SCOTT SIMON, host:

It's just after dawn in an all-night pool hall - blinds block the sun; bright lamps scream down, brush light on green felt tables; smoke softens the light and seeps into every breath.

Well, actually, nobody smokes in pool halls anymore. We're in the Rocket Bar on 7th Street in Washington, D.C., just down the street from NPR's headquarters. This is the kind of place that sells Stella Artois beer on tap. We're here with a man that a recent book called the last great American pool hustler - Kid Delicious aka Danny Basavich of suburban New Jersey. The story of his life in times hustling from Manalapan, New Jersey. Did I pronounce that correctly?

Mr. DANNY BASAVICH (Pool Hustler): Manalapan.

SIMON: Manalapan, New Jersey, to Chicago, Fargo and then, back home to face himself as told in a new book, "Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last American Pool Hustler" by L. Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated.

Mr. Delicious, thanks so much for being with us.

Mr. BASAVISH: Thank you a lot for having me here.

SIMON: We're standing over what I guess you'd call the green felt ocean.

Mr. BASAVISH: Absolutely.

SIMON: Let's try and shoot a little, play a game as we talk. Is that okay?

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah. Sure. That would be great.

SIMON: All right.

(Soundbite of pool break shot)

Mr. BASAVISH: We're going to play nine-ball. Most of the money games today are played in nine-ball, which is a lot faster game than straight pool. You have to shoot the balls in numerical order and then you got to pocket the nine-ball last to win the game.

SIMON: How did you discover pool?

Mr. BASAVISH: A pool hall opened up down by my house in Manalapan, New Jersey, when I was about 12 years old and ended up falling in love with the game.

SIMON: Now, you were - you were having kind of a tough time at that point in your life.

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah. Yeah. I was coping with a lot of depression. I wasn't doing that well in high school at the time in my freshman year. And the depression was so bad that I was having a hard time even wanting to life. You know what I mean? My parents were trying to help me get help through therapy and stuff like that, but I didn't know how to handle life at all, you know?

SIMON: So what was it about the pool hall or the game?

Mr. BASAVISH: Just the love of the game. Just the - I was playing, like, 18 hours a day from age 13 to age 17 to cope with all my depression. And that was helping me, you know, get through life and feel good. And I went from a bad beginner to being the best pool player in New Jersey and beating Joe Freddie(ph) who was the top professional at the time.

(Soundbite of playing pool)

Mr. BASAVISH: I only made a shot. Not much, I guess.

SIMON: Two-ball in the side pocket. Wait. Which color is the three? Pardon me, it's the red one.

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah, the red three ball.

(Soundbite of playing pool)

SIMON: Ooh.

Mr. BASAVISH: Now, I'm going to try to make the four-ball on the side, and I'm trying to make the cue ball go end up in the middle of the table for the orange five-ball in the corner.

(Soundbite of playing pool)

Mr. BASAVISH: That end up over there.

SIMON: Oh, my gosh. It is absolutely in the smack dead middle of the table.

Mr. BASAVISH: The biggest key once I'm able to make a ball and get rolling, I'll be able put to white ball wherever I want on the table.

SIMON: To try and distract you for making this next shot…

Mr. BASAVISH: Sure.

SIMON: …how did you used to hustle kids on college campuses?

Mr. BASAVISH: One of my famous hustles was I walked into the college and I buy - and I buy a sweater - say, the Rutgers sweater and a Rutgers hat. And I'd go to the cafeteria, buy a piece of chocolate cake. And I'd make sure I had a big wad of hundreds with me. And I'd walked in there and I'd buy, like, a soda right by the tables to make sure that all the cocky football kids who used to give me a hard time when I was in high school like, you know, made fun of me being heavy, I made sure they all see me with all that money and with the cake in my hand.

And I try to act as stupid as I could - you know what I mean - so they could see all my money and try to take advantage of me. And they'd start off playing for maybe only a dollar a game. And I'd keep the match close and it would lead to $5 a game and $10 a game, and before you know it, we'd be playing for hundreds of dollars.

SIMON: If people figured out you are as good as you are, they're not going to want to play for money.

Mr. BASAVISH: Sure. Like being the best player in the world when I was 17 years old and nobody in the world knowing it. Even if I'm playing the second best player in the world, I still got to make mistakes.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BASAVISH: So he doesn't think I'm better than him. And it takes a lot of skill to miss the percentage of shots to keep it just close enough for him to want to keep on playing and think that the match is even.

(Soundbite of playing pool)

Mr. BASAVISH: I missed it. Your shot.

You got a shot. This time, you got to make the shot right here.

SIMON: Oh, my word. All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Look, all the railbirds(ph) that work at NPR turning away in embarrassment that I missed that.

Mr. BASAVISH: It's our first game here. We got to get warmed up and figure out the table and you got to get your nerves just right.

SIMON: Before I miss this next shot, now, you're known for playing a slow game, right?

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah. Yeah.

SIMON: You draw it out to distract people or what do you do?

Mr. BASAVISH: No. I actually don't do it on purpose. But I am a slow methodical player. There's been a lot of situations in my life where I was playing for, say, $5,000…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BASAVISH: …and that was all the money I had. If I lost that game, I didn't even have gas money to get home. So you tell me. Are you going to just shoot the shot in two seconds so if it's going to take you a minute to make the ball, what are you going to do?

SIMON: I mean, we got to describe you. And I know your weight has fluctuated.

Mr. BASAVISH: Okay.

SIMON: But you're, you know, a hefty guy.

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah.

SIMON: Kind of a wispy goatee and moustache. I mean, incredibly handsome, don't get me wrong.

Mr. BASAVISH: Sure, thank you.

SIMON: You know, absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You don't look like a pool shark.

