AND FINDS PLENTY OF PLAYING TIMEHASTINGS AT THE BAR GETS PLENTY OF PLAYING TIME

“You wanna be where everybody knows your name. . . . “

— Theme from “Cheers”

ATLANTA — Over in the corner, Dennis Rodman is racking up amazing points on the basketball machine. In another corner, Gerald Henderson talks quietly with a businessman. At the bar, Mark Hughes and Lance Blanks are chewing on hamburgers.

In the back, George Blaha is eating catfish. Meanwhile, a large group of customers sits oblivious to all of them, watching a big-screen TV — or one of 20 smaller screens — and cheering a hockey game.

We are standing in the middle of Jocks & Jills, in midtown Atlanta, surely the only bar on the planet with more than one picture of Scott Hastings on the wall. Here, there are at least a dozen: Hastings shooting a jumper as an Atlanta Hawk; Hastings in a Miami Heat uniform; Hastings as a Piston; Hastings golfing; Hastings waving; Hastings just standing around. I did not know this many pictures of Scott Hastings existed.

But then, he owns the bar.

“Do you know Scott Hastings?” I had asked one of the waitresses when I first walked in, just to make sure I had the right place.

“Sure,” she said. “We all know Scott.”

“Did he hire you?”

“No. Someone else does that.”

“So he’s not really involved in the day-to-day operation?”

She laughed. “Scott? Oh, god, please.”

I had the right place.

And it was pretty nice, I must admit. Lots of chairs. Big bar. One outdoor deck painted like a basketball court, another lined with Astroturf from a football field. A back room, for privacy. And the main room, complete with kitchen and all those TV screens.

Wait. Here came the owner himself, Scott Hastings, walking up the steps — and the customers exploded in a huge cheer! Not for Scott. For the Boston Bruins. They just scored a goal. Actually, nobody really noticed Hastings, who sort of meandered over and helped himself to a beer. Just your average 6-foot-10 bartender, I guess.

“Welcome to Jocks & Jills,” he said, slapping me on the back. “Coldest beer in Atlanta. Best chicken wings. Best hamburgers. Best TV sets.”

“Yeah,” I said. “One of your waitresses just told me she’s glad you don’t actually run the place.”

“Hahahaha!” he laughed. “Which one is she? She’s fired.” He was kidding about that. But he is not kidding about this: Jocks & Jills has been voted the best sports bar in Atlanta for the last two years. Hmmm. Tell me you haven’t fantasized about doing this at least once in your life: getting a few of your friends together, opening a little place where eating food and gulping beer and watching sports on TV for hours are not only not considered lazy, but good for business. Hastings lived out the fantasy. He opened this bar five years ago along with former Hawks teammates Randy Wittman, Doc Rivers and John Battle, broadcaster Craig Sager and manager Mike Smalls. It has done quite well. And it is rare in many ways. Here is one: Because Rivers and Battle still play for the Hawks and because Hastings plays for the Pistons, this is the only place on earth where the winner of tonight’s Game 4 can buy the loser a drink — and still make money.

And another roar! Andy Moog makes a save!

“Why are they all watching hockey?” I ask Hastings.

“Beats me,” he says. “I just own the place.”

Did I tell you about the basketball machine? In the corner? Where Rodman has attracted a crowd of people squealing, “Look at that!” . . .
“Unbelievable! . . . “How does he do it?” Dennis is pumping quarters into the machine and shooting the miniature basketballs at the 10-inch rim with such speed they nearly bump into each other on their way through the net. Two points. Four. Six. Eight. Ten. Twelve. Twenty. Forty. Eighty. One hundred.

“GO, DENNIS!”

“GO, RODMANNNNN!”

One-twenty. One-thirty. One-forty.

“I WANT 156!” he yells, never losing rhythm.

One-forty six! One-forty eight! One fif–

Awwwww! The quarters run out.

“Damn!” he yells, and throws a ball off the wall, turning and shaking his head in disgust.

