There was a day when Danny "Kid Delicious" Basavich could walk into a pool hall anywhere in America, play pool for five or 10 hours, and walk out with five or 10 grand.
But those days are gone, because Basavich did the one thing no pool hustler ever wants to do — he got famous. And now, only a fool would play a money game with Kid Delicious.
"Nobody will gamble with me anymore," Basavich said. "Nobody will come in, even great players. Nobody will play, even with a handicap, even if I give you 100 balls to 110, it just seems like no one's going to play me, because I might run 110 every other time."
These days, they only play him for the lesson, making Basavich a living legend at age 29. But in this game, it's not the years, it's the miles.
Before Kid Delicious became the top ranked player in the world, before he beat his heroes in epic matches, Basavich spent his youth taking money off of hustlers, in every one of the lower 48 states.
Basavich got his nickname when he was just 16 years old, beating a well-known pool player named "Kid Vicious."
"There was this kid, this little skinny guy, that was the top player at the time at the pool room, and everyone in the room was betting on him," Basavich remembered. "And I ended up beating him in a match, and while I was playing him, really, they were making fun of me. And they said 'Kid Vicious is getting beat by Kid Delicious.'"
While Basavich says he wasn't offended, it was clear the patrons were making fun of him for his size. It wasn't the first time he'd been taunted, and as a sensitive kid growing up in New Jersey, the teasing drove him out of high school and into a deep clinical depression.
"I was really having emotional times. Like, I was almost suicidal," Basavich said. "I really was almost telling my parents that I wasn't going to live anymore. And I walked into the pool room, and I picked up a pool cue and started playing a few games, and right away, I had the biggest smile on my face, and just — I knew right away that, that I loved the game."
Basavich rode his bike to the pool hall every day, and soon, he was beating the regulars. Revenge fueled his first real hustles. He sought out the kind of guys who once picked on him — the jocks who shot pool at the Rutgers University student union. Basavich used an unusual ploy to get their attention.
"I walk in there with three pieces of cake, sitting at the table ... I'm taking a bite and dropping it on the floor. And it's all over my face, and I'm sweating," he said. "And then, I go buy a glass of milk at the counter, and I take out my money, and it's, like, all hundred dollar bills. And I drop it on the floor by accident. You know what I mean? And now their eyes are open."
The ploy worked, and the jocks came flocking to Basavich, "like a bee on honey," wanting to play him in pool. At first, he wouldn't wager much money, and he would keep the games close, to string his competitors along.
"If I had a big advantage over a guy, I was very good at keeping the match close," Basavich said.
But finally, he would go in for the kill when the wages got high, and make big money, angering his competitors to no end.
"They would get crazy sometimes," Basavich said of his challengers. "Guys would break sticks once in a while. Their friends would start making fun of them, 'Oh, look, look who you're losing to, this kid's got cake on his face, and you're losing money to this freaking kid.'"