February 15, 2011

Acie Earl Loves You



Here’s a little story I’d like to tell about a 6'10 ex Hawkeye you know too well.

It’s 2007. Springtime. I’m a busy college student who doubles as a waiter at a local Coralville diner. One customer who visits the diner every week is former NBA role player Acie Earl.  He of Iowa Hawkeye fame. What's shocking about Acie is that height. Have you ever seen an NBA center in person? A true big man? A man that stands almost seven feet tall?

It’s remarkable.

Acie stops the room when he walks in. Everyone halts at first sight of him. Earl is so freakishly tall it’s impossible to ignore.  He's a regular at the restaurant and by 2007, Acie walks in and I pay him no mind. His sheer size stops grown men in their tracks.  You know he’s there when he arrives. The day in question, Acie lumbers through the restaurant and goes about business like every week.

Whenever Acie makes an appearance I get to chatting with a fellow waiter about Earl’s playing days. My man loved the Iowa program in the late 80’s early 90’s.  Back when they were sending players to the NBA and playing deep into March. Acie Earl naturally was a favorite of his.

It would be cool to have his autograph my man says, but he wouldn’t want to disturb the great Earl while he is eating with his family. I concur with this logic. This is a man that once went for 40 and 17 in a NBA game after all. I wouldn’t want to be disturbed while eating out in public either (I actually wouldn’t give a shit but still).

We stand back and watch the beastly Earl shovel noodles and meat down his gullet. An idea strikes me. It was getting warmer outside so I was taking my talents to the park off Benton street in west Iowa City and had a ball in my car. How cool would it be to surprise my man with an autographed basketball from his Hawkeye hero?

Acie’s waitress on this evening was a friend of mine who could be talked into doing things like.....asking an ex basketball player she didn’t give two shits about for his autograph. It would save me and my man the indignity of approaching another man for his signature.

I alert my waitress friend to the plan and she’s all for it. She figured he was an athlete because of his size and didn’t mind helping out. I stood back pleased with my selfless idea. My man will appreciate his Acie Earl autographed basketball. My waitress friend expressed apprehension because she doesn’t want to be rude and interrupt Mr. Earl’s meal. We’ll wait until he’s finished I say. It won’t be invasive. After all, this was a man who’s heyday passed over a decade ago. I was confident he’d appreciate the recognition and gladly provide his signature.

We wait until Acie is through with his second helping of fried calamari. The autograph request window opens just as Earl finishes his last bite and retires his fork. The giant ex NBA center who once battled Patrick Ewing, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson exhales and stretches out in his chair. My waitress approaches with basketball and sharpie.

“My friend is a big fan of yours, would you mind signing this ball so I can give it to him as a gift?”

“Not when I’m eating,” the has been Iowa City realtor responds.

Well then. Since Acie was not eating at the moment it was such a rude and awkward response my waitress retreated back to the kitchen completely humiliated. She didn’t know whether to be embarrassed or humored especially when she overheard Acie’s young daughter exclaim as she walked away,

“Daaaaaadddddy, why won’t you sign that nice girl’s basketball?” (verbatim quote)

I quickly turn the situation into a joke by laughing in an uproar at Acie’s surprising response. I didn’t see that one coming, especially after we made every effort not to be rude and interrupt his quiet meal. It wasn’t like there was a line building up with people ready to bother him. Still, I respect the man’s space and didn’t want to push the issue.

As the Earl family filed out of the restaurant that little girl approached my waitress friend. Dad was now ready to sign the ball she said. Too bad for him. It was too late. I had already taken my ball next door to the Pub. I beg no man for his signature. Acie can sign my ball when I’m good and ready.

Postscript: Acie Earl actually got a hold of this article the night I posted it and began obsessively calling HuHot demanding free food for his disservice.  He insisted that the restaurant had done him wrong and wanted to be compensated in beef and kung pao.  Pure hilarity.  Read my response to Acie which didn't make the lumbering postman any happier.
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