“Dennis is pretty good, huh?” Hastings whispers.

And another cheer! Patrick Roy makes a save!

Hockey?

Hold it. Let’s tour the walls. Every good sports bar must have some mementos on display, and Jocks & Jills is no exception. Here, for example, is a pair of boxing gloves signed by Evander Holyfield. Here, in a single photo, are Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Here is a picture of baseball player Ozzie Virgil, grabbing his crotch. (“We had one of Mike Ditka doing the same thing hanging next to it,” says Hastings, “but somebody stole it.”) Here is an actual box score signed by all the Miami Heat players the night they set the record for most consecutive NBA losses to start a season. Here is a giant-sized poster of model Elle Macpherson, personally signed and addressed to Hastings. “Keep on smiling, XOXOXO Elle.”

“Yeah,” Hastings says, “she fell in love with me when she was here. What can you do? Hey. Don’t you want a beer?”

And here is the control panel for the TV sets. It looks like something off the Starship Enterprise. Jocks & Jills has two satellites, and customers can watch “something like five different things at once,” Hastings says. Don’t ask him how it all works. They have managers for that kind of thing.

“A chicken sandwich?” Hastings says. “How about a chicken sandwich? They’re awesome here. Really –“

Wait! A yell comes from the corner. Dennis Rodman will challenge any three opponents on the basketball machine. Any three — versus his one score. “If I beat them, you have to write something in the newspaper about me,” he says.

“Fair enough,” I say. “What?”

“Ummmm . . . write that I should have my own TV show. With kids.”

“Deal,” I say, although I am thinking, “Huh?”

A cameraman from Detroit goes first. He scores 24. A sports writer goes second. He scores 22. Hughes goes third. He scores 68. Total: 114.

“No problem,” says Rodman, reaching for his quarters the way Clint Eastwood reached for his gun.

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

On one 50-cent turn, Rodman scores 152 points. I have never before seen anything like it. He’s a basketball wizard, there has to be a twist, he’s a basketball wiz–

“YEEEEEAHHHH!”

Montreal scores.

Hockey?

The hours pass. Rodman, who should have his own TV show, with kids (hey, a deal is a deal), has already left, as have the other players, gone to rest up for the next game. Of course, the great thing about a sports bar is that, if you have no place special to go, you can stay all night. There are always East Coast games to watch, then West Coast games, then the local news, then ESPN’s SportsCenter, then CNN, then Roy Firestone, then celebrity boat racing, then SportsCenter.

And in Hastings’ bar, you can also watch . . . Scott Hastings! That’s right. Suddenly, on every TV screen throughout the place, Hastings appears, via videotape, talking to kids about the proper way to ask athletes for autographs. (“Don’t hand them some tiny little scrap of paper to sign because they know you’re just gonna ball it up and stick it in your pocket and then your mom is gonna wash your pants and it’ll come out reading, ‘Best wishes, mmphmm mphrrzlphh.’ “)

“Let’s buy a beer for everyone,” Hastings says. Of course, only a half-dozen people are left. A couple of Detroit sports writers are still here, playing the trivia machine on the bar. (“Who batted in front of Babe Ruth in the 1927 Yankees’ lineup? . . .”)

I look around. I see the pictures of Pete Rose and Pete Maravich, Julius Erving and Bo Jackson, Deion Sanders and Roger Staubach. I see the dirty dishes from the hamburgers and the French fries. I hear the clinking of glasses as the bartender cleans up. I watch Hastings, as comfortable as a grandpa with a room full of kids. He’s smart, I figure. He may not get a lot of playing time. He won’t make the Hall of Fame. But he has found something he really likes, something a lot of us sports nuts dream about. Not only has he made it work, but a second Jocks & Jills has now opened in the suburbs. So, what, I guess Hastings is a chain?

Which doesn’t he mean he knows everything.

“Hey,” he says, “who won that hockey game?”

“Boston.”

“All right! Yeah. Good for them.”

A pause. He looks at the empty bar stools.

“Who were they playing?”

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