As I said in my previous article “How pool found me”. I started playing pool after finding purely by accident, Willie Mosconi’s book on pocket billiards in 1978. In 1982 I decided to test my skills at the BCA National tournament, which was being held in Ft Worth, Texas that year. I separated from the Air Force in Jan 1982, and by that time I had won over 30 tournaments. 20 Air Force Base Championships, so I thought it was time for me to test my skills outside of the military.
I didn’t hear about the BCA tournament until the week before, so I had them put me on the alternate list. I just drove to Ft Worth to try to get in if for some reason someone didn’t show up, when I got there I was told I was too late there were no more spots. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. I went upstairs to put my cues away, I was totally dejected. When I got on the elevator to go back downstairs, there was a white haired gentleman standing in the back of the elevator. I turned to push the button as recognition of who this was hit me. I froze with my finger still on the button.
I turn around and could barely stammer out, “You’re, you’re Willie Mosconi” he just smiled and said. “That’s what they say son”, I was practically hyperventilation, as I stuck out my hand and said. “Wow, you’re the reason why I started playing pool” He just looked at me and said, “I don’t shake hands”. He must have been able to see the air come right out of me, I was so hurt and taken aback. He immediately said “It’s nothing personal son”, as he placed his hand on my shoulder. “It’s just that I’m old and my hands are frail, and you young men don’t know your own strength so you squeeze.
He said let me buy you lunch, I couldn’t believe that Mr. Mosconi was actually asking me to lunch. I couldn’t wait to pick his brain, so I said, do you know that the banking system you have in your book is incomplete? He smiled and said yes, I realized that after the book was published, so it was but it was too late to change it. “How did you figure that out”? I said well it doesn’t work in some situations, he just smiled at me. We had lunch and just talked mainly about me, that I had hit a ball for the first time 4 years ago. He invited me to come with him to his exhibition at the convention center, I happily accepted his invitation. I was beside myself.
As he and I walked through the Ft Worth convention center, I felt like all eyes in the building were on me. I’m sure everyone wanted to know who this young black kid was, walking with Mr. Mosconi. Everyone seem like they wanted to talk to me too, they wanted to know how I knew him and who I was. I watched him do his exhibition and trick shots, when he was finished he gave me an autographed picture, which I still have to this day. I walked with him back upstairs because he said he had to go take a nap, I was so stoked now I had to go to my room and get my cues because I just had to hit balls.
As I walked into the practice room some kid came up to me to asked me, if I wanted to gamble $100 a game 9 ball? I looked at him like he had two heads. All that was going through my mind was, this s.o.b. have got to be crazy. How can he ask me to play, after I just spent 3+ hrs with Willie Mosconi. His second mistake was losing the coin flip. I put a 6 pack on him, then I put him in prison with a safety in the 7th game. I won that game and the next 4, I think that was when he realized that I could keep running out until the cows came home. He quit $1200 loser, and walked away shaking his head.
At this point I’m thinking, OMFG my game will never be the same again. Now I’m just really pumped up, but there was nobody in the practice room to play. So I headed to the action room, and I see a guy playing on the first table. I have no idea who this guy was, but he asked me “if I wanted to play some”. I responded with, what are you going to give me? To my amazement he said “I will give you the 7” we played a race to 7 for $300. I was breaking and running out from the outset, 7 games later after he stopped cursing in Spanish. He said “I will try you with the 8” Since I’m playing with free money, and I just met Willie Mosconi I said let’s go.
7 games later after he stopped cursing in Spanish again, he wanted to try me some even. I thought he was going to bust a blood vessel, the way he was ranting and raving and carrying on while I was running rack after rack. I snapped him off 7-2, a few days later as he is winning the BCA open, I realized that he was the guy I was torturing in the action room a few days before. Now I was really pissed that I didn’t get into the tournament, because I realized I was more than good enough to win it.
Later that year 1982 Cowboy Jimmy Moore was inducted into the international Pocket Billiards Hall of Fame, they had an induction dinner for him in San Antonio, Texas. I was lucky enough to get invited as Willie’s guest, as we talked for about 2 hrs about his mental approach to the game. While we were talking Mr. Irvin Crane, Jimmy Moore, and several other legends, were at the pool table trying to re-create the shot Willie made for Paul Newman, in the movie the Hustler.
They all tried it several times and was not successful, and they kept calling Willie to come over and show them how to shoot the shot. He kept telling them he didn’t want to, because we were so deep in whatever the conversation we were having at the moment. Well they called to him again to come shoot it, when he looked up oh my God! I could see the moment when he decided to shoot it, his whole countenance change so abruptly I got a chill up my spine and the hairs on my arms stood up. He got up took the stick from Mr. Crane chalked up, hit the cue ball and walked away as the object balls disappeared into the pockets. He never said a single word.
I consider myself so very fortunate, to have had the opportunity to meet and talked to this great and wonderful man. I have heard rumors that he wasn’t a very nice person. But I don’t believe that based on my experience with him, and the things that he was able to share with me. I believe that he was just a magnificent and complete competitor. He was not trying to win friends or influence people, he was there to beat their brains in and make them fear him. I believe he more than accomplished that! Rest in peace Willie Mosconi Champion of Champions, the most prominent this he told me was; “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, they can’t beat you if they are sitting in their chair” I will forever carry your memory with me.
Champions are born, not made!!!