Mr. BASAVISH: No, I…

SIMON: Whatever people think a pool shark looks like.

Mr. BASAVISH: I think I'm five-nine. And right now, I think I weigh about 310 pounds. A lot of times I'd walk in the pool, I mean, the first thing I would say is I'd scream, I'm an athlete and I could beat everyone in here. I'm the best pool player you ever seen.

And just like yourself, you're laughing, too, and they - a lot of the guys who are in good shape, they laugh at me, you know? And they wouldn't think I was an athlete at all. But I can play pool for 40 hours straight.

SIMON: Yeah, which you've had to do sometimes.

Mr. BASAVISH: I've had to do a lot of times for guys who would play me for a lot of money. There was this famous guy named Slim. He's famous for being able to play for about 45 hours straight against all his opponents and wearing out any of the young players who would try to come in. And he would bet, like, a hundred dollars a game, but he'd bet you another 10,000 that you're going to end up quitting before he does. And I ended up outlasting him and he quit before I did after about 65 hours a couple of years ago in Detroit, Michigan.

SIMON: And how did you get the name?

Mr. BASAVISH: There was this pool player in Manhattan at a famous place -Chelsea Billiards…

SIMON: Right.

Mr. BASAVISH: …on 21st and 6th. And there was this kid that he actually was like a hundred-pound skinny, young man…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BASAVISH: …but they call them Kid Vicious.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. BASAVISH: And I ended up playing Kid Vicious in one of them crazy money matches at 6 o'clock in the morning where I bet everything I had. I had about 4,200 to my name and I was about 17. And I ended up beating him and just somebody has a joke that Vicious just got beaten by Delicious. And it just got stuck ever since.

SIMON: The name seemed to fit, though, because - I mean, you're a friendly guy.

Mr. BASAVISH: Thank you. I'd been very fortunate in my life to get along with everybody real good. I've traveled the country. I'd never been on a fistfight in my life. And I won a half-a-million dollars playing pool for money. And every stay in every town and never been in argument ever.

Oh, let me - let's try.

SIMON: This is the eight in the corner?

Mr. BASAVISH: Let's try the eight and let's hope we can make a shot here. Try it maybe in the corner and try to go three rails in the nine-ball.

(Soundbite of playing pool)

Mr. BASAVISH: One, two, three, and for the nine. The nine in the corner. It's so because…

SIMON: You put - you left yourself in perfect position.

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah. Let's hope we can make this nine-ball on you.

(Soundbite of playing pool)

Mr. BASAVISH: There we go.

SIMON: You sure did.

I got to get you to talk about - you made some reference to it. The kind of black dog, actually, as I think, what Winston Churchill called depression…

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah.

SIMON: …and I know you have had this problem. This is something you've had to put up with all your life.

Mr. BASAVISH: Sure. It's an uphill battle that I'm still coping with today. I'm taking the antidepressant Paxil right now from my doctor. And it seems to be helping very well. And anybody at home who is coping with or having trouble to get out of bed or get themselves going in life, I recommend to not give up and also to seek medical help.

SIMON: If you suffer from depression, the life of a pool hustler is like just about the worst thing for it, isn't it? Because you're isolated. You're lonely. You're always showing up some place new. There's a lot of anxiety.

Mr. BASAVISH: It's almost like living the life of, like, a bank robber. But I'm not doing nothing illegal. But it's kind of like being on the 10 Most Wanted list and always running around and not being able to stay at one place for long.

I always had to be travelling all the time. I can't be stuck in one location for long because my action is going to dry up. I was able to travel the road for, like, seven or eight years. But it finally dried up a couple of years ago, at about 25 years old, when the first thing that would happen when I walk in the pool and somebody would say Kid Delicious. It's Kid Delicious is here. And they'd want my autograph and they want to meet me. But the last thing they want to do is play pool with me. That was after I already become very known in the country.

SIMON: Is that also because of the-gosh, darn Internet?

Mr. BASAVISH: Absolutely. Seven, eight years ago, I could go to, say, Dallas and win 20 grand playing pooln then jump in the car the next day and drive to Fort Worth. And now, the Internet and the cell phone has really put a real kill to all the road players in the country.

SIMON: Let me ask you a question. You're not yet 30 and you've had a very rich life. You'd been all over the country. But even you say you can't do this long-term. You wonder where it's going.

Mr. BASAVISH: Sure. Sure. Absolutely. I don't want to get stuck travelling my whole life on the road. Fortunately, two years ago, Jon L. Wertheim wrote a Sports Illustrated article. And luckily, one week after that article came out, three or four Hollywood producers and movie company called up me and Jon Wertheim, looking to sign us a multi-million-dollar movie deal. And it sounds like - I don't know if you know Jack Black.

SIMON: Jack Black is who I was I'm going to suggest. He's perfect for you.

Mr. BASAVISH: It sounds like Jack Black is probably going to end up playing Kid Delicious in the movie. And because of all this and getting to number one in the world with pool, luckily, I'd been able to settle down a little bit. And in the last couple of years, I found an old girl friend of mine that when I was 16 years old, we dated - a girl named Danielle(ph) who - there's a picture of her in the book. And we've been together for three and a half years. I'm looking forward to relaxing, you know. Living such a crazy life, I'm finally happy to take it easy for a little while.

SIMON: Kid, been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah. It's been a pleasure talking to you, too.

SIMON: Can we rack them up again?

Mr. BASAVISH: Yeah, sure.

SIMON: Kid Delicious, who is the subject of a new book by Jon L. Wertheim, "Running the Table: The Legend of Kid Delicious, the Last Great American Pool Hustler."

(Soundbite of playing pool)

SIMON: And you can see a video of Kid Delicious showing me a few trick shots on the green felt at npr.org.

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