By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Led Zeppelin resumed playing. Big effin' deal.
Dick Forsythe never stopped.
Fit and feisty at 73, the legendary Dallas businessman is one of the best ol' basketball players in the world. His secret: sunrise workouts, peanut butter and jelly, divine genetics and an enduring blend of humility and humor.
"I'm a better player now than I was in college," Forsythe says. "Because all the guys who were better than me in college have died."
In a retro wormhole of a year, 2007 gave us 43-year-old Barry Bonds breaking baseball's home run record, 38-year-old Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre being named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsman of the Year" and 60-year-old coach Wade Phillips leading the Dallas Cowboys to the best season in franchise history. Only slightly older but entirely more anonymous, Forsythe and his geriatric gang of old-schoolers have continued Dallas' most prolific sports dynasty.
Team Sambuca Jazz, sponsored by the Uptown and Addison restaurants co-owned by Forsythe's children, won its third consecutive Over-65 Basketball Seniors World Championship last August in Puerto Rico. Led by Forsythe, arguably the planet's best gray-haired point guard, Sambuca waltzed to its three-peat and padded a legacy saturated with multiple U.S. Championships and Senior Olympics titles.
While curmudgeon contemporaries drool over The GranniAACs, idolize Chuck Taylor and bitch about not finishing supper at Furr's Cafeteria by 5, Forsythe and his Harlem Oldtrotters are out dribbling circles around the rest of the world. The Over-65 team won its games in San Juan by an average of 38 points.
"International teams can hang with us for about a half," says Forsythe, who, despite facing opponents eight years younger, regularly dribbles between his legs and makes 50 percent of his 3-pointers. (Think half Steve Nash, half Tiny Archibald, half James Naismith.) "But, honestly, we're much better players in much better shape. Everybody knows we're the senior kings of the world. The only disappointment is how hard it is to get our accomplishments noticed. I never understood why it's deemed more important to win a championship at 19 than 69. To us, we're the best in the world at what we do."
Forsythe has long been Old Man Winner.
Raised in Daytona Beach, Florida, the dude won a record four state high school hoops championships, graduated from Georgia Tech (Class of '57) and promptly became the engineer who blew up the dynamite industry. Even better at business than basketball, he founded numerous companies. Negotiated leverage buyouts. Played CEO for a corporation that won a $488 million antitrust lawsuit. Designed and launched satellites for NASA. Even developed a rocket propellant explosive that rendered irrelevant those rudimentary sticks of dynamite invented in 1866 by Alfred Nobel. Yes, that one.
"I got into commercial explosives, and it took me 30 minutes to find a better alternative to dynamite," says Forsythe, scarfing down another PB&J sandwich at his home in the exclusive Willow Bend neighborhood in Plano. "I realized you don't have to be the smartest guy, just the hardest-working guy."
Building a mansion in Ponte Vedra, Florida, and overseeing a 3,000-acre ranch near Decatur that sits smack dab atop the lucrative Barnett Shale natural gas bedrock, Forsythe is finally considering retiring. From business, not basketball. From legalese, not life.
At Georgia Tech he was 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds. At 39 he broke the Cooper Aerobics Center's treadmill test mark previously owned by a guy named Roger Staubach. Today—literally a half-century later—he's 6-1 and 170. Screw him and his lean longevity. While the rest of us battle thinning hair and thickening waistlines, Forsythe apparently made a deal not with the Devil, but Ponce de Leon.
"I can still play," he says, careful to camouflage the bravado with elegant style. "When I get on the court with the 25-year-olds, they're amazed I can hold my own."
To keep fit for Team Sambuca's worldwide schedule, he hits the Plano Recreation Center for 6 a.m. pick-up games three times a week. Afterward he runs sprints, followed by 20 minutes lifting weights. On "off" days, he does Yoga.
Assisted living? Yeah, right, only if it's a perfect chest pass leading to an open layup.
"Some of the younger guys don't think I should be out there," Forsythe says. "But I tell them I've been doing this for a long time, that I've got a Ph.D. in basketball. Eventually they listen."
To feed his insatiable basketball jones, Forsythe took his passion international. He played at Georgia Tech and banged around Dallas Hoop It Up's "Older Than Dirt" division while developing a keen eye for polished, mature talent. Eventually he formed his own Dentures Dream Team, complete with a handy sponsor.
Named after the Italian licorice liqueur, Sambuca became a mecca for the hip and trendy when Forsythe's son, Kim, and daughter, Holly, opened it in Deep Ellum in 1991. The chain has grown to five locations—Uptown, Addison, Atlanta, Houston and Nashville—each adorned with ribbons, photos and trophies won by the teams they subsidize.
"To us," Forsythe explains, "winning the World Championship is like the Mavericks winning the NBA championship. Except that we've won it over and over and over again."
In senior tournaments using college rules and featuring former NBA players Tim Hardaway, Greg Kite, Mitchell Wiggins and Wali Jones, Sambuca's teams have consistently swept their age groups. Led by MVP Bill Berringer, a former quarterback at Colorado State, the Over-65 team beat Argentina by 17 points to win in Puerto Rico. Chauffeured around in a restored 1942 military jeep, Sambuca also walloped opponents from Brazil, Chile, Russia and Latvia. It has won four of the last five U.S. Championships, captured world titles in Orlando (2003) and New Zealand (2005) and will be monumental favorites in 2009 major tournaments in Sydney, Australia and the Czech Republic capital of Prague. Sambuca Over-65 is so dominant, in fact, it's considering entering the younger Over-60 event in an attempt to level the court.
"The disparity between the U.S. Olympic teams and their competition 40 and 50 years ago is the same with us," Forsythe says. "We're playing the guys that lagged behind then, and our generation is still superior now."
Which is all the more impressive when you digest that Sambuca is indeed older than peach baskets. The players don't suck strained peas through a straw, but they did learn the game in an era of The Shirelles' "Soldier Boy" rather than some rap teen's "Soulja Boy." Their wives are named Doris, Mabel and Edna; their exploits more likely to be chronicled in GeezerJock Magazine than Senator Mitchell's Steroid Report.
With the American life expectancy hovering around 77, it seems unrealistic that even handfuls of Viagra and a belly full of vigor will fuel Forsythe and his hyperactive AARP members to continued world dominance. But then again, later this month 77-year-old Dick Clark will rock in another New Year.
Out with the old. In with the...old.