Sam Perkins — Smooth Moves? Last-Minute Christmas Shopping? Not A Tall Order For Sonic Veteran

By Glenn Nelson
Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Thing is, Sam Perkins can afford to start his Christmas shopping just three days before the holiday because, well, he’s tall and he has twisted, Rasta-styled hair. He looks like somebody.

So Perkins can stroll into Sam Goody at Southcenter, as he did last night, and Keri or somebody like her is going to rush up and offer to pull whatever CDs he wants off the shelf. And Perkins will be handed Ma$e, the new Erykah Badu and Notorious B.I.G.

But sometimes, like at the music store, the perks eventually stop flowing.

“The end of the line is back there,” Perkins is told.

It is way back.

As Perkins strolls dutifully back – way back – a store manager arrives on the scene.

“Do you realize you just told Sam Perkins that the line’s down there?” he asks before ushering Perkins up front to a cashier.

Keri is one of the few people who isn’t patently aware that Sam Perkins of the Seattle SuperSonics, the Big Smooth himself, is patrolling Southcenter in search of Christmas presents.

At Nordstrom, David Stevens of Tacoma is hardly believing it. He whips out his cell phone and punches up a buddy’s digits. Perkins also is chatting on his phone, in the middle of men’s underwear.

“I swear . . . Sam Perkins is here,” Stevens says breathlessly. “I think Gary Payton’s here, too.”

Rumors are flying.

Somebody mistakes him for Shawn Kemp.

Say what?

It isn’t always so easy, blending into the pre-Christmas frenzy when you’re a 6-foot-9, three-point-slinging, KUBE-show-hosting, concert-promoting NBA center.

Somebody’s always walking up, asking, “You signing?”

To which Perkins replies, “I’m signing whatever you got. Except that money.” People whip out bills, but Perkins refuses to sign them because it’s illegal. Plus, not long ago, folks were getting currency autographed and selling the bills to sports collectors.

Perkins signs whatever. Caps, T-shirts (donned or not), even checks (not his). During one 40-minute span, Perkins signs 53 autographs, while at the same time buying a Sony PlayStation and game cartridges for his son Joey, the CDs for a publicist, cologne for one friend and a watch for another.

And that’s counting the 10 minutes Perkins waited at The Bon Marche for a salesperson to show him Kenneth Cole timepieces.

The hounding wears on him, but the only time Perkins refuses to sign is while he’s eating. The most inopportune time he has been asked was after enduring a traffic jam and rushing to a bathroom. He was held up in the hallway, before he could reach his destination and . . . relief.

“That was the worst,” Perkins says.

Almost as bad are those who want to touch. You never know where people’s hands have been. Much appreciated are the homeboys who nod in recognition or the young girls who coo and elicit a “whatsup, girl?”

“Remember me?” they ask.

Perkins always does. He’s the Big Smooth, after all.

All this is a lot to endure for one who doesn’t really even celebrate Christmas. Perkins was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. They don’t distinguish holidays; every day could be like Christmas, they believe.

Every day is like Christmas, if you are friend or family to Sam Perkins. He relies on his people to communicate their desires. His mother got a tennis bracelet last year and will get a big-screen TV, as she requested, this year.

A sister probably will get her Jeep Cherokee next summer. Perkins’ niece and nephews always ask for money. He’ll send his niece $500, which he knows she will use to buy clothes.

But nothing will arrive by Christmas, and everyone knows it won’t. Even Joey can expect his PlayStation when Dad arrives with the Sonics in Dallas next month, on the 20th.

This is why Perkins is not in such a hurry, the way he never seems to be in a hurry on a basketball court. So if Mikele Keiffer, the Nordstrom sales rep for the Thierry Mugler cologne, Angel, offers very personal service, Perkins can go with it.

She tells Perkins there is Angel for men.

“I’m wearing some,” Perkins says.

Keiffer takes a whiff.

“No, you need to get closer,” Perkins says.

Keiffer takes a closer whiff.

And it ain’t no thing.

He’s the Big Smooth, after all.

At Computer City, the mice are stirring but not the patrons when Perkins rolls in. He has nothing to do with Zip drives, infrared ports or 32-bit software. No one asks for an autograph.

Ken Khalid takes an interest because he’s a salesman. And it is three days before Christmas. And here’s a guy whose height at the very least suggests he’s serious about something.

Perkins wants to buy a couple of laptop computers, and it’s a painstaking task. He knows a few things about computers, but not a whole lot. Khalid tries to explain in broken, sometimes non-distinct English.

They strike a deal, but for Perkins it is like buying a car. Khalid constantly is leaving and consulting with a store manager. As the cashier rings up the $5,000 or so purchase, Khalid continues to explain and Perkins continues not to understand a word he’s saying.

Khalid helps cart the booty to a black Mercedes sedan in the parking lot. Something or another is muttered about a merry Christmas. Khalid still doesn’t seem much impressed with his company.

“Good luck with your career,” Khalid says.

“Thanks, Ken,” Perkins replies.

They smile.

It’s three days before Christmas.

And neither one of them is freaking out.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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