crowd."
Just another face, another middle-aged face, one that briefly, feebly shines within the faint gloom of the YMCA gym, five, six days a